The vast southwest desert, beautifully fickle, with hot days and cold nights, was home to the old woman, and she would not be thrown out of it.
Now, sparkling crystals of frost bejeweled the red rock of the canyon walls, and the cacti stood stoic in the light of a cold moon as a lone coyote spoke to her with certainty about the monstrous equipment and invasion of the whites. But even as she shuddered inside, determination held her soul fast. The construction would face a strong foe.
June Whitehorse, though weathered and as aged as the mesquite that surrounded her Hogan, was not fazed by the chill of the night, or the heat of the day. She stood, a solitary figure of resolve … and gazed across the river at the so-called progress that had stolen her family away. She was the last hold-out, and she would never leave her home.
The fire built for the night, she retreated into her home, where the small lamp glowed soft. Welcoming … warm. The meager meal left her stomach almost as empty as her heart and she lay back on her bed, a cur dog on the dirt floor, vigilant and alert. She wondered how her daughters were. They had given up, leaving for the city just after the government agents had made the last set of threats. Now, the tiny village was a ghost town–she, the only one left to keep it from being obliterated from the face of the earth.
Dozing fitfully, the old woman kept hearing the call of the coyote, telling her of things to come, it barked sharp warnings. Warnings of workers, roaring equipment and asphalt roads. And of the ones who did not own the land. It warned of progress. The taking from the real People … the theft of life.
She understood the language of the creature as he spoke, and as her fire dimmed, and the icy fingers of the night crept into her bones, Mrs. Whitehorse tossed, turned and became entangled in her blanket as the anticipation of the workers and the officials stole her sleep away. New anger surged, but fatigue won out. She slept and the crystal moon traveled through the stars, waiting, watching.
Unfamiliar voices woke her the next morning as the sun sent fingers of light into the small opening above her head. The old dog growled, making his presence known at the door, but was no threat against the armed intruders. Papers in hand, the pink faces had more papers, more ploys and more dire explanations.
“Mrs. June Whitehorse? How are you today? You remember me? I’m Mr. Sikes from the county seat.”
She surveyed the man, taking in the details of his uniform. The stark contrast to the soft sand he stood on. She was amazed at the audacity of white people. How they assumed clothing, and shiny badges gave them authority over things for which they had to knowledge. For which they had no rights over. She smiled. Not with friendliness, but pity, and contempt.
“I remember you, Mr. Sikes. I do not need you here.” She still smiled. And she did not extend her hand to his.
“Mrs. Whitehorse, you do know why we are here today, I believe. The workers need to begin building the roads. We are sorry, but you have had many warnings. Lots of time to go. To be situated elsewhere.”
“This is my home. I have told you. I will never leave it.”
“Then, you leave me no choice. I will have to have you forcibly removed.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Sikes.”
She closed the thin door and patted the curdog as he looked up at her in confusion. She hugged herself, and sat at the table made of Joshua tree wood. The items before her had been ready for months, and now it was time for their employment. Her ancestors had taught of how nature could intervene when needed. And now was one of those times.
She worked diligently into the wee hours before going to sleep one last time. The cur guarded over her and the spirits waited patiently for the intruders to return.
“This was one brave lady.” The young doctor, fresh and eager, and a new grad from the psychiatric department, pulled on latex gloves to examine the dead Navajo woman.
“She’s been gone for several hours. Probably since yesterday. You were here then, Mr. Sikes?”
“Yep, we were here. She was fine when we left. So was the old dog, but I don’t see him now.”
“Well, these people have strong wills.”
“Okay then, well, thanks, doc. Appreciate you bein’ here. We’ll get started now. It’s a shame, but we had no choice but to force her out.”
“She has to be taken to the hospital, then buried in the pauper’s cemetery. I wish she’d gone with her family. Maybe they could have prevented this.” The doctor dipped his pink hands in a bowl of water, his lips pursed and smug.
“Well, don’t worry. Somebody’ll find her kin. Ain’t my job.” Sikes retreated to the hot sun, and to the work at hand.
The ambulance pulled away, no siren needed, and as it disappeared in the early morning light, the old dog sat, a shadow near a tumbleweed, watching, and not afraid. He yipped softly, as if saying good-bye to the woman … then turned and trotted away.
For months, there were break downs, mishaps, and many delays as the high-way crew attempted to construct the section of road beneath the turquoise skies. There were two deaths, as the men tried to persevere, and as the money for the project dwindled, the county’s resolve faded too, leaving the area barren, and left to the desert’s whims.
The wise coyote continued to talk to the zephyrs, while out in the mesquite, and all around the canyon walls, a strange wind blew. Eerie whisperings, telling those who would listen, just whose land it really was.