About a highly adaptable culture

A while ago I was standing in Twin Rocks Café when a woman approached me with a question.

The woman explained she was the author of the book about Baxter Liebler entitled, “A Highly Adaptable Gospel.”

She went on to say she had read some of our stories about Father Liebler and St. Christopher’s Mission and found them interesting.

I have greatly enjoyed the author’s writing, so I was happy to finally meet her.

Later in the week I traveled to the Navajo Reservation in search of art and was still thinking about the writer, her comments, and the title of the text.

I have often been told Navajo people are quick to incorporate new ideas and techniques into their lives. During the trip, I once again saw how true this statement is and began thinking a good title for a book about these people would be “A Highly Adaptable Culture.”

I have never been shy about “borrowing” good ideas, so co-opting the author’s title didn’t trouble me.

As I drove across this land striated like the fibers of a hand-spun Navajo rug, I noticed some movement in the road a mile or so ahead.

I adjusted my speed to account for the impediment and, as I drew closer, realized the obstruction was a flock of sheep meandering across the road.

The animals were so infested with cockleburs they looked totally brown, despite their typically white wool. The sheep didn’t seem to mind the thorny infestation, and contentedly resumed grazing on the sparse grass beside the road.

The flock reminded me of the many Navajo people I know who work extremely hard to scratch a living from this land where everything, except adversity and poverty, is in short supply.

The Navajo people who come into Twin Rocks often seem much like the sheep. In spite of all the burrs adhering to them throughout the years, they typically maintain a positive outlook.

I thought of Etta Rock, who year in and year out made a modest living selling her traditional pitch baskets. I have seen her in almost every corner of the four states peddling her pots, and always with a smile.

Even the famous Mary Holiday Black, who almost single-handedly revived and renewed Navajo basketry and won countless awards for her work, never seemed to prosper in the way I expected.

The decomposing carcasses of dogs, cats, horses, skunks, cows, and trading posts reminded me there are certain things that do not adjust to this harsh environment quickly enough.

As I contemplated that issue, I noticed a truck with a crucifix attached to its grill crossing the center line, testing my own ability to change and threatening to send me to the other side.

I have little hope of going to the Promised Land, but Momma Rose has consistently assured me there will be a place for me in Hell if I don’t change my ways.

The radio was playing a song by the 1970s band Heart, and the words, “Just live in my memory, you’ll always be there,” seemed an ominous omen.

In my mind’s eye, I could see my shattered body lying in the bar ditch next to one of those decaying beasts. Luckily, the truck driver changed his alignment, and I was not required to test my adaptive skills.

Since my gas gauge was descending towards the “E,” I pulled into Many Farms to refuel.

When I went inside to prepay, a man who had been drinking just a little too much sauce pushed his way to the front of the line and shoved some money into the hand of the clerk, presumably for a pack of generic brand cigarettes.

None of the Navajo people in line seemed concerned, although the only other light-skinned individual in the queue fidgeted.

This brought to mind our Navajo friend who always says, “I don’t understand why you guys call yourselves white, because you are actually pink.”

To my surprise, my white counterpart actually turned significantly red. I, like my Navajo companions, just waited patiently.

Without even looking up, the Navajo clerk placed the bills on the counter, attended to the other people and took the teetering gentleman in the appropriate sequence.

Her ability to effectively manage the potentially uncomfortable situation confirmed this is truly a land where many people are accustomed to unusual situations.

As I drove back to Bluff, I saw example after example of how the Navajo people adapt to this red-rock wilderness.

The shepherd watching his flock on a four-wheeler and the hitchhiker crouching beneath a sagebrush to shade himself made me wish I was more adaptable.

The sun beating through my window also made me wish I was a little less pink; a trip south may be needed. Maybe Priscilla and Rick will give me a weekend pass.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday