So there I was, sitting in the parking lot of the Chinle, Arizona fast food joint, waiting for Jana to get her bagful of guaranteed heartburn and trying to entertain Kira, who was sitting in the back seat. The Reservation dogs were circling, and I was staring in amazement at how well fed they seemed to be. I have seen countless Reservation dogs, and none ever looked as perky and portly as this group. They trotted around the parking lot with their tails sticking straight in the air as though they were masters of this red earth universe; no skinny, slinking dogs on this day. After about ten minutes of watching these cocky canines, I noticed yet another pair coming my way. As they came abreast of the car I noticed that the larger dog had a great wad of chewing gum stuck to his left buttock. Completely oblivious to the sticky mess on his backside, he proceed to sniff the grassy area near the highway for choice morsels while his buddy did the same.
I began thinking that there may be a children's story in this situation, so I took up my legal pad and started scratching notes. "Don Coyote, son of _____, from Red Pop Ranch, Arizona, and _______, from just over the hill at the Funny Farm. It was a union of convenience that produced this wily Reservation pup." "Half coyote, half ______, he had taken the title of "Don," indicating a nobleman of Spanish descent, to ensure his acquaintances knew how he should be treated." "Nacho Sanchez, the trusty sidekick, an undocumented alien from the________ region of Mexico." "Rebecca Rabbitat, environmental engineer, Don's sweetheart from Ganado." You get the picture.
Kira finally noticed that I was feverishly writing on the pad, (probably because my pen had run out of ink and I had confiscated her sketch pencil in an effort to continue the creative process), and asked, "What are you doing?" I replied that I was jotting down ideas for a children's book, and asked, "Do you want to hear them?" "No," she said. At that moment, my creativity flagged, and I was left to contemplate the dusty Reservation town outside my windshield. It began to dawn on me exactly how much the people of this red land had become incorporated into my being. The thought took me back to a time when I was very young.
After a few years of living in northern California, Duke and Rose decided it was time to bring us back to the land of our roots. When we returned to Utah, we lived in a tidy white house next to Blanding Elementary School. Located on the same parcel of land was a new mobile home (trailer) owned by my paternal grandfather, Woodrow Wilson Simpson, and my step grandmother, Fern Powell Black Simpson. "Woody," as he was known, had a name of familiar origin. Although he was not very presidential, he always had a drawer full of toys for us to play with when we visited, and had a mind full of funny songs which he related while he bumped us up and down on his knee. Songs like, "Then comes Noah stumblin' in the dark, tryin' ta find a hammer just to build himself an ark. Then come the animals two by two, the hippopotamus, the kick kangaroo. Then comes the lion, then comes the bar, then comes the elephant without any har."
Shortly after we moved into the white house, Woody's mobile home caught fire. After the insurance adjuster was finished making his evaluation, we purchased the trailer, renovated it and moved it to the east side of town. It was placed behind the Plateau service station, and we began our lives in this new location. Since it had only two bedrooms, Craig, Barry and I slept in sleeping bags on the living room floor until a second trailer was secured as our exclusive sleeping accommodations. I often thought of these arrangements during the Paula Jones/Bill Clinton affair. I identified with Paula Jones, since we both had originated in trailers. I often, to my wife's chagrin, proclaimed that Paula Jones and I were both "trailer trash." For me it was a badge of honor. While I sat watching animals meander around Chinle, thinking about my childhood and how the Navajo people had fully incorporated themselves into my life, I thought of an old oak display cabinet that we had during our trailer tenure. When Blue Mountain Trading Post was built, that display case was incorporated into the built-in cabinets and has remained there ever since. It made me think how the people from the trading post had become as indispensable to me as that display is to the trading post; take it out and all that you have left is a very large void. These people are as important to me as my arms and legs.
By the time I started my journey home, it was twilight. Kira, Jana and Grange had proceeded south to Tucson and I was alone with my thoughts. As I sped along the narrow Reservation road, the shadows played on the barren land and I was once again struck with its stark beauty. Sloped mesas and jagged spires jutted into the sky. As the sun went down, the lights of the Reservation glowed like the mica stars placed into the sky by First Man and Coyote. I was once again reminded of a prior time. The first time I flew into Los Angeles at night I was startled at the symmetry and number of lights on the ground. The Reservation has none of that symmetry or numerosity. The lights are few and scattered; a small camp here, a cluster of buildings there. Most Reservation towns contain far fewer people than one Los Angeles block, and the buildings are scattered helter skelter about the landscape. Maybe it is that confusion that attracts me.
Jana and I often wonder what we would be doing if we were not in Bluff. I am afraid that I have been incorporated into this land and its people, just as they have been incorporated into me.
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