As I stood at the trading post railings, preparing to leave for my morning jog and admiring the opaline stars shinning through the inky blackness, the call of an owl penetrated my consciousness. The owl's "hoo, hoo, hoo," floated across the Jones hay farm, drifted past the Twin Rocks and cascaded westward towards Bluff's hilltop necropolis; ultimately expiring in the night before the dawn.
Bluff, Utah's Cemetary Hill
In many Native American cultures owls are seen as harbingers of death and bad luck. Extreme caution is required when they are in the neighborhood. So, as I started across the intersection of Highways 191 and 162, I was doubly careful; looking both ways several times, lest an unseen semi tractor-trailer swoop in and carry me off to the promised land. At that moment, I had two primary concerns; the first was that, if I were run down by a truck, I may actually wind up in the not-so-promised land, and the second was my fear of dying cold.
Dying has never troubled me, but dying cold is my worst nightmare. I have even thought of taking one of those lightweight space technology blankets with me on my morning runs. That way, if I am accidentally, or intentionally, broad sided out on that lonely stretch of pavement, whoever finds me can throw the cover over me and I will at least cross the Styx warm and snug. Since I am a procrastinator by nature, I have acquired no such blanket, and an icicle may be my fate. Saint Peter, knowing how I dread the cold, and having properly reviewed my worldly record, will probably consign me to the warmer, southerly reaches.
So, there I was, listening carefully for the sounds of my brother the owl, keeping an eye out for meandering vehicles and quietly humming "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," when I heard it. It was the sound of a vehicle, which seemed to be about a hundred yards behind me, beginning to slow. At that moment, I realized a wayward car or truck was not my destiny; I was going to be kidnapped and held for ransom. I have read enough history to know that, in the old days before the Long Walk, the Navajo people frequently engaged in this outlaw activity. Aside from Barry's brief encounter with some angry Navajo people when he and I were young, I had not heard of anyone being taken captive for many, many decades. I knew instinctively, however, that I was doomed.
One day when Barry and I were about seven and eight years old respectively, we had made the mistake of taunting a few Navajo people who had had a few too many beers at the Twin Rocks Bar. After becoming fed up with our bad behavior, the intoxicants snatched up Barry and put him in the back of their pickup truck with several of their buddies. Barry's captors must have mistaken my celebratory mood for separation anxiety. Much to my dismay, they pulled over and released him after only a few blocks. My sole consolation was that I did not have to invent a story to explain to Rose how I had lost Barry.
With that in mind, I tried to speed up to avoid a confrontation. Since I have determined that I am now a "half-lifer," having consumed what must be at least half of my life, speed does not come easily. In fact, it never did; a more feasible alternative was needed. As the vehicle eased up behind me, I thought of taking a quick left-hand turn into the thick underbrush, but noticed the scrubby trees had long, sharp thorns. While I was deciding whether to brave the kidnapping or the thorns, my mind became extremely lucid, and I realized Barry could probably redeem me for a few bucks; anybody who was foolish enough to take me captive would not be looking for a big haul. Barry might even be able to buy them off for a couple old sheep. Anything over that, Barry would balk and my lifeless body would be consigned to the silent tomb.
The thought that my captors would not want much comforted me, and I sneaked a quick glance to my right. The judicial star of the San Juan County deputy sheriff's department, plastered on the side of a Dodge Durango, caught my eye and I breathed a sigh of relief. Once again, my imagination had gotten the best of me. Barry has often said to the Navajo people who warn us against witches, sorcerers and skinwalkers that such things cannot hurt you if you don't follow the traditional ways, but I had forgotten Barry's sage advice and worked myself into a lather over that owl.
"Do you know Hanley and Manley Begay" the officer asked. "I knew Hanley, Manley and Stanley when we were in school together, but I haven't seen them in donkey years," I replied. "Know where they live," he probed. "No sir," I confessed. "All right" he said and began to drive off. "That's dedication," he shouted over his shoulder, apparently referring to what he must have interpreted as an attempt at interval speed training. "Not dedication, fear," I thought to myself.
"Hoo, hoo, hoo," taunted me as I approached the hay field on my way back to the trading post. I clicked the heals of my sneakers together three times and said, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home!" Realizing that three is a magic number, I said to myself, "I will never be superstitious again. I will never be superstitious again. I will never be superstitious again."
With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.
Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post