Holbrook lies in northeastern Arizona along Route 66. It is the part of the state where my mother was born and where I still have a number of relatives. Residents there who dig a foot or more into the soil are almost certain to find pieces of petrified wood. A few miles to the east is the Petrified Forest proper, and to the north are spectacular views of the Painted Desert. But what truly informs the area and dominates it, in my mind, is the Navajo Reservation.
The reservation is the largest in the U.S. at about 27,000 square miles spread out over three states. Most of it is high desert with scattered red sandstone mesas dotted with scrub cedars and piñon pines. There are many “dry washes” — a term that tickles the fancy of my children. A “wash” is a stream bed and in arid country, the bed is dry most of the year. However, when there is a cloudburst in the mountains, a raging wall of water can fill it suddenly to the brim. The sky is extremely wide and a breathtaking blue. And even a gentle wind can be heard as it moves through the canyons. Time slows, stalls, and then all but stops here. High above, hawks soar effortlessly on the thermals. Rain can be seen coming miles away, and double rainbows are not unknown.
For a few months in 1941 I lived on the reservation while I was in the care of Aunt Genevieve, who taught first grade at the school in Ganado. Since I was in first grade at the time, it made sense. Most of the families lived in hogans then. They are round homes with the only door facing east, and a smoke hole in the ceiling. Most hogans had a loom set up in the yard, usually with some kind of cover — a ramada or tarp — as protection from the sun. There saddle blankets and rugs of various sizes came into being. I remember Mrs. Begay telling me that always in her weaving, she made a mistake on purpose because only God was perfect.
It was in the summer of 1957 that the closing prayer from the Navajo Way Blessing came into my life. It resonated within me. Often as I say it, I see the spectacular beauty of Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly.
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
In beauty all day long may I walk
I have said it over the years, most often when in some lovely outdoor setting. But it was only recently that I felt it in a new and bigger way. Consider this: the beauty is always there! The blessing is in being open to it. And it need not be the physical beauty of nature. It may be a beautiful smile, painting, song, story, letter, dance, gift, or the touch of a loved one. Even in dark and troubled days, it is possible to embrace the beauty.
In beauty all day long may you walk.
Colleen Huckabee, a Delaware resident, retired from Delaware City Schools, where she taught and headed the Science Department at Hayes High School and directed the Enrichment Program. At Ohio Wesleyan University, she taught science education and directed the OWjL Program for gifted middle school students.