Friday, February 17, 2012

White Folks Sweat

It was a characteristically slow February afternoon at Twin Rocks Trading Post. Outside black clouds skittered across the mesa and cascaded over the cliffs. Creeping into the valley below, the dark, fractured mist discharged a flurry of meager snowflakes that disappeared as they contacted the red earth. Inside the store Priscilla, Barry and I were warm and dry.

Tourists, the lifeblood of the post, do not often visit our small community during the winter months, so we are required to invent activities to keep ourselves engaged during the slack periods. On this particular day, Barry and I were taking great pains to evaluate a large black and blue contusion on Priscilla’s forehead.

The object of our concern, which was located immediately north of her nose, had been acquired during the great sheeping incident of 2012, wherein Priscilla struck her head on the metal corral when the family flock stampeded during breakfast. The bruise had caused us to question whether Priscilla would survive the next 48 hours. Our primary concern, as anybody who knows us will surely guess, was whether we might lose our trusty sidekick of over 20 years, and, if so, how we might replace her. Like the Lone Ranger contemplating the loss of Tonto, we were gravely concerned.

Just as Barry and I were wrapping up our examination, and concluding the bruise was not lethal, the Kokopelli doors swung open. Preceded by a blast of frigid air, a thirty-something male, a thirty-something female and a teenage boy drifted in. The trio, as unusual as they were unexpected, did not seem to notice the cold.

The man was tall and lean, dressed in a thin t-shirt, jogging pants and Italian summer slippers over white socks. The woman, who was of medium height and also relatively thin, sported a shocking crop of stoplight red hair which stuck out in all directions and prevented me from noticing anything else about her. The teenager looked like he had walked right out of the pages of a Japanese comic book.

“Where ya’ from,” I asked, transfixed by the woman’s mane and fearful I might be staring. “I’m from Salt Lake City, she’s from Australia and he’s from Japan,” the man replied. That explained why the boy looked like a manga character, but the red hair could not be so easily rationalized.

After a tense silence, while he seemed to ponder my interest in the woman’s hair, the man stepped in closely and almost whispered, “Does anybody around here do sweats?” Since I have been in the tourist industry most of my life, I instinctively realized he wanted to know if any of the indigenous people living in Bluff allowed outsiders into their sweat lodge.

As with many, if not most, of the Native American tribes, the Navajo engage in ritual cleansing. This is typically done in a male hogan using hot rocks, steam and herbs. The warm, dark environment inside the earthen hogan is viewed by Navajo people as the womb of Mother Earth. It is therefore a deeply sacred place.

“Priscilla, do you know anybody who does sweats for white folks,” I asked. “I don’t want white folks sweat,” the man indignantly shot back, “I want the real thing. I have done several traditional sweats.” Trying to redeem me, Priscilla said, “Jenelia’s husband does.” “Go next door to Twin Rocks Cafe and ask for Jenelia,” I instructed the man. Taking note of his milky white complexion, I could not stop myself from adding, “Just don’t tell her you’re white.”

Glancing at Priscilla, I noticed she was slowly backing away from the jewelry counter. As she unconsciously rubbed her contusion, I thought she might be wondering whether I would soon acquire a bruise of my own, and whether she might get a second bump in the ensuing scuffle.

After the trio exited the store Priscilla offered to sweat the sarcasm out of me. I inquired whether that would be the traditional or the white sweat. I informed her I would only stand for the real thing. She went to Barry’s office refrigerator and got me a Coca Cola.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team

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