The other morning before dawn I found myself driving south to open Twin Rocks Cafe
. The air was crisp, registering 26 degrees on the car thermometer, and the sky was dazzling. Since I was slightly ahead of schedule and wanted to prolong the experience, I pulled the car to the shoulder of the road and killed the engine. Looking to the moonless vault of the sky dome, I observed the deep blue/black, almost velvety, background of heaven. Upon that three-dimensional backdrop was a star scape so bright and crystalline the sight drew me in. It was a visual utopia, and I was captivated.
My car rested on the asphalt highway along the bench just above Bluff. To the east, the undulating mesa was slightly backlit with the promise of sunrise. Wispy, striated clouds waited patiently on the horizon for the Sun God to paint them with tones of rose and tangerine. Sagebrush, Navajo tea and rabbit brush appeared skeletal and menacing upon what I knew to be rusty red hillocks of compacted blow sand. A dusting of frost accentuated by starlight crystallized the roadway, the surrounding terrain and the stunted vegetation.
Standing there for a while, I took in the beauty of my surroundings and watched as the cliff tops slowly began to take their hump-backed shape in the first blush of approaching dawn. Realizing my staff would be waiting for me to turn the key, I re-seated myself in the car, started her up and switched on the headlights. On my right, something caught my attention as I pulled onto the roadway. Squinting into the darkness, I again saw movement. I could see something low to the ground, of a dark amber color, trotting fluidly in my direction. In an instant I realized it was a large coyote, an old dog looking to box me in. I have associated with our Navajo neighbors long enough to know that, if you can help it, you do not allow a coyote to cross in front of you. If you do or it does, you are stuck in place until four vehicles pass by and clear the path. You then have to sprinkle corn pollen and pray to the four directions. If you ignore this customary wisdom, all sorts of bad and ugly things may befall you. Coyote is a chaotic creature, and it is best not to upset his, which becomes your, unstable balance.
Navajo Star-light Star-bright Basket Set - Elsie Holiday (#084)
The cussed canine was ignoring me, the noise of the car and the bright lights, acting as if I were of no consequence. I realized that if he crossed my path I would have to make an offering and wait until other travelers obliterated his tracks, making it safe to continue. If that chaotic creature crossed me, I would be sorry-out-of-luck, and way late for work. The only offerings I had were corn chips, pinion nuts, hummus, and cranberry juice. My bag of corn pollen was . . . well . . . nonexistent. The chances of four vehicles traveling from the north in the next half hour was unlikely, and I could not, would not be late for work. Our lead cook, Jenelia, gets a kick out of arriving earlier than anyone else. If she does, she will sit there in her giant white Dodge Ram pick-up truck with the red hand print on the right rear fender and tsk tsk tsk, while shaking her head. "You should just give me the key,” she says every time. "Not a chance,” I tell her, "then you will want to be the boss." "I already am,” she says, "you just haven't figured that out yet."
All that was incentive to hit the gas, honk the horn and flash the lights in order to cut Hasteen Coyote off at the pass. The coyote was still 30' off the road when he decided to let me go ahead. Instead of turning tail and running however, that old dog just sat back on his hairy haunches and watched me proceed. That surprised me, because coyotes are generally skittish when it comes to humans and their mechanical wonders, they usually skedaddle at the first sign of anyone or anything that might present a threat. Not this old boy, he rested there on the frosted sand and watched as I eased on down the road. When I realized he was settling in for the show, I slowed down and coasted on in. I popped open the bag of corn chips and fingered the right passenger side window to the down position.
Reaching deeply into the bag of chips, I withdrew a large handful. As I drove by, I looked directly into his citrine colored eyes and tossed my offering in his direction. I had the distinct impression the coyote was thinking, "Doo 'aha'shjaa'i" (How stupid). Something Jenelia might say if I told her about this encounter. Not a chance! I moved past the coyote and glanced into the rearview mirror where I saw him in the red glow of my taillights. He moved to the edge of the highway and paused. Maybe Ma,'ii had accepted my offering, forgiving my awkward approach. I should have been pleased with my successful avoidance of being jinxed by that bad boy beastie, but I just felt a little silly. When I finally made my way down Cow Canyon and rounded the corner to Twin Rocks Cafe, I saw Jenelia waiting. Our own chaotic character stood at the door, impatiently tapping her foot, awaiting my arrival. She was not, however, going to get any of my snacks, I had already offered-up enough.
With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.