I recently spent about three weeks in Navajo Country. Then I hitched the wagon and made my way to western Nebraska. From there, the plan is to head toward Montana and hang in Crow Country for the remainder of the summer, if not longer.
For the first five days in Navajo Country, I camped at the Navajo National Monument. Besides writing and hiking to an ancient cliff dwelling, I met a young German gal from Switzerland riding solo on a bicycle across Western USA. From the monument, I made my way to Klagetoh where I camped for the remainder of my stay. During this time, I had the opportunity to speak several times at local churches. It’s a growing desire to do more of this as opportunities arise, be it on reservations or in your fair town. Another treat was spending time with my friend “Jones.” Sadly, his son died while I was here last winter. He asked me to bring the message at the funeral, so I feel a special bond with Jones because of that tragic moment. And it seems we've connected on several levels. For starters, we’re about the same age. He was raised in Native America, while I was raised in middle-class America. It's more than interesting to compare notes. The highlight of our time together was when Jones took me on a hike up a local canyon that contained wild horses, bear tracks, and petroglyphs.
Many of the Native American tribes across the USA often refer to themselves as “nations.” But in the case of the Navajo, it really does feel like a nation unto themselves. As for the size of their reservation in terms of square miles, it’s the largest in the country, crossing the boarders of three southwestern states (the biggest parcel within Arizona). As for people, it’s the largest tribe as well, though some argue the Cherokee hold that title. But how many reading this have a bit of Cherokee in your ancestral mythologies and stories you heard from your great uncle Silas? Their numbers add up fast. The Navajo have such a rich history and tradition. And the language…wow…so intriguing and so very different than English and Spanish. In fact, you’re probable familiar with the “code talkers” of WWII, many of whom were Navajo. Just ask the Japanese Imperial Navy how difficult it was to decipher the native tongue of the Navajo Nation!
My first journey to the Navajo Nation was over 30 years ago. I met a Navajo girl, Marlene, while attending Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon. She encouraged me to visit the “rez” and live with her parents, Bahe and Mabel Woodman (both have since passed on in the last 10 years). It took me a while before accepting her challenge, years in fact, but I’m so glad did. It impacted my life so many ways…from shaking my theological paradigms, to leading me to the Cornhusker State where I met the love of my life. But even to this day, when I find myself in a trying situation, there are times when I think about Bahe and try to imagine him being in my shoes. WWBD = What Would Bahe Do?
After that short experience in the winter of 1984-85, I went my own way, got married, and took off to pursue a call on my life and to love a girl from Nebraska. That journey finally ended three years ago when I walked her to the finish line and released her hand into eternity.
We had no children, so now it’s just me...on my own.
But I’m really not alone. Of course, I have my immediate Shrout side of the family for which I’m forever grateful. Additionally, I have my in-law side of the family with whom I plan to stay connected until the day I check it in.
And since returning twice in the last 6 months, I’ve been reminded about the most precious gift I've received here on the Navajo rez. I’m part of another family. And it’s always been so since I first arrived here 30 years ago. Maybe it’s a traditional Navajo way of relating to people, but even during my brief relationship with Bahe and Mabel, they would sometimes refer to me as their son. A prodigal one, perhaps, since it took me so long to return...but a son, nevertheless.
During my recent reunion with my Navajo family, I’ve been encouraged by several of my brothers and sisters that I should simply live on the rez and stay “home” permanently.
I'm a blessed man.