The aged man sat quietly amid a group of three giant, twisted and textured cottonwood trees. The heavy foliage overhead protected him from the excessive heat bearing down on the weathered cliffs, broken sandstone and iron-stained earth that surrounded him. Deesdoi (too hot), he muttered to himself. Surveying the landscape, he spotted three young boys (ashii Ke yazhi) forming a pincer movement on the giant bullfrog that rested comfortably in the shallows of the small pond just below the hill to his left. The shavers were so intent on their prize that they were completely unaware of the interested bystander. From under the rumpled rim of his sweat-stained, black felt Stetson, the observer studied the intent faces and deliberate movements of the boys. Avoiding any sudden movement that might arouse the attention of the frog or the sprouts, he carefully reached into the right breast pocket of his tan and brown Pendleton shirt, pulling out cigarette papers and a small bag of Bull-Durham tobacco. Closely studying the young bucks, he shook loose a bit of the shredded leaf and deposited it into the Zig Zag sheath, deftly licking the edge and sealing the seam.
Navajo Frog Basket by Lorraine Black
As the youngsters navigated swamp grass and cattails, slowly but surely closing in on the croaker, the man noticed that two of the boys were heavily tanned, but lighter than the other. Their hair was cropped short and sandy blond in color. "Tow-heads" was the term he had heard white people (Bilaganna) call such flaxen-headed children. The other at first appeared to be Navajo, he was darker skinned with closely shorn raven hair; heavier, with more muscled features. The old fellow's mahogany eyes brightened and his weathered complexion crinkled as he smiled and thought to himself, "Duke's Boys". Duke was the red-headed white man who had built the filling station on the east end of Bluff. Duke had brought the pretty Portuguese woman from California to the edge of the Rez. The old timer studied the boys. They were outfitted in well worn Levi's, slightly soiled white T-shirts and heavy "clod hopper" boots. The kids worked well together, and the "kicker" looked to be cornered.
The resting, rustic character simultaneously placed the cigarette in his mouth and removed his high domed hat, presenting a full, uncombed head of salt and pepper hair which stuck out in all directions. The small fry did not notice the movement, but the monster frog did. The old Indian slowly reached into his pocket and drew out a stick match. The frog hunkered down. The boys were nearly in position. Hasteen placed the match on the thigh of his stiff Wrangler jeans, preparing to strike. The little soldiers eyed each other in silent conversation, making final preparations. The man pulled the match in an upward motion, lit it and moved the flame to his cigarette just as one of the boys shouted "NOW." Spying the flash of fire, the bullfrog jumped an instant before the striplings, escaping into the depths of the pond. The ruffians yelled in frustration and began pushing and shoving one aother about, each blaming the others for failing to catch the marvelous trophy. The man smiled to himself, replaced his hat and took a long satisfying drag on his cigarette.
At the edge of the pond things were quickly getting out of hand. The old Indian reached back and pushed himself up from the gnarled tree trunk, placed two fingers to his lips and let out a shrill whistle. The punks froze the instant the sound split the thick air. The boys looked in the direction of the man, smiled and waved, never suspecting his involvement in the frog's escape. The lads sat down on the bank of the pond, removed their boots and t-shirts and bailed off into the murky, artesian well water. The old codger smiled to himself and headed off in the direction of the K&C store for a cool red pop (To'lichii). As his chafed black riding boots scuffed the dust, he could hear the ruffians splashing and laughing out loud behind him. According to Navajo legend, the old timer had saved the youngsters and, for that matter, all locals numerous crop failures and countless ailments. He had done them a favor! Those boys were certainly not aware of the frog's influence over corn, rain and diseases of the bones and joints. To trifle with a bullfrog was to court disaster. If they had indeed caught and handled that huge frog they might have been adversely affected for years.
As the old sage made his way to Keith and Curtis's store, he thought of canned peaches and licked his lips in anticipation of the sweet (likan) goodness. Hearing the sound of distant thunder, he looked to the west and noticed a heavy build-up of storm clouds illuminated by flashes of lightning. A thunderstorm was moving quickly in the direction of the sheltered river valley. With the advancing winds, the old gentleman picked-up his pace, he knew a male rain would soon bust loose overhead. Nearing his destination, he checked his pockets for loose change and, noting the problems he had averted for the kids and this small community, said out loud, "You're welcome!"
With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.