I had been on the Earth long enough to see each season eight times when my life changed forever. I am Navajo, and belonged to a tribe in the desert. I loved my mother, my people, and Earth itself. I had grown up knowing love and kindness, but sometimes that isn’t enough to save you.
The day the warriors came was like any other. I woke early with the birds and said hello to the sun. In the day I worked with the children to weave baskets in between playing. In the evening I sat with everyone and listened to the stories of our ancestors.
The warriors yelled out as they came like fire. They burned and crackled, taking our men down with them. Eventually, the only fighters we had left were injured beyond repair. The warriors gathered what was useful for them and began to collect women and children to take back with them. I had seen how the men treated women. How they ravaged homes and bodies like vultures ravage when there is death. My father was not there to protect us, we were all alone and as strong as we were, it was not enough. So we ran.
There were dreams in my eyes and I was running. My hand was tight in my mother’s and my feet flew across the desert brush like a needle-footed wren. The night breeze howled into my eyes and as I blinked away tears my mother’s face came into sight.
“Má!” I yelled.
She didn’t stop until I yelled for the fourth time. When she finally did, she kneeled beside me and looked at me deeply.
“Haseya, my girl,” she said. “We have to keep going. I promise I will care for us, but we have to go.”
“But what about our home? Our people? We cannot abandon them like this!” I cried.
She answered me with tears streaming down her face.
“Our home is not what it used to be and our people may not make it much longer. We cannot return.”
With this, she stood up, turned around and began to walk. I followed, wondering how it had all possibly happened. I thought of our hogan, the dirt packed tight enough to keep out the breezes in the night and the blanket stitched from my mother’s hands hanging in the doorway. My life was packed into those walls; every memory, spoken word, feeling of love. They all lived in a house that was getting further from me by the second.
The sun moved above us and before long we could see Mt. Hesperus far into the distance.
“That is where we are going,” Má said.
“Mt. Hesperus? But it is so far!”
“Far is safe. That is where we will go Haseya, and we will be safe.”
As the sun set to the west, I began to hear my hunger monster wake up. My mother turned around and giggled as it growled.
“What a talkative hunger monster you have!” she said as she tickled my belly.
I laughed uncontrollably. Even in pain, with aching feet and skin red from the heat and sun, my mother was able to give me love.
“So, my dear. What would you like to eat?” Má asked.
I look around and as usual, was surprised by the amount of plants that managed to survive alongside us in the harsh land. I quickly spotted red fruit atop a saguaro. It was my favorite treat but it only grew in the hottest time of year. I could already imagine its sweet juices in my mouth. I quickly called to my mother and pointed. We were both much too small to reach the top of the saguaro where the fruit has clung.
“Start looking Kele,” Má said, “We will need something long enough to knock them down.”
We began scouring the ground, looking for anything long enough to reach our dinner. Finally I spotted a long branch. I thanked Mother Earth for providing and ran back to my mother, dragging our tool behind me.
When I gave it to Má she hoisted it up and began knocking at the fruits atop the tree. They quickly began to fall and I collected them in the lone blanket we had time to carry with us. Once we had enough fruits to feed us for at least two days she stopped. We thanked the Saguaro for its fruits and Mother Earth for providing. Then, we peeled back the outside of the saguaro fruit to reveal the sweetness beneath.
After eating, we began to search for a place to sleep. We came to a circle of cacti and laid down in the center. I laid close to Shimá, using her body heat to warm myself. It was the middle of summer, but at night the wind could make it feel like winter. I looked up into the night at the Stars and Moon. The night reminded me again of our village and our people.
I remembered telling the younger children how First Man and First Woman worked to bring Sun, Moon, and Stars to life. It was my favorite story of our history and always gave me courage to think through my problems. I remembered how many times First Man and First Woman had to try before everything worked just right.
Shimá’s breath began to slow and within a few minutes she was asleep. I laid there until Moon was high above us and watched the Stars move across the sky. Eventually, I fell asleep to the sounds of the desert and my mother’s breath, steady as forever.
I was awoken in the morning by the blue jays sunrise song. I turned over to find an empty space where Shimá had slept. I got up and fold the blanket before calling for her. When she didn’t answer I become worried.
What if she got lost while looking for more food? What if someone had come and taken her away from me?
The longer I looked, the darker my thoughts got. My voice became hoarse and I was terrified. I began to cry and as I came to a creek she was there. Calm and humming as always, no idea of the fear she had caused.
“Má!” I cried as I ran to her side.
