It was the winter of 1987. My mom worked for the Indian Health Service in Chinle Arizona. Trudy and I lived in Denver and made the trip to see mom for a long weekend. We split the drive into two days, spending our first night in Durango, and driving into Chinle the following morning.
Chinle is a small community near the center of the Navajo reservation. Home to Canyon De Chelly and some of the most spectacular scenery in the American southwest, the town exists in complete isolation — the kind of isolation one might feel if they were in Antarctica or on Mars. That kind of isolation was as much the attraction for me as the scenery.
We left Durango under cloudy skies and in sub-freezing temperatures. The forecast through the desert was more of the same. As we approached Chinle on Highway 191, 30-miles or so from town, we began to see the occasional dirt road leading to a hogan, a mobile home, or some combination of the two. These are called Navajo Suburbs.
As snow began to fall, we came across a sign reminding us how isolated we were…
YEILD TO LIVESTOCK
The Navajo reservation is open-range, so it’s not unusual to see cattle, sheep, and horses crossing the road — or even gathering in it. As we slowed to yield the intersection, we noticed an elderly Navajo woman, in traditional dress with a shawl across her shoulders, standing beside the road with her thumb out — hitchhiking. It might’ve been 30° and large flakes of snow were falling slowly to the ground.
We slowed down to offer the old woman a ride, but before we came to a complete stop, and upon looking at us, she spit on the ground in front of her and turned her back to us — indicating she didn’t want a ride. Not from Anglos anyway — or at least that’s how we perceived it.
I honestly don’t remember if we pursued offering her a ride beyond that, but I don’t think we did. I know we were both humbled and saddened, but we knew why. I remember making the comment that the old woman wasn’t spitting at us — she was spitting on history. I’m pretty sure Trudy and I didn’t talk again until we arrived in Chinle.
At least a few times a month I ride through some of the local Indian communities in North San Diego County. A few of those roads are similar to the Navajo suburbs — long dirt driveways cutting through dry chaparral, with the occasional mobile home a few hundred yards in the distance, though there are no hogans around here. It takes me back.
Nearly 35 years later, I still think about it — about the old woman who would rather stand and let snow fall on her shoulders on a frigid morning than accept a ride from a couple of white folks in a Renault Alliance. Somehow, I don’t think much has changed.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
This week by the numbers…
Bikes Ridden: 7
Mph Avg: 15.6
Seat Time: 11 hours 12 minutes
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there’s this from David Lindley and Wally Ingram . Enjoy…
4 thoughts on “Spitting On History…”
My best long time friend after dental school in Indiana took a job with the Health Service in Riverside, Ca. It totally changed the trajectory of his life for the better. As for history, I’ve never been part of the remember the past crowd when it comes to bad things. I believe each generation and individual has the opportunity to make their better version of history, though I rarely see that happen.
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This one I’ll have to disagree with on the remembering of bad aspects of history. For those who are not white in this nation — Black, Hispanic, Asian, and native, the opportunity to create their own versions of history and improve upon it, have scarcely been available to them.
There have been many successes and progress has been made, but if you’ve ever spent time in our native communities, rural Alabama, or south Phoenix, as just a few examples, there’s not a lot of opportunity there — and there never has been.
Millions of people have been told that opportunity is there and to pull themselves up by their bootstraps — only to get beaten down by every attempt.
Just my thoughts…
I was actually referring to my own bigoted experiences and how they did not change me to where I became like those who hated me and hated them back. I get what you are referring to.
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Good Story.Not comparing to how our Native American’s were treated and forced to live on the Rez. I’ll Never Ever forget living in the Georgia in the late 60’s into early 70’s off post. We had to do our weekly laundry and saw the White Only and Colored Only signs to the LaunderMat, as well to Restrooms,and Cafe’s White Only. And were told we could no use this, go use the Colored Only. Another incident was with my Dad dark skinned an Ilocano Pacific Islander,while shopping for a new car,walking the lot of the Ford dealership not one salesperson came to assist us. Not until we walked off the lot,a Rep, yelled Hey what do you need, We walked accross the street to the Pontiac dealership Dad purchased a new 1973 Pontiac Grandville.So I can relate a little bit to what the Old Navajo woman was feeling. As a kid I could not understand why we were part of the prejudice, racial mistreatment. However, boy did I sure learn from my Black friends Where to and Where not to Go. Growing up a military kid I lived with diversity,well at least on Post/Base versus the outside. Thank you again for another good Composition. Stay Well.
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