The darkness clung stubbornly to the bedroom window as the alarm clock sounded 5:30 a.m. I struggled out of bed just as Jana returned from her rendezvous with the tooth fairy; Kira had lost yet another tooth, three in the last few weeks. As we passed in the inky morning, I said, “I’m going for a run.” “Okay,” Jana said skeptically and scrambled under the comforter.
Navajo Jewelry Artist Robert Taylor
As I gathered the cold weather gear, I too had serious doubts whether I would make it out the door. A few minutes later, however, I was on the porch stretching at the Twin Rocks trading post railing and telling myself, “Well this is not that bad.” The temperature was in the single digits, but the cold was stimulating and I began to feel positively alive.
As my muscles loosened, I peered into the darkness. Out on the highway, a car crept slowly past; apparently it was also having difficulty warming to the chill. The vehicle approached the intersection of Highways 191 and 162 and Bluff’s only street light came to life, inspired by the movement. As the lamp illuminated the pavement, a gentle “ha-who, ha-who” floated on the air. I wondered whether my mind was playing tricks on me or whether Brother Owl, who from time to time inhabits the old Jones Farm, had returned. Although Barry has often reminded me that I am not necessarily subject to the taboos and beliefs of the Navajo people, I often find myself directly affected by those traditions.
In the Navajo culture, owls can be a sign of impending danger. Additionally, Grange and I had recently been reading about humbug wizards with no wiz, dragonettes, wooden gargoyles and various other strange creatures, so the owl spooked me a little. Robert Taylor had recently told me that catching a horned toad, sprinkling corn pollen on his stomach and releasing him was a surefire way to protect yourself from bad times. I was certain no toads were immediately available, so I quickly abandoned that alternative.
Instead, I returned to the trading post and searched out the small box of Anasazi arrowheads we keep stowed under the counter; the ones Navajo people covet. Believed to be made by Shicheii, grandfather horned toad, these points are strong medicine against the ch’iidiih, or evil spirits that inhabit the night. This morning I thought I might need the extra support, so I carefully tucked two of the flint talisman inside the zippered breast pocket of my running jacket.
Navajo Folk Art Horned Toad Carving
As I walked to the street and began my run, I noticed Liza’s Christmas light peace sign glowing and thought of all those young men and women fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wondered where I might find enough arrowheads to supply them all; they could certainly use the protection.
Jogging through the blackness, I often wonder what oncoming cars, trucks and busses see of me, so the other day I asked Tish, a server at the restaurant, what she noticed when she passed a week earlier. She said something like, “I thought it was a USMO; an unidentified slow moving object. All I could see were a few flashes of something; kinda’ like a tortoise with reflective stripes.” I thanked her for her insightful comments, made a note in her personnel file and moved on.
When I came to the first curve in the road, I was thinking of Tish’s comments and watching the light expand from an approaching car. As the driver rounded the bend, I moved off the road, since it was apparent he had not yet identified me as a potential speed bump. He passed closely by and I could see his spectre-like face illuminated by the dashboard. The close call made me question whether my good luck charms were working.
Then John Hatch passed in his white Ford pickup and gave me a flash of his blinkers, which I took as a good sign. John is a bright young man who was raised at Hatch Trading Post, which is located north of Montezuma Creek; near Hovenweep. Hatch is one of the last remnants of the old trading post system, and my only recollection of the post is having ice cream there during a school field trip approximately 40 years ago; about the time ice cream was invented. John escaped the trading post life to become an oil field engineer.
After John’s passage, the few vehicles that went by gave me a wide berth, so I became convinced everything was working fine. Then, out of the darkness I heard a whoosh, and something flying close to the pavement winged sharply to the right about five feet in front of me. It had to be the owl I reasoned, so I pulled over and took a long, deep look into the starry sky, trying to identify the invader.
As the constellations blinked, I felt the sting of cold, fresh air in my lungs. Somewhere from the depths of my being burst forth an unexpected one syllable prayer; something like, “yes” or “oh,” or “ahh.” I am not exactly sure where it came from or why, but it extinguished my fright and accurately expressed my happiness at being in God’s largest and most spectacular cathedral. I have seen Saint Peter’s, Saint Mark’s and even the Sistine Chapel, but for me nothing compares to the beauty, peace and contentment I find in Nature.
Standing on the side of the road, an old Helen Reddy song came to mind; “I am strong, I am invincible, I am . . . woman.” Realizing that unless I wanted to get a sex change that was not going to work as a theme song, I searched for another tune to occupy my thoughts. As I started back up, I felt renewed strength in my legs and imagined the arrowheads glowing with power. The good luck charms were surely working; the increasing traffic was giving me lots of room, Old Man Owl had evacuated my space and I felt, well, invincible.
With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.
Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post