Jon Yazzie: Limitless Sides to Outside

There are so many ways to enjoy time outside. This is one of many unique stories we’re sharing as part of our effort to highlight the Limitless Sides to Outside.

Getting outside resets my mind, body and spirit. We’ve all heard a similar expression about what outdoor recreation does for us individually. Maybe even shared a few quotes with an alluring picture of your camp or a hike in the backcountry. I get it. Being in nature does those things for me, too. But on a deeper level, getting outside also means reconnecting with my roots and gaining a better appreciation for my culture.  

In the Dine (Navajo) creation myth, first man took soil from the third world and created the four sacred mountains. The boundaries of Dine Bikeyah (Navajo land). Using four elements, he fastened each of those mountains to the earth. In Coalmine Mesa, Arizona, where I grew up, the most visible, Dook’o’osliid (San Francisco Peaks) to the west was said to be held in place by sunbeams. Since being told that story as a kid, I have always wanted to travel to the peaks and feel the power of our tradition with all five of my senses. As I got older, the other sacred mountains soon would have me muddled. It is our Dine creation stories that still drive my will be outdoors.  

Growing up on the reservation and living with my grandmother in her Hogan without Wi-Fi, game consoles and electricity or running water, outside naturally became my playground. She had a one room dwelling that was roughly 400 square feet. Furnishings included her twin bed, a fold out couch, a wood burning stove she used to cook and keep us warm. She had a small kitchen and few other things to round out living quarters considered adequate by our standards. Her sheep, horses and dogs became my play pals, best friends and, on some days, confidants.  

My grandmother was a traditional healer. Ailing community members would stop by often and seek her for help. Sometimes, she sent me to retrieve a specific herb used in prayer. Knowledge of plants was essential. Other times, we were taxied to their residences, where she would perform healing ceremonies. My place was beside her, on a sheepskin where I would fall asleep to the comfort of her chats late into the night.  

As I got older and moved to the nearby city, modern conveniences and the “American” dream pulled me further from my upbringing and my connection to the land. Later, moving to California for a better education and eventually joining the military yanked me even further away, into confusion and contradiction.  

Getting outside now means being able to relive those youthful experiences. It means being able to remember my grandmother by smelling her ceremonies through a campfire and visualizing her smile under the stars where I can still feel the soft hum of her ceremonial song variations thrum in my chest. It also means stopping mid-bike ride to feeling the soft sage brush I would often help her collect as a child. Rubbing the leaves in my hands, I inhale her strength. Of course, I still enjoy shredding, an occasional trail side beverage and the camaraderie that comes with group rides. But the outdoors still helps bridge the gap from those memories and my psyche today. 

Currently, my family’s favorite way to get out is bikepacking. Pre-COVID, we would travel off the reservation to camp, ride trails and bikepack established routes. When the Navajo Nation implemented strict no-travel orders during the pandemic, we started doing Sub-24-hour-overnights locally and re-gained an appreciation for our land. All our creation stories include geographical features, and through bikepacking, I can hear her stories through the landscape. So, I do need time outside to hear those stories my grandmother used to tell me to help revitalize my mind, body and spirit.   

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