John M. Gist is the author of the novels CrowHeart (1999), Lizard Dreaming of Birds (2004), and A Clearing of the Way (2008). He has published in The Agonist, Left Curve, Vibrant Life, New Mexico Magazine and others. He is co-author of the philosophical book Angst and Evolution: The Struggle for Human Potential (2009) and currently teaches Humanities at Diné College on the Navajo Nation, where he lives with his wife and dogs. With an M.F.A from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he has made a habit, consciously or not, of living at the edges of civilization, near the wilds.
Zen on the Rez
“Of what is great one must either be silent or speak with greatness. With greatness-that means cynically and with innocence.” —Nietzsche
I don't know how long I stood staring out the second floor window of the Gallup, New Mexico, La Quinta Inn, as far out on the edge of consciousness as a scarecrow's mind, no more than a minute or two, I guess, before it registered in my sleep-numbed brain: the U-Haul we had rented, along with ninety percent of our worldly belongings, had vanished from the parking lot. Dawn splashed over the red hills to the north. Below, hemmed in on one side by our red Pontiac Vibe, on the other by a one-ton welding truck, the spot where I had parked the fourteen-foot van between two white lines on the asphalt lot was empty. I closed my eyes and hoped for a magician's trick, an optical illusion revealed. No such luck. Vacant.
It all started out on the desert near Deming, New Mexico, in the borderlands, living in a half-baked solar passive house bounded to the west by a row of tall Scotch pines. The strange hour before dawn, darkness shivering with keenness of light. A chunky Mexican man, shirtless, wearing pink boxer shorts, pounded on our front door, wailed in the darkness, pleaded, as if a god inhabited the house, for his life. Turning from the bedroom window, vision ablur with sleep and myopia, I grabbed for my glasses on the nightstand next to the queen-sized bed. My wife, Wendy, flung herself from the sheets as if they were electric, scrambled this way and that, her disheveled hair, darker than the night, seemingly seething with nerves. I imagined centipedes creeping over the tiled floor but said nothing. My glasses slid off of the nightstand. The Mexican's screaming grew in intensity, so, instead of my glasses, I groped for the Smith and Wesson .357 magnum between the mattresses.
The room smelled of sweat and desert poppies.
A swash of headlights burrowed through the night, lit up the row of south-facing windows like an explosion. A truck sped down the horseshoe-shaped dirt driveway. I found myself in the living room, the wooden butt of the revolver cool in my palm, the tiled floor chilly under my feet. Wendy was gone. Hidden somewhere in the folds of night. Quiet as a termite. I was alone. Even the dogs, a blue heeler and a blue tick hound, were missing. Alone.
The Mexican busted through the front door. Shadows undulated behind him, whispering silhouettes, grabbing, pawing, attempting to suck him back into the nether of the world from which they had sprung. The Mexican screamed. Wendy told me later that I screamed as well, something about police and justified murder, and, as she was on the phone to 911, I fired two shots. I had killed before but never a man. Two shots. Time stopped.
Sirens signaled memory's return. Border Patrol. Then Sheriffs. State Police. And finally the ambulance, the whirling lights nippled on the roof rendered impotent by the blinding disk of the risen sun. Creosote and yucca wavered in the exposing light, the giant agave in the center of the horseshoe drive looking as if it might evaporate. Maybe it started there.
Or maybe it was earlier, in the naäve wisdom of youth, where dreamtime and reality are unity, still aboriginal, resisting the dichotomous mold of civilization. A high desert lake in central Wyoming, Alcova Lake, whitecaps whipped up by whirling winds. I had wandered away from the others my age, as was my habit and still is, into the prickly pear and sage and sandstone, looking for something but not knowing what. A raven perched atop a stunted juniper and watched me watching it. The sky was milky blue, as if shedding sorrow. Hot breeze.
