A great rock sent me to the Navajo Nation. It came as a surprise when I received this Guidance at Machu Picchu in Peru. My friend Angela and I were among the few people still lingering among the ruins at sunset. As my eyes took in the steep green mountains and the remains of the complex structures, I felt deep love for the enormous stones that held places of honor in this sacred ancient village.
One of those great rocks was calling to me. I stashed my backpack in the bushes and scrambled up the embankment, feeling grateful that my body was still nimble at the age of 56. This brought me to a more private place where I could spread my whole body against the huge rock. Placing my right cheek and ear against the cold stone, I had the distinct impression that it talked to me.
I’ve been communing with rocks for years, and they have generously revealed their healing powers to me. But those were short messages, and nothing personal. One of the things they told me was that when little rocks break off from the Mother Rock, they always stay in telepathic communication with one another. So now I realized that all this time I have been conversing with the kids—and now I was with one of the Mothers, and that was Different.
This Venerable Sentinel gave me advice, like some ancient Oracle. I did not hear it with my ears, yet it was a clear telepathic message. She told me to simplify my life, travel less, get rid of my computer (I had two) and she said that I should study with a Navajo jeweler.
I knew it was time to simplify my life. I was spending too much time doing things I did not enjoy, to earn money for things I did not need. I could get rid of one computer. I could not stop travelling because that is part of my work, but I could make a goal to travel less over the years. I could rent half my house and pay half as much on rent and utilities. I could share a car with my housemate instead of having my own car. I could have one bank account instead of three. I could spend more time in my garden.
I never thought of making jewelry, but I have a good eye, I told myself, I love color, I have a deep appreciation for stones, and I enjoy working with geometric shapes. Then I remembered standing at the center of the remains of one of the stone buildings and thinking, This builder must have enjoyed his work. How satisfying it must be to commune with the stones as part of your work, instead of sitting in front of a computer.
I guess that giant rock was taking me seriously. I couldn’t think of any finer jewelry than the old turquoise and silver work of the Navajo. But are those old craftsmen still alive? I asked myself. Even if they are, why would they want to teach me? It must be a skill that is passed from father to son, that would take years to master. I have no skill, I’m white, I’m a woman, and I live in Hawaii!
The idea seemed preposterous. Besides, I could not imagine myself working with metals, or with a torch. And most of the copper mines where turquoise was found are now empty. Today they mine copper with chemicals, which destroys the stones, so there are precious few of those beautiful stones left to work with.
When I lived in the Southwest for several years, I befriended the Hopi, the Apache and the Taos Pueblo Indians—but that was 32 years ago. My old friends are probably all dead, I bemoaned. Besides, it was hard to imagine going to the Navajo Nation, because their lands surround the Hopi and the Navajo are traditional enemies of the Hopi.
But I do not turn my back on Guidance—especially Guidance that seems so irrational. It obviously wasn’t coming from my head!
In order to understand my ambivalence about returning to the Southwest, let me share some snapshots from the past:
At the age of 22, I am one of the original “flower children.” I join the March for Peace in Times Square to protest the war in Vietnam. A mounted policeman threatens us with his billy club and I walk up to him with my long flowing hair and offer him a flower, which he accepts and then, embarrassed, he rides away.
Then he points to the huge rock in front of the van. “What’s that?” he asks. Why does everybody ask about that?
When we left Old Oraibi, we went to Hotevila, to find David Monongye. Walking into their village was like going back in time thousands of years; like living in an ancient ruin. The Hopi live in the longest continuously inhabited settlement on the continent. I write in my journal:
Small bands of children roam freely on the dirt streets where there are few cars, and where the kids can always find a helpful adult. The ancient ones sit on their front porches, like guardians in the sun.
I decided that was how I wanted to raise my children. When we left Hopiland, Paul and I joined a commune called The Domes in Placitas, near Albuquerque, where we had an opportunity to experience a similar lifestyle. We became a couple and moved into a Navajo hogan built by a former resident—an octagonal structure made of adobe, with a log roof covered with mud. The potbelly wood stove stood to the right of the entrance, while our mattress was on the back wall, Kalon’s little mat was on the left wall, and the big table that was my kitchen was to the left of the entrance.
I can smell the corn and beans simmering slowly in the iron pot on the wood stove. Behind the stovepipe I can see the red chili peppers that I strung last week. I stand beside the long table, watching the snow falling in great clumps as the heels of my palms sink into the soft ball of sourdough rye. I smile as Kalon rides his new red tricycle round and round the pole at the center of the hogan. When he tires of this I help him into his snowsuit so he can tromp across the arroyo to visit our friends in the other little homes that are part of this commune where he is always safe and welcome.
