March 2016—Purple, red, and pink streaking from the setting sun paints the sky. My shifting eyes dart around, searching, they try to take it all in. Here, there, and everywhere the Reservation stretches across a hundred forevers. I have always thought of this country, this space, this emptiness as mine. Not in a selfish way or possessive, just in a way that resonates with my personality, clicks with my soul. It captures my heart, brings a sense of longing and introspection like no place else. A lone hitchhiker, tired and worn from travel gives me a different view. “Turn right at the twin buttes”, he says. I oblige. I don’t ask how far, and he doesn’t ask if I can; I just allow him his assumption that I will take him home.
I picked him up somewhere east of Moenkopi. Traveling at seventy-five miles per hour it takes a bit of time to stop. I pulled over, put it in reverse and with a loud whine from the engine, backed down the long, barren stretch of highway. He was empty handed. No money, no bag, no jacket, no wallet.
“We have a station” he says, not two minutes after getting in the truck.
“Would you like to listen to it?” I ask, ejecting the tape from the tape player. He switchs to 660 am. Navajo music comes out. He sings along, translating it when the song is done. “Do as you grandfather did, He taught you well.” He tells stories of landscape and history; Anasazi shrapnel, pots and such abound there, he points at a hillside we approach then pass. “You want to look?” he asks. Hours to go before I sleep, I think. He needs, wants a friend, someone to talk to, to show, to care. I decline, “not now.” I have given some. Later, I will think I have not, did not give enough.
“Been awake since 3 am” he mutters. “Mother’s sick in Virginia; left her there this morning.” He had hitchhiked up from Flag. He is older, how old, I am not certain but his tales of Desert Storm hint at his age. My sub-conscious racism has me thinking of Ira Hayes. Sometimes I catch every third word; sometimes every other word. My window is open. It drives the odor out. Not sure what it is, can’t identify it, but that isn’t really important.
“My brother died at that cross. Drinking and driving.” Miles later: “my cousin at that one. Drinking and driving too. There was a snow storm. We’re at 6000 feet here. It was snowy one night.” He gestures left. “Do you have any money I can have?” he asked miles earlier. It was a mumbled, though coherent question slid almost effortlessly between Black Mesa and his five daughters. I ignored the question, pretended not to hear, forcing conversation instead about his five daughters. I have given some. Later I will think I did not give enough.
Somewhere down the highway he tells me to slow. Turn here. I follow allong and turn into the setting sun. Gravel turns to dirt, smooth to rough, rough to two track. The setting sun casts beautiful rays across the undocumented spider’s web of two tracks. My implicit bias combines with it to cast doubts on my safety too. Will I get out of here? Would I come out here if it was darker? What makes me trust a human? He just wants to get home. His eyes search and scan. We follow a late model Chevy truck. I gesture at the myriad of splits and he responds in kind. . . We inch up and down, in and out of draws. Houses dot the landscape. Lines from industrial trees pay no heed to topography and drive geopolitical-esque lines across the mesa. I follow his unspoken signals. We crawl along for what seems like forever, the truck high sage casting shadows across the hood as dusk settles in.
There is still light when we pull up to his house. His yard is barren save two dogs lying in the dirt. A fire pit there, a barrel here. No lines for electricity are strung to his dwelling. Round and multicolored, it is built, cobbled together, from scrap wood and scrapped tar paper. Rocks, heavy implements, and a boot hold the roof down. A small lone tin pipe pokes through. A plexiglass window is stored there too. “It’s going on the right side, that is my plan” he says as we sit in the truck. The unused window looks old, probably much like his plan. He asks for and takes the change from my cupholder. I give him an old Circle K coffee cup which he holds as I scoop the change into it. I offer him bananas and oats and a bag of nomad peanuts. I root around through my backseat, looking for all I can give. “God bless you, thank you. Forgive those who sin against you” he says. He points forward “go through and take the left at the Y. It will take you back to main road.” His slowly developing speech has improved, but it takes about thirty seconds to communicate the thought. I see him thinking, pointing, then speaking, slowly, carefully, trying not to stutter, mumble. He gets out, less empty handed than when he got in. He stands straight holding a cup of change and a plastic Safeway bag with his newly acquired food in one hand. As I drive off, he salutes with the other.
I drive outward, westward, alone, back through a maze of scrawny dogs, shirtless kids, new trucks, and tar papered homes. The sun bleached sage bones, dry and white, scattered and dead, delineate the two track as I snake back toward the highway. Not knowing what to do, what to think, I plow onward, now northward, though a hundred darkened forevers, toward my privileged white boy vacation in Indian Creek.
He gave some, some gave all. I didn’t give enough.