By Lucas, Mirrorrorrim2001@yahoo.com
Continued from last month...
We struck back out for Shiprock, but the ride north was pretty quiet. Even though Laughing Bear had saved the town of Gallup from an uncertain fate, no one could forget the horrible story that Doc Weston had told us.
Shiprock is an enormous rock jutting out of the earth in the middle of a vast plain. The Navajo believe that the rock was a ship that had carried their people from a far away place. Puck, Laughing Bear and I were sitting quietly at the base of Shiprock on the shady side. We didn't notice the wiry figure that had been walking toward us from the distant horizon.
"You're gonna have to move that rock," the stranger said, "I've got a couple a thousand head of cattle movin' through here in a few minutes."
No one reacted.
He was a lean, middle-aged fellow, prematurely gray, with blue eyes that stared off into the distance. He wore a white cowboy hat, and on his right shoulder rested a coiled rope.
"How ya doin'?... I'm Puck... this here's Laughing Bear, and over there is Simmerin' Sam."
"Windy Bob's the name. Say did any of you fellas see a herd of cattle pass through here?"
Puck grinned, "Why no it's been pretty quiet."
The cowboy shook his head.
"I've been chasin' 'em all over Texas. How about a brown gelding?"
"Nope," Puck responded, "haven't seen any horses either."
"Well, ya see, I was practicing my roping on a fence post, and the herd got in a fuss and wandered off."
"Sorry to hear that," Puck sympathized.
"I was runnin' short of rations, and I think Lightning took off to look for food."
"Y'know every good man has a little hard luck, sometimes," said Puck.
"By the way, how far out from Waco am I?"
Puck scratched his head.
"Why you're in Northern New Mexico, I guess over a thousand miles."
Windy Bob hunched over and took a deep breath.
"A thousand mile," Windy Bob shook in disbelief, "I'm gonna be sick."
Laughing Bear reached into his pocket.
Laughing Bear placed a pill in Windy's hand.
"Cherry-flavored antacids," the medicine boy replied.
"I'm an expert roper, ya know. I command my own price." explained Windy, "Watch!"
He took the rope and swung it swiftly above his head forming a wide circle, hurled it at a sagebrush and roped it in from several feet away.
"A lot a good ropin' will do ya when you've lost a thousand head of prime rib."
Windy coiled the rope back up as he spoke.
"Don't worry, Windy Bob, we'll help you find the herd." said Puck, "In the meantime, you can stay with us. By the way, how is it you came to be called Windy Bob?"
Windy stared at his feet, and then looked Puck square in the eye.
"Ya know, that's a pretty long story...and I don't think you'd believe it anyway."
We drove back to Gallup with Windy in the back of the truck. There was no room in the cabin of the pick-up. Later, we built a small cooking fire behind Puck's ranch house and shared dinner. Laughing Bear whistled an Indian tune on a wooden flute, and within minutes Dollar Bill was circling the sky.
"New York City is unlike any other place you'd ever visit. We've got trains running under the ground, and people live and work in skyscrapers. You can find just about anything you want. I guess the best thing about New York City is food. You can really eat well."
"I don't know," commented Windy Bob, "seems to me those city slickers can be down right shifty. I heard of a Texan who lost his business to one of them Wall Street city slickers."
"Not everyone is out to get you," I replied.
"I like the pueblo," said Laughing Bear.
"Well, Laughing Bear, we have our own kind of reservation. It's called Central Park. There are trees and grass and even squirrels."
"No, no cornfields."
"How about medicine men?"
"Well, we have pharmacies -a place to get medicine."
"Ya know," said Puck , "I'm gonna take you up on that offer someday, Sam."
Windy Bob began to tell a long story.
"But a true cow town is worth more than any old city," he said, "especially when the stockraisers get together and the place is jammed. The ranchers have been in the business a long time. We cowboys may be smaller than those ax wielders, but we're as tough as any man who ever breathed... we're always ready to hit the trail."
Windy Bob rose to his feet.
"See Sam, cattle are branded on the hip with figgers. Any man tamperin' with those brands is in for trouble. The unbranded ones are called mavericks, ya know. But no amount of frettin' over livestock matters if the cattle aren't housed properly during the winter."
We sat listening to Windy's tale and didn't notice the bank of dark clouds that had formed on the horizon. We weren't aware of the change in the weather until a cool breeze blew through our little pow-wow.
"We cowboys don't walk well 'cause we're in the saddle so much, and we get a little mad when we get whisky'd up, but were not vicious. Still, you can git yourself into a heap of trouble if you're not careful. I was playin' poker one night right outside of Abilene. And I saw a youngster git his hide whipped within an inch of his life."
Windy Bob rose and gave a pantomime of the brawl he had witnessed. The air stirred up around him as he mimicked the fightin' twosome.
"And Buster took that poor fella's head, and put it in an arm vice and was a squeezin' the precious life out of that poor young cheat. His eyes was bulging outta his head."
Windy Bob was now stooped over with his left arm bent at the elbow mimicking a strangle hold.