* * * * *
Thirty-four years later and six months after my visit to Machu Picchu, I was living on the Big Island of Hawaii and planning my next teaching tour on the Mainland. I had one event planned for August and another in October. It didn’t make sense to fly home to Hawaii just for a month, so September seemed to be the perfect time to go to the Navajo Nation. The gates kept opening and my plans unfolded almost effortlessly.
When I told my assistant, Karen, that I would be going to Navajo country in September to look for a jeweler, she promptly got onto the Web and presented me with a sheaf of printed pages. I learned that the biggest Navajo Fair of the year would be held at Window Rock, in northeastern Arizona, just after Labor Day, and many jewelers would be there. The fair lasted four days and I could probably arrange to arrive on the second day. Karen also printed out some pages on Navajo jewelry, and I was surprised to see several women jewelers, including one that did sand-casting. That made me feel more hopeful; I thought it would be easier to find a woman to study with, and since I wasn’t enthused about welding, maybe I could learn sand-casting.
Meanwhile friends and relatives in Phoenix extended warm invitations, and Heather, one of my students in Tempe near Phoenix, offered to rent me her car and let me use her camping gear. That was important, because I didn’t want to go among the Indians looking like a tourist in a rental car. (While the current popular expression for Indians is Native Americans, the Navajo and Hopi still call themselves Indians, so I will use both terms.)
Phoenix was sweltering hot. I packed up Heather’s white Honda Accord and barely avoided rush hour. An hour north of Phoenix I was in the Painted Desert. The mountains in the distance glowed in hues of purple, and I was surrounded by massive rocks, worn by the wind. This was God’s Country, and it felt good to be back. I was grateful to have been asked to return.
I had mixed feelings about going back to Indian country. I was afraid of being rejected. I remembered all the times the Hopi children laughed at us, when Paul and Kalon and I were in Hopiland. Wherever we went, we were surrounded by children who laughed and jeered at us. Even though the few Traditionalist we knew were very kind, most of the Indians avoided us and looked away when we passed. It felt like many of them resented our presence.
Paul and I walk the mesa, as Nora showed us, along the trail that runs alongside the little gardens, down to the spring to get water. As always, we are followed by a flock of little children, from about 3 to 8 years old. The spring is surrounded by a crude wooden structure that gives shelter from the sun. The children gather about ten feet away, watching us as we go inside. A tin cup hangs on a nail. Paul lifts the cup, fills it from the spring, drinks half, and hands the rest to me. As I lift the cool cup to my lips, tittering laughter breaks out among the children. After we fill our bottles, we walk out of the enclosed area and the children run in. We stop to watch them. One child fills the cup and drinks her fill, then flings the unused water on the ground. Then another child takes the cup, fills it, and drinks it all. In that hot climate, the germs must dry instantly on the tin cup, and this is certainly a more sanitary way to share water with one cup among so many. We wanted to be accepted. White people before us had done stupid and insulting things. Weeks before our visit, Allen Ginsburg and his hippy friends went down into the sacred kiva, took LSD and ran around naked. That was just one of many ways the Hopi had been insulted. Now many of them wanted to ban outsiders from the dances. Paul and I were eager to demonstrate that we weren’t like those other hippies. But when Paul rushed in to carry water for Nora—who was in her seventies and seemed to appreciate the help— the men looked on disapprovingly. Later David told us that Paul was doing women’s work. We realized how easy it was to unwittingly offend people from another culture.
After going through the high desert into the town of Payson, I drove east through the sweet-smelling high forest. I found a campground. It was just after Labor Day. The nearly full moon rose through the tall Lodge Pole pines, and the temperature quickly plummeted to near freezing.
I slept peacefully, bathed in the light of the moon. In the morning, I pulled back the flap of my tent to watch the sun come up through the slender trunks of the tall trees. Though I had been traveling without a companion, I had been in the constant company of friends and family for two weeks. Now I was in my brand-new tent, and I was delighted with the great visibility through the extensive mosquito-netting. A big crow squawked and the wind whooshed through the treetops. The air felt brisk and invigorating, as the rays of sunlight filtered through the trees.
It was a relief to be alone, especially in that wondrously deserted site, where the only nearby human sounds were my own. It would be good to enjoy these woods with a beloved, I thought, but for now my experience of being alone was delicious. It was good to feel the enjoyment at the core of my own being, instead of seeking its resonance in the eyes of another. I had been alone and celibate for a year, and I was celebrating that choice.
* * *
As I folded my tent I saw a large brown grasshopper outside the mosquito netting. He was there before I went to sleep, and he was still there when I woke up. Now he seemed disinclined to hop away, so I stopped to commune with him.
“Hello! What is your message?” I asked.
The answer came readily. I heard it inside my head, but the words certainly did not come from my conscious mind. “Be patient.” I knew he referred to the Navajo Fair. “Just hang around.”
