Spiders, dust devils and phantom storms

The other day I was cleaning the glass showcases in the trading post when I noticed a spider creeping behind one of the folk-art carvings.
Polishing the glass is a part of my regular routine, and at times I find it therapeutic. Some people drink coffee to start their day; I clean the glass.
I have been doing it so long I can make the display cases sparkle without even trying. There are times when I believe this makes me a good candidate for a job at Wal-Mart.
In fact, every time I’m in a Wal-Mart, I find myself wondering how Opal, Pearl and I would look in those stylish blue vests.
The spider broke my glass-cleaning trance and started me thinking about the appropriate response. In the past, I might have quickly smashed it and continued on with my job.
Over the years, however, I have become more aware of the Navajo perspective, and find it influences the way I respond to certain things.
Once I curbed my initial impulse to grind the spider into the glass, I began thinking about spiders in Navajo culture.
For example, Spiderwoman is very important to Navajo people. She is responsible for teaching them the art of weaving, and also played a significant role in directing the hero twins, Monster Slayer and Born for Water, to their father Jo hona’ai, the bearer of the sun.
Spiderman, the other one, taught the people to make their traditional loom, and Navajo parents often rub spiderwebs on the hands of their young offspring in the hope it will make the children good weavers.
Elsie Holiday often attributes her basket-making skills to this ceremony.
As one might guess, all this tradition makes spiders extremely important to the Navajo. Therefore, one must be careful not to offend the crawly beings.
Keeping that in mind, I resisted the urge to terminate the spider and went about my cleaning duties.
Not five minutes later, two women walked into the trading post. I continued to polish as they browsed the merchandise. Outside the hot wind was gusting, and a small whirlwind began to spin across the gravel parking lot.
Despite protests from her partner, one of the women dashed outside and into center of the dust devil.
As her hair flew in every direction, I turned to Priscilla and asked, “What does it mean when someone gets caught in a whirlwind?”
She indicated it is okay if the wind is spinning to the right, but that it’s bad luck if the whirlwind is spinning left.
Priscilla also said whirlwinds can suck the life out of you if you don’t keep your mouth closed as one passes over.
This particular dust devil was moving clockwise and, although she was smiling broadly, the woman’s mouth appeared closed.
We concluded she was going to survive. The dust devil daredevil’s companion gave us a look of concern and hastily exited the trading post, intent on helping her friend avoid additional risk.
It was at that point that I began to realize how the trading post culture had become ingrained in me.
I am sure it happened slowly, gradually building up over the years, but I hadn’t really considered the extent of the accumulation. The point was driven home barely a day later.
The last few weeks have been extraordinarily hot in Bluff. Some visitors and residents hinted at 110-degree temperatures. My mind doesn’t work well with extreme numbers.
To me it is either hot, really hot or, “Honey, grab the kids, and let’s go to the pool; I can’t take this heat anymore” hot.
We had been in the let’s go to the pool phase for several days when I began hallucinating. I envisioned that little by little, the clouds began to release their droplets, until it became a full-blown downpour.
I saw myself standing on the porch with my hands raised to the sky.
As my palms became drenched with rain, I remembered the words of Stormy Reddoor, the self-proclaimed great grandson of the legendary warrior Sitting Bull, who took me out in a storm one afternoon and said, “When the rains come, lift your hands to the sky, capture a little of the moisture, spread it on your face and give thanks.”
There I was, soaking wet, rubbing the droplets on my face and giving thanks. Stormy hadn’t told me whom to thank, so I just thanked everyone. Alas, it was only a dream and the thermometer soared.

San Juan Record

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