Shelby raced ahead of me, nose to the ground, following whatever scent attracted her attention. How her 3-month-old pointer nose could smell anything at that speed, I do not know, but she would stop and sniff when something especially glorious wafted into her nostrils. Shelby would then move off to follow the new scent, this time at a more deliberate pace, until she reached her destination, usually a pile of elk poop. Elk poop is more delicious than chicken, apparently.
Shelby and I were walking land on the Colorado Plateau in eastern Arizona. I was looking to buy a 36-acre parcel for an off-the-grid ranch, a dream of mine for years. Now the right piece of property was available, I worked remotely anyway, and I was looking to do this before I got too old. Shelby, her first time away from brother Caleb, whom I left with Sandy (my best friend and ex-wife), was enjoying time with daddy and learning how to be a dog. German Shorthair Pointers have a high energy level and she ran ahead of me, or in a perpendicular direction from time to time, but always returned to check in or to respond to my call, tongue lolling and a smile on her liver-colored face. A pocket full of dog food helped. I kneeled down, gave her her treat and told her how good she was. My reward was her happiness and her freely given puppy kisses before she bolted off again.
As I walked the land, I found an ancient pottery shard, not uncommon in that area, inhabited as it was by the Ancient Puebloan people and now, not far to the north and east, the Zuni. Shelby found something much more interesting, an intact mandible (lower jaw) of a young deer or elk. She ran to show me her new treasure, which I exchanged for more treats. Bleached in the sun, I surmised the jaw had been laying there for at least a year or two, perhaps the result of a mountain lion kill.
In the Bible, names were often given to places to commemorate some significant event. Shelby therefore found the name of what I hoped to make my new home: Lehi, meaning jawbone in Hebrew, coming from Judges chapter 15 where Samson slew 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. I would build Lehi Ranch.
My favorite biblical place name is from Joshua chapter 5, Gibeath Haaraloth. This is the site where Joshua circumcised the people (presumably, just the men) prior to the conquest of the promised land. Gibeath Haaraloth means “hill of foreskins”, which I think would be a great name for a ranch, but it’s a little long and hard to pronounce. And Shelby already found the jaw, anyway.
I think naming places after significant events is a tradition we should bring back. “Great Blowjob, Arizona” has a nice ring to it.
As it happened, I did not purchase that specific parcel, but rather another one near the hamlet of Concho, Arizona, which allegedly means “little valley” in the language of the Basque shepherds that tended sheep in the area in the 19th century. This land, at 6,400’ of elevation, is studded with junipers and a few pinions and sits upon a ridge with views to the red and white striped hills of the Colorado plateau to the north.
God made this land for ruminants; the elk, pronghorn, and mule deer. Pre-Colombian peoples, America’s first immigrants, made it home and left remnants of villages and pueblos, some nearly invisible on the vast landscape until you stumble across them. Not all are cataloged and fewer still have been professionally excavated.
More recently, cattle and their ranchers found the land suitable, making sure the land was legally stolen from the Navajo and White Mountain Apache who followed the Puebloans.
The term Ancient Puebloan refers to the myriad of groups who lived here long before the Spanish arrived. They include the Anasazi, Sinagua, and Hohokam, and others. Their modern descendants include the Hopi and Zuni, although probably not the Navajo and Apache, who arrived later and tended to be more nomadic. In fact, the word “Anasazi” comes from the Navajo language and means “ancient enemy”. The current residents of the Hopi and Zuni pueblos do not favor the term, as they don’t see their forebears as anyone’s enemy and, after all, they were here first.
Into this landscape I will insert myself, a place where I hope to make my final home. It won’t be fancy or ornate, but functional and efficient; a blend of ancient and modern, a wood stove and high speed internet. Living as we do in an age of improving technology, we have the ability to live and work remotely in a way we couldn’t have even conceived a generation ago. I intend to fully take advantage.