And then, as the sun set, it was there, near an outcropping of sandstone burnished the color of iron rust, a half-man/half-beast standing on two gleaming hooves, antlered skull aflame in the dying light, man-chest heaving. I was only a child, a boy alone, but now, over forty years later, the image of the horned-man is as clear as the memory of my morning breakfast, a bowl of oatmeal with slivers of almonds, earthy and real. The creature lunged, galloped into the twilight crack between worlds. I didn't tell anyone about the encounter, hinted at it later in life in novels and poems. Even now, I am reluctant to reveal the secret, something lost, nothing found.
Or maybe it was even earlier, before birth, a conflation of karma winding into the here and now. Nobody knows anything for certain, not any human at least, nor anything else fated to erode into time. Anything is possible, especially when entering the realm of the unknown country just beyond the Gate of Earthly Demise. Freewill, fate, maybe they are one of the same. Nobody knows for sure. If postmodernism has accomplished anything for certain, it is the underscoring of uncertainty, an echoing of Heraclitus, the weeping philosopher, and the anguish or joy he found in the constancy of flux. People assume Heraclitus wept with sorrow. I do not. The world revolves. The sun blossoms on the eastern shores of the sky, sinks in the west, lives and dies to rise again, or so the metaphor goes. Whatever it is that is me, or you, whether it be a chain of causes and effects reaching hind into the labyrinth before gravity (for what is time without gravity?) or an accident pure and simple, it started somewhere, and so it must end. Amor fati, as Nietzsche would have it. Amen.
Standing at the second floor window of the La Quinta, I looked down upon the empty space the U-Haul had occupied the night before. The red hills to the north, iron-rich cliffs absorbing the warmth of the sun, lent me a sense of calm, somehow, and though I cannot say that I felt nothing (how can one feel nothing?), I can, with what words will allow, attest that I felt empty. No panic. No concern. Just the breeze flowing through the screen, the warmth of sun and the scent of sage, the start of traffic to and from the casinos just east of the hotel. Red earth.
About that time, Wendy entered the room, just returned from taking our blue heeler, Puck, outside for her morning business.
I said, “The U-Haul's gone.”
“What? No way.” Unhitching the leash from the dog's collar, she glanced at me (I felt her eyes, true hazel, on the back of my neck as I continued to look out the window).
“For real. Look for yourself.”
Standing side-by-side, we looked out the window together, husband and wife, our minds melding, way out there on the edge of consciousness, two scarecrows become one.
She was the one to break our bond, “I'll call the cops.” And she did.
The State Police found the U-Haul about three hours later, near a would-be town named, of all things, Thoreau. On a ranch called the Bar-J, some two miles north of Interstate 40. The officer who found it, a Navajo man with a kind smile and pocked cheeks, showed me photos he shot on his cell phone. Our kitchen table and two chairs had been set up in a field behind the van as if two men had sat there in the darkness, among the sage and wild wheat, playing cards and sipping aged whiskey under a star mottled sky. The officer informed me that a tow truck driver loaded the U-Haul on his flatbed and hauled it to Thoreau.
I noticed a faint scent of sulfur on the air. The puff of popcorn farts.
Wendy drove our Pontiac Vibe, the car red as an irritated nerve, to the would-be town, the very definition of a spot in the road. My mind was a blooming buzz as I sat in the passenger's seat. She parked on a dirt lot in front of a tin building painted blue. A grizzled Border collie barked at us from the back of a flatbed pickup. Our dogs barked back from the backseat of the Vibe. Like an automaton, I followed Wendy into the building and paid a bald man with owl glasses and rotten teeth ninety bucks for returning the van to civilization.
“Still runs,” said the old man, grinning gray. “Don't need a key no more, screwdriver will do. But I guess the key will too.”
“Is this town named after Henry David Thoreau?” asked Wendy.
“Hell, no!” snapped the old man. “And it's pronounced thuh-ROO. Old Henry wouldn't a lasted two days in these parts. Not even if his mama was there to feed him.”
I didn't like the old man's tone. Grabbing the receipt, I exited the building.
