Navajo Stuff At The Ranch Pen

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Photo of Navajo farms on the floor of Canyon de Chelly (duh-shay) near Chinle, Arizona taken by Gramps and me in 2012

As mentioned in last weeks’ post Characters At The Ranch Pen, I get asked about where the ideas for the characters in my stories come from. Since I find my character, Annie, one of the most interesting, we’ll begin with her.

Many years ago, Gramps was a pipeline welder and if our little boys and I wanted to see him (we did) we had to follow his work.  As a result, we lived for short periods of time near many of the major natural gas production areas of the western United States. We spent a lot of time in towns near the huge natural gas field that encompasses parts of southern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah, and which also happens to be partly on the Navajo reservation. While beating around in Navajo country, I became one of author Tony Hillerman’s biggest fans, devouring–so to speak–all of his books about Navajo cops, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. (I still read Mr. Hillerman’s books sometimes when I am homesick for a mind-painting of that arid, beautiful country of breath-taking cloud formations and canyons.)

While in Farmington, New Mexico we usually stayed at a motel called the Anasazi Inn. At that time, the Inn had a restaurant with live piano music on certain evenings. One evening as we dined to piano music, I happened to glance across the room to where the most stunningly beautiful young Navajo woman sat eating with a man. I got the impression he was a white man, but I didn’t pay much attention to him. The young Navajo woman didn’t smile, and she barely spoke while she ate. She was tall and willowy and dressed like nearly any other white woman in the room rather than in traditional garb–loose blouse, full skirt, silver and turquoise jewelry, and wearing her hair in the traditional Navajo bun. (Many Navajo women dress that way yet.) Aside from that young woman’s beauty, nothing about her called attention, still…she was very different–remote, unreadable, and yet sad.

*Disclaimer: Bear in mind, I have a wild imagination and she might have been as happy as a clown that night. That was just my reading of her from across the room while I mopped up my boys’ spills and corrected their table manners with cries like, “Must you eat like a hog?” or, “Please remember you are not a barbarian who just came down from the mountains picking his teeth with a bone.”

Anyway, I never forgot that beautiful young lady. Eventually I named her Annie and she found her way into my book The Cedar Tree where she plays a minor character. (In subsequent tales, she assumes a role as a major character.)

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Toadlena, New Mexico, Trading Post–a beyond interesting old place where Navajo weavers sell their rugs, handwoven in the Two Grey Hills style. The proprietor, Mark Winters, wrote a book on the subject called, The Master Weavers, which I love. (It also weighs approximately one-hundred-pounds, so it is very useful for defense, as well.)

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Two Grey Hills Trading Post est. in 1897 is a few miles from the Toadlena post and is where my character, Annie’s, grandmother sold her handwoven rugs.

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Looking southwest from the parking lot of the Two Grey Hills Trading Post

Annie, as a Navajo woman, happened to intersect very well with my interest in sheep and wool. Navajo society has revolved around their flocks ever since the Spaniards introduced sheep to the southwestern United States several hundred years ago.

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Navajo women weaving  in the 1930’s via wikimedia

4ac54b470c60b6c37f042d91dae31163woman spinning with Navajo spindle via nationalcowboymuseum.org.

I have the greatest respect for the Navajo women who still use those long spindles to spin their rug yarn. The task is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, says Danni whose yarn spun on her Navajo spindle usually resembled some particularly dreadful dreadlocks.

So, that’s where Annie came from. I guess it remains to be seen where she’ll end up.

As always, thanks for reading and until next time, God bless all y’all, and enjoy Acappella singing Rescue, my favorite since the first time I heard these guys perform live. They’re always awesome no matter which of the fellers they’ve got singing together.

[youtube.com/watch?v=BsA8qybks1M]

*These guys don’t necessarily endorse my blog I just love ’em.

5 thoughts on “Navajo Stuff At The Ranch Pen

  1. Pingback: Mind Barf From The Ranch Pen | From the Ranch Pen–A Danni McGriffith Blog

  2. You are definitely a “noticer”. I love that Annie is a woman you’ve actually seen and who still sticks in your memory. Those are my favorite kind of characters. I was on a missions trip in New Mexico years ago on a Navajo reservation. I remember, in particular, the sky at night. It was like the stars touched down on earth, or maybe I was simply floating off into space. It was breath-taking. Thanks, Danni!

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