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17: Spider Rock

Updated: Feb 27




Dear Friend,


I was thinking of you today as I walked along next to a little creek. If you could be with me, would you want to pull off your shoes and socks and wade a bit? Would the water be too cold for you? Would the rocks be too slimy? There were frogs talking. Would you want to meet them?


Today, Earth Day is celebrated. I hope that you are feeling appreciated, as you are part of this earth, too.


Frank and I have had the opportunity to share stories, artistic processes, laughter, and time with many kind and interesting people on our journey. We met Marc Begay Jr. last week at Spider Rock overlook, Canyon de Chelly, (Chinle, Arizona).

 


Marc Begay Jr. is a true artist and outdoorsman with a genuine love and respect for nature. He is Dine’ (Navajo).


His family owns a portion of the land at the base of Spider Rock on the south end of Canyon de Chelly. In the summer months, Marc’s paternal Grandmother, along with some of his uncles, move their sheep down to the canyon and live in a Hogan on their property.


There are ninety Dine’ families that own properties in the Canyon. Many tend sheep and have gardens and fruit trees. Marc’s Grandmother weaves Navajo rugs in the traditional way. She uses sheep wool to make the yarn. The traditional Navajo colors are maroon, white, blue-turquoise, orange, yellow, and black. These colors can be achieved using natural dyes found in plant and animal life in the canyon.


We talked with Marc about his work and about his inspiration. He told us a bit about his family’s land near Spider Rock and how the formation got its name:


“The spider woman was the first to teach other Navajo women how to weave their rugs, how to make their own tools, how to make their own yarn and how to get their colors from all the plants, herbs, and animals, as well. Those plants are still growing in the canyon. She was called Spider Woman because she looked like a spider, she had six arms and she used to climb up to the top of the rock. She wove rugs, too. At the bottom of Spider Rock there is a little ruin you can see, where she used to live. They say she used to take naughty kids and bad kids up on top of Spider Rock and eat them.”


Was that ever a worry for you?


“No,” he laughs, “I always tried to behave myself.”


How old is the Spider Woman?


“Hundreds of years old, she taught the early Navajo people how to weave.”


Marc, like many Dine’ in Chinle, finds work in other areas, Colorado, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Albuquerque, to name a few.


Marc explained, “It isn’t unusual for people to have to leave the reservation to make money to send back to family; there isn’t a lot of work in town.”


Marc has passion for traditional Dine’ life. He is knowledgeable, and during our visit, he was happy to share some interesting stories with us.


“We still have medicine men to come and heal the sick people. The medicine man goes out and gets herbs for healing. He’ll do ceremonies in Hogans and sing prayers. There are a lot of prayers. When people get sick sometimes it can be because a bad spirit yee naaldlooshii, (skin-walker), uses witchcraft to make people sick. Medicine men know how to cure them.”


Is there a way to protect yourself from yee naaldlooshii?


“Sprinkle corn pollen on your body, carry an arrow-head… also ashes, if a Navajo has a bad dream, they’ll put ashes on their forehead.” “And,” he adds, “if a coyote runs across your path, you have to stop and wait for someone to come from the other way to break the bad luck. Or you have to know a prayer and use corn pollen or a cedar, or a sage brush to wipe away the coyote’s footsteps.”


Marc carves traditional Navajo petroglyphs into sandstone. These are the actual symbols copied, as is tradition, from the carvings in the canyon. He learned this process from his dad and uncles. But Marc has been drawing or painting for as long as he can remember.

His work shows his care to be detailed, creative and accurate. His carvings are beautiful!

 



Along with his talent for carving, he’s been interested in making silver jewelry. His good friend, Eric Wilson, has been making beautiful silver jewelry for many years and is a kind and willing teacher.


Marc enjoys spending time at the Spider Rock overlook. He demonstrates carving there, and sells some of his work to visitors of Canyon de Chelly. Marc enjoys telling his customers about the meanings behind the petroglyph symbols.


And, off hours, Marc is also somewhat of an (extreme) athlete. His sister, Markayla, took this pic of him.

 



He’s skateboarding on the rim of the canyon - one wrong move and it’s a 700-foot drop!


I asked Marc what he was thinking as he was skating there.


He told me, “I got over the fear of heights and stuff… but people do fall off the ledge. One man fell off the ledge of the other side of the canyon, and made it!”


This is the canyon, so full of life. I suppose if you have to fall into somewhere...



On Sunday morning, Frank and Marc hiked down to the bottom of the canyon, not your average stroll. The rains had washed away the trail and the going was rough. When they reached the canyon floor, Frank was able to take in the scenery and see the beauty from a different perspective. He told me about his experience:


“When I reached the floor of the canyon, it’s hard to describe, the river is flowing, the cherry trees are blooming. I could hear all the birds, but it was so quiet, sacred, it felt like I had been invited to a lost world. Pinions, firs, juniper, cottonwood, the gentle sound of a large stream of water cascading over rocks.


There was peace knowing that I was in a place that very few people ever go. Truly an enchanted canyon with lots of life, green plants against red rocks, cactus, wild flowers, I could hear turkeys and see wild horses just roaming free, and we found bear tracks. Some families keep sheep in the summer-time and still get water from the river. It felt like such a welcoming and beautiful place of well-being and tranquility.”




Marc showed Frank some of the petroglyphs on his family’s property, his Grandmother’s Hogan, and also pointed out the ruin where the Spider Woman used to live.

 




 

Then Frank spent some time photographing the area.

 





Above is a photo of Marc for his Grandma.

 

Frank said that the climb back out was memorably difficult, but it was well worth the trip!

 



We are truly grateful to be able to share this story with you. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and for taking the time to read, Tracks by the Post! As always, please send us a note and let us know how you are doing!

 

Gently Be,

Leslie Bevans


Frank and I would like to thank Marc Begay Jr., for his hospitality, sense of humor, patience, and willingness to share the day hiking and visiting with us!


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