The tow truck driver—his coarse, sandy hair bristling from under a baseball cap sporting a Phoenix Suns insignia—unloaded the U-Haul from the hydraulic bed of his truck.
“Didn't bust the windows or nothin',” he said nonchalantly, as if the scene contained only the mildest of mysteries. “Just jimmied the lock on the passenger door. Leastways there's that.”
I nodded because I did not know what else to do.
Driving the van back to the Gallup La Quinta, I noticed a single cigarette butt in the cup holder on the dash. Two thin black lines wrapped around the white paper of the filter. No brand name. I gave up smoking years before, and the proximity to the thief penetrated my consciousness by wagging a shiver down my spine. The Cornuts I had purchased the previous day in Los Lunas, when turning off I-25, picante flavored, lay unopened on the dash. My favorite baseball cap, green with a Basque flag and the word Euskadi embroidered on the front, had been tossed to the passenger's floor. Leastways there was that. I wondered what else the thieves had forgotten or found not to their taste.
I parked the U-Haul in back of the hotel, climbed down and walked around the vehicle as if it sat in a museum, unusually aware of how the van had been branded, orange and white, a partial map of Rhode Island painted in blue on one side. I walked over the asphalt to the back of the van. The Masterlock was still in place, the hardened steel just dimpled by the pinch of a bolt cutter. Not to be outwitted, the culprits pried from the door the entire metal apparatus the lock was designed to secure. It looked as if the rivets had given way rather easily. A simple crowbar to do the job. I looked to the north and then up at the sky, noticed an increasingly familiar scent of sulfur on the air. A vulture crossed the sun. Black flies buzzing. Warm breeze. There was nothing left to do. I opened the sliding door and stepped up onto the bumper.
The cargo area, at first glance, seemed as full as when I had last pulled the door shut in Deming. It didn't take long, though, to figure out that first impressions are precarious. Nevertheless, the thieves, in a sense, were considerate. Instead of spewing the contents of the van over the high plains, they—I assume there were three of them, two sitting at the table while a third climbed into the van to rummage through our belongings, shift work I imagined-went through each and every box, taking what they deemed either valuable or useful and placing the remainder back inside the van.
The .357 magnum, the same gun I employed to rid my home of desert invaders, of course, was missing, along with my Remington .270 deer rifle. The HP Pavilion computer Wendy purchased the day before we left Deming, brand new inside the box, the receipt taped to the lid in case it was defective, gone. The fireproof safe with birth certificates, social security cards, bank statements, college transcripts, thumb drives. Backpacks and sleeping bags, fly-fishing rods, a high dollar portable water filter, tents, all gone. They nabbed most of my books, my black powder .45 pistol. A handmade skinning knife given to me by an Edgar Award winning mystery writer. All of my tools.
Wendy fared a bit better. They pilfered any jewelry they appraised as valuable but left the China handed down by her grandparents, her photo albums, her grown son's keepsakes (track medals and whatnot, old airplane models and collectable baseball cards, a VHS tape re-winder that looked like a miniature Corvette). In short, they left her memory intact, though they were not kind enough to leave the ice-tea maker, the upscale Vitamix blender, the food processor, or her Pilates gear. They were after her stuff but not her identity.
They left the furniture and clothes, our Lodge seasoned cast iron Dutch ovens and frying pans, most of the dishes. The washing machine. The crutches I used for occasional flare-ups of gout. Everything we needed to get by. It was almost as if they had a collective conscience, those thieves in the night, decided to leave us less-than-destitute, and understood that their victims, Wendy at least, was not an object but a human being like themselves. Maybe they had tasted poverty for too long, couldn't take it anymore, but even that failed to completely erode their sense of humanity, almost but not quite.
After more than an hour inside the van, rivulets of sweat trickling into my eyes, blurring vision, I climbed out of the hot box and pulled down the door, tested it. It held. The sun pulsed.
