This is my twill sampler weaving in progress March, 2002, 18 months after
Roy helped me set up this loom at his sheep camp in the Fall of 2000.
Please take a look at the weaving at the sheepcamp shown at the end
of the story.
Navajo Twill Weaving and Sheep Herding
I arrived in Teec Nos Pos, AZ at Roy's home Thursday morning to find him finishing up laundry at a relative's home nearby. Packed and ready to leave civilization for awhile, I followed Roy in his 4WD deep purple Ranger pickup truck to their sheep camp @ 8500' in the Carrizo Mts. This is a gravel road turning south off the main hiway west out of Teec. The road has been improved significantly since 1996. My Suburban was in 4WD but plenty of Navajo Chevies and Fords do fine on this road now too.
Roy's friend Dave from San Diego is the family shepherd this Summer. We've met Dave on past trips out here. He has stayed at the cabin tending the flock of 60+ sheep and Angora goats for almost 4 months this Summer. Dave was caught out with the flock in 2 intense thunderstorms, as the 4 Corners had a wet monsoon season this year.
He said the animals just hunker down and don't move around during the storms. They lost no livestock to predators this year. Roy recently purchased a black male llama in Farmington for his flock, named Apache.
For the Navajos, the dogs are often not exactly sheep-herding dogs. They are not trained to round them up and head them out - rawhide.
Instead, they are predator protection. And they don't exactly protect the sheep and goats as much as are trained not to kill and eat them. It's only by default that these dogs are here at all, in my opinion. Everything and everyone else is fair game, it seems.
But, the dogs are fun once they get to know you, seemingly very smart, having a good time in their element, as were the rest of us. Roy has 3 dogs. The most responsible one is named Yellow Dog and seems to be Top Dog. I really like this one but never got close enough to pet it or any of the others. Blackie appears to be a chow - hyena hybrid and looks dangerous as if plotting how to catch and eat you momentarily; and Sabbath(?) is 1/4 wolf - 3/4 German Shepherd, sort of wants to be friendly but doesn't quite know the body language. This one hung out closest to the cabin when the sheep were in corral at night.
That Thursday morning, Roy showed my how to set up my 3 heddle rods on the small loom I'd brought. Roy had asked me to warp it "Hopi style" he called it, for a twill weaving, size 14"x20". Setting up my 3 heddles and the 4th rod - the top shed rod - took most of the rest of the day, at a leisurely pace. Roy and Dave drove back down off the mountain for errands and I was left in charge.
My self assigned task here was to set up a loom in which I could weave any of the many Navajo-loomed twill patterns. Roy showed me how to set up all 8 sheds (8 different sets of warp threads technically speaking). I restore Navajo weavings and was now ready to graduate to twill restoration besides tapestry weave.
Seems simple enough, very quiet up here - the pastoral life, an incredible view north off the mountain into the San Juan River Valley stretching from Farmington thru Shiprock and on to Bluff westward. At night this view reminds me of sights from Mulholland Drive on L.A.'s north mountain rim, looking down into the L.A. basin and it's billions of lights. Except up here, I see maybe 50 lights and billions of stars ? stars which are invisible through L.A.'s "sky". And I mean through it. You know what Los Angelenos say: "I don't trust air I can't see."
Well, wouldn't you know it - the sheep are suddenly appearing outside of the corral. So much for peace and quiet. I'd heard some errant bleating earlier but hadn't taken the time to figure out what they were complaining about. The corral is about 100 yds from the cabin in a grove of Pinyons. As I gazed over there, one after another fleecy fatso was squeezing through an open break in the gate's fencing. By the time I got over there, 8 were loose, and others were clearly planning their escape.
Loose sheep and goats don't run away like horses or cattle, they sort of mill around, confused. The inside ones want out, and now the outside ones want in. The dogs are looking at me as if it's my fault and eager to help if I can figure out which order to give them or the sheep. Not certain how to re-corral the fluffy goofballs, I first intimidated the corral herd to get back from the gate, open it and start rounding up the livestock outside. From time to time, I had to re-intimidate the corral crowd. Apache was determined to help me outside but I discouraged him.
After circling the corral with mutton on the hoof scampering before me, they all funneled right back into the fold, as if relieved to be home at last after a long night or something. Success! I am a shepherd after all. The dogs looked relieved that I managed things OK. They were panting but hadn't exerted themselves in the slightest. I guess it was happy panting. Roy and Dave got back around 8:30 pm. That night I slept in my Suburban; it wasn't too cold until morning. I didn't count sheep in my dreams.
Friday I continued to experiment with the new twill weaving techniques I was learning. Roy and I got some photos of the project underway on my loom. I felt some competence when Roy remarked, somewhat amazed, that I'd made no mistakes while attaching the 3 heddle rods to the loom, catching different warp threads in different combinations with each heddle. It is a very complicated and very interesting technique compared with simple tapestry weave. Midday Roy, Dave and I walked around the hills for about 2 hours.
In the afternoon, Roy and Dave departed for business in Bluff around 3 pm so I was in charge again until the morning. I had conducted some business by cell phone from the sheep camp much to my amazement. I gave Roy a check for the Bluff traders for a rug I bought yesterday from them. He would pick it up for me. The cell phone lended a civilized touch to the sheep camp. I was able to call my wife Sally Jo in California. One of the various towers a mile away on Pastora Peak must have been the right one.
Dave told me the sheep and goats would come home on their own later. Well, you know what I was thinking about that after last night! I enjoyed the afternoon and evening alone, the valley night light show again intrigued me as I tried to identify what town was where. The only certainty was the Blanding airport beacon where I'd been only 2 days ago.
