We spent our final morning hours in Moab scrambling around the canyons looking for the Birthing Rock petroglyph. We stumbled upon the Moonflower Canyon petroglyphs as well. There's something really powerful about seeing the graffiti originators' sacred symbols etched on rock, communicating with visual art instead of words. A deep feeling of the past appears in the present and reverberates ancient truths that are relevant to what is at the core of all of us no matter the time or place. It's not something that photographs can communicate - you can only feel it by being in the sacred space.
As we drove towards Arizona, we were greeted by the grand structures in Monument Valley. It doesn't matter how many places I've been or how often I experience them - I am still always in awe of (and my soul feels such peace in the presence of) these natural wonders. There is something to be said about the marvelous feat of man that is my old stomping ground of NYC, but I don't think anything man has made can even come close to places like this. The very fact that is was not made by man is part of the magnificence.
In the middle of our drive, something in my gut told me I needed to stop at this one particular Native jewelry stand. I had no money to buy anything and no particular reason to stop there other than the fact that I knew I had to. Thankfully I was traveling with a wonderful creature who understands and respects the power of intuition so we were able to flow with the forces and meet the self-proclaimed Born Again Indian.
A little less than a decade ago, when I was studying photography in NYC, I took my first cross-country trip. It may not have been a long, sprawling adventure filled with spontaneity and exploration, but it was a wonderful introduction to the immense beauty of the changing landscape from one end of North America to the other. It also fed my lifelong road trip addiction. I will never forget the power the land held over me, the Southwest especially. When we reached New Mexico, I could feel the souls of all those who had come before me and was enraptured.
I felt a calling to come back to these lands and spend an extended amount of time living there and photographing the Native culture and that feeling never left me. Over the years, I wondered how (and when) I would find the opportunity to spend time there doing something good in the community and build a relationship of trust and respect that would allow me to remove any barriers that might keep me on the outside. Now on my third cross-country jaunt, those seeds that were planted back then began to sprout...
We walked into the Navajo Nation Shop and just began talking to the owner about life and how things came to be the way they are. Most reservations I'd been on at this point were full of fast food chains, casinos and seemed so far disconnected from the beliefs of the Native peoples that have drawn me to the culture and earth-based spiritual beliefs many times throughout my life. I needed to understand more about this disconnect.
Alfred told us about all the issues with reclaiming the land. The Native people who lived here long before any of us don't ever get to own any of the land. Because the government holds it in trust, they are not allowed to develop it however they want which leads to a lot of economic hardship. There is a Native American government of sorts, but it's essentially a puppet government of comprised of figureheads and because it's so difficult to get anything done, they are often referred to as 'The Longest Red Tape' by the people who try to make positive changes.
We also learned a lot about his plans for the art & culture center at Monument Valley that was in the middle of construction. They are trying to change tourism in the area into a more authentic experience, where people can learn more about the ancient ways and get to experience more than just shopping. Local artisans would be shifting from their roadside stands to an actual arts center where everyone could connect and build community.
As the conversation shifted to spirituality & Catholicism, we talked about 'In the Absence of the Sacred' and 'God is Red' for awhile. Alfred told us that he was a "Born Again Indian" because he realized that for so long, he was pushed to not like what he is and now he is seeing the truth.
I noticed a bluish ring around his eyes, similar to what you see in older diabetics so I asked him if he had diabetes. He said that his eyes had just always been like that, but the conversation shifted to talking about health & food so I told him about my intentions for this trip.
We talked about Hopi dry farming for a bit and then he told me about a man in town who I should connect with who shared my interests. He set up free organic meals at the community center in town every Tuesday at 5pm and was trying to create a sustainable food program in the area using dry farming & hydroponic gardens. He wasn't sure if the hydroponic gardens were a good idea or not, I think because it's not fully in harmony with nature.
Here the idea began to come together in my mind of doing some service work in the Native lands to help educate the people and bring back the Native diet. Diabetes, obesity, heart problems, alcoholism and domestic abuse are huge issues on every reservation I've been to so far and while I know it will take more than just food to remedy these issues, I can't help but think that helping the people empower themselves by returning to a healthier natural diet will help them start to regain their sense of self and clear their minds to live differently. I'm not sure what this will lead to, but something is definitely taking shape.
I got Alfred's contact information so I could keep in contact with him and help manifest this project, whatever it turns out to be. I also want to be able to spread the word about the art center he is creating, as the arts have been such a big part of my life.
The days make no sense anymore and don't matter. I am living pure bliss in every moment and love the freedom of living on my own time and how that allows everything to take shape right before my eyes.