By Lucas, Mirrorrorrim2001@yahoo.com
Continued from last month...
The loneliness of the desert fills your insides with insignificance. We told stories as we rode along, and I realized that Puck's tendency to go off on any subject -for whole chapters at a time- was often just a ploy to take his mind off of the searing heat.
"During the winter, there's very little work," Puck elaborated, "most of the stock are left to shift for themselves. Round up work is a lot of fun, though. Spring round-up is the big event of the season. That's when the new calves are branded. Sometimes the horses get poor and weak from the winter, and we give them grain if they're going to be worked.
That way, they'll be fat and sleek as possible by spring round-up time. We like to ride animals once or twice before we begin work with them. After running free all winter, any pony is about to buck. And a horse that has escaped for a while is as bad as if he'd never been broken. But if the weather's fine, a man will not sleep better than under the open sky after a day's work. But every once in a while we get a windstorm or whirlwind, and we get wet and shivery."
The water in my canteen was still cold, and I drank madly. After lunch, we sat around for a while and Puck began making up songs with his harmonica.
I could hear the sound of a revving engine in the distance and looked towards the horizon. I saw the sun reflecting off of something shiny.
"I wonder what that is?" I asked out loud.
I followed the reflection and the sound grew louder. The object zigzagged like the teeth on a hand saw, swerving around cactus and brush. The driver caught sight of our horses and veered in our direction. He pulled into camp and came to an abrupt halt. The engine revved in neutral then cut off.
A husky man rose from the blue metallic dune buggy. He wore a silk white shirt opened halfway and leather racing gloves, which he removed in order to grab the cigar from his mouth. His eyes were masked behind dark sunglasses -the expensive kind.
"Hola, Senors, Me llamo Paolo...Paolo Calor. Habla Espanol?"
Windy Bob rose to his feet. "Don't worry, I know a little Spanish," he said. "Greetamos senor, Soy Windy Bob and mi amigos, el Bear, Sam, Puck offermos you a warmigo welcomo!"
"Senor," the stranger responded, "you need to work on your English. Greetings I am Paolo."
"How do you do, Paolo, I'm Puck."
"Why thank you, Puck. I am on what you say, a vacation."
"Vacation?" I asked, "In the middle of the desert?"
"Donde estan los servicios? That is, where are the toilets, senors?"
He began to laugh and walked over behind a rock. He shouted to us while he was over there.
"I am in search of the Canyon el Grande? Have you ever been there?"
"The Grand Canyon? It's over there in Arizoni," said Windy Bob, "You're not far off. Jest keep headin' northwest and you'll fall right into it!"
"Ha, ha, ha...I wouldn't want to do that, senor." He emerged from behind the rock.
"Would any of you like a good Habana cigar?"
"No thank you, Paolo," Puck responded.
"Don't mind if I do!" said Windy Bob.
Paolo walked over to the buggy and handed Windy Bob a fresh cigar.
Windy Bob struck a match on the heel of his boot and puffed away heatedly.
"I come from Montezuma, where I left the most beautiful boton de flor, Rosalinda! I tell you my heart is pounding as we speak...but, may I offer you a soft drink?"
Paolo opened the lid of a portable cooler and grabbed a few colas.
"Why thank you, Paolo."
"And now I must ask for a small favor, por favor, senors."
I crossed eyes with Windy Bob. Puck glanced at Laughing Bear.
"Sure, what is it, Paolo?" asked Puck.
"Would someone please help me with these god dammed boots? My pies are killing me."
The husky man sat in the buggy and lifted his legs up high.
I went over and grabbed a boot and pulled. Paolo pushed with his other foot against me-nearly sending me over on my head.
"What did you do, glue them on?"
"No senor," replied Paolo, " I won these in a poker game in Mexico, and I am now sorry that I did not lose to Senor Gomez."
I tugged on the second boot and it came off with a grudge.
"I always wanted a pair of cowboy boots."
"Well, senor Sam, take them, they are yours. I insist."
"I couldn't do that."
"No please, I will be insulted if you refuse."
"Well thank you Paolo."
Paolo turned and glimpsed the landscape.
"What brings you out to the desert my friends?"
"We're helping Windy Bob locate his herd."
"Oh I see. I hope that they are not far."
