Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Meaning of Home

Goulding's Trading Post, Monument Valley, Utah

This is Susie. Susie is 91 years old. She is a Navajo. Susie never went to school and speaks no English. Here Susie is washing some wool from her herd of sheep. After the wool is washed, combed and rolled into twine, it then has to be dyed, using native plants. Then Susie will spend seven months making a 2'x5' rug from the dyed wool. Susie has 42 grandchildren who take turns coming out to help her with her herd and bring her water and other supplies.

Susie lives in a hogan made of cypress logs and red mud. She doesn't have electricity or running water. The hogan has a doorway facing east and a square hole in the roof for light and for the chimney of her wood-burning stove. In the picture above, Susie is partly in sunlight from the roof opening.

Tom brought us here. Tom is about my age. As he talks, we learn that Tom is one of Susie's sons. Tom has spent his entire life in this valley. Tom has five brothers and a sister. He grew up in a hogan like this and went out every morning to herd sheep. Tom probably has no difficulty with the concept of "home".

Well I'm here to deliver
I hope you can read my mail
I just escaped last night
From the memory county jail
-Neil Young
In a flippant mood, I tell people that home is where my wheels are. We've been driving around for 2 1/2 years with no fixed address.

When I think of home and what it means, I have to separate past home, present home and future home. I was born in Ithaca, New York. When I go back there, I feel that I've gone home. Cayuga lake is 55 degrees in July. When you plunge into the lake the cold water in your nose will tell you you've arrived home like an aging salmon returned to spawn.

Mrs. Phred and I have been married 42 years (there's that number again). We've lived in a number of homes. The longest stretch was in a home in Tampa where we watched our son grow up. It was a friendly place and the neighbors often gathered for evening porch parties and shared wine and appetizers. The little kid next door liked me and brought me copies of his all his new "Captain Underpants" books. I made copies of his favorite music on my computer for his friends. He helped me bottle wine. It was home: a place of shelter, comfort and family.

Right here and now, in the present, home really is where my wheels are. Mrs. Phred is here. When we wake up we have to always remind each other where we are today. Some present homes are more interesting, others less so. Forgive me gentle readers, but home is where the heart is.

There may be other future homes, but my ultimate home is a dark, forboding island off the coast of Oregon. It is an abandoned light house where they store urns in what currently passes for perpetuity. My friend, Andy, has made a sacred promise to me. Wherever I die, he will fly in and pack me in salt and wrap me in a tarp. Then he will rent a mule and a wagon and take me to Oregon to be cremated and stored on my island.

On the balance, home and love are similar concepts. Everyone talks about them, but the definitions are slippery.

There is one spire here where they took a helicopter and put Ray Charles and a piano on the top.
If you come to Monument Valley, book a tour with a Navajo. You get into the Navajo Tribal park and see things and places you couldn't see on your own. It's hard to stop taking pictures. Here are 148 pictures of Monument Valley. If you examine them all, consider getting a life.


  1. Monument Valley is one my favorite places in the world. A couple of years back, I drove up from Phoenix with some friends. None of the three had ever been there, and we arrived at Goulding's well after dark. We sat on our balconies looking at the stars, which was pretty fabulous in and of itself. But I told 'em that they hadn't seen anything and I was going to insist that we all get up at 5am to see the sunrise. And we did. And sat there in silent awe for a long time.

  2. Citizen journalist, eh...? :-D

    (Is it proper to say 'I told you so'? ;-))

    You always write good reports cum stories.

    *hug* tartaronne

  3. Hi tartonne,

    Hope you enjoyed the vacation.