She enveloped me in her arms and ran her hand along my long, black hair that perfectly matched that which grew from own head.
“Kele, what is wrong?” she asked as she quietly shushed me.
“I woke up and you were gone, I thought you had gotten lost or taken.” I replied.
“Kele, look at me.” I turned my head up to her and she wiped my tears away. “I will never leave you. I may not always be by your side, but I am always with you.”
I sniffed and hugged her.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I thought it would be nice to be clean,” she responded.
She helped me out of my clothes and I ran into the cool water of the creek. Little bumps immediately covered my body and only disappeared when I began to swim. My mother washed my clothes as I floated in the creek. The clouds broke up the blue of the sky and I imagined what the Holy People must see each day on Mother Earth. Different people, from all different places, in a cycle of harming, aiding, and trading with one another. Again, I thought of my home and my tribe. Looking up, at the bright blue, broken sky I realized that no matter who we are, or where we come from, we all see the same sky.
This kind of thinking always reminded me of my father. He died during my fifth winter. He would always speak like that, reminding me that everyone was important and had a right to life no matter where they came from or who they were. He was not a strong warrior, but performed healing rituals for our tribe. He believed that every being was pure of heart, and just needed some help finding a balance between themselves and nature. My father loved all music, whether it was ceremonial or not. I thought sometimes that my mother hummed because she was trying to hold onto whatever piece of him she still can.
When my mother finished washing the clothes and laying them to dry she joined me in the creek. We were there, floating together, until the sun had finished rising and the heat of the day began to climb. Eventually, we climbed out and let our bodies air dry before putting our clothes back on and continuing our journey north.
Following my mother through the desert those days gave me plenty of time to really look at her. I loved every piece of my mother, from the way her thick black hair swung back and forth across her back as she walked to the constant humming that escaped her mouth. I inherited many things from my mother, but her musical ability was not one of them. She had a voice that could put the most talented of birds to shame. When I was a baby, she would sing me to sleep each night, making up the songs as she went. Even as I got older, on difficult nights her voice was the only thing that could put me to sleep.
We traipsed through the desert, the promise of Mt. Hesperus and the fear of what was behind us pushing our feet forward. I did not know what we would find, but I couldn’t imagine how it could be better than home.
Our relationship with the nearby Hopi was as hot and cold as winter days and nights. I had trouble understanding it throughout my whole life. Sometimes we banded together, using our strength to defeat stronger groups. But other times we were against each other, taking food, homes, and sometimes even lives. I could not understand where this anger came from. Were their children not the same as me?
While out playing one day, I met a Hopi girl. I had gone very far from our hogan while gathering pinyon nuts. I came to a tree and as I began to gather the nuts I heard rustling. When I rounded the tree I found a girl hiding under the cover of the lower needles.
“Who are you?” I asked her.
She did not answer and backed further into the tree. I looked at her and realized that she was much younger than me. Her feet were bare and the size of my hands. I set down a pile of pinyon nuts in front of her and sat a little ways away, eating my own. She slowly came out from underneath the tree and ate some nuts.
Again I asked, “Who are you?”
“Kele,” she responded while pointing to her chest.
“Haseya,” I replied, while pointing to myself.
She tried to say more but I could only understand a few words. It was only then that I realized she was not Navajo. I listened closely and managed to make out enough to understand that she was Hopi and was lost. I couldn’t imagine what could have brought her out this far in the desert. It occurred to me that she could have been gathering for her tribe the same way I was.
“You must go that way,” I told her. I pointed toward the Hopi land and then up at the sky. “The sun rises over here, and sets over there. You need to go this way, so the sun should be moving to the along the sky like this.”
She followed my finger as I tried to paint my instructions. I could see confusion on her face but she nodded as I spoke and seemed to understand enough. I knew that there was Hopi land not far south because we were always fighting for it.
I gave her pinyon nuts for the road and my moccasins, even though they were much too big for her feet. I watched her walk south until she disappeared into the sun lake and couldn’t be seen anymore. I then walked home myself, quietly asking the Holy People to keep her safe.
When I got home, Má was shocked to find me barefoot.
“What happened to your shoes?” She asked.
“I had to give them to someone who needed them more,” I responded.
I never told her the full story and since that day with Kele, I never believed that there was any reason for us and the Hopi to disagree.
I am brought back to the present by the sound of a bird I have never heard. Looking up, I see the culprit, a red and white bird with black speckles covering its body. It is so big that I imagine if it were to land next to me the length between its wings would be longer than I am tall.
