NIGHT VISITORS Episode 2:
Actually, our cemetery presents a larger area than earlier mentioned… but it does nonetheless appear totally untended and somewhat out-of-place in this particularly bustling intersection of ST. Francis and Cerrillos. Trash has settled in, along its chain link fenced borders. There is no landscaping, other than that provided by nature, the usual dry-brown overgrown weeds, only a few small scattered headstones and tiny metal markers. If one had chosen to leave this world without ostentation, this is the right locale.
But for those who have chosen to reside here, admittedly seldom by choice… outward appearances seldom matter. Abundant New Mexico skies and sunshine, relative quiet in spite of its mid-city location, and few if any visitors whom one must entertain in a hospitable fashion… make it a curious but otherwise peaceful location in which to settle down.
I think that its greatest asset is its proximity to this coffee and donut shop. It also provides for us our night companions a convenient choice for a late-night snack and friendly visit. And as I too have chosen my familiar corner table at this window overlooking the old cemetery… the balmy mid-week evening has provided me a ringside seat… for both quiet observation, and my usual scribbling on this familiar yellow legal pad. My lemon-filled Dunkin’ Donut has long since settled on my hip line, and the coffee is still hot.
An enormous white dog looks in at me, as we gaze into each other’s smiling face. I do believe he is eager to indulge in conversation…
tail wagging in a most enthusiastic manner. Is he waiting for the snowy-haired yet spry-looking sitting at the corner of the table? Funny- I
hadn’t noticed his entry,so distracted by the energetic large white canine with whom I was exchanging silent greetings through the window. It’s possible that they had been enjoying an evening’s walk, or… is it… another… night visitor?
I should turn my chair toward the gentleman’s table, so that i can pay more attention to the evening’s possibilities… without, of course,
being too terribly obvious.
Good timing! A young man had just entered, looked around a bit, and
seemed to be considering whether or not to order. The old gentleman had caught his eye and beckoned to the lad to approach, holding out what appeared to be a coupon… such as grocery stores include on the reverse
side of your register tape.
“You might find this a fetching trifle, young man, and I have no need for it; you’re welcome to use it.” The young man accepted the coupon
with a shy nod, then placed his order for croissant egg sandwich at the counter, plus hot coffee.
Without appearing anything more than hospitable to a stranger come in from the night… our host patted the empty chair at the table as the lad set down his food and beverage. I gathered that he was of native American origin, though taller and thinner than most, his shining obsidian hair in a long tidy braid. As he glanced over in my direction, I smiled a greeting, nodded, and gave great interest in my writing. A
story in the making!
Attention given to his welcome meal, the young stranger responded courteously to his host’s easy questions about his itinerary. Had he only recently arrived in town, and where had his trek begun… since several pueblos are located in this large central area of the state.
“No,” he was not a local Pueblo, but came from Zuni, a village to the far western border of New Mexico, somewhat southwest of Gallup.
“Are you an artist?” inquired our host.
“Not really,” the quiet response, “except for general skills prevalent in my family.” In fact, he enjoyed caring the popular small fetish animal figure from local stone and semi-precious materials. “within this figure… you carry not only the sacred spirit of the animal portrayed… a bear, eagle, coyote, fish-hawk, etc….. but also the
inner spirit of the stone itself, and the energy of the artist… plus one’s own spirit.”
Fascinating! I was learning so much from this discourse, that my willing pen could barely keep up. Fortunately, the host’s questions prompted the tall and angular young man to offer much more.
“You are a living gem of a very rich and timeless culture, aren’t you?”
“Yes!” This immediate response almost seemed to startle the young traveler. “You are right. I have learned much from my relatives and older friends…and there is so much more that I am curious about…”
“Do you really consider Santa Fe the most helpful location for you, now, at this time in your quest for learning?” I had an idea where the questioning was leading: back to Zuni. “In fact, judging by the weight you have shed recently, I have a feeling that your major transport from
Zuni… were those two sturdy legs of your,” with a bit of a chuckle.
Embarrassed but unable to tell anything but what was true, our young friend admitted to having left Zuni some days earlier…not even sure at that time why he was leaving… that, apart from an occasional short ride… he had inevitably experienced “the long hike” to Santa Fe.
At this point, I wanted to interject another question of my own,but… being merely the scribe and observer…it was not my place to do so.As though reading my thoughts, our kindly host prompted with “And what is it that you would really like to do, or develop further in your life?”
“I want to be a teller of stories, and even illustrate them with my own drawings, perhaps enhanced by playing self-composed melodies on my
guitar.” Oh my! He had surprised even himself…as this direct and specific response had burst from his voice, and no doubt from his very heart.
Both men suddenly laughed…as though a switch had been touched on a music box. There it as…a specific direction, a very real and plausible
“Well then…and what might be your ext move?” Silence.
“Where are you going to obtain the greatest stimulus…and audience…for this precious of desires?”
“Back home, in the area of Zuni, of course! The people…the land…our history…earlier storytellers…and…kids! Ohmygosh! Those wonderfully wager kids in the Zuni public schools! There is my audience…and, who knows, I might even be successful in encouraging some of them to follow a similar path…in writing, dramatics, music, or other creative art forms!”
I could feel a tingle of excitement (sparks!) crackling within the very aroma of coffee and fresh-baking doughnuts which permeated the shop.
“And I am told that the Navajo school at Pine Hill, not far from Zuni and Ramah…operates a fine radio station, transmitting from that hillside to all the settlements in the local area. Quite an outlet for your stories, if they could be locally translated into both Zuni and Navajo. How very exciting! Think of how many people would then enjoy the voice of the storyteller!” dded the elderly one.
“And in English too, of course!”
“Storyteller-in-residence!” I wanted to add, as the young man caught my
“I might even be hired part-time at our Zuni High School…it’s quite new, you know…or even at our local branch of NMSU!”
“Would you like to be a teacher also, a guide, one who inspires and encourages others, by your example, in their quest for direction?”
At this point, sparkling tears began to shine in the expressive eyes of our tall walker from Zuni. Tears of gratitude? Joy? Certainty? He stood, leaned over and hugged our kindly host, and then…to my astonishment and not a little embarrassment…approached my table, and shook my hand,
a firm and friendly grip.
“I see that you too are a story teller of tales…stories for all of us to enjoy, and consider. Thank you, Ma’am.”
And before I became totally a’wash in a flowing stream of joyful tears…our tall and beautiful hiker took his leave from the gentleman who…pressing a bill into the young man’s palm…added, “Perhaps a bus ride into Grants at least. From there, if you must walk to Zuni, highway 53 is sure to provide generous offers of a ride…across the magnificent beauty of the Continental Divide, the ancient volcanoes and ice caves, past Tinaja and the historic majesty of Inscription Rock…back to your home base: Zuni!”
As the now enthusiastic young Zuni traveler prepared to leave, he turned back, again to our host and asked… a question in his dark, lively eyes: “How is it, Sir, that you are so familiar with my home area?”
“Ah yes…well, having grown up in the village of Tinaja, it would be
most natural for me to know that beautiful spiritual country well, don’t you think?”
That seemed to satisfy the departing fellow’s curiosity, as we waved a fond goodbye.
Tinaja Village? Having known that area of El Morro myself, at the foot of the darkly forested sprawling Zuni Mountains…coming upon the sparse remains of a once happy home for a small number of families in the early 1900’s…long since, left to the wanderings and nightsongs of the local coyotes…
Following the immediate need to blow my nose and compose myself…I then began to gather my writing materials and take my leave to home base…when I realized…that I was the only one there, besides the night clerk sweeping the floor…