It constantly amazes me how often the traditional Navajo stories creep into my life and commandeer my consciousness. Just when I think a story has no relevance to me and the way I run my affairs, I find it at the center of my life. Lately, the tale of the day and night animals gambling to determine whether the world would be all day or all night has been very much on my mind. That may be the result of Grange's persistent questions about nocturnal creatures, or it may be that I have found a metaphor in the story that relates to my journeys, both before and after sunrise.
"Shoe Game" by Lorraine Black
The story of why we have days made up of both darkness and light begins long ago, in the early evolution of the Navajo, when the night animals wanted it dark all the time, and the day animals wished it perpetually light. Since the creatures could not come to an accommodation on the issue, one of them suggested the shoe game as a means of resolving the question. As a result, all the animals met in a large hogan, with the day animals on one team and the night animals on the other. Having properly convened, they drew a line across the floor of the hogan, in the center of the room, and the groups retreated to opposite sides of the lodge. At that point, each group buried four moccasins in the dirt floor on their side of the line and the contest commenced.
During the shoe game, a team hides a pinon gum ball in one of its buried moccasins and the other team attempts to discover in which shoe the ball is located. Each side must choose a leader, and while a blanket is held between the hiding team's moccasins and their opponents, the leader of the team whose turn it is to hide the ball goes through a series of hand motions intended to disguise where he has placed the ball. The leader of the opposing team must then guess which moccasins do not contain the ball.
There are strict rules regarding scoring, and the first side to accumulate 100 points is declared the winner. In the shoe game called to decide whether darkness or light would rule, the contest began at sundown and lasted all night. The advantage passed from one side to the other, but no team could muster the points necessary to win. After several hours, Owl asked the night animals to let him try his hand at being the leader, and, once appointed, Owl quickly shifted the momentum to his side.
After a time, the day animals realized their situation was desperate and asked for a break to decide on a new course of action. During the interval, a giant, who was advising the day animals, expressed his belief that Owl was cheating by not putting the ball in any moccasin. The giant therefore dispatched Gopher to dig a hole under the hogan and chew through the toe of each moccasin to see if the ball was in any of them. Gopher discovered the giant's instinct was correct and reported back with his findings.
While the night animals celebrated their pending victory, the leader of the day animals declared that the ball was not in any of the four moccasins and gave Owl a painful whack on the wing. The pinon gum ball dropped out from under Owl's wing, and, with their deception uncovered, the night animals' celebration abruptly ended. Shortly thereafter, the dawn arrived and the nocturnal creatures, including bear who put his shoes on incorrectly, causing him to be club footed to this day, scampered home. Since neither side could claim victory, day and night continued as before.
When I am out before sunup, I often think of that story and am grateful neither group of animals prevailed. Although I enjoy the quiet stillness of the early mornings, I bathe in the golden rays as the sun breaks over the horizon.
"Bear Puts on His Moccasins"
My journeys before sunrise are very different from those originating after the Sun God rises in the east. In the darkness I am very deliberate, stepping carefully, and my senses are more constricted; more tightly constrained. My focus is more immediate, and I worry about the next few steps, not what may exist in the distance. From time to time lights smash through the darkness, illuminating the landscape for miles and giving me a broader view. On most occasions, however, my imagination is my only companion.
During the day, my vision extends all the way to Comb Ridge in the west and Sleeping Ute Mountain in the east, and I can focus less on being tripped up and more on the long view. Many of the dangers that await me during the night are easily identified in the light. Those green-black cluster bombs the rams and ewes from St. Christopher's mission leave on the road for me are easily avoided after the dawn arrives, and I am free to be adventuresome and reckless.
Often I feel these differences in my travel patterns reflect the way I approach my personal goals. The short term ambitions are more like my journeys before dawn; they require careful thought and execution. While there may be flashes of light that show me the way more clearly, generally I must be cautious and well focused, lest I step on a sheepish land mine or into an unseen pothole. On the other hand, my long term desires are expansive, less cautious, like my daytime trips. Although I know I may never reach some of my more ambitious mileposts, which I can clearly identify during the day, I can at least see what it may be like if I do.
Presumably I have the animals, and their failure to prevail over one another, to thank for this equality of darkness and light.
With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.
Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post