Friday, October 15, 2010


Of all the cartoons I have seen over the years, only a few have stayed with me. I have a devil of a time remembering jokes, so it should come as no surprise that I also struggle to recall the details of Sunday morning comics. I can remember characters just fine, but when it comes to the story line I am always at a loss.

Lizard and Coyote Carving

Most prominent of the few cartoons I have seen is a Beetle Bailey series I read in the Sacramento Bee probably three decades ago. It involved Sergeant Snorkel deciding to lose weight. As I recollect, the panels show Snorkel getting a haircut, taking a shower, cleaning behind his ears and, lastly, cleaning the lint from his bellybutton. At the conclusion of the process, he stepped on the scales and was pleased to discover a few pounds had indeed been shed. Over the years I have tried the sergeant's technique, but never with any success; the pounds simply stay put.

For some reason lint has also stayed with me, and from that time forward I have been obsessed with “getting the lint out.” In fact, lint has become a metaphor for me letting things languish longer than reasonably necessary. It is a sign that I am not doing what I should and that I have become lazy and complacent. So, I search for it everywhere; in my trousers, under the bed, behind my ears, in the toes of my socks and, yes, even in my navel.

If the trading post has taught me anything, it is that in Navajo culture there is a story or legend for almost everything. From the male-female dichotomy to Coyote, Horned Toad and Monster Slayer, the tales are deep and fascinating. Until recently, however, I have never heard Navajo people talk about their experiences with lint. It may be that the red sand of the Northern Navajo Reservation does not allow for the accumulation of this material. Or, it may be that the Navajo, like me, are ashamed when their pockets and stockings fill up with these fibers.

In my quest to determine whether there is actually a Navajo tradition relating to lint, I have spoken with many a medicine man. When I say I am interested in the issue, they shake their heads and, as John Lennon said, “look at me kinda’ strange.” “Surely you can’t be serious,” they say. “Indeed I am,” I respond. That only makes things worse.

After years of investigating this mystery, last week I finally asked Priscilla if she had any insight into the issue. She cocked her head to one side, reached into her shirt pocket, tugged out a few clumps and said, “This?” “Yes,” I almost shouted, “exactly.” At that point she related the following story:

When the earth was new, the Holy Ones created Coyote to be a leader among the people. They invested him with may unusual characteristics to distinguish him from others; a lush coat to set him apart from the ordinary animals, wondrous eyes that could see far and wide and a quick mind with which to make responsible decisions.

Coyote, however, elected to disregard his responsibilities, choosing instead to gamble, carouse, stay in bed until late into the morning, neglect his corn fields and create chaos. As a result, Coyote lost his beautiful eyes to the sparrows, his mind became dull from too much cactus wine and his lustrous fur became coarse and matted.

The Holy Ones, noticing Coyote’s failings, decided to take action. “Brother Coyote” they called to him. “Yes,” he drowsily responded, waking from his afternoon siesta. “You have been idle and sloppy,” they informed him. “We therefore must give you something to remind you of your duties. From this day forward, if you neglect your responsibilities, you will accumulate lint,” they continued. “Lint?” he asked and promptly fell back into a deep slumber. The Holy Ones hung their heads in shame and left Coyote snoring under a cottonwood tree.

Later that afternoon, Coyote awoke to see Brother Squirrel and Sister Prairie Dog gazing upon him. “You look like a porcupine,” said Brother Squirrel. “You look like a giant wooly caterpillar,” said Sister Prairie Dog. Coyote yawned, stretched his long legs and shook himself. Lint flew in every direction; north, south, east and west.

Coyote, however, did not mend his ways. He continued to bet at the shoe games, distill beer in his bathtub, skip chapter meetings and associate with loose women. So, the lint continued to accumulate, until dust bunnies began to overtake the land, to choke the rivers and to drown the vegetable patches.

In a panic Coyote sent a smoke signal to Grandmother Spider, who promptly came to visit. “Shicheii, my grandson,” she said, “I can hardly tell who you are.” “Grandmother,” Coyote said in a distressed voice, “These fibers are destroying my life!” “I will help, I know what to do,” said the spider, and she immediately began to gather the lint. Once that was done, she spun the fibers into slender strands and wove the strands into a large, beautiful rug with many zig zags and a detailed boarder. She then rolled the weaving, slug it over her shoulder and took it to the trading post to sell.

And that, as they say, is how lint came to the people and Navajo rugs came to the trading post. The moral of this story is, “If the Holy Ones give you lint, weave rugs.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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