I can’t keep up with myself.
The past few days, maybe the last week, have been remarkable for the things I have seen, the places I have passed through, the people who have come to my aid or added color and depth to my vision…
Wait, that last idea. – ‘the depth of my vision’ – should really be the starting point of, at least this commentary.
The idea for the walk began with the end of another journey: a year long sunrise series of photographs.
The seminal moment was December 31, 2013 – when friends and neighbors joined me in the cold and dark of 1627 ‘Plimoth.’
It had been a wonderful year and that last morning at Plimoth Plantation for the ‘last sunrise of the year’ I was amazed to look out of the fort and see 500 people lining ‘Leyden Street,’ in chronological order, clutching the sunrise pictures I had taken 364 times before.
What had been a mostly solitary quest produced a seed of inspiration.
I was filled with the joy and confidence that comes from feeling part of something greater than yourself, in this case the joy of feeling part of a community.
But so strange was that feeling for me, so alien to my experience, that it took me a few months to recognize it and a few months more to find a fitting way to commemorate its discovery: by “Walking Home!”
I was excited, you might even say intoxicated by the idea of this walk, but I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into, or what I would find, or indeed what I was looking for.
There was no real depth to my vision, just an intuitive sense of its potential importance.
I was also, I can admit now, somewhat callously indifferent to this walk’s potential effect on those closest to me.
No, take away that modifier “somewhat:” I was insensitive. I have a habit of giving too much importance to ideas.
So the 4 years leading up to my departure this past November 4 were years of internal exploration and debate.
Why was I walking? What did I hope to accomplish? What about those I was leaving behind?
During those years some, but not all of my questions were answered. My sense of the importance of community deepened. The disruption to my personal life was no longer an abstract discussion.
And during that same time in this country the idea of community seemed to stiffen, shatter and send sharp shards in every direction, making a discussion of its foundation – and my walk – increasingly relevant.
I’ve gone on a bit here, haven’t I, when I simply meant to catch you up on the last week’s ‘activity.’
So maybe I should just offer a condensed version of the last week.
Actuallly it hasn’t been a week, just a few days since I left the Grand Canyon International Hostel on a dark, snowy, bitterly cold morning and walked up Route 66 which turned into Route 89, looking to walk about 12 miles that day and find someplace to stay/camp/stay warm in Winona.
I think it was about 19 degrees when the sun came up and I realized I had gone two miles too far north: I should have taken the Winona-Townsend Road, a right turn off 89, but I misread my diirections.
I asked the clerk at the convenience store where I had stopped what lay ahead of me if I took the short cut my mapping app offered me and as she hemmed and hawed a local resident who happened to be in the store at that mooment and overhead me offered to give me a ride back to Townsend-Winona Road.
Back on track I paused for a moment and took a picture of the San Francisco Mountains – sacred to Native Americans – posted it and its location on my Facebook page, and trudged down the still snow-covered road.
I keep my phone off to save battery charge so it wasn’t for another hour – about two miles of the ten that remained – that I turned it on to take another picture.
As soon as it came on I saw a message from Don Decker (read an earlier blog post about Don) telling me that a family that he knew that lived just off the road I was on were offering a place to stay that night.
Just moments later I saw a car turn into a driveway ahead of me and then immediately turn around and stop, facing out into the street.
It wasn’t just a nice family taking sympathy on me. It was the Benally family: Jones, a former Hollywood stunt man now a Navajo medicine man, his remarkably talented children Clayson and Jeneda, grandchildren, adopted friends, three dogs, two cats, a Native dance group that travels the world, the band Sinhasin…
I wasn’t just taken in by a family, I was given temporary membership in a psychedelic, social-justice, rock and roll, Native dance, Wild West traveling medicine show.
I was given the ‘hooghan’ to sleep in, with its Pendleton blankets, sheepskin rugs, and wood stove to help stay warm.
I accompanied Clayson on a walk thorough the snowy woods to a neighbor’s horse farm where a wild pony that Clayson had helped save after its mother died giving birth, was being raised.
At dinner that evening Jones offered a long, beautiful prayer – in Navajo – for my safe travels and later came to the hooghan where he talked for over an hour about Navajo beliefs, healing ceremonies, the challenges facing their tribe, the assault on their traditional beliefs by Christian missionaries (when he was a young man) and much more.
I had fed the wood stove when I came in and he added a log when he arrived and as he talked the flue turned cherry red and my bedroom became a sweat lodge and visions of peyote cults, lightning ceremonies and insect creatures from the 3rd World of the Navajo creation story danced in my fevered head.
There is so much more to say about my 12 hours with the Benally family, but this is again simply meant to catch you up.
The next morning I set out for Winona again, which is located right on Interstate 40, with a plan to walk on or parallel to the highway east as far as the exit for the Navajo casino and hotel known as Twin Arrows.
The big question that morning was choice of routes. The highway was the most direct but especially with the recent snow i was concerned about my safety. Angel Road looked, on my map, to be a good alternative but I’d heard it was very rough in spots, and passed over or through or along a deep canyon at some point.
I’ll cut to the chase: I took Angel Road and had a thrilling adventure, something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, ending with having to throw my cart and bags over a barbed wire fence and clamber over a locked gate before a last, exhausting walk to the casino without any assurance that I could camp on their grounds.
Is it too much to add in this one post that I was given a night’s stay at their lovely hotel with a view of the sacred San Francisco mountains, and an hour long cultural tour of their magnificent Native art collection or that…
There’s too much to tell, too litttle time.
I will have to go back and offer a more lengthy account of those days, my good fortune, and my deepening knowledge (or at least awareness) of the Navajo people and what they can teach us about community.
But today I am ‘standin on the corner’ in Winslow, Arizona, wondering, once again, where on this cold, snowy day I will spend the night.
I can’t keep up with myself.
I may have to wait until my walk is over to understand what is happening to me.
All I know is that it has been magical. All I ask is that the magic continues.