Ranch Country photography
by Robert McCune
Canyon de Chelly, April 2003. Part Five.
6 a.m. Woke up to clear blue sky and no wind. Lay here awhile, enjoying this lull. The quietness. Then somebow, the nagging thought entered my mind, about two previous occupations I was real good at but just hadn’t worked out for whatever reason. Soldier. Peace Officer. Before I became a painter of houses. I think it has all led to this. Where I am now. Painting houses for elderly ladies on the Navajo Reservation.
8 a.m. Ben came out to the tent to see how I was making out. Tells me his mother woke him last night, worrying that maybe I was cold out here and maybe should have invited me to sleep in the house on the kitchen floor. (Only two rooms). With typical old-ways Navajo aversion to intruding, she decided not to have Ben to come out and get me. I asked him to assure his mother that I had a comfortable night and slept warm enough, but admitted I wasn’t looking forward to another night on the ground in that tent. He’s going out this morning via the trail and will have Howard drive in and take me out late this afternoon instead of tomorrow.
Later this morning. With camera gear in hand I hiked downstream, the north canyon wall towering directly above me. Another NIKON shoot. At a just-right spot where the canyon narrows considerably, I stopped for lunch. Half a trail-mix bar and the remaining half of yesterday’s orange. Thought of the streamside lunches my daughters and adopted son and I had those many weeks we spent backpacking the John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra mountains.
Very little sleep last night. Time for a nap. Selected a flat stone to rest head on. Under partly overcast sky and a few fluffy white clouds, drifted into a sleep with the sound of the stream gurgling nearby. Awoke to a loud rustling kind of noise right above me, coming from a narrow brush-covered ledge. Staying in prone position, I turned my head and saw a male turkey take to the air and land along the bank of the stream. He then flew to the other side.
Five minutres later, a female turkey stepped from the dense brush 20 feet or so to my left. She carefullly stepped along the grassy embankment, peering this way and that. Feathers a beautiful dark and light grays. A 1-inch band of white near the end of each long tail feather. Seemingly indifferent to my presence, she slowly spread her wings and lifted herself ino a glide, across to the other side of the stream. (I don’t envy anyone. Thank you, God.).
5 p.m. Back in SHADOW CATCHER at Spider Rock Campground. It’s snowing now! That night, thunder boomed close overhead, rumbling and echoing across the canyon. It is cold. Me to Maggie: “We should have checked into the Thunderbird Motel.”
Maggie, in her sleeping bag, reading. “Well, you have to decompress. Be too much of a shock to go straight to a motel from camping in the canyon.” (Decompress?)
7 a.m., the following morning. The ground is white and a sheet of frozen snow covers the campsite table. Can’t see out the windshield. Temp is 29 degrees inside the van.* Getting out Josie’s food, I say to Maggie, “No toast or pancakes this morning.”
Maggie turns toward the wood-paneled side wall and burrows deeper into the warmth of her sleeping bag. Goes back to sleep. Hey ya!
(*SHADOW CATCHER has no auxilliary heater).