I came to Zen the long way, the hard way, after trying on, in vain and with vanity, virtually every spiritual robe I could find. Catholicism and Kabbalah, Protestantism and speaking-in-tongues, Hinduism, the Koran, Jainism, fetishism, shamanism, sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and a heavy dose of the blues. None of them fit, though some felt more comfortable than others, and, in the end, all of them proved to be too snug. It all started, I suppose, with the witnessing of the horned-man, the mythical manifest in the dreamy consciousness of a child. Too bad I suppressed the experience, buried it deep, ashamed, I guess, of experiencing such sudden propinquity to the ineffable. For the horned-man-whether it was god, demon, daemon, figment of my imagination, or optical illusion—left a residue on my psyche, an insubstantial substance I have yet to locate with language.
But oh how I tried over the years, attempted again and again to find words with which to clothe the experience. Growing up rural, high plains replete with Agropyron occidentale, sage and greasewood, no cable television, sleeping in the laundry room that served as my bedroom (my mother would turn the dryer on in the winter, at night, and to this day I have trouble sleeping without white noise), I took up reading, a lot, especially in the winter when winds niggled through the tiniest of crannies, under the door, at the edges of windows, penetrating all except the wool blanket pulled over my head. I read by flashlight. Reading kept my brain warm, the blanket my bones.
Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian and Louis L'Amour were early favorites, but everything was fair game. I went through a phase reading anything I could about mountain men wandering westward, Hugh Glass, Liver Eatin' Johnson, Thomas Fitzpatrick. My favorite was Jedediah “Strong” Smith. Maybe it was his iron faith in God that carried him through impossible odds, one of the first white men to cross the Salt Lake Flats and live to tell about it. Maybe the horned-man helped him to survive the ordeal. Who knows? He, ashamed by such an experience (devil's tend to appear in deserts), probably would have taken the tale to the grave. I read Tolkien and Arthur C. Clark, hoping to find clues that would lead me to the horned-man's lair. I just needed an opening, and once I found it no one would need to push me through. The closest I came was the mythological Cernunnos of the Celts, named only once on the 1st Century Pillar of the Boatmen. But that god was too far away, too remote, all but dead.
Eventually I came upon Nietzsche, I don't remember how, possibly in a reference or allusion by Robert E. Howard. It took only a trip to my high school library to find a copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Without guide or supervision, possibly how Nietzsche intended, I was an instant convert. But I took it all wrong. In a matter of months I had quit high school, bombed at a job selling Kirby vacuum cleaners (not even my step-father, who could usually be counted upon in these situations, would buy one, so angry was he at my dropping out of school), and convinced some compatriots to move south, to Tucson, in order to seek out our own version of Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan.
We didn't find him. Soon enough, after strolling through night forests of Saguaro cacti amped up on LSD or cocaine or datura, I realized that the road was circling in loops and leading only to nihilism. I grew sick with whiskey and looking for trouble, carrying concealed weapons, guns and knives (I had to pay the bills somehow and serving as an armed escort for money collectors provided quick cash). Though I didn't know the culprit that spurred my anger, could not name it, rage, constant as a pulse, sought to define me, so I ran away from it, abandoning my friends to the sun-parched delusion of Tucson. I wandered from Kentucky to North Dakota, Montana to Arizona, here and there helter-skelter, looking for ghosts of remembrances of things past. Finally, burnt out, in search of lost time, I took the GED and enrolled at the University of Wyoming, studied English and philosophy, deciphered words and concepts hoping to find a portal to break on through to the other side.
Then on to graduate school in Alaska, Fairbanks, something in the back of my mind, or at the bottom of my soul, pushing me toward the perimeters of civilization, into the wild, to a place, I hoped, I might call home. I took an anthropology course in Siberian shamanism, travelled to Koykuk villages along the Yukon River, taught Dostoevsky to native youths dressed like L.A. gangsters, fished for grayling and salmon standing on shores of cascading streams. I ate raw moose liver in the forever darkness of the Alaskan winter. I got married and divorced. I seethed on whiskey, wild with sorrow to which only the homeless can relate. I wished I could remember what my father looked like, his face, the color of his eyes. Abandoned by the horned-man as well, I was lost.
