|Window Rock, Arizona, Navajo Nation. Image from Flickriver.|
I thought it must be an old person, since the figure was small in size and wrapped in a blanket head to toe. I could see the person standing in my headlights, wrapped against the blowing crystals of cold snow.By Johnny Rustywire / The Rag Blog / March 21, 2013
I was on the road near Woodsprings, west of Window Rock, headed toward Ganado. It was cold and the wind was blowing the snow in swirls.
I hadn't seen anyone on the road since I left St. Michaels. I was in a police unit, Navajo PD, headed out to the Joint Use Area, Second Mesa -- Hopiland. Those were the days of border disputes and they were taking Navajo cattle and we were on 24-hour patrol driving the back roads from Jeddito to Pinon then west to Hard Rock, Dinnebito and Big Mountain then South to Sand Springs along the Turquoise Trail then to Coal Mine Mesa, a 48 hour shift, 300-400 miles along dirt roads.
As I was driving along, there was a lone stick figure, a dark shape on the road, someone walking out there late and a long ways from anywhere. I stopped and went back to pick them up.
I thought it must be an old person, since the figure was small in size and wrapped in a blanket head to toe. I could see the person standing in my headlights, wrapped against the blowing crystals of cold snow.
She stood by the door to the police unit and couldn't open the door. Her fingers were too cold, so I opened the door and said in Navajo: "It is too cold. Get in, Grandmother. I am headed to Dinnebito and can give you a ride."
She didn't say anything. She just got in and we headed down the road. My unit was warm, I had a shotgun mounted in the middle, was wearing my sidearm, had a .223 with a scope in the trunk. The unit was marked and I was in uniform. A green down jacket with good boots. I was warm and ready for anything.
She didn't say anything to me. Sometimes hitchhikers are too tired to talk, and it was cold out so I could see why. She looked from the size of her to be an old woman, but I couldn't see her face.
I drove on down the road, passed Morgan Shell, Ganado, Burnside Junction, and Whipporwill turnoff, Steamboat, Toyei, and Beshbito, passed Jeddito and into Keams Canyon, where I gassed up. I got some strange looks from the Bureau of Indian Affairs cops from North Dakota. They were sent to watch the Navajos and their errant cattle. They watched me as I watched them.
The old woman was asleep. Some of the BIA cops in their blue uniforms were looking inside my unit as I was paying for the gas. They didn't say anything to me when I got outside. Even though we were cops, we were on different sides, in a way. They didn't talk to me. They were looking at the old woman.
I drove off through Hopiland, passed Second and Third Mesas, and then got to Dinnebito turnoff. I stopped by the road and the old hitchhiker just sat there. I said, “I am going to Hard Rocks from here.”
She didn't say anything... just motioned with one arm to go ahead. I left the paved highway and headed north on the bumpy washboard road leading to Big Mountain. I drove 30 miles, went past the boarding school and thought to myself, I wonder if she knows where she is going? Maybe she has no place to go and just wants to ride around in a warm car.
“Where are you going, Grandmother?” She said nothing, just motioned with her covered arm to go forward. Way out in the middle of nowhere, there is a mission surrounded by small houses. It was foggy and dark. There were no lights on in any of the houses.
The only light was from a glowing cross on the church, a green neon cross that seemed to float above the fog; it glowed strangely in the dark. There was a mist on the ground.
There was a pickup that had been following me for some time, and the lights appeared in my rearview mirror. I parked by the mission, turned my lights off, and waited for the pickup.
Who would be following me around this place? I waited with my quiet rider and then I saw it was two BIA cops. They looked lost and so I got out and went to talk to them.
They were surprised to see my flashlight come on as I approached them. They rolled down their windows.
“What's going on, guys?” I had a thermos in one hand and offered them a cup of coffee. They looked at one another, as if wondering whether to take it? If worse came to worse, we could be trying to arrest each other over the JUA. Maybe, maybe not, who knew what was to happen?
“There isn't another cup of hot coffee anywhere for a hundred miles,” I said. They took the thermos and poured themselves a cup.
It broke the ice. We talked a little bit about our work, the cold, and things cops talk about.
I told those two to head east into to the dark. They would pass Wepo Wash of Hillerman fame and then would come across a dirt road headed south that would take them back to Second Mesa. It would take them past Awatovi, the site of a Hopi village massacred by the other villages way back in the 1600s. I told them not to stop there since there were some strange things known to happen to people who went there, especially this time of night. They just looked at one another and I left them there.
I got back to my unit and the old one was gone. The door was left open and she was nowhere to be seen. As I looked around all I saw were the dark shapes of the houses and not one had a light on. A chill went up my spine.
I switched radio channels and called out “820 to Kayenta; 820 to Kayenta.” All I heard was static. “820 to Kayenta,” I called out. After a little bit. I heard Rose, the dispatcher.
“Is that you, Sgt. Rustywire?”
“It's 820.” We were supposed to be professional on the airwaves and, besides, the other guys were listening.
“I'm coming in for a cup. I am at Black Mesa and will see you in an hour.”
“I will brew some up for you.” I thanked her and told her I just dropped off a skinwalker. “Maybe I can find one for you?”
She double clicked the mike, meaning “OK” and I laughed as I drove North through Black Mesa heading toward sunrise.
© Johnny Rustywire, 2013. All rights reserved.
[Johnny Rustywire is Folded Rocks Clan People on his mother's side, and born for Tsinahbiltnii, the Mountain People Clan on his father’s side. He comes from Toadlena-Two Gray Hills, New Mexico, where the mountain is cracked and the water flows. He is a father of six and grandfather of 12. He attended Indian boarding schools and grew up on the Navajo Reservation, and has been married to the same woman for 40 years, a Ute from Fort Duchesne, Utah.]
The Rag Blog