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Burntwater Paperback – January 1, 1997
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The Burntwater of Scott Thybony's title is a place you will not find on any map: a tiny point on the vast Colorado Plateau, its name commemorates a Navajo shepherd's once having melted ice by building a circle of fire. Traveling through this magical land, Thybony takes us along on a quest to understand the traditional Navajo blessing Hozho naninaadoo, "Go in beauty." This is, he writes, "not the beauty of surfaces alone, but an indwelling beauty that enfolds and completes, a life-restoring beauty." Full of anthropology, geology, and history, Thybony's book wanders into haunted side-canyons and over tall mountains. His love of this austere land is evident at every turn, and his essays deepen our understanding of the beauty that lies all around us.
From Kirkus Reviews
A thoughtful journey into little-known spots along the Colorado Plateau. Thybony, a northern Arizonabased writer locally known for a comprehensive guide to hiking the Grand Canyon, has an affinity for places not found on any map. The Burntwater of his title is one, a place whose Navajo name commemorates a shepherd's having melted ice there by building a circle of fire around it; elsewhere he takes us to other poetically named places like Crazy Jug Point, Tsegi, and Oraibi. Thybony is on a quest to understand the traditional Navajo blessing H¢zh¢ naninaadoo (``Go in beauty''), a formula that younger Navajo consider old-fashioned but that stayed with Thybony from the moment he first heard it. ``Only later did I learn about the Navajo idea of beauty and how it moves through life like a wind,'' he writes. ``It's not the beauty of surfaces alone, but an indwelling beauty that enfolds and completes, a life-restoring beauty.'' Informed by a deep knowledge of anthropology, geology, and history, Thybony's quest takes us inside the rock home of the Hopi elder Don Talayesva, author of the classic autobiography Sun Chief, ``a man running from angels''; into haunted side-canyons along the Colorado River, where Thybony affectingly recalls his brother's death in an airplane crash over Grand Canyon; and into the backcountry of western New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb and of a world ``where the dead could no longer be counted, where numbers gave way to sheer mass, where death became nameless.'' The author's love of the land is evident at every turn, and his essays deepen our understanding of both these mysterious places and of people who seek beauty within and without them. Gracefully written, this is outstanding reading for armchair travelers and habitus of the Four Corners country alike. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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I WOULD have finished the book the very same night I got it, except that Scott Thybony did such a terrific job of invoking the feeling of the outdoor West that I had to fill a backpack and take my wife on an unplanned desert camping trip.
"Burntwater" visits an amazing variety of my very favorite places in the West, and is full of interesting history, great stories, unique facts, and insightful observations. And the writing: the writing is superb. (Bats "flicker"!) I found this book to be every bit as good as Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire"--much more Zen-like, and much less preachy; a good description of the West is reason enough to protect the West--it doesn't always need an insane prophet to yell about it.
This book distills and bottles the spirit of the Four Corners states; read it in the West and you'll find yourself running outside to be a part of it; read it somewhere else, and you'll find yourself going crazy to get here.
This is a wonderful book filled with gentle descriptions of sometimes physically harsh locations and circumstances. Scott describes but does not judge and, unlike so many other authors, refrains from directing readers to specific emotions or thoughts. Those he leaves up to you. You can easily read this book's 117 pages in a single sitting, but the invitation to this marvelous part of the Southwest may result in a literary and even physical journey of discovery that can last a lifetime.
It's about Anasazi and the Hopis and the Navajos and kachinas and Penitentes and pilgrimages and Bluff and Boulder and the desert and love and suffering and death.
For those of us who have fallen under the spell of the Four Corners, it is better than Desert Solitaire (which is very, very good).
Thybony shows how his life has been shaped by hozho, the wind that blows through time. At the end of the book, he and the reader can by say, it is finished in beauty. a beauty that breaks your heart.