Shiprock, New Mexico - Tsé Bit' A'í - Rock With WingsWednesday, July 27, 2011
|Shiprock, New Mexico, Noblex Pro 175 U, Ilford FP-4|
Hosteen Joseph Joe remembered it like this.
He’d noticed the green car just as he came out of the Shiprock Economy Wash-)-Mat. The red light of sundown reflected from its windshield. Above the line of yellow cottonwoods along the San Juan River the shape of Shiprock was blue-black and ragged against the glow. The car looked brand new and it was rolling slowly across the gravel, the driver leaning out the window just a little. The driver had yelled at Joseph Joe.
“Hey!” he’d yelled. “Come here a minute.”
Joseph Joe remembered that very clearly. The driver looked like a Navajo, but yelling at him like that was not a Navajo thing to do because Joseph Joe was eighty-one years old, and the people around Shiprock and up in the Chuska Mountains called him Hosteen, which means “old man” and is a term of great respect.
Joseph Joe hat put his laundry sack into the back of his daughter’s pickup truck and walked over to the car. He noticed that its plates weren’t yellow, like New Mexico’s, or white, like Arizona’s. They were blue.
“I am looking for a man named Gorman,” the driver had said. “Leroy Gorman. A Navajo. Moved here little while ago.”
“I don’t know him,” Joseph Joe said. He had said it in Navajo, because when he got close he saw he had been right. The man was a Navajo. But the driver just frowned at him.
“You speak English?” the driver asked.
“I don’t know Leroy Gorman.” Hosteen Joe said it in English this time.
“He’s been around here several weeks,” the driver said. “Young fellow. Little older than me. Medium-sized. Hell small as this place is, I’d think you’d have seen him.”
“I don’t now him,” Joseph Joe repeated. “I don’t live in this town. I live at my daughter’s place. Out there near the Shiprock.” Joseph Joe had gestured toward the Arizona border and the old volcano core outlined by the sunset. “Don’t live in here with all these people,” he explained.
“I’ll bet you’ve seen him,” the driver said. He took out his billfold and fished a photograph out of it. “ This is him,” the driver said and handed the photograph to Hosteen Joe.
Joseph Joe looked at it carefully as courtesy demanded. It was a Polaroid photograph, like the ones his granddaughter took. There was something written on the back of it, and an address. The front was a picture of a man standing by the door of a house trailer, which was partly shaded by a cottonwood tree. Hosteen Joe took off his glasses and wiped them off carefully on his sleeve, and looked a long time at the young man’s face. He didn’t recognize him, and that’s what he had said when he handed the driver his photograph. After that he didn’t remember the rest of it quite as clearly because just then it all began to happen.
The driver was saying something to him about the trailer, maybe about Gorman living it in trying to sell it or something, and then there was a sound of a car braking on the highway, tires squealing a little, and the car backing up and whipping around and driving into the Wash-O-Mat parking lot. The car was new, too. A Ford sedan.
Hosteen Joe had turned then and walked toward his daughter’s truck. Behind him he heard the sound of a car door opening. Then closing. A yell. The sharp clap of a pistol shot, and another, and another. When he turned he saw Plaid Coat on the gravel and the driver holding himself up by clinging to the door of his car. Then the driver got in and drove away. When the car got to the asphalt, it turned toward the river and toward the junction, which would either take it west toward Teec Nos Pos or south toward Gallup.
1993 by AP Newsfeatures Photo
People were running out of the Wash-O-Mat by then, yelling questions. But Hosteen Joe just looked at Plaid Coat, sprawled on his side on the gravel with a pistol on the ground beside him and blood running out of his mouth. Then he got into his daughter’s truck.
The driver was a Navajo, but this was white man’s business.
The Ghost Way, Tony Hillerman, 1984
These are the facts about Shiprock Peak according to the Navajo website
Shiprock Peak is the "neck", or remains of a solidified lava core, of a dormant 40 million year old volcanic pinnacle. It is shaped somewhat like a 19th century Clipper Ship with high trap-dykes running north from Utah and south from the main spire and rising about 1,800 feet above the four-corners New Mexican plain. It's elevation is 7,178 feet above sea level. It lies about 13 miles southwest of the town of Shiprock, New Mexico, and 6 miles west of Highway 66. It is also visible from Dzil Ná'oodilii (Mountain Around Which Traveling was Done), which is about 40 to 50 miles east of Shiprock peak.
The pinnacle was called the Needle by Captain J.F. McComb in 1860. The name Shiprock apparently came into use in the 1870s as indicated by the U.S., Geological Survey Maps. The Anglo-Americans legend is that while they were in the area they noticed the similarity between the rock and the 19th century Clipper sailing ship of the time, giving it the name "Shiprock". Until October of 1939, its ragged and sheer sides had never been climbed. Climbers from the Sierra Club of California made the first ascent. Navajo beliefs resent such invasion of their sacred peak causing it to now to be illegal to climb. The following Navajo legend illustrates the reason why the Navajo (Diné) resent the climbing of their Tsé Bit' A'í:
A long time ago the Diné were hard pressed by their enemies. One night their medicine men prayed for their deliverance, having their prayers heard by the Gods. They caused the ground to rise, lifting the Diné, and moved the ground like a great wave into the east away from their enemies. It settled where Shiprock Peak now stands. These Navajos then lived on the top of this new mountain, only coming down to plant their fields and to get water.
For some time all went well. Then one day during a storm, and while the men were working in the fields, the trail up the rock was split off by lightning and only a sheer cliff was left. The women, children, and old men on the top slowly starved to death, leaving their bodies to settle there.
Therefore, because of this legend, the Navajos do not want any one to climb Shiprock Peak for fear of stirring up the ch’iidii, or rob their corpses.
|My Malibu and my Noblex|
Shiprock Peak has a number of other myths and ceremonies associated with it, these being the Bead Chant, the Naayéé’ee Ceremony, and the Enemy Side ceremony. The Naayéé’ee ceremony has a story of a large bird called, Tsénináhálééh (Picking Up Feathers), a bird that lived on top of Shiprock Peak and flew to Roof Butte (Dzil Dah Neeztínii - Where the Mountain Went Out on Top) to get men, never women. The bird went to Roof Butte every day. He is not at Shiprock Peak any more, but lives in the Sun’s house. He was the child of the Sun and Changing Women. There are also stories told of Shiprock Peak in the Enemy Side ceremony.
Addendum: My friend and former book seller Robert Blackwood has often asserted that the mark of a good mystery thriller is one's desire to re-read it. I have never re-read any of Tony Hillerman's Navajo police procedurals but now that the places in his books have a face, I know what my late summer reading project is!