A Straight Back

Earlier this summer, Alice and I made a trip to the Grand Canyon. This trip was timed to be after maple syrup and before the gardens. We were barely able to shoehorn it in this year, but we did it. The purpose of this trip, like the one in 2018, was to say goodbye. The 2018 trip was to say goodbye to my Dad, who passed away in early April 2018. Mom died in November of 2018, so this was her trip.

This year Alice came along, and we followed a routine for the days we were there. After an early breakfast in our hotel in Tusyan, we drove in to the park and spent the morning hiking and sightseeing. Then there was lunch at the Maswik Lodge Cafeteria, and back to the hotel for a rest. Then we’d ride the Tusyan bus back to the park for several more hours of visiting, some supper again at the Maswik, then we’d catch the bus back to the hotel.

On two of our mornings, we headed up to a part of the park called Desert View, that I’d seldom visited before. On one of my hikes with Brother Gerry, we had the Desert View Watchtower in view up on the rim for much of our hike along the river. But I hadn’t really visited the area much until this trip.

The watchtower was designed by Mary Colter, who had built many iconic structures in the Grand Canyon and other national parks. As part of our visit, we learned a little about this remarkable woman and her beautiful work; all done during a time when architecture was traditionally a man’s profession.

soaking in the art with a straight back

The watchtower is a 3 story structure with stairways leading up to each floor. My favorite floor was the first floor, and I was lucky enough to often have the place to myself. The other tourists would walk up to the first floor, shown in the above picture, look around a bit, and then immediately climb up to the next two floors. Once done, they’d often climb down and back out into the sunshine. This left me a lot of time to sit on the bench and soak in the artwork.

I have to admit that I’ve often thought that Native American traditional artwork looked kind of childish. There was no real perspective or shading to denote depth. But during my hours sitting and contemplating the work, I came to a much different conclusion. Let’s say I wanted to celebrate the marriage of a beloved daughter to a fine capable man. Or that I wanted to permanently chronicle a bumper crop of corn and squash that would feed my family with some to spare. I am an ancient Native American without access to brushes, paints, canvas, or other tools that we now take for granted. My responsibility was to find pigments in the materials close at hand, find a suitable wall to accept my work, and then allow my heart to sing on that rock wall. What would I come up with?

The answer is I would not have come up with anything as wonderful as what I saw at Desert View. Granted these were not ancient paintings, but were executed by Native American artists in the 1930s. They were based on traditional Hopi works.

As I sat quietly and allowed my mind to settle down, the work came alive for me. The wonder of the stars, the comfort of a good harvest, and numerous symbols whose meanings were not clear to me, but contributed to the stories living and breathing on this circular space.

I don’t know if I’ll be fortunate enough to return to the Grand Canyon National Park, but if I do, Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower will be near the top of my list for another visit.

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