I look around and realized that we hadn’t gotten much closer to Mt. Hesperus. I predicted that we would be there before sundown. A good thing, as my hunger monster was beginning to growl again and we were running out of saguaro fruit.
I followed behind Má and imagined what we would find when we finally arrived to Mt. Hesperus. I imagined how different the mountain would be and began to get excited by the new plants and animals I knew we would see.
We had been walking along the creek and as the sun reached its height we arrived in a place where it split and went in three directions. All directions seemed to be going to Mt. Hesperus, but we were unsure which to follow.
“What do you think Haseya?” Má asked me.
“I don’t know. They all seem to be going toward the same thing,” I responded.
Má closed her eyes and grabbed my hand. The soft, hot breeze blew her hair across her face as she thought. Eventually she looked up and said,
“We will go along this route,” indicating the route that lead into a thick forest.
“I cannot say Haseya. I can only feel, and I feel that this is best.”
So, we went. The creek had widened and become a river that roared as it went over rocks to remind us that it was not to be tested. The river was a blessing, but when not treated properly, it could become a deathly curse.
As we walked, I began to notice the immense amount of plants and trees in this new place. I had never seen such bright green in my life. The sounds of birds along the rushing river was completely different from the silence I had known my whole life. I saw Má looking around as eagerly as me. Even under the cover of the trees it was hot. We found reprieve from the heat in places Sun really couldn’t reach.
My hunger monster was now wide awake and raging war on my ears. I looked at my feet moving across the ground to try and distract myself from it. I slammed into Má’s back and looked up to see her frozen in her place. I peeked around her to see why she had stopped. Rows and rows of maize were before us, with golden cobs filling each stalk. My mouth began to water just looking at them. We entered a row of maize and ran our hands over the stalks.
I thought to myself, Is this what the forest is like? Fields of maize growing alone? How?
I found myself facing Má‘s stopped back once again. When I looked around, I saw a woman with a woven basket and an open mouth facing us. She looked as shocked to see us as we were to see her and immediately I realized that we had stepped into more than maize.
The woman looked at us and immediately put a finger to her lips before either of us could speak. I grabbed onto my mother’s hand and feel her shaking. The woman dropped her basket and grabbed my mother’s other hand. She began pulling us toward the forest where we had emerged. I began to worry that she was going to harm us and took a long, careful look at her.
The woman was much older than Má and looked as if she may be someone’s análí. She had long, silver hair tied into a braid and is wearing a dress with moccasins. She didn’t look like she could hurt anyone, but that didn’t mean much to me. I had seen boys half my age destroy my world. Many things on Earth are not what they may seem to the eyes.
The old woman picked up her pace and we were nearly running through the forest. She stopped once we were decently far away from the maize field. She dropped Má’s hand and turned around to face us. I hid behind Má and listened.
The woman began to speak and I could not understand anything she said. Surprisingly, Má responded in the same garbled language. I tried to think of reasons my mother might have known this strange tongue of the woman in the maize, but didn’t have much time before they had finished speaking and began going back toward the maize fields. I stayed silent and followed behind Má. Although I couldn’t understand her words, I was sure my mother was explaining to the woman how we had arrived to her field of maize.
We go back to the woman’s basket and help her fill it to the top. When this was done she picked up the basket and began to walk further into the maize. She told Má something and then walked off toward the other end of the row. I tried to follow but Má held me back.
“This is Nadiande,” Má explained. “She has promised to help us but we must listen to her and follow her exactly. Stay close to me Haseya, I know this is confusing but I promise we will be okay.”
I found that my voice was stuck in my throat and I couldn’t answer. I could barely understand what my mother was telling me. I wanted to scream and ask her a million questions. But instead, I nodded my head and grabbed her hand.
Nadiande arrived back to us without her basket and beckoned for us to follow. She was walking slowly and quietly, with us following her exact steps. When we came to the end of the row of maize she put out her hand to pause us. She stuck her head out and glanced from side to side.
It was becoming dark and we had managed to not see anyone in the field of maize. Nadiande slowly inched out between the rows of maize and then signaled to us that it was safe to follow. We quickly and silently made our way out and the rows of maize were replaced with rows of tipis. Nadiande quickly walked between them, with me and Má following as closely as possible. She turned into a tipi that was set off away from the rest. She pulled back the bit of fabric covering the entrance and waved us inside. She followed behind us and quickly turned around to close and tie the fabric.
