The furiously restless wind blows across the vast patchy plains. With only sparse bushes rooted here and there, there is hardly any hindrance to its flow. The wind sways, sweeps, elevates and comes gushing down. It takes with it many small little particles of life and the lifeless. I sat witnessing all of this on a languid drive to Arizona. The drive through these vast empty expanses was consummating and the rest were already slumbering after a whole-hearted lunch at Moab.
We entered the famous reservation of Native Americans from the South Eastern tip of the Utah state. This is the Navajo Nation, a subdivision of Arizona. Here reside the Navajo people along with many other Native American tribes. It is their ethnic and political hub. Most of them were hunters and gatherers and lived in small settlements. They had migrated towards the north of Arizona along the Colorado River in pursuit for pastures for their cattle. The fertile river bed of the Eastern canyon gorges and surrounding hilly area was an ideal habitat. Hence they settled here for good. Later they were joined many sub tribes. They are deeply ingrained in their pedigrees and traditions even after acclimatising well to the contemporary society. They still believe in the mythical stories inherited from the past.
This fabled land with all the winds blowing across freely has many parables associated with nature, life and bereavement. There are folktales about the vegetation, superstitions regarding the searing weather, curses of the rocks, ambiguities around the insects and reptiles and so on. After a drive of almost an hour through the wilderness of Arizona, trees started to appear and there was quite lot greenery. We had reached a small town where we stopped by a gas station for refuelling the car and some refreshments for all of us. There were many dream-catchers hung around for sale. I had previously read about the dream-catchers and knew that they were associated with the Natives. Every testimonial had different accounts about the origin and allegories behind it. Nonetheless the dream-catcher is a very symbolic article of significance for almost all Indian tribes, from Ojibwas to Navajos to the Cherokees and each one of them had a different legend behind it. I was eager to know the Navajo story behind these beautiful webs, embellished with seeds, pearls and feathers.The elderly woman behind the jewellery counter was braiding a jute rope when I inquisitively approached her. She narrated a beautiful tale behind this charm called, The Dream-catcher.
“This land…” she pointed out.
“…was a desert with only Saguaro Cactus as the offering from Earth. Saguaro, a spiky, tall and robust cactus cannot be grazed by cattle nor can it be eaten by humans. It is regarded as the protector of the Colorado Plateau. The land offers no obstruction to the swift winds which carry seeds and pollens from the far west flowers and trees. So there was difficulty finding food and growing it too. The Navajo people offered many prayers to Mother Nature and asked of her to trap the life bearing seeds and pollens carried away by the winds and fulfil their dream of plentiful food and health for the tribe. So they made the dream-catcher as a symbol of their prayer. This charm became synonymous to many other things as it filters in the dreams and filters out the evil. It is often used as a charm for kids with a problem of nightmares and other grieved people of the community.” She also innocently credits all the trees and plants around as the blessing of the dream-catcher.
We took off after a long refreshing break from the gas station and drove another 3 hours into a highway motel for a night’s stay as it was pit-dark to drive along more. Following morning after a hearty breakfast, we drove past many Saguaro cactuses to the Grand Canyon.
Finally we reached with all excitement to the wonder of wonders! It takes a moment after you stand on the brink, beholding on and getting absolutely awestruck by this celestial structure. Measuring over 270 miles (434.5 km) long, its width alone at the maximum point apart, equals to an entire “Manhattan island lengthwise” and oh! Did I tell you that it is as deep as 3 Empire State building on top of each other? Yes, very much. Even more scintillating is the fact that the gorgeous gorges have been formed by the Colorado River over the course of 5 million years of corrosion.
Each layer of soil has a distinct colour and together they form a gradation of reds. There are paintings engraved in the walls suggesting that people inhabited the area for a short period of time. There is something very powerful about this geographical area, it almost immediately engulfs you into its past. And to me it did more so because of the fables of the earlier civilization that I got to know from the lady behind the jewellery counter at the gas station, Dezba Adakai. Dezba, the woman with lots of turquoise studded cuffs around her wrist and a geometrical hand-woven traditional skirt who had every bit of her homeland entrenched in her.
Though we might defy the fable behind the charms like the dream-catchers or the Saguaro cactus but we can certainly not deny the intentions behind those traditions. There is a reason as to why the mesh like dream-catcher was placed on the window at night, covering it completely given the fact that deserts of Arizona have a lot of nocturnal insects. There is a reason as to why they do not eat the completely edible, Saguaro cactus given the fact that the plant takes 300 hundred years to grow and quenches the thirst of small beautiful birds of the valley, gives shade to reptiles and snakes and produces medicinal flowers. And well! There is a reason why they soon left the settlements inside the Grand Canyon regardless of the proximity of the river water and that is simply to preserve it for others to see. So as silly as the dream-catcher may sound to us with all the stories of seeds, winds, old lady, spider, bad dreams and so on … in reality, it is the symbol of man’s greatest dream ever; to coexist with nature and balance each other’s energies.
“Do nothing to mar its grandeur for ages have been at work upon it and man cannot improve it. Keep it for your children, your children’s children and all who come after you.” ~Theodore Roosevelt