Well, wouldn't you know it, and as luck would have it, sheep being the recalcitrant obstreperous critters they are, no sheep came home. The two lazy dogs showed up for dinner but Yellow Dog was not among them. Earlier I'd seen the flock grazing nearby but now they were not to be seen. I fed the 2 dogs, put out food for Yellow Dog, then went back to the cabin to think about what I should do. Barking alerted me, so I wandered out in the dark to find Yellow Dog some distance away sitting on the dirt road looking at me.
Thinking Yellow Dog wanted to eat, I took some more food and he started to follow me but then he sat down again, watching me. I got the message: I should follow Yellow Dog instead of the other way around. Who's in charge here in after all? Who's the expert anyhow up here? Not me for sure. I needed all the help I could get and Yellow Dog was it.
He led me to the flock huddling together some 200 yards from the corral, on a nearby bluff. I had a flashlight with me as it was dark. The moon helped - almost full. Apache had been lying down, good llama, but then aroused, ambled into the middle of the flock as if to protect them against - what? - themselves, most likely. Or maybe he was trying to hide?
Again all 3 dogs were eager for me to do something. This is exactly what makes a dog's day: a little excitement for which they accept absolutely no responsibility, have no role, nothing to do, but can take part in nevertheless and feel useful. Only Yellow Dog seemed concerned; the other 2 were just there for the laughs.
I started talking, then yelling at the stupid sheep and more intelligent goats, waving my arms, herding them down off the bluff towards the house. At this point, we all stumbled into a sandy, 3' deep wash. I turned my right ankle again, the same one badly turned on the Zane Grey Trail several days ago, and landed on a mildly prickly plant. The dogs thought I was playing so sorta leaped around, energized by the chaos and their own utter confusion. Or more likely it was my own confusion potentiating the rapidly-randomizing energy in an already explosive situation.
That milling around I mentioned earlier? Well, the flock don't herd so good - in a straight line not at all. It is like directing a flock of flying geese from the ground, more like a wooly ameba flowing wherever it may, in every direction except the right one. The only thing that hangs the herd together - in the absence of competent sheepdogs of course - is their desire to flock - a sort of innate inward centripetal gravitational force, a blatantly evolutionarily recessive genetic behavior hard-wired into their squishy brains. I have no doubt.
No sheep is a loner. They don't believe in any individualism let alone the rugged individualism of the Wild Wild West. They are very communal creatures. If one should recklessly lead - or even appear to lead for a split second - as it might mistakenly turn the wrong way, curse his courage - all will follow blindly. You can see that once understood, this a mighty force when effectively harnessed. Hence the shepherd, his sheepdog and his so-called pastoral life...
We reached the dirt driveway to the cabin, and at once they all stampeded down the road to the corral, raising a huge cloud of dust. It was astounding: what had been moments ago only futile effort was instantaneously so wonderful and effortless - this mighty horde galloping to the corral. They loved the road. Familiar territory I suppose, happy to be home, or close...
Once turned off the road again, towards the corral, they stopped about 20 yards short and took up milling again. Back to yelling, cajoling, waving my arms and the flashlight again. As soon as one goat ran into the corral, the other 59 raced right behind in a crushing melee, baaing chattily and apparently pleased as punch.
You hear about sheep being "born trying to die"? It's an old saying, and it's definitely true. The goats are smarter.
The llama was last to go into the corral, as if taking credit for the roundup, then looking back at me in disdain at my performance. Fine with me, everyone was satisfied and I'd conducted my 2d successful roundup in as many days, no credit to the llama. I'm retiring undefeated!
I settled into the cabin for the night. The wood burning stove and 2 cats prevented any long sleeps, as the stove would burn down and the cabin became very cold. So I'd get up every 2-3 hrs to re-stoke it. As cabin temps fluctuated between gasping hot and freezing cold, it was not a restful night as I was unaccustomed to wood stove management.
Awakening Saturday morning with some fatigue from so many days of exposure and camping out even before I got up here, a bit of headache from the cold hot overnight, and now a re-injured right ankle from the tumble into the wash last evening, the decision to evacuate came naturally, but with some regrets. I'll bring up a travel trailer next time! I've gotta get out of the wilderness and rest up!... hopefully regain my health, sanity?
Roy and Dave would be herding the flock down off the mountain today, back home to Teec Nos Pos for the Winter. They are the last flock up here this year. The trek would take all day. I wisely decided it wasn't the right walk for me just now.
Both guys returned with Roy's uncle Chris around 10 am in Chris's old Navajo Chevy pickup. Chris would truck the llama down to his home at Hogback in his pickup. He lassoed Apache in the corral on the first try, then expertly wrangled him docile. Apache was neither halter trained or hauling trained.
I helped load Apache after towing Chris' pickup out of a sand trap with my Suburban. Chris repositioned the truck in a shallower wash so the tailgate was fairly low, near the ground. Roy and I got behind Apache and used a long lariat we held between us to boost his behind up and onto the truck as Chris dragged the poor huffing beast onto the tailgate from within the stock bed of the truck. With some gentle talking and petting afterwards, the llama, cowboys and Indians settled down and no one got hurt.
My stuff piled into the Suburban and I
headed home off that mountain to rest up. I completed my twill sampler
rug 18 months later. And yes it was worth all of the pains and headaches,
the bent ankle and the freezing-to-boiling-and-back-again wood stove night,
to experience all that sheep camp peace and quiet and learn to weave twill.
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