When the Weight of the Sky Pushed Them Down
I've been doing my current job for 32 years; lots of travel, places and people. A few memories stick out; my own Book of Hours, it would be almost one per year.
The first job I was on was Four Corners Power Plant, near Farmington, New Mexico, on Navajo Nation land, where the turbines brought electricity to the people, and the smokestacks brought death to the indigo plants in the area. Shiprock, the volcanic mountain, stands to the west. I was working the nightshift, and one day went to see it. After sleeping in the morning, I drove west along US Highway 64, toward the mountain. On the way, I passed a slower moving vehicle, a red pickup truck with lots of people in it, four in the cab, five or six sitting in the back. Locals, Native Americans, Navajos.
The mountain was superb in shadowed relief as the afternoon sun went lower. I got good pictures in the clear air, under nothing but blue sky. At 8 p.m. I'd have to be back in to work, so the time came to return east toward the hotel. After a few miles there were flashing lights in the distance; as I got closer I saw they were Navajo Tribal Police vehicles.
There had been an accident - the pickup truck I had passed had run off the road. It was where the highway went through a cut in the hills, red rock walls rising on either side, red sand and dust below. Bodies wrapped in white sheets, out of place against the red; blindingly white, impossibly white, shouldn't be.
I drove past the scene very slowly, and now I don't know if the three Navajo Police officers were moving or not. I see them standing stone still, burdened, slightly bent over, heads looking at the ground, with that big, beautiful blue sky above them. Shock and sadness stepping down from above, grief being born. Navajos are quiet mourners, and I wonder if in the great cycle of all things, of which death is a part, the spirits were then walking away, softly, across their hearts. Law enforcement is no stranger to traffic accidents, and tragic loss of life is sometimes seen, but this was more - this was their people.
Copyright © Doug Vinson | Year Posted 2016
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