Maybe it was just the darkness, perpetual night, that drove me to despair.
I travelled south seeking sun.
Ending up in Deming, New Mexico (I had zeroed in on the nearby Gila Wilderness, the first officially designated wilderness area in the United States, in the hope of finding something old, something mythical, a path yet to be tread), I stumbled upon a Zen Center associated with the Korean Kwan Um School. Finding it odd that such a place existed in a small and conservative town, I decided to check it out. It seemed just strange enough to possess potential.
My only other experience with Zen was in Gold Beach, Oregon, a stopping over point on my journey south. After sitting a few sessions of zazen in a brick building two blocks from the sea, the leader of the Gold Beach group invited me to a party at his place up in the mountains amidst tall trees. The gathering, as it turned out, was populated predominately by gay males. After downing a couple of beers-dark microbrews-standing with my back to a tall Douglas fir, the boughs of the tree protecting me somewhat from the perpetual drizzle that defined that place, it dawned on me that either I was dense or had been duped. The former seemed more probable, as the host, a bearded behemoth of a man, was a truly kind. Stating, over and again, as I made my way to and fro from the trough full of beer, that my wife was expecting me back in town (I had married Wendy by then), I finally worked up the courage to make my exit, feeling guilty somehow. It's peculiar how we sometimes react when thrown into unfamiliar situations, at times a shame. Suffice it to say that I never returned to the Gold Beach Zen Center on the edge of the Pacific, embarrassed that I had not caught the cues that, in retrospect, seemed so glaring.
Down in the desert, to dull the monotony of teaching Freshmen English at the local branch of the university, I began sitting with the Deming Zen Group. It was there I learned that the Sixth Patriarch, one Huineng, is said to have been illiterate throughout his life. Bodhidharma, who germinated Zen in China, is rumored to have sat in a cave, by himself, for years. It became increasingly clear to me that meditation, like writing, is necessarily a solitary endeavor and when a group of adherents gather there just isn't much to say. So, after two years of steady practice, with nothing to talk about, I began frequenting the Center less and less. American Buddhism, all too often, I have decided, is just one more instance of American bovinity, a sanctioning of group think. Because I find a certain ataraxia in the practice of Zen, a private spirituality (privacy is becoming increasingly rare and thus sacred), I opted to go old school and play the rugged individualism card, which, I think, would suit both the founders of Zen and America. I sat alone. My practice deepened. I read the Zen thinker Nishitani Keiji and kept it to myself, dropping out to drop in, his magnum opus Religion and Nothingness a godsend from the void from which gods emerge. On a whim I applied for a new job. A half a year passed before I was offered a position teaching college on the Navajo Nation. I jumped at the chance and prepared to hit the road, once again, forever in search of a place that does not exist.
As the desert invaders clamored outside my front door, I stood in the center of the living room, headlights penetrating the thin beige curtains on the south facing windows. The Mexican man in pink boxer shorts bashed through the door, desperate to escape his tormentors. Their shadows wriggled behind him, pawing and grabbing, grunting and cursing. The smell of mesquite and vinegar. Vinegar? The thought had appeared in my mind like drop of lemon juice in a glass of clear water. Had I stepped on a vinegaroon, one of the vulnerable masked in the costume of the fierce, a scorpion look-a-like without the venom? Two nights prior Wendy woke me up in the middle of the night with a whisper, controlled panic, her subdued voice bound in terror. I turned on the lamp on the nightstand, the sixty-watt bulb more than enough to send the darkness into retreat. A vinegaroon, at least three inches in length, dull black armor, would-be stinger straight as a fencer's foil, stood upon Wendy's left breast, front legs flicking antennae-like. Wendy's hazel irises looked like small islands in pools of white, so wide were her eyes. I couldn't help but laugh. She hasn't forgiven me yet. Capturing the intruder in a glass, I tossed him outside, back to the night. A faint scent of vinegar followed me back into the bedroom, the formidable-looking beast's best defense: acetic acid. I went back to bed.