"A short distance from here," said Laughing Bear.
Puck took a sip from his cola can.
"Soon as we find them we'll be windin' back to Gallup. That's where we're from."
"Gallup? I've heard of Gallup. It's near the western border, am I correct Senor Puck?"
"That's right, If you're headed back from the Grand Canyon, you might look us up."
"Why gracias, Senor. Americanos are muy benevolo."
"Just locate Rural Route number three and take a left at the end of the green fencepost."
"Very well, Puck, I will remember. And now I must continue, so I bid you safe journeys."
"So long, Paolo Calor," said Puck , "and don't forget to stop by."
Paolo turned over the engine of the dune buggy, threw it into gear, and sounded the horn which played a short bar from "La Cucaracha."
I tried on the boots.
In the late afternoon -after several hours of jawing- a Bar M chopper clipped the air in the distance and landed within yards of us. A fellow hopped out. He was dressed in blue jeans and sneakers with a printed tee-shirt that read, "I ate the worm," and wore an expensive looking pair of sunglasses while carrying a citizens band two-way radio.
"I'm Phil," he said. "I'm with Luxor Films and we're out here shooting a film. Did you know you guys are in the frame?" he shouted excitedly.
Phil paced nervously. "We only have a few hours left and we're losing the light!"
"Losing the light?" pondered Laughing Bear.
"No problem," said Puck, "we'll move out of the frame right away. You just show us where that frame is."
"That would be great, but..." Phil pointed his finger, "see that mesa over there? Would you guys mind hiding behind that rock over there for about an hour?"
"Look, I know it's a lot to ask, but I'll make it worth your while. Let's say a hundred dollars a piece?"
The filmmaker reached into his pocket.
"Wait a minute," I said stalling the transaction, "We're rushing against time ourselves -it'll cost two hundred a piece!"
Phil looked at me as if he had just bitten into a lemon.
"Okay, Okay, you got me. I'm desperate!"
He counted out eight crisp one hundred-dollar bills, climbed back into the helicopter, and disappeared into the sky.
We moved behind the rock.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the shady side.
Windy Bob began laughing hysterically.
"Hee-hee-hee...I would have done it for fifty!" he said.
I winked at Puck.
"That's the American Way," then I added, "this wasteland sure is getting' crowded."
"I don't understand the white man," Laughing Bear commented.
Windy Bob chimed in, "You know those Hollywood types," he said, "they're all a little loco in the cabeza," -pointing his finger at his head in a circular motion.
There aren't a lot of things that you can do standing behind a rock, waiting for Hollywood. You can count the cactus, or you can try to reach total enlightenment while meditating, but mostly, you just start itching to move out from behind that rock. People weren't cut out to be rocksitters I suppose. Laughing Bear said that the helicopter man reminded him of the Koyemshi, or sacred clowns. He said they are also known as Mudheads, and he told us a Koyemshi story.
"The Mudheads are dumb," observed Laughing Bear. "They are simple-minded and very stupid doing things. Gray Cloud tried to teach them how to climb a ladder. One Mudhead tried to go up the ladder feet first. Another tried to weave in and out between the rungs of the ladder like a rattlesnake. Another Mudhead kept falling through the rungs. It was a waste of time. Then Gray Cloud tried to teach them how to build an adobe. He showed them how and they tried to imitate what they saw. One built the roof first and made the others hold it up while he made the walls. Another Mudhead put an adobe together without windows or a door. When he finished, he was trapped inside. Gray Cloud kept knocking and asking, "Mudhead, does your adobe have a door?" The others had to break down the walls to let him out. Another Mudhead made bricks out of sand and his house collapsed in a sandpile.
Gray Cloud tried to show them how to sit in a chair. They tried to follow Gray Cloud's example, but one sat on his head, another sat underneath the chair, and the third put the chair on his head. They could not learn how to sit. Gray Cloud was impatient, and said, "I'll try one thing more. I will show you how to please a woman."
There was an old fat woman who hadn't had a man in a very long time. "They can practice on me," she said. She lifted her manta and bent over, and the instructor showed them in the simplest way. The Mudheads paid close attention, and they all wanted to try.
