Mark Dyken and his brother, Bear, drove a 1990 Toyota pickup truck through Blue Canyon in Northern Arizona, their way illuminated by pre-dawn light.
The pickup truck — once red, now caked in dirt — came to a stop outside a hogan, an eight-sided traditional dwelling of the Navajo.
Temperatures were in the low 20s, and Mark shivered inside of his thick jacket.
The hogan belonged to one of the Grandmothers, a lionized generation of Navajo women resisting relocation from their native homes by corporate mining interests.
This moment was the beginning of a 28-year journey for the Dyken’s — Calaveras County residents who unite music, protest and advocacy in annual philanthropic missions to the Navajo Nation, Mark said.
“When the Creator Moves Me,” by Soulsbyville author Shelly Muniz, 68, collects the stories of the Dyken family band, Clan Dyken, and why they continue to return to the Navajo Nation.
“There’s a beauty and resiliency to the Navajo people,” Muniz said. “The respect between them and Mark and Bear is so genuine.”
Mark, 60, said the Grandmother’s hogan “hooked me to where we’ve gone back every year since.”
The Grandmother emerged from behind her home, dressed in a thin, polyester sweater, a faded cotton blouse, a thin, white cotton skirt and mismatched tennis shoes without socks.
Mark offered the Grandmother a coat. Her daughter, who translated the offer for him, handed Mark the coat back.
“She said, ‘Grandma can’t wear this coat, it’s too heavy.’”
The woman, a sheep herder and weaver, led them into her home. A hogan’s entryway always faces east, Mark said, and the room was filling with sunrise.
“In the midst of this poverty and struggle and hard life, it was beyond description to me,” Mark said. “That’s burned into my mind of how beautiful it was.”
The Grandmother removed a cover from her gigantic, traditional loom and revealed a half-finished Navajo blanket.
“To actually see one in the process of being woven, in her home, out in the middle of nowhere, all these things came together to create a timeless moment of beauty,” Mark said.
Clan Dyken — a titular catch-all for the members of the family band over its history — kicked off “The Beauty Way Tour” to Big Mountain and Black Mesa in Northern Arizona in the years that followed, running food, firewood and supplies to marginalized and impoverished Navajo residents.
Muniz, who charts her ancestry to Choctaw that walked the Trail of Tears, was inspired to document the project four years ago when she joined Clan Dyken on a supply run.
“To me, this whole effort really resonated,” she said.
Throughout the book, the members of Clan Dyken are embroiled in the aftermath of the 1974 Navajo/Hopi Land Settlement Act, which displaced natives from their ancestral lands.
The group’s contact with the Grandmothers, “brave and resilient women that have gone all over the world speaking about this issue,” was among the most moving sections in the book, Muniz said.
Muniz met Katherine Smith, a Navajo activist and resistor, with the Dykens in 2016.
The group brought an orange to Smith’s home, but she didn’t speak much, Muniz said. One by one, the guests began to leave, until Muniz was the only one left inside.
“She took both my hands and slapped the edge of the couch and said ‘Sit,’ ” Muniz said.
Smith clutched Muniz’s and told her the history of the Navajo struggle with the American government and Hopi to remain on Big Mountain.
“She told me they lied,” Muniz said.
Smith died of natural causes about a year later.
“It’s like visiting a third-world country you don’t even realize exists in the United States,” Muniz said.
The book catalogues the annual fundraising effort of the current iteration of Clan Dyken: Mark (drums), of Vallecito, Bear (guitar), 59, of San Andreas, and Bear’s son Silas (bass), 35, of Murphys.
The group gigs throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon in late October (starting out in locations like the Refuge in Jamestown, the Sonora Opera Hall, and Cooper’s Corral in Sheep Ranch), fundraising up to $25,000.
They buy bluebird flour for fry bread and receive fresh, holistic donations such as squash, corn and hay. Each year around Thanksgiving, they trek in a bus to the Navajo Nation to distribute the supplies.
“These people call it their Clan Dyken Christmas,” Muniz said. “People will come to where we are because they are looking forward to seeing these guys.”
Mark said the music — which he classified as “world rebel rock” — was compared to Van Morrison and (when they had a larger band) The Grateful Dead.
Their missions even seeped into their songwriting.
The chapters of the book, which include “Good Morning Grandmother,” “The Multicolored Busses,” and “Wake Up the Sky” are all Clan Dyken songs, Muniz said.
Muniz, author of the non-fiction book about her son, “Eagle Feathers and Angel Wings: Micah’s Story,” will host a book signing at the Tuolumne County Arts office at 160 S. Washington St. in Sonora at 5 p.m. Saturday.
A reading and book signing will be held at the Columbia College Library at 6 p.m. March 1.
“Where the Creator Moves Me” is now available for purchase on Amazon.