Standing strategically in the middle of the living room (how had I gotten there?), the wooden butt of a revolver smooth in my palm, I remembered the vinegaroon, and, somehow, the slight smell of vinegar, real or imagined, emptied my mind, a clearing blow. I felt at peace. I fired the gun.
Wendy later told me that I yelled at the invaders, screamed that the cops were on the way, that I would kill them all. I have no recollection of words, only an enveloping calm, an old and familiar blanket on a cold night. Raising the .357 once more, I fired again, at the ceiling, in the same direction as before, the trajectory chosen with the precision of a cartographer, so that the falling lead, if it happened to penetrate the roof, was destined to fall harmlessly in the desert to the east of the house. The shadows dissolved. The Mexican collapsed in a heap just inside the door. Fingers of dawn curling over the Florida Mountains. Rarely have I experienced such serenity.The Mexican begged for water, complained he hadn't had any for days. Wendy emerged from the cocoon of darkness and turned on a light. Giddy with excitement, she danced on bare feet to the refrigerator, took out a plastic bottle of cool water, glided over the tile, and handed the bottle to me. With the .357 leveled at his forehead, I granted the pudgy man what was potentially his last wish, employed a big toe to roll the bottle over the floor. He drank greedily, like a calf too long from its mother. The dogs found the courage to patrol the scene, ran out into the rising light and barked. I have never killed a man, though, I knew, at that moment, I could.
The authorities found three handguns tossed near the giant agave in the center of the horseshoe drive, another by the stop sign about a mile up the dirt road. It could have gone bad, an old western shootout, but I had four bullets remaining in the cylinder of the revolver, and I knew it. They couldn't see me in the darkness of the house, but, however vaguely, I could see them, shadows at the front door. I had the drop. And I would have put them down. Even as it unfolded, though, I considered the hassle of court dates and reporters, so I gave them the warning, bang, bang. The third time's a charm. Dead calm. Empty.
It eventually came to be known that the Mexican had been kidnapped by drug dealers for stealing drugs or money or both. The authorities rounded up the culprits, two of the four were women, and herded them into the penitentiary. The so-called victim, I read in the paper about a month later, ended up in the hoosegow as well. Something about an attempt to bribe one of his kidnapper's, text messages captured, voice messages divulged to the police. Words built bars, imprisoned the poor bastard in his own definitions. Words can do that. Better a clearing blow to knock yourself beyond language, so that when it comes, as it must (for what is wisdom without language, just another kind of jail?), instead of defining, words express that which is beyond them, just and forever out of their grasp.
At the La Quinta, dazed and confused, my past, for the most part, rubbed out by thieves searching for an identity to call their own, I looked to my blue heeler for solace. She didn't seem to mind one way or the other, as her tennis balls were safely stashed in the car under a seat. I decided to book the hotel for another night in order to get my bearings. A plastic bottle of neon Gatorade fresh from the vending machine in hand, I sat on the bed surfing channels on a television bolted to the top of a bureau. Wendy took a shower and I considered joining her, longing for a human embrace, a gesture that can only be given and never taken away. Before I found the gumption to act, Wendy was done, the slap of hot water on her bare skin, apparently, infusing her with a dose of resolve.
“Come on,” she said, her dark hair damp. “We can't just sit here licking our wounds.”
“I saw a Wal-Mart. It's close. We're going to need some supplies.”
Not once, as far as I know, did Wendy consider turning tail and returning to Deming. I did. I was fairly certain I could get my old teaching job back, if I acted quickly, and leave the uncertainty that lay ahead of us behind. But I kept my mouth shut. The thought of shopping, somehow, though it made me nauseous, gave Wendy a sense of purpose. With purpose comes courage. I followed her lead.
I wanted a beer.