One did it in the anus, another in the knee bend, another in the armpit, another in the navel, another in the ear. They couldn't get it right. "I give up!" cried Gray Cloud. The old fat woman just laughed. The last line hung in the air a split second, and we busted out in a roar. Laughing Bear placed his left fingers on his mouth and extended his right hand -palm turned outwards toward Puck- holding it about a foot from his chest.
Puck responded by holding both hands cupped, palms up, fingers raised and separated from one another at chest level. He raised and lowered his hands.
"What're you doing?" I asked.
Puck looked at me with a smile.
"Laughing Bear told me that he is astonished, and I told him that I think the story is funny."
Puck and Laughing Bear could communicate by hand.
The sun began to set on the western horizon, and we sat beside a stream. The horses were watered. Puck decided we would camp next to the stream for the night and set out near dawn. I was glad to get off my horse. For at the spot where the lower back and buttocks meet, I had begun to develop hard blisters.
After we ate, Laughing Bear drew a pipe from his sack. He filled the pipe with a dried mixture and lit it.
He handed the pipe to me, and I imitated him.
I drew a long breath on the pipe and held it in my lungs coughing almost immediately.
"Sorry Laughing Bear, I'm not used to the smoke."
I tried a few more times, and the smoke relaxed me.
The moon ascended in the twilight, and the sky itself was washed in streams of red, orange, and violet. The beauty of a western desert sunset is stunning.
I tried to settle down and closed my eyes. I was content to know that I was in the desert with my friends, far away from any responsibility. We were free...free from the machinations of modern society, free from the judgments and prejudices of superficial people. We were in the wasteland where the soul faces itself, and you are reminded of the eternal serenity and loneliness of the vast universe.
"Do you get lonesome?" asked Bear.
"Sure do. You bet."
We listened to the swelling sound of the insects.
"I am glad that I have Puck," Bear intimated.
"You two have known each other a long time?"
"Since we were small," the Indian answered.
"He's different than the others. He never gets angry."
"Everyone gets angry sometimes, Laughing Bear."
"But, he doesn't let it show," drawing a line in the sand with his finger.
"Do you mind if I lay down?"
"No, I go ahead."
The boy stretched out sideways leaning the back of his head on my lap.
I was taken by his trust and desire to be intimate.
I took a deep breath, and stared into Bear's inquisitive eyes.
"You're not afraid to show affection, are you?"
The Indian didn't respond; he just lay quietly listening.
I wanted to reach his heart, to let him know that I had become fond of him. "I think the world would be a whole lot better off if we could learn to grow close to one another."
He stared up into my eyes.
"Sometimes I feel that all of the trouble in the world is caused by this lack of willingness...to be affectionate."
I placed my hand on his forehead and stroked his black hair.
"Men are competitive, and aggressive by nature, or so we are told. They say that the hormone makes us wild. But, it's...well...pride. We're taught to hide our emotions, so we're to proud to let them show. It's considered weak. And weakness is feminine. I don't know when man will learn to drop it. I mean there's no such thing as weakness, really. We're all mortal. We all bleed. We all die. And during the time we're here, we grope in darkness, for some truth, that we never learn. No one knows how we got here, or where we're going. It's all dressed up in stories and fables, and strange histories."
Bear smiled, "And war."
"Yes Bear, I am afraid so. And it's always over power, which usually means money. Those who have the most to lose, fashion the biggest weapons. But what is there to win? Your tribe and the other tribes understood this...that the earth belongs to no man in particular."
I placed my hand over Laughing Bear's heart and felt the soft pounding in my palm.
"This is where it all starts Bear, right here, in the heart. You have to learn how to feel ...for everyone. Never fail to recognize yourself in the other person. I think that's the whole secret. But I have to confess, I get confused sometimes."
"You're a good man, Sam," Laughing Bear whispered.
"I try to think less from the head and more from the heart, but I'll tell you, there's a lot of sickness out there. I see a lot of people in pain. People who let their rage cloud their thinking. I know that they're afraid, and they don't always know what it is their afraid of"
"Maybe they are just searching for the light as they have grown dark," the Indian replied.
I placed my hand on Bear's forehead and stroked his brow.
"I walk into the fear, Bear, and when I walk into it, very often the thing that I was afraid of evaporates, like the snow on a warm day, or the fog after the morning sun rises. It's all an illusion, sometimes, and I try to see through that, see through the illusion of what is, and try to find another truth."
