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rock springs-then and now

June 5, 2012

My husband used to tell me about waking up early just before dawn and just lying there in the dimness listening to the late-night/early-morning DJ’s playing the special kind of music late-late radio hosts like to play—those slow, sentimental, haunting country western songs. I never understood it, but I accepted it.

Now I do the same thing…only without the radio. I wake up just before dawn and wait for the light to brighten across the sky. I like early mornings.

Today I was thinking of the time I spent with the kids on the mission and all the things there.

Today there is a regular little community at ‘Rock Springs’ but when I first went there we had the windmill and the old chapter house as the center of the community. The mission was across from the windmill, Sister Brown and her daughters, Martha, Nellie and their families lived back the road between the mission and the windmill. Helen and Leonard Jones lived directly across the main road from the mission. All of the other community members lived along that main road at various distances from the center. Well, not really all of them. The Rock Springs chapter extended across the highway on the east and north, but the ‘Rock Springs Road’ was the center.

I always liked the big windmill. I’m kind of sad that it isn’t working any more. The old windmill pumped, of course, when the wind blew. There was a huge tank that held like a million gallons of water (figuratively speaking, but a lot of water.) There was a smaller tank that held drinking water. Water from the windmill went to the smaller tank first. The water there was cleaner than in the big one. The water from the big tank flowed into several (2 or 3) long water troughs for the stock.

I guess there was a float switch or something that locked the big vanes of the windmill when the tanks were too full. I don’t know. I never worried about it when I lived there and now that I think about it I have no idea.

What I remember best is seeing the community livestock trekking across the road to drink. The cattle and horses that wandered further on their own used to come in little groups. They would drink and stand around a while in the shade of the tanks then drink again before they headed on out to where ever.

The goats of the people in the community were usually brought in by the herders, although some came on their own. They followed the same pattern as the larger stock. The animals were usually thirsty and needed no ‘herding’ toward the water troughs, they came all too willingly, streaming across through the sage and rabbit bush. The herder tagged along behind.

The routine at the water tank involved slaking their first intense thirst then bumming around for a while nibbling at imaginary wisps of vegetation and nibbling on the real sage and weeds that survived around the tanks. After a while the water they had drunk seeped into their dehydrated tissues. Before they left they all had another few sips of water, like topping off a gas tank before you start a long trip.

Everyone, or almost everyone, in the community had a few goats or a cow or a couple horses. If they didn’t keep them at their own house they let their own couple animals run with someone else’s. It wasn’t so much a financial need as a cultural connection. It kept them tied to their tracitional roots, I think.

Today it isn’t that way. More and more of the young people have abandoned old cultural ways to pursue jobs. It is a financial necessity. The land is not big enough and the vegetation does not replace itself fast enough to maintain herds that will support a family as they could. The younger Navajos have been forced to take on more of anglo ways. And that is okay but I desperately hope that they do not forget or completely abandon the ways of their mothers.

My nephew, Irving, who is head of the Navajo library system, told me once that they have shelves of recordings made by their elders telling stories, recounting events and singing songs of the Dineh. I hope, I hope that those recordings have been digitized and preserved for those younger Navajo who will begin seeking a way back to their history. It is a beautiful culture and fantastic, proud history. I’m proud of it and I don’t have a drop of Navajo blood—only a much loved husband and mother-in-law and a family in Rock Springs that is probably closer to me than most of my Anglo family.

When I go back to the community today, I’m excited to see that the vegetation in a lot of places that had been nibbled bare is re-growing. The sage and rabbit bush and the grasses they nurture are coming back. The juniper is growing where once it was thin and sparse. As I drive (or ride, actually) up over the hill and connect with the old Rock Springs road, it is surprising how much more foliage the landscape has. But the desert landscape is fragile. This is proof. It has taken what? Thirty or forty years for the fullness to return. Humans don’t value the land and its plant life as much as they should.

desert overgrazingThe land on the right is an example of land restricted from grazing. On the left is land where goats have been grazed too long.[/captio

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