August 18, 2009
When I think of the word ‘desert’, I hear phrases in my mind such as ‘food-desert’, or ’emotional desert.’ All of which communicate a lack of something important. My time in the veritable deserts of New Mexico and Arizona were anything but barren- they provided for me more than I can share simply in words. The abundant and generous attitude of the human community, combined with the exquisite bio-diversity of the landscape, created a trip that is engraved in my bones and heart.
Here in the sands of the Eastern Agency of the sovereign Navajo Nation, we dug for wild carrots. These were not so edible. It was recommended I try one, if I needed to experience the potency of oxalic acid. I refrained from the taste test. The collection was a joy, and we gathered many, enough for our teacher Rose to create dye baths well after the passing of the harvest season
Dye baths of cliff rose, wild carrot, Navajo tea, ground lichen, and rabbit brush, were created from plants that were gathered the day before in the long and far stretches of the high mesa plains. I had not cooked dyes over an open flame before. The smells of the cooking plants were overpowered by the smell of ash, and burning wood. Rose and her husband Henry arose at 5 a.m. to begin splitting the wood, building the fire, and making the dye vats.
Henry speaks Navajo and English, although he is a quiet man. He is retired now from years of working in the coal mines, and as a welder’s assistant. Although ‘retired’, he is continuously at work-whether it be a new addition on the home, to fit the growing family, or crafting weaving tools for the increasing number of young ones who Rose is teaching to weave.
Rose, grandmother of 17, raising 14 of them herself, is a woman who cares for her family with a humble dedication. Here, she cleans yarns being pulled from the dye vat. Her body moves into the routine with an impeccable casualness. She rinses, squeezes, picks out the plant matter, and then hands over the skeins to a family member, who places them on the fence to dry.
Here is Rose with her daughter in law and grand-daughter rinsing skeins together. Roses’s daughter in-law is a fine weaver, she showed us several looms she is working on simultaneously- one of her rugs is being woven with her grandmothers hands-spun yarns, that had been saved for many years after her passing.
Here are many of the family members together. Paige Green took this picture, along with many other incredible shots during our journey. Even amongst the sand, ash, decomposed granite, and wood smoke, she managed to document our journey with incredible skill and precision.
And now the desert colors are home with me.