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Traveling songs

Published November 10. 2012 09:02AM

Boarding the bus the morning we left the Grand Canyon, our tour guide Brandon said, "It only gets better after this." Jack the bus driver said, "The best is yet to come."

I thought, "They're nuts! How could anything be better than this?" We were all pretty much in awe of what we had just seen.

As we headed north on another beautiful Arizona morning, a member of our group asked for the microphone. A small quiet unassuming gentleman began singing in a soft melodious voice, John Denver's "Sunshine On My Shoulder." I felt his words deep in my soul. It was a very appropriate traveling song.

Next stop ... Monument Valley.

Here were the images of all those western movies I watched as a kid, in living color. I had yearned to someday see them in person. And here they were. The views, the mesas, the buttes...they did not disappoint. In fact, they were beyond whatever I imagined them to be. I could almost see John Wayne riding across the plain with that amazing backdrop of what I now know as Monument Valley.

We arrived at Goulding's Lodge and Trading Post, where Harry Goulding and his wife, Mike, came to live on the Navajo Reservation in 1924, establishing a trading station. Gaining the trust and respect of the Navajo people, they developed Monument Valley as a motion picture filming area, which provided income and assistance for the Navajos' survival. Monument Valley is in the Navajo Tribal Park, 30,000 acres of the 16-million-acre Navajo Reservation.

This is the site of such well-known movies like "How the West Was Won," "My Darling Clementine," "Fort Apache," "Stagecoach" and my favorite John Wayne movie, "The Searchers."

John Ford filmed "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" here. At Goulding's is the original United States Calvary's Captain Nathan Brittles' headquarters from the movie. It was a thrill to walk where John Wayne walked. Way cool!

Then we boarded tour jeeps. Bennett Chee, a full-blooded Navajo, was our guide.

Bennett said he was very passionate about his culture. You could hear pride when he talked about his Navajo heritage and history.

As we bumped along rough dirt roads, soft-spoken Bennett delighted us with story after story. But my favorite was his telling of the Navajo "traveling songs."

Traveling songs are songs that the Navajo sang when they went on journeys to visit family, usually a distance away. The songs relieved boredom on a journey. Handed down from generation to generation, the songs are about events or feelings of the songwriter.

"I would like to sing you a traveling song written by my grandfather when he was a young man and his lady love left him. He called this 'Navajo Blues.'"

The language was beyond our understanding except for one word that kept appearing in the song which sounded like "Sonja." I assume, the lady love that left him.

Traveling songs, like Bennett's "Navajo Blues" are a way the Navajo communicate with the Holy People and they serve as an oral history and storytelling.

As ancient as time itself, before people could read or write, they passed on to the next generations their history through songs and storytelling.

Perhaps the most famous example of "traveling songs" is the book of Psalms in the Bible, telling the story of God's chosen people in their search for the Holy Land and David's songs of his journey with God.

Even in the movie, "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon," the U.S. Calvary horse soldiers sang the song of the same name, as a "traveling song" which helped keep cadence and probably relieved boredom.

Did you, or do you, have your own "traveling songs?"

Every Sunday my family traveled from Kunkletown to Albrightsville to visit my grandparents. It always seemed like such a long ride. My sister, Diane, and I often sang our way there. Our traveling songs sometimes were "Tell Me Why," "Roses Are Red" and "Down by the Old Mill Stream," to name a few. Sometimes Dad would lead us in "That big eight-wheeler, rollin' down the track, Means your true-lovin' daddy ain't comin' back 'Cause I'm movin' on, I'll soon be gone. You were flyin' too high, for my little old sky So I'm movin' on. Got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now."

Anyway ... when our tour was over, Bennett said the Navajo do not say "Good bye" but instead say something like "Until I see you again" because you don't know what tomorrow will bring.

So he left us with a Navajo prayer: "In beauty may I walk. All day long may I walk. With beauty may I walk. With beauty before me, may I walk. With beauty behind me, may I walk. With beauty above me, may I walk. With beauty below me, may I walk. With beauty all around me, may I walk. May you walk in beauty."

I'm thinking I need to write a "traveling song" about my recent southwest journey. I might call it "A walk in beauty."

May you all walk in beauty this week, and sing a traveling song or two along the way.

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