Every time I drive one of my kids home, it hits me again that they have grown up in a different world than I did. I don’t think I’ve ever painted a mental picture of what it looks like where my kids live on the Rez, so here goes. Keep in mind everywhere is a little different, but this is what it looks like around here.
You start out driving west down 66, past the fire station and the junkyard and the gravel pit. For a while you parallel I-40 and the giant diesels roar past you, but then 66 makes a sharp right turn and you cross the train tracks. Maybe you turn left and go over the one-lane bridge across the ravine, or maybe you keep going straight on the highway; either way, you are eventually on cracked pavement giving way to graded dirt roads. These roads are actually pretty good, though they make you glad you are driving a “vehicle” (off-the-ground automobile) rather than a car (close-to-the-ground automobile). As you’ve been driving, you’ve passed trailer park after trailer park, but once you hit the train tracks the trailer parks stop. The trailers don’t, because just about every home out here is a trailer or a prefabricated movable house, but now they are spread out with miles between clusters of 2-3 trailers. You have to turn off the graded dirt road to get to a cluster, and the road abruptly turns into a rutted, bumpy thing that makes you suddenly understand why the excuse “We couldn’t get the truck up the road,” is valid.
Each cluster looks similar: there’s a trailer that’s lived-in, with dark windows and a wooden stoop; then there’s the old trailer, which is usually right near the new trailer, in stages of decrepitude, because why bother getting rid of it? It’s not like that 30 square feet of space is needed in this wide-open area. There’s a packed-dirt area all around, usually with a bunch of cars parked haphazardly on it. Some are working, some are not, and at least one will have no wheels or signs of life. There might be a horse corral too, and likely as not there’s an old, rusted horse corral next to the real horse corral, for the same reason that the old trailer is right next to the new trailer. 5 or 6 rez-dogs of different sizes and colors wander around and bark at you as you drive up. The Hogan is off to the side, looking much more solid than the trailer does. It’s made of cement, or solid wood siding, or maybe even stacked logs, and the chimney rises out of the perfectly shingled roof.
As you turn around to look at the land, you realize you cannot see another sign of people from where you are. Other trailers, the highway, even the train noises have all faded away. The hills and mesas stretch around you, rocky and jagged. There is no grass, but scrubby green bushes dot the landscape, as do trenches and arroyos. A prairie dog scampers across your path and a horse munches away, unfenced. It’s a hardscrabble, unforgiving landscape that is both beautiful and awe-inspiring in its refusal to be conquered or changed. You can imagine that this area, this canyon, this mesa, has looked exactly the same for the last hundred years, and will still look the same in a hundred years more.
Your student jumps out of the car and runs up to the trailer in his basketball shorts and Nikes. His auntie comes to the door and you wave, then turn the car around and head back. Back up the rutted dirt road, out to the highway, past the gravel pit and the fire station, back to the world of traffic lights and fast food. It’s only been 20 minutes and 11 miles, but you would swear it’s another world.