Friday, August 10, 2012

Starry, Starry Night

This summer Grange and I have been sleeping outside.  No, we have not been banished to the great outdoors for misbehavin’.  Instead, it is a question of heat.  Like most people in Bluff, we cool ourselves with a swamp cooler.  Since it has been hotter than usual during July and August, our water-based air conditioner has struggled to keep things comfortable inside the house above the trading post.  As a result, Grange and I broke out the cots and sleeping bags and decamped to the patio.  Kira, who had previously staked out a position on the hammock so she could watch for satellites, quasars and pulsars, withdrew.  “Over populated!” she protested.

View of Twin Rocks from the Porch

Bluff has a true desert climate, so, although it may be 100 degrees during the day, the evenings are usually mild.  Slumbering beneath the Twin Rocks is, therefore, exceptionally attractive.  For one thing, these stone monoliths rise almost straight up from the porch like giant guardians, protecting us from things that go bump in the night.  Indeed, Navajo people think of the twins as a gigantic prayer bundle.  This, in combination with the jet-black sky, makes the arrangement stellar.

Since it is so very small, Bluff does not have street lamps or other lights to obscure the stars, planets and other celestial bodies that dance in the night.  So, to Kira’s dismay, almost every evening Grange and I drag out our bedding, set up our cots, flop down on our backs and stare into the heavens while we await the sandman’s arrival.

Last night I awoke around 3:00 a.m. to the sound of Grange’s quiet, even breathing.  What I saw could only be created by the hand of God and recreated by Vincent van Gogh.  In the early morning, the clouds swirled round the moon and stars in an eerie spiraling pattern.  It was an almost perfect reproduction of van Gogh’s Starry Night.  While the gentle breeze caressed me, I questioned whether I had left the natural world and entered an unknown realm.

As I lay there wondering whether to bring him into this otherworldly domain, a cold wind blew across the porch.  Grange, who often talks in his sleep, blurted out, “Now I understand”, rolled onto his stomach and pulled the covers over his head.

The scene was rapidly changing, so I decided not to wake him.  Grange’s comment, however, brought to mind several ancient legends, and reminded me how Native people often vest objects of the natural world with human characteristics.  To the Navajo, the moon is widely known as Tl’ehonaa’ei, and is viewed as a wise old man with flowing gray locks who travels the night.  He is the counterpart to Johonaa’ei, the sun, illicit lover of Changing Woman and sire of the Hero Twins, Monster Slayer and Born-for-Water.

It was not long before Tl’ehonaa’ei had traveled beyond the swirling mass of clouds and into the unobstructed darkness.  Grange lay motionless, oblivious to the natural beauty Father Sky and Tl’ehonaa’ei had illuminated.  As if to remind me of the gift I had just been given, the moon ducked behind one more spinning mass of clouds and winked good night.  Now I understood what might have inspired those tribal stories, and just how human the moon can be.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team

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