Canyon de Chelly
copyright 2003 by Lynn Bridge
30″ x 40″
I made this painting years ago, remembering a trip to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. The canyon is land of the people we call Navaho in most parts of our country, but who call themselves Dee-nay, meaning “People”. I suppose every group who has ever lived has thought of itself as THE People. We camped on land presided over by a man whose family had always lived there, and he made a living introducing the stranger to this place.
He took us on a morning hike down into the canyon, by way of an old path on the rock in which no stairs had been carved, but metal handrails had been bolted into the face years ago. Had we been natives, we would not have needed the handrails at all, but would have scaled the rock up and down hundreds of feet like flies. Our guide demonstrated this for us. After he had thoroughly alarmed us, he guided us over to the modern carved steps and neophyte path.
Once at the bottom, we could enjoy the natural charm and bounty of the area, walking under trees and past gardens watered by the stream, or at least, by the water table under the level of the stream, at the cliff’s base. We walked mostly by ourselves, but at one point, a tiny, sun-beaten woman about half my height, and wearing traditional dress, emerged from the underbrush. She spoke to our guide in their native language and she was clearly irritated. After this exchange, the guide explained to us that her grandchildren had failed to repair her corral fence for her and the sheep had gotten loose, forcing her to range through the canyon, hunting for her livestock in the thickets.
On that trip, it was so easy to think of ourselves on foreign soil, and in a way, I guess we were.