How did he know that I’m not good at that? I tend to want to get right to the point and make things happen fast.
“Don’t expect any great fireworks,” he counseled.
“Thank you,” I said, attempting to get on with my packing, as I tried to coax him onto a branch of a tree. But he clung tightly to my finger.
I stopped and regarded him more closely, noticing his ancient armor. “Be armored and trusting,” he said. “Be willing to come in when asked. Don’t tell everything all at once.”
This seemed like good advice! Finally he leapt away, and I finished packing. I thought of getting out my Coleman Stove and making breakfast, but I decided to snack along the way.
The road took me through the high forest, past a cute little place called the Creekside Restaurant. I made a U-turn and went back, thinking about bacon and eggs. I hadn’t eaten red meat for a while, but I was going to Indian Country, so I might as well get used to it.
My hunch was right: it was a pleasant place, and they made a fine breakfast. Then I continued down toward the New Mexico border before going north again. The horizon became a continuous backdrop of high green hills and distant purple mountains, topped by trailing white clouds that bounced along an unending expanse of baby blue sky. These backdrops were so familiar to me. I had come to love the colors of the desert.
To keep myself entertained as I drove, I created this fantasy of finding the perfect Navajo jeweler.
I am sitting with an elder who has sparkly eyes and a great laugh. We see the Spirit in each other at once, as if we knew each other from long ago. She is innovative and not afraid to use different stones and patterns. She is a Master of her craft, and she enjoys my appreciation of her work. She feels good about teaching me, since none of her daughters have shown an interest. I feel honored by her willingness to share with me. She introduces me to her friends and family, and I am always welcome to stay in the hogan outside her home. They think of me as family.
It was a nice fantasy, but my conscious mind was quick to remind me that I have lived in Hawaii for six years and I am only beginning to make meaningful friendships with the Hawaiians. How could I walk in amongst the Navajo and hope to find someone to study with in two weeks? It seemed like a great test of my Faith to follow this Guidance. Sometimes it felt like a leap of the absurd.
The sign announced that I was in Apache country. I consulted the map; it would be another two hours before I came to the Navajo reservation. The sign said to watch for elk, but I saw no elk; only twigs of dry tumbleweed, scampering across the road. The desert became stark, with outcroppings of dramatic rocks. I didn’t enjoy this kind of scenery. The desert was hot, flat and dull. I felt sleepy, so I got a Dr. Pepper. I hadn’t had a Dr. Pepper in over 20 years. I indulged myself with pleasant memories.
I’m only eleven, though I look older, and I’m working at the switchboard at my Dad’s hotel in San Diego. I love to work there; it makes me feel like a grown-up. Dad gives me two dimes for the Coke machine, and I pull out two cold glass bottles of dripping wet Dr. Peppers from the melting ice in the metal refrigerator box. Then I pry off the bottle tops with the opener on the side of the machine and take them into Dad’s office for the two of us.
The Dr. Pepper was just what I needed; I felt cooled and energized. I wished it would last for a long time, to distract me from the boring desert. When it was done, I shuffled among Heather’s cassette tapes. I tried playing Mozart, but that didn’t feel appropriate. I tried Kyoto music, but that threatened to lull me to sleep. Driving through St. John’s I stopped to look at the map, and saw that it would be another hour before I arrived in Sanders, at the beginning of Navajo country. I was in the middle of a flat and endless desert. More rock formations.
I was just about to look for another cassette when I saw a figure at the right of the road, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I was going fast, maybe 80 miles an hour. It was an old Indian woman. No hesitation. I put on the brake and pulled onto the dirt shoulder, just past her, in a spray of dust. I started clearing off the passenger seat and a minute later she was at the window, peering in questioningly. Yes, I signaled—come in—open the door.
A nearly toothless grin with a few yellow teeth spread across her round brown face. Her eyes were dancing. She opened the door just as I noticed that there was still a bottle of juice lying in the crevice of the seat. I reached to get the bottle as she started to sit down. She closed the door and the automatic seat belt began closing in on her as she shuffled among the layers of her tattered skirts as we both tried to reach for the bottle.
Finally we found the culprit, and by then we were both doubled over laughing. She took my hand and held it to her forehead, as her body shook with laugher. She sat up, and her eyes drank me in, as mine did her. It was as if we had been friends for centuries.
I guessed her to be 91, the same age as 'Grandfather David,’ my Hopi friend. “Do you speak English?” I asked.
She shook her head, “No.” I pointed to myself and said, “Joy.” She pronounced my name with difficulty.
I pointed to her. “Em-ma,” she said. I repeated her name and she smiled. Starting up the car, I asked, “Where are you going?”
I wondered how she would explain.
“Hospital,” she said, as if the word was familiar.
