Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I went thinking we'd be visiting and photographing a Churro sheep breeder /herder/weaver and throw in as much ethnic connection as we could, along with the knitting. Instead, the writer and I found ourselves living for 5 days with an extended Navajo family in a remote setting, completely immersed in their lives. It was one of those " oh, how did I get so lucky to have this amazing experience" weeks. I can't show you the most woolly, fibery/sheepy/knitty parts that'll be in the book - (did I mention it's called Shear Spirit )- but since so much of the trip can't fit into that one measly chapter, how about some postcards from the rez?
A scene setter
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Here's where we stayed, with Helen out front. When I say out front, it's not as in "the yard" because, well, there is a lot of land out there and it just extends. Totally freaked out my east coast sense of space and boundary. That ugly little orange car was our unfortunate rental. The price was right but it wasn't meant for unpaved sandstone -clay earth that turns as slippery as a bumper car rink when wet. The upside: no other traffic when you are sliding sideways off the road.
Helen's son Jay is our main subject. Until we pulled up, we didn't realize we'd be moving in with her, Jay, two other adult sons, a daughter-in-law and a 5 week old grandbaby. To say she is a generous spirit is gross understatement.

Our main subject, with spinning and fiber content
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More misconceptions blown away. I always thought churro wool was rough and meant for outerwear, rugs, saddle blankets. Not so! If only I had "touchavision" so you could feel the lovely skeins Jay makes, in naturals and in some of the local plants he's using for dyes.

You know you won't find much spinning content here normally but here it is: I saw a lot of spinning going on, all of it using a lap spindle. He made it look so easy I almost asked to try but...nah. When he started to ply and spin the plies together, a little blog-reading light bulb went off in my head. Says I " Um, that what they call Navajo plying". It is to his great credit that he didn't kick me across the mesa. Or even laugh.
Since the first language spoken by all in the community is Navajo, he may have relayed this comment to everyone right in front of me, though. I only picked up 3 or 4 words: hello, thank you and white women.

New friends
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Rena & Sam, a great aunt & uncle, came over to meet us . Jay had told them of our interest in the churro wools. They raise sheep, goats and Rena is a master weaver. Sam or Jay take her rugs to a trading post that is a couple of hours away, the rugs eventually go to dealers in places like Santa Fe. These are some of the small samples she makes when working out patterns and color combos. Yup, these are rug swatches. Rena speaks no English, Sam only some. They regarded my enthusiasm for photographing them ("Jay, ask them if they would stand wait...ask them if they'd walk down the ridge a little" with great amusement. Turns out no one has ever photographed them before. 8x 10's will be mailed this week.

They invited us over for traditional Navajo breakfast the next morning.
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In their hogan Rena cooked us Navajo bread, straight in the embers, and then grilled a rack of freshly butchered goat. The hogan is kind of a cabin/clubhouse they spend most of their time in, directly behind their small modern house. Sam built it by hand from timbers, and also a teepee nearby. Turns out every family has some traditional building like this outside their 60's modular home. The food? It smelled fab-u-lous. I ate as much of the breads as I could without being an obvious pig.

Proof that we also worked on the book
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A little behind the scenes action. I am dying to show the sweaters that were designed from the churro wool for the book but..sorry. We spill no pattern before its time.

Alas no soundtrack
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The things you can't show: the smell of sandstone, juniper and sage after it rains, endless sky, and during the day when all the animals were far away grazing, a silence so profound it borders on disturbing to my cluttered ears. Except for these guys.


elan said...

Very exciting, love the pictures, wanted a link to buy the yarn though, hint?

Carole Knits said...

Oh Gale. What an amazing, incredible experience this must have been. To actually live with these people! I am jealous and in awe.

Norma said...

Oh, the experiences you are having! So rich and wonderful.

HPNY Knits said...

great pictures! thanks for sharing. its wonderful you could be in it, not just write/photograph it.

Cara said...

Is it bad to admit how envious I am? ;-)

Cookie said...


mary lou said...

What good fortune/payoff for hard work to have such a wonderful unexpected experience. With your observant eye you must have really seen so much. Can't wait for the book.

Sunflowerfairy said...

That is just stunning. I wanna see more!

Ramona said...

What amazing photos! I was told by a friend (I don't know if it's true) that in Europe one of the new popular vacations is visiting the Southwest and having someone drive you around so you can actually experience neverending, wide open spaces with no buildings around to block your veiw.

Jess said...

Your photography is really beautiful.

Baycolonyfarm said...

Your photos are so expressive! That area of the southwest is so beautiful, and you have captured everything that I remember about it.

AlisonH said...

Did anybody tell you what a gift to you it was that they let you take pictures of the people? According to traditional Navajo lore, in creating an image of them you would be taking some of their spirit and capturing it in the photos, never letting them be completely free again. I know that 25 years ago, at least, when I had a Navajo college classmate explaining her people's ways to me, it would have been very rare to have been allowed to risk that for them. You were greatly honored.

(Blogger claims that didn't go through, I hope this doesn't appear twice.)

knotingale said...

I truly enjoyed reading your account of your time in the reservation. It is one of my favorite places to visit. I'll be looking for the book.
The churro yarn I bought is rough and scratchy, but it was intended for rugs. I'm glad to know that it can be soft--I guess it just depends on how it is spun.