Nadiande and Má begin to speak again so I looked around. The walls of the tipi were bare, and there was a small bed of hay on one side. On the other side were some rocks that looked similar to what we used at home to grind nuts and maize. There were some pieces of clothing next to the bed, but besides those few things the tipi was empty.
Nadiande began to set out blankets while Má turned to me to explain.
“We are going to stay here with Nadiande. We must be quiet and follow all of her instructions. We are safe here Haseya. Don’t forget, I’m always with you.”
“I love you Má and if you say we are safe here, I know we are. But how do you know what Nadiande is saying? Who is she?”
“Nadiande, and the rest of the people here, are of the Ute people. Your father helped with negotiations between the Navajo and the Ute. He learned their language, and then he taught me.”
“I thought that he only ever healed? I never knew he was involved in war at all?” I asked.
“He only ever negotiated. He never fought.” She looked at me with tears in her eyes and I knew that this was not an easy conversation for her to have.
“Your father was a good man Haseya. He loved everyone no matter who they were and he worked for all people of the Earth.”
At this point there were tears streaming down her face and I wrapped my arms around her to comfort her. I wanted to know more, but knew that it would be too painful for her to explain. She’d had enough pain for a lifetime and I could not bear to cause any more.
“Thank you for telling me Má. We will be okay, for I am always with you and you are always with me.”
Nadiande had finished our bed and we graciously laid down. I asked Má to please thank Nadiande for her kindness and strength. I listened to the rhythm of my mother and Nadiande’s breathing as I tried to fall asleep. I worried about what the next day might bring but remembered my father and my mother and the strength in myself. Before long, the memories lulled me to sleep.
The sound of birds and children competing for air woke me in the morning. This time Má was beside me still, sitting up and grinding pinyon nuts on the tool that had reminded me of ours.
“Good morning Má,” I whispered.
“Good morning Haseya,” she responded, looking up from her work. “How did you sleep?’
I had the remnants of sleep in the corners of my eyes and a memory of a dream was slipping away as I awoke.
“I had a dream, but I cannot remember much of it,” I replied to her.
“What do you remember?” She asked. “Maybe if you speak of it the rest will come to you.”
“I remember the forest. It was green and bright and I could almost smell the wet pines,” I said. “And there was a boy. He was my size, but he had bright blue eyes, like the sky.”
“Were there any animals?” Má asks.
“No. It was just the two of us and the forest.”
“Well, I think you should keep your eye out for this boy. It seems he may, if he exists, be very important.”
With this, she went back to grinding. I began to wonder what our plan was. Are we going to stay in this tipi all day? How are we going to keep ourselves secret from an entire tribe?
My answer came quite quickly. Má finished grinding pinyon nuts and began cleaning around the tipi. I helped her to make myself busy. Before long, Nadiande returned to us with a basket of berries. She and Má began to speak while I ate.
Má came over to explain to me once they were done.
“Nadiande and I have come up with a plan Haseya,” she said.
“Does it include leaving the tipi?” I asked.
“Eventually, yes. But for now we must stay here. I will begin to teach you the Ute language and Nadiande will help whenever she can. She will continue to bring us food and we will wash and go out at night when the rest of the group is asleep.”
This answer didn’t satisfy me very much. I was already bored and anxious to feel the sun on my face again. But I knew our safety and that of Nadiande’s depended on this. So, I agreed to their plan and decided to suffer through my sunless days in silence.
The rest of the days of heat were spent with me and Má in the tipi. She would teach me how to speak Ute while Nadiande mostly went along with her regular life. We were allowed to go out to the river and wash and be outside only in the darkest time of night, when no one would see us. I missed the sun. I missed our home, our people, and the bright red saguaro fruit. I wanted a life that was gone forever back and it destroyed me that I couldn’t have it.
But I had Má. Nadiande was extremely kind, and the more of her language I learned, the more we spoke and enjoyed each other. She taught me to bead jewelry and her patience and encouragement made the sunless days more bearable.
We were lucky and were quiet enough that Nadiande was able to keep us a secret until I had learned the language. Once I knew enough, she and Má devised a plan to introduce us to the rest of the Ute. It would be dangerous, and Nadiande knew that some would be against letting us stay, but we could not remain in her tipi forever. The sunless days had to end.
The day we decided to come forth, Má and I had to wake very early. We would go back to the maize, Nadiande would come and get us, and then we would all go to the Chief and other leaders. Nadiande hoped that our ability to speak Ute would help our chances of being allowed to stay. I was terrified though. What would happen to us if the language wasn’t enough?
As we waited in the maize for Nadiande, Má reminded me once again what I was supposed to do.
