by Maggie Boyle Judi
Just beyond Bluff, a line of ragged sun bleached sandstone rises from the red earth. The rugged slabs of sandstone jut out of the ground at a rakish angle and are peppered with the remains of a once prolific civilization that spread all throughout the Four Corners region.
Comb Ridge as we call it, is actually, according to Navajo creation myth, the backbone of the earth. There are quite a few versions out there of this myth, regarding whose backbone it is, (some say it’s the spine the Pollen mountain woman whose face is Ute Mountain) or how it got there, (one myth says it was dug by the younger brother of the Changing Bear Maiden) but the one I like best centers on the idea that the Navajo came from the earth somewhere near the backbone in San Juan County and is therefore the center of the world!
There seems to be some truth for me in this legend. It seems that where ever I travel, I always meet someone with connections to the Motherland. I have lived in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Indiana, and Alaska. And in every one of those places there is a link to ole San Juan.
We seemed to find the most SJC’ers in Alaska. Lots of ex-San Juan-patriates have found their way to the great North. Which is ironic considering that hundreds of years ago a branch of the Navajo family tree did the same thing, migrating all the way north to Alaska.
At that time they were called Athabaskan, the name stuck for those living in Alaska. But the Dine or Navajo here in San Juan are also the descendants of the Athabaskans. Cousins if you will.
No matter how far I’ve been from home or how long it’s been since I have seen the Blue Mountains with my own eyes, there is a little piece of the home in my heart. I suspect that the legend of the backbone has something to do with it.
One of the magical things about the Blue Mountains is that you can still see them, even from a great distance. I am not just talking about the hazy blue outline you can first see as you emerge from Highway 6 onto I-70 just to the right of the mighty La Sals.
It seems to me that when you move away from the sight of your formative years, you take a piece of it with you, and always wherever I have lived, no matter how far, I could still see home.
One day, as my time of living in Monticello was coming to a close, I came home from a day of working as both an early morning life guard at the pool and a full eight-hour shift flipping burgers and spinning shakes at Shake Shack.
No one was home, all of the other Boyle kids were off working, or playing or some other adventure. I sat my weary self down on the front porch and watched the monsoonal clouds roll slowly across the face of my beloved Blue Mountains.
I contemplated my future, my past in Monticello and yearned to get away and begin my adult life. The white fingers of the clouds trailing over the face of the Blues, never looking back as they headed north and east.
But I have looked back. I have seen that picture of the clouds and the Blue Mountains behind closed eyes as I focused on the tremendous pain of a contraction.
I have seen them from an army base in Alaska, when my husband deployed to Iraq and I was 3,000 miles away from any family members, except my four young children.
I have seen them every morning of the 4th of July when I wake up somewhere else and smile with the knowledge that at least 50 or so Shumways are having a celebratory breakfast on the “other side” of the Blues.
I hear the beautiful voice of Sandy Slade in every Christmas choir concert, I taste the acidic goodness of San Juan County tomatoes in the ones I grow in my little northern valley garden.
I see the outline of the Bears Ears in every teal to burnt orange sunset.
I see the Blues in the faces of other SJC’ers I meet along the path of life, and I hear it in the voices of ex-San Juan-patriates that I have interviewed for this column.
All of them have expressed a gratitude for the blessing of growing up in such a place and always the idea that a weekend spent in the Motherland is just heavenly.
And that I guess is why San Juan truly is the backbone of the world. It remains the home sweet home in the hearts of most anyone who at one time or another called the biggest county in America home.
My Dad used to always say, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And for all of us formers, the latter certainly rings true.
So thank you for indulging my personal thoughts on the subject, but now it is your turn.
This column is not just about people with interesting and financially-sucessful careers, it is the story of communities that produce exceptional people.
People who get to stay in San Juan and people who leave to share it’s goodness elsewhere: this column is about you!
You who have been blessed to spend a slice of your lifetime among the cottonwoods, and ponderosas, the red dirt and the Blue Mountains, the fields of winter wheat and the canyons of springtime runoff.
You of the San Juan County tribe with amazing stories to tell. Because aren’t we, ex-patriates and all, just pretty darn blessed to come from the backbone of the world?