A Real Cliffhanger

Back in 2005, I took a trip out west with my boyfriend at the time to Canyon De Chelly because I had a fascination with all things Anasazi. The canyon is now a national monument, but people have been living there for almost 5,000 years. Currently about 40 Navajo families are in residence. As with most of the rest of Arizona, the landscape is stunning.

Wide Canyon VIew

To go into the canyon itself you need to take a tour or get a permit. We opted to go horseback riding with a Navajo guide. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone manages to live there, because it is, in essence, a big bowl of sand. If not for the horses, we’d have been slogging along in calf high sand the vast majority of the time, with only the occasional grove of olive trees for shade, and no water to speak of.

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Our guide took us to see some beautiful petroglyphs, and then, further along, some ancient cliff dwellings high above the canyon floor. I asked him if he had ever climbed up there, and he said, “No, because it would affect our bodies.”

I thought that was a curious response, and it had me reflecting upon the great cultural divide between me and this man, who had not spoken much at all up to this point. He began to interest me more than the landscape we were travelling through. I’d ask him questions. He’d pause, as if considering the best way to dole out his words in the most economical fashion. Then he’d respond.

“Have you always lived in this area?” Pause. “Yes. Always.”

Hours later, after his occasional brief response to my inquiries, for some reason the dam seemed to break. When I asked him if he’d ever been outside of this area he paused for a long time. Then he told me the following story.

“One time these people came here and booked a 3 day tour. The lady liked one of our horses so much that she offered to buy it, but she wanted us to deliver it to her home near Boston. So we did. We drove the whole way without stopping. Through many lands. Then we saw Boston.”

“Did you get to see the ocean?”

“Yes.”

“What did you think?”

“It was very big.”

I will always have a mental image of this man gazing out at the Atlantic as if he had just arrived from another planet. “Then we came home.”

At the end of the tour we said our good byes and I realized that this man had a much greater impact on me than I had on him. To him, I’m sure, I was like a brief wind. I wasn’t the first. I wouldn’t be the last. But to me, he was like a stone monument. He would always be there in my mind.

That night we camped, and the next day we drove along the rim of the canyon, stopping at each of the overlooks to take in the stunning views. At the last overlook, the eerie western silence was broken by a strange sound. I couldn’t identify it, and the first time I heard it, I thought it must have been my imagination. Then there it was again.

“Did you hear that?”

“No. What?”

“That!”

I got down on my hands and knees, and stuck my head over the side of the cliff, and sure enough, on a ledge about 3 feet below us was a skinny little puppy. He was shivering and crying.

“Oh, shit. We can’t just leave it.”

“Barb, it’s a 1,000 foot drop.”

“I know. But if I drive away and leave that dog, I’ll never be able to live with myself.”

And before he could say anything, I lowered myself down to the ledge, which, thank God, supported my weight. Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…I grabbed the puppy, handed it to my boyfriend, climbed back up and walked as far away from the rim as I could get so as not to have the panic attack that I could feel trying to overtake me.

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Alrighty then. Next. Feed the puppy. And man, he was hungry. He ate half our picnic lunch. I would have loved to keep him, but Florida was a long way away. So we took him to the ranger station, and they told us they’d bring him to a no kill shelter at the nearest town. We had one request.

“Tell them his name is Cliff.”

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