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by Dennis Wayne Bressack
The first time we visited the Hopi Indian Reservation,
we were befriended by a local man named Gary.
He was half-Hopi and half-Navajo.
His Hopi name was Little Left-Handed Hunter.
He promised that if we ever returned,
he would take us on a tour of his ancestral home.
Finally, two years later, we have returned.
The long awaited day begins at 7am.
I open the curtains to view
the plaza of the Hopi Cultural Center Motel.
The morning sun flows through the window,
and two years of anticipation floods the room.
We are to meet our Gary at 9am to begin this long awaited tour.
He will take us deep inside the Hopi and Navajo Reservations.
We put our faith in The Little Left-Handed Hunter
to take us to places where few white people ever go.
We travel over paved roads past towns named
Old Oraibi, Bacavi, and Hotevilla.
At the green barbed wire fence that separates the two reservations,
we turn onto dirt roads, that are impassable when wet and muddy.
Today we are lucky-the ground is dry and hard.
We feel every bump and hole along the way as
we press on to the perimeter of Coal Mine Canyon.
Carefully, sure footed, we walk to the edge,
bend down on our bellies, peer over the rim of shear cliffs.
God has painted the rocks with bucketsful of rainbows.
We are nearly breathless, not from the fear of falling,
not from the early spring heat, not from the altitude,
but from the view of this gift from Mother Nature.
With pieces of sliced mica, geode nodes, black lava, quartz and shells in a plastic bag,
we drive into Navajo country over washboard roads that shake us like milkshakes.
We pass herds of roaming cows, horses, sheep with their dogs,
Hogans used for prayer, churches, dry washes, water tanks, windmills and views that bring tears.
We are lost and Gary stops to ask two Navajo cowboys where we are.
They look at our map.
But to them, it means nothing.
They talk among themselves,
pointing and gesturing and
finally they bend over to draw directions in the dirt.
Behind them, a young boy, rope in hand, is trying to break a black horse,
and I think I have seen this scene in a dream.
We find our way to the Little Colorado River to eat lunch.
We cross the river and park next to a hill of fallen boulders,
face a thousand years of time.
Carved into the rocks are petroglyphs depicting the
Hopi migration from the 3rd into the 4th world.
I see, touch and photograph
spirals, birds, deer, villagers, snakes, Kachinas and the sun.
The carvings are as clear and sharp as the day they were sliced into rock.
To me, they are amazing pieces of the history of a people.
To Gary, they are messages from his ancestors
that confirm his religious beliefs.
Reluctantly, we leave and drive to Grand Falls,
nearly as large as Niagara.
Another astonishing site,
this perpendicular bend in the Little Colorado River,
nicknamed Chocolate Falls,
tumbles red and brown silt down 500 feet of rock
into a muddy whirlpool where cottonwood trees assemble on the shore.
We drive across a narrow and shallow bend in the river,
go to the old house where Gary spent his childhood,
a quarter mile from the crossing.
Now remarried and a devout Christian,
his father used to be an alcoholic,
was tossed from his mom's Hopi home when Gary was two.
He and Gary are still working out their relationship.
His father, a Navajo, was a tracker for the army.
Once a coyote killed his dog.
he tracked that coyote for a full 8 miles
shot him, and hung his hide
as a sign for other coyotes to stay away.
He also tracked down a guy who wrote him a bad check,
scared the shit out of him when he walked through the guy's door.
In front yard of Gary's old house,
there is a huge chunk of Lava, 40 feet in diameter.
A tattered American flag is embedded into the top.
The holes are a perfect place for snakes to hide.
Gary remembers a cow that got stuck in the muck
in the trees by the river.
They couldn't get her out,
so they slaughtered her on the spot.
Some of the bones are still there.
Back at the cultural center that night,
I ponder the day that we just spent.
I see that being one with nature,
respecting and taking care of the land, air, water, plants and animals,
rather than abusing or owning them,
is the path of an Indian boy,
the life of a Native American Man.