We wandered through Wal-Mart avoiding zombie shoppers as best we could, my mind as blank as the squat woman's who stood in the cereal aisle asking somebody on the other end of her cell phone if she should buy Cheerios or Life. I followed Wendy as she tossed items into our cart, starting with an aloe vera plant and some anti-allergen pillowcases, because, I guess, she didn't know where to begin. Emergency candles and first aid supplies, flashlights and batteries, new pajamas for her and a six-pack of Corona for me. In a moment of paranoid clarity, I grabbed a Club steering wheel lock for the car. This and that and the other thing, my bank account took a hit I had not planned, some three hundred bucks, and by the time we got back to the hotel, I was exhausted. But we had some new stuff. An American attempt to alleviate the vertigo of loss. I sat on the bed drinking Corona and watching a Star Trek marathon on television. Wendy was busy on the iPad, hooked into Wi-Fi, researching a new writing project. I fell asleep.
We woke with the dawn, both of us together, as if on signal. After a couple cups of coffee and bananas and bagels from the continental breakfast in the La Quinta lobby, we loaded up the dogs and headed north, out of Gallup and onto the Navajo Nation. Alone in the U-Haul, I was in awe of the red cliffs to the east of the four-lane highway. Wooden stands selling fresh steam corn and breakfast burritos lined the sides of the road in the town of Window Rock. Flea markets. A sign for the Navajo Zoo. More signs, speed limit and yield, tacked over with graffiti, the word “Crips” painted in blue. I grinned. Crips on the Rez? I felt sure Wendy did not smile as she passed the signs, thinking, no doubt, that we were headed into the same old thing. Maybe we were. I made a mental note to replace my firearms as soon as possible. North of Window Rock, the highway narrowed into a two-lane, traffic slowed to a trickle, a climb in elevation and the appearance of pines, like apparitions, on the perimeters of sagebrush strewn fields. Sunflowers. Red cliffs cast shadows over the road, patches of light and dark flowing by like the yellow dashes dividing the highway. I didn't bother turning on the radio. Rolling down a window, I caught a slight scent of musk on the air. The silence, accentuated by the low drawl of the engine, seemed more significant than human voices. I felt at peace, the same serenity I experienced during the house invasion that seemed so long ago, the same but different, a slight spice of wonder added to the mix. The horned-man, it occurred to me, was near.
That evening, safely inside the modern-day Hogan that had been arranged for us, I decided to meditate in an empty room. It seemed appropriate somehow, as the sun hung like a glowing yellow tunnel on the western horizon. As I slipped away into the silence that discloses the reservation, I was startled by laughter. Children. I couldn't remember—though I tried, as if everything depended on it—kids playing outside in Deming. Strange. Probably busy with video games. Television and music. Social media. Cooped up in computers. Or maybe I just wasn't listening.
I sat. The residue of personal history no longer a burden, I faded into the childish laughter until it, too, was gone. All of it gone. U-Hauls, guns, birth certificates, social security cards, college transcripts. Gate gate pāragate pārasamgate. Sit still.
What more is there to say?
I sit facing east each day at dawn and dusk, just an hour a day, more when time permits. Wendy and I walk the dogs through mountain forests and meadows marveling at the colors of these lands: mauve cliffs, dust storms the tint of decomposing pomegranate peels, clouds the shades of healing bruises. The animals roam free here and, for the most part, do not fear humans. Sleek horses, fat cows, sheep with bells, persnickety goats, rangy dogs, lots of dogs. We greet each of them with a nod as we pass. Wendy leans down now and then to smell the blossom of a yellow or purple flower, smiles when she spots an Indian paintbrush. She never picks the flowers, not as she did down in the desert, where our house was full of wild poppies. We rarely talk while walking. The Navajos in my classes often answer my Socratic questionings succinctly with silence. They believe, I am told, that everything, clouds and stones, even language, is as alive as they are. I do not fear getting lost, not any more, not out here where one is forever and never alone.
The horned-man knows where to find me.
No longer do I feel the need to replace stolen guns.