A lonely moan pierced the silence.
"What's that?" I asked.
Laughing Bear tried to calm me, "It's only a coyote."
He paused for a few seconds, then spoke softly.
"The coyote is a bad hunter. He tries very hard but all he ever catches are bugs.
One time, coyote watched the eagle hunting.
The eagle could catch many rabbits -one after the other.
Coyote is always making plans. He said, 'I will join the eagle so I can have enough meat.'
He spoke to the eagle, 'We should hunt together. Two catch more than one.'
The eagle agreed, and they began to hunt together.
During this time the world was full of darkness. There was no sun, no moon.
Coyote was not able to catch anything, so he said, 'Eagle, no wonder I can't catch anything. I can't see. Do you know where we can get some light?' Eagle said, 'I think there is some in the west. Let's try and find it.'"
"Eagle and coyote went searching for the sun and the moon. They came to a pueblo where some Kachinas were dancing. The people asked eagle and coyote to sit down and watch the dances. Coyote saw that the people had two boxes, one large and one small that they opened whenever they wanted light.
Coyote spoke to eagle and said, 'These people have all the light that they need in a big box. Let's steal it.'
Eagle replied, 'You always want to steal. Let's borrow it.'
But coyote replied, 'They won't lend it to us.'
Eagle said, 'You may be right. Let's wait until they finish dancing and then steal it.'"
"When the Kachinas went home, eagle swooped down and grabbed the large box. Coyote followed on the ground as they ran. Coyote yelled, 'Eagle, let me carry the box a little while.'
But eagle said, 'No, no, you never do anything right.'
Eagle flew on and coyote followed with his tongue hanging out.
After a while, coyote shouted again, 'People will call me lazy. Let me carry the box. Let me have it.'
Eagle replied once again, 'No, no, you mess everything up,' and flew on."
Coyote continued to bother eagle until eagle could no longer stand it.
Eagle said, 'You are a pest. Carry the box for a while, but do not open it.'
Coyote now had the box, and eagle flew far ahead.
Coyote lagged behind because the weight of the box made him tired.
When eagle was far ahead, coyote thought, 'I wonder what the light looks like. Maybe I'll take a peek. Maybe there is something else in the box -something that eagle wants to keep for himself.'
Coyote opened the box. Not only was the Sun in the box, but the moon as well. Eagle had put them both together in the box so it would be easier to carry. As soon as coyote opened the lid, the moon escaped, flying high into the sky. All the plants then shriveled up and turned brown. The leaves fell from the trees, and it very quickly became winter.
Coyote ran to catch the moon, so he could put it back in the box. Meanwhile, the sun flew out and rose into the sky. It drifted far away, and all of the fruits and vegetables shriveled with cold.
Eagle had noticed that coyote was far back, so he turned around. 'You fool! Look what you've done!' eagle said. 'You let the sun and moon escape, and now it's cold.'
As eagle spoke, it began to snow. Coyote shivered. 'You're teeth are chattering,' eagle said, 'and it's your fault that cold has come into the world. If it weren't for coyote's mischief making, we could enjoy summer all the time."
I rested against the rock with Laughing Bear's inquisitive eyes staring up at me.
"We Wah was a man of two spirits," said Laughing Bear
"Who's We Wha?" I asked.
"We Wah was a Zuni who grew up around the women. He was not like most men. He did not enjoy the hunt, and he did not enjoy the fight. Instead, We Wah stayed at the hearth helping the Zuni women. The women loved We Wah because he was strong, and could help with the difficult chores. We Wah began dressing like the Zuni women, and he was given a place of honor within the tribe. He was called two spirits because he was blessed with the sensitivity of a woman, and yet he was a man. He was able to settle disputes, and was skilled at producing sand paintings. When the white man came to invade the pueblo, the elder men chose We Wah to go out and bargain. They knew that We Wah was wise, and he was not easily angered. The white man did not know We Wah and assumed that they were talking with the chief."
"You're great storyteller, son, and a beautiful spirit."
He rose, and placed his cheek against my own, then walked over to his bed sack.
I watched the moon hanging above the lonely desert and fell into a deep, meditative slumber.