"When all of a sudden, Snappy snuck up from behind and jumped on that feller's back."
A bolt of lightning struck the prairie and a thunderhead rumbled over us. A funnel cloud had formed and dropped to the flat plain.
Puck jumped to his feet and cried aloud,
"Tornado! Take cover!"
We all grabbed hold of whatever solid thing we could find. The wind whipped up to about 100 miles an hour in a flash. Windy Bob had trouble securing himself until he lasso'd the fencepost, and was holding onto the rope for dear life. I could see him wagging on the end of his rope like a flag -until the dust whipped up and obscured my view. Then, all I could see was sand.
In a matter of minutes, the funnel passed over us, and the wind died back down. When the dust settled, I saw Laughing Bear, and Puck, but Windy Bob was not at the end of his rope.
We began to search for Windy Bob right away and found him belly up in a bush. He was sort of dazed, but he snapped out of it.
"Are you all right!"
"Sure!!!... guess I'm getting' kind of used to it."
Laughing Bear began milling around picking the roots of the wild plants from the ground.
He was searching the fields very carefully.
"That's my first twister," I shouted, "Are there anymore surprises you haven't warned me about?"
We sat back down around the fire, and Laughing Bear made a tea from the roots that he had scavenged. He gave a cup of this elixir to Windy Bob.
"Drink this, and the Wind won't bother you anymore," said the Indian boy.
Windy Bob looked into Laughing Bear's eyes -then looked away- and back again. He took the cup and sipped from it. He felt soothed.
Puck walked over to Laughing Bear, and the two stared quietly at each other. Then Puck lunged forward and embraced the Indian. Laughing Bear stepped backwards, staggered and fell over. Puck landed on top of him. The two started laughing hysterically.
"You okay?" Puck asked Bear.
"I thought you were a goner."
Puck rolled off of Laughing Bear, and the two rose to their feet.
Laughing Bear ran his hands through his long black hair trying to shake out the sand.
Laughing Bear suggested that we mount up and follow Dollar Bill across the plain. This excited me because I felt that I might finally get a taste of the Old West. We packed three days rations and rolled up some sleeping blankets, which we tied to the back of our saddles. Laughing Bear rode onto the ranch with Bill perched on his shoulder. He was on top of a white horse that had a few painted markings. I was awestruck by the sight of Laughing Bear. He looked mythical. Of course, being a New Yorker, I ignored him completely.
We set out on the trail, and I felt awkward in the saddle. Everytime the horse strode forward, it felt like my butt was flying out of the saddle. I watched the others and wondered if my riding was noticeably different. It was a hot stretch, and Puck knew the best routes to take in order to keep the horses watered. I realized that horses were a lot like cars. They needed to have their fluids changed too.
As the sun settled in the western sky, we camped alongside the bank of a watering hole. The water was still, and we were glad to park alongside such a beautiful, clear lake.
Laughing Bear walked to the edge of the water, crouched down and removed his boots. He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it over his head. His naked chest was firm and muscular, and his bronze skin was tinged by the violet sunset. He removed his jeans and walked naked to the edge of the pond. He placed his left toe into the water -testing the temperature- and walked slowly until the surface rose around his knees. Puck tore off his clothes and followed behind. The two walked out into the depths of the lake, and then Puck began floating on his back. Laughing Bear helped to suspend him, so he wouldn't sink.
I was sticky myself and walked down to the edge -about twenty-five feet from the boys- and took off my clothes. I hurried into the water, and moved in until I was covered to my neck. There was no one around, and the air was stilled. The water felt good as we had sweat a lot during the day. I could hear Puck mumbling and breaking out into laughter, then, Laughing Bear laughed out loud. I looked over, and Puck was standing on Bear's shoulders. He hoisted himself forward and dove into the water. The splashing went on for a half hour until they tired, and I could see them standing face to face submerged to the neck.
In the twilight, we sat naked on the banks of the lake. Our bodies were cooled and cleansed, and we spoke quietly while staring at the moon.
"I suppose I could stay out here forever."
"It gets in the blood," Puck replied.
"City people are crazy," Laughing Bear observed.
"I know," I said, "I hate to admit it, but I know."
"I want to see the big city, Sam," Puck exclaimed.
"Well maybe I'll take you, Puck, but I wouldn't trade it for what you have here."
"This ol' desert?" he remarked, "I want to see the Empire State building."
"It's just a building."
By nightfall, we all settled in to sleep. I laid the sleeping blanket on the ground and had a tough time getting used to the hard ground.
Laughing Bear stretched out on his back staring at the sky with Puck at his side.
I could hear them whispering, but couldn't make out what they were saying.
The galactic light show spread before us, specks of stars were clustered and separated by the vast expanse of space. Each star was a sun, unique in its own way, like the souls of the earth. Each one was beautiful, magnificent, and glorious in its own identity -each one a piece of the larger whole. Each was as significant, conscious, and individually profound as nature itself.
Each one was a gift to the universe, regardless of gender, or race, or identity.