by Barry & Steve Simpson
Sunrises and sunsets over this high desert country are fabulous at this time of year. They often look as if someone took a match and fired-up an entire bank of burners.
Ripples of red, orange and yellow disperse across the heavens, warm my bones and afford me great comfort. The deep red tones, seen just before dawn and just as the sun sets, are the most rich and vibrant.
It may sound funny, but because of the added inner warmth and marshaled mental state, my mind often focuses on friends and family.
In Navajo relationships, the color red is especially meaningful. It is the color of their people, those who have welcomed us into their culture, tradition and lives. Many have shared with us their artistic aptitude. Their deep skin tones contrast with our “pink” coloration.
Because of them, however, we have been able to sustain our trading post and live a satisfying life in this country, which is rife with canyons, mesas and mountains. To the Navajo, red (ltci, ltci’, litci ‘igi) is a powerful and symbolic color. It represents danger, war, and sorcery as well as safeguards against such occurrences.
In the story of the Hero Twins, First Man gave a prayer stick colored with blue paint and sparkling earth, symbols of peace and happiness, to Child-of-the-Water to watch while his brother, Monster Slayer, went on one dangerous adventure after another.
When the warrior got into serious trouble, the prayer stick turned blood red. At the close of the Night Chant, participants see the red of the sunset because Child-of-the-Water traveled on darkness when he journeyed to join his brother.
The Navajo deity, Talking God, explained the color as it is represented in the War Ceremony, instructing Monster Slayer, “This [red] represents the blood that will flow on the soil. Both ours and that of our enemy.”
The color red is also found in ceremonial baskets that symbolize the joining of blood, marriage, children, and family.
The iron-impregnated cliffs surrounding our muddy red river valley reminds me of the ancestors of my wife and children, the first white men and women who fought their way across a wild and unruly landscape to establish our fair city.
Their story is well known to us, and it goes something like this: “The Lion of the Lord (Brigham Young), he had a sacred plan, to spread the word of wisdom ‘cross a wild and ruthless land’.
“John Taylor followed through when Brigham’s days were done; he sent the Saints a packin’ to the valley of San Juan.
“San Juan Hill [the last hurdle into Bluff] was a gut-busting scramble; the trek so far, had worn us to the bone.
“To go much further was too much to handle, ‘Stickety-To-Ti’ brought us here, it finally brought us home.”
There’s more, but you get the picture. There was bright red blood on the red rocks of San Juan Hill and on the valley floor before civilization finally arrived in this lonely settlement.
The Simpson family first came to Bluff in the mid-1950s, back when Daddy Duke’s hair color was still of a sandy red hue.
There have been many a blood red sunrise and sunset since then, and over time our clan has set down roots and grown in this rocky red soil.
Some have wished or tried to dislodge us, but our tendrils run deep, and the family tree stands fast. From Susan to Cindy, we have brought forth and raised our children here, and you will find their footprints memorialized in the concrete in front of our businesses.
As it says in the chorus of the San Juan Camp song, we were and are; “Never far from failure, we strove to continue, sacrifice was assured to achieve a higher goal.
“We faced a trial of strength and a test of dedication, stubborn faith and motivation allowed us to endure.”
And endure we shall until the time one of the towering rocks comes crashing down on us, or they place us beneath the grey donies and iron red soil of cemetery hill.