“You must stay quiet Haseya,” she said. “Only speak if you are spoken to. If you don’t know what is being asked or what to say, I will speak for you.”
She hugged me and kissed the top of my head. Nadiande arrived and we all began to walk through the maize toward the center of the tipis.
As we walked, women were staring. They would whisper and gasp as we walked by. I grabbed Má’s hand and held my head high. It felt the only way I could make it through.
When we reached the center of the tipis there was a group of men sitting around where the fire burned at night. They were speaking in hushed tones so I only picked up a few words about hunting.
“Ouray, I need to speak with you.” Nadiande said.
“What is it?” the largest of the men asked, without lifting his head.
At this point, the other men were staring at us with shocked faces. We looked Ute with our skin and hair, but our clothes were made for the desert, and were very different than what the Ute wore.
“Ouray, I have found this woman and her child. They are Navajo, but speak Ute. Her husband was Ahiga, the Navajo man who used to help us create treaties.”
With this, Ouray looked up. He didn’t say anything, and looked at my mother and me for a long time.
Finally, he spoke.
“What are your names?” he asked.
“I am Lina, and this is my daughter, Haseya,” Má answered.
Ouray looked at us again and then walked over and bent down in front of me.
“Haseya, that means ‘she rises’ doesn’t it?” he asked.
I looked up at Má and she nodded to me to answer.
“Yes, Ouray,” I answered.
He nodded and laid a gentle hand on my head.
“We will help these women. Nadiande, they will stay with you until they have made their own tipi.”
“Thank you Ouray,” Nadiande said.
“We will work very hard and contribute to the Ute,” my mother said. “Your kindness will not go in vain.”
I smiled graciously. I couldn’t believe the kindness of these people. We were so easily accepted into their world. The Earth really did provide for us.
Walking back to Nadiande’s tipi, Má began to hum. It was my favorite song she hummed and I joined in. Má and Nadiande each held one of my hands, and for the first time in a long time I didn’t think of home.
We settled in very nicely as the leaves of the trees turned to fire and began to fall. I helped Má and Nadiande gathering maize in the day, and in the evening we all ate and gathered around the fire with other Ute. Everyone was very shocked to see us when we first arrived. While we worked hard to speak the language, it still sounded differently from those who had known it their whole lives. But this didn’t matter so much to them.
I met other children my own age, and we would play when we weren’t working alongside the grownups. One day, when I was playing with a few other children, a boy walked up. When I looked up, I saw eyes like the sky. It was the boy from my dream!
“What is your name?” I asked.
“I am Atsa,” he answered. “Who are you?”
“I am Haseya,” I responded.
We stopped talking and he sat down beside me and began playing with all of us. While all of the children were kind, he was the first one I considered a true friend.
I thought of home and our people every day. I remembered everyone and everything. Sometimes, there would be a scent or a breeze that brought home to the front of my mind and I would stop to let the memory play for a little while. I asked First Man and First Woman to look over those who were left in our tribe. I had never seen leaves change like they did there, and was so used to the flowers of the prickly pears coming through at that time.
It made me sad that we left, but I also felt very lucky that we ended up where we did. The people were kind, and cared about us even though they had no reason to. Má and I worked and made our own tipi in just a few weeks, and while it was not nearly the same, it was finally beginning to feel like home.
One day, I was struck with a memory stronger than any other. The breeze had blown dirt into my skin and as it pricked at me I was transported back home. The sun was bright and the wind blew sand into my hair and skin. I could hear Má and my father in the distance, humming together. I was so happy.
Atsa snapped me back to the present by running into my back.
“I should carry around a dreamcatcher to gather all of the dreams you have in the day!” he yelled.
“Don’t bother, I don’t want to lose them!” I retorted.
He waved his hands at me in exasperation and made a face.
“Are you going to play or not?” he asked.
“Only if you can catch me!” I called while turning and running quickly.
He chased me until we fell in a row of maize. We rolled onto our backs and stared up at the blue sky and the white clouds.
“I never asked you how you got here.” Atsa said.
“It is a very long story,” I answered.
“Good thing we have time.”
I started from the beginning, telling him all about home and my people. When I got to the day that changed everything, I could see the pain on his face. When I was done, he stood up and offered me his hand. Neither of us could speak anymore, we were all out of words. He looked at me and I looked at him.
I smiled, knowing that I had someone to be there with me just like I had always had Má. He grabbed my hand while the silence got too heavy and our hearts got too light to stay still any longer. So we ran.