“You’ll show me?” She nodded her head, “Yes.” We drove along in silence, and I wondered if we could communicate telepathically? Wouldn’t it be just too perfect if she was a jeweler? I didn’t know there were still Old Ones here. What incredible good fortune to have met this precious being. She could be a relative of the Incan woman in Peru, who carried her vegetables into town on her back, and then sat peacefully on the street corner. The eyes of both women were so beautiful, and it was such an inspiration to see the happiness in their simple lifestyle.
“You live here?” I indicated the area where I picked her up. She nodded, “Yes.”
“Are you Navajo?” I asked, because we were between the Apache and Navajo Reservations. She nodded, “Yes.”
More silence. “But you don’t say ‘Navajo,’ do you? Do you say ‘Dine’?” Then she said a word that seemed like it might begin with Dine but it was a very difficult, long word. I rolled up my window so I could hear her better.
“Again,” I said, pointing to my ear. She said it again. It was utterly foreign to my ear and my tongue, but I made an attempt to pronounce it. Another big grin flashed across her face and she tugged with amusement on the scarf covering her head. In that moment, she was like a child who could hardly contain herself.
Undaunted, I tapped my ear again and she repeated the word. This time it reminded me of those difficult Polish words and the strange-sounding Hebrew words that I heard as a child, though I only learned a word here and there. Just last week, in Phoenix, my Aunt taught me how to pronounce my father’s last name, Kozicki, before he changed it. “The zi is pronounced jeet and the cki is pronounced ski, she explained. So my father’s birth name was Stanley Kozicki — Ko-jeet-ski — before he changed it to Scott Chadwick, because my mother said that with a name like Kozicki they would only have Polish customers at their real estate office in Chicago. Aunt Florence was pleased with my accent; she said it was perfect.
Feeling reassured, I told myself, I can do this. I tried again, and Em-ma looked a little more satisfied. She said the word again, and I repeated it. I don’t recall what that long word was, with all its peculiar consonants and strange gutteral sounds, but this time I must have said it right because she smiled and nodded her head.
We fell into silence again. I could not help but watch her with fascination through the corner of my eye. Sometimes she would raise those large brown hands and rub them together. Other times her hands would clutch at her skirts. I imagined that those hands were unaccustomed to lying idle, and would rather be weaving rich-colored rugs into fine patterns.
Though her eyes were a bit blood-shot, her vision seemed good, as was her hearing. I loved having her there beside me, and I wished she would stay forever. (As a child, I didn’t know either of my grandmothers.) But already we were in Sanders. The sign said, “Welcome to the Navajo Nation,” and there was the blue Hospital sign. I drove straight ahead, as indicated. She pointed to where I should stop, and I pulled in next to the red brick building by the wrought iron gate and turned off the motor.
She engulfed my small hand in her own large, soft, warm hands and looked into my eyes. “Thank you,” she said sincerely, in English. We smiled gently at each other, and then I watched her open the door and walk away.
Em-ma is from an entirely different culture. I cannot convey how utterly different she is—so wide open, so happy and trusting. I felt an incredible depth in her. My journey was blessed by her presence, and much of my fear about going among the Navajo was dispelled. She felt like a Guardian Angel. At least part of my vision had already come true!
From Sanders I took Highway 40 East, feeling grateful to be back in the cool high country. In less than an hour, the road began its descent into Window Rock. As I came around a bend, I saw a group of huge sandstone sentinels in the distance. They made me think of rounded pyramids. I began to wonder how Window Rock got its name. Then I thought about the great rock at Machu Picchu, and it felt somehow related to these rocks.
It was 5 pm when I stopped at a gas station, where everyone was Navajo. I asked about the fair and one man waved in the direction I had come from and said, “Just a couple blocks up, on the right. Can’t miss it.”
I found the entrance sandwiched in between the Sports Center and a big circus with a Ferris wheel. A small sign read “55th Annual Navajo Fair,” and another, bigger sign said “Waylon Jennings.” Everything looked so ramshackle that my heart sank. Pick-up trucks and cars were parked along the highway and in the ditches. I was exhausted and didn't feel like going in. There were only two more days for the fair, but I just wanted to set up camp and go to sleep. Maybe I was in resistance. I didn’t care for fairs or circuses, and I didn’t feel comfortable in large groups of people, especially if I was the only white person. This definitely did not look like a tourist attraction.
I must confess that I have been withholding one of my snapshots from the past.
Paul and I and Kalon are sitting on the rooftop of one of the adobe homes that surround the arena where the Kachinas dance. The Hopi clowns have just come into the arena. They are known for being outrageous, and making fun of people. Down below on the ground level, across from us, are three tourists, wearing Sierra Club hats. Earlier I overheard one of the Indian men nod at the tourists and say, “Those white people don’t have souls.”
Copyright Joy Gardner 2008
*Living from the Inside Out by Joy Gardner is an unpublished book.