Sunday, April 19, 2009
This is the last painting I made in the Painted Desert. It was this one I was finishing when the friendly group happened along.
It was tough to leave the Painted Desert - but as I said to Peter, I could stay for weeks or months, painting, and still feel as though I were leaving my soul behind when I finally left.
And so I headed to Canyon de Chelly, and then Shiprock, and then into New Mexico.
The Navajo reservation I drove through for most of the day was, by and large, a cheerless place. It contains gorgeous landscapes and amazing natural scenery. I met lovely, friendly people there. But I saw poverty everywhere. Buildings, homes, mobile homes, by and large, were decrepit, missing windows, boards, roofing. Everywhere, junk was piled, dusty, blowing, rusting in yards. Garbage and litter were strewn everywhere, as if everyone just throws his trash onto the land as a matter of course.
In the wind, the red dust is always blowing, covering everything. Wild dogs roam the towns. Horses and cows wander everywhere - along city streets and sidewalks, along the highways, through parking lots. There is apparently no water for landscaping.
And yet, tribal government seems to be everywhere. In Ganado, in Fort Defiance, in Window Rock, in Chinle - in every town I passed through on the reservation, there seemed to be a plethora of government buildings.
Time and again - in Fort Defiance, in Ganado, in Tec Nos Pos, I saw an odd thing. It was as if the towns were abandoned and then rebuilt just down the road. This was most striking in Fort Defiance. The hospital where my father worked was once the center of the town. Now, closed and shuttered, it is on a street that is clearly rarely used. Around it, buildings that once were homes are tribal government offices. Trailers and shacks stand decaying nearby.
But the new hospital, a few blocks away, is shiny and fresh and big. Next to it is a new school. And next to that, there is what appears to be row after row of brand-new housing. The buildings look a little regimental, a little like a project, but they are, again, brightly new and occupied. It's as if the townspeople just looked around old Fort Defiance, found it unworthy of fixing up, and built new Fort Defiance instead.
A handout from the Canyon de Chelly visitors center discussed the issue of litter. When people feel undervalued, when they feel no ownership or pride in the land, they litter, the handout said. Twice yesterday, I saw recognition of the problem by the people who live there.:"One was a hand-lettered sign outside a ranch at the edge of a town: "Don't Litter," the sign read. The other was a woman and her daughter or granddaughter, picking up litter in the dusty wind at the edge of their property.