Day Eight brought us through the four corners and back into southeastern Utah
— the tedious chore of getting through “the rez.” We had over 60 miles of Ute and Navajo reservation to traverse and were determined to make it through all of it in a day - not because were afraid, per say, but because we did not want to trespass on foreign land. I respect the sovereignty of the Indian state, much more than I respect the contrived boundaries of public grazing land, and I didn’t want to park myself on their “private property” uninvited.
That said, the bleak landscape was uninviting enough to push anyone through
. The desert spread across an open plateau and rounded over the flat horizon. Pale brown dust covered the sparse vegetation as far as the eye could see. And along the highway right-of-way was a carpet of litter so continuous that it appeared to be there by design - shards of glass, brown beer bottles, crumpled boxes, glittering cans, long-dead road kill, plastic six-pack rings.
The collage was essentially an illustration of every negative Native American stereotype
that plagues the southwest... the shattered remnants of alcoholism, the painful stench of rural decay, the pitiful disinterest of poverty, all spread out over this lifeless landscape. For miles we traveled and saw no buildings. No fences. No billboards. No livestock. Just the unhindered flow of traffic through miles upon miles of bottles and cans.
Though I willed myself not to embrace empty stereotypes, I couldn’t get that image out of my head
- an image of a disillusioned Navajo man creaking down the highway in his 1972 Ford truck, head swimming in a pond of Bud Light and malt liquor. I see him tossing another bottle out the window every few miles, that last unswallowed portion of tepid liquid swirling in the air. He’s humming softly to AM radio- Hank Williams, and beads of sweat sparkle on his forehead. From my perspective I can’t tell where he’s going - there’s nowhere to live around here, that I can see. But even he doesn’t know where he’s been - his culture in tatters, his heritage condensed and confined to this land of salt and sand.
Geoff is far ahead of me by now - he is getting stronger much faster than I am.
Traffic is thin and sporadic, and I feel alone - vastly alone. I pass the first billboard I have seen all day - advertising a Burger King in Kayenta Arizona. “Thinking about lunch?” it asks. “Burger King - 98 miles.” I laugh out loud, mostly because 98 miles is a lot more than a meal period away for me. But to me, this billboard also manifests the power of selective vision. Here, in the midst of a virtual wasteland, coated with the glittering remnants of human suffering and division, is a billboard hoping, even assuming, that I'm thinking about lunch. Of all things.
And it feels even stranger when I realize I am.