Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
My white friends, with that thoughtfulness and understanding for which they are known over this entire country, have upon my arrival at Ganado, put a room at my disposal. I may use it as I should my own, come in any day at any hour, stay as long as I like, vacate for weeks if I like. I celebrate the completion of the first blanket by staying overnight, getting caught up on news, examining the new rugs which have come into the trading-post.
I am back at my Navajo home by eight the next morning, and as I lift the rickety door out of its crevice, a sense of emptiness strikes me. The house seems desolate, as if a friendly presence has gone. It must be that this imperfect, unsatisfactory web I have brought into being has taken hold of me during the last week without my knowing it. Not like a dog which has been long and lovingly underfoot, but more like an ugly antique which has stood around since childhood and is at last relegated to the Salvation Army.
During the last few days of weaving the first blanket Marie has repeatedly and interestedly inquired about my next one. What colors shall we use? How big is it to be? I have shown her the design of which she approves, as do the rest of my critics and visitors. She says she has enough warp for the size. But it is only this morning that I learn that her mother,
[paragraph continues] Atlnaba, Ninaba, and she have been industriously carding and spinning the yarn for the new rug.
I am very emphatic about the dyeing of the green, enough for the entire rug must be dyed at once so we do not get several shades. Yes, of course, but we have enough. We have four skeins, large skeins, of white and four of black. We may dye two white ones green and we shall have to dye the black. "All black must be dyed," says Marie. "The black will become brown if not dyed." "Just like old hair," I remark. "You know white people sometimes keep curls or hair and it always gets lighter." "Just the same," agrees Marie.
Tom comes in as we discuss our needs. He does not laugh at the first blanket although he also does not minimize its faults. "It's pretty good for the first," he remarks as he finishes his cigarette. "When are you going to the well?" "Are we going to the well?" "We usually do the washing and dyeing there because there is more water," he answers placidly. They leave to collect the necessary articles for our work at the well. Marie has arranged with Tom that he need not go to water the sheep because Ruby, the schoolgirl, will drive them over and Marie will help her draw the water. When Maria Antonia finds out Tom is not going she decides to go with us.
When I am ready, shortly after, we forgather about Jonathan, the Ford. There are Maria Antonia, Marie, her little boys, Ben and Dan, Yikadezba, the three-year-old daughter of our youngest sister, a tub, three buckets, the half-dozen skeins of yarn, four empty glass water bottles with carved wooden stoppers wound about with rags, my own canteens, a tow rope, a piece of laundry soap. Marie has the two packages of dye I brought from Ganado. We drive southward two miles along the highway to the well on which the family and others
in the vicinity depend for their water supply. It is on the opposite side of a sandy wash. We could of course leave the car on the far side; but we have so many things, and why should we carry them over?
The party turns into something resembling a picnic—but there is no food. Marie asks me in a somewhat startled tone if I have a match. From somewhere I produce just one. It is as good to her as a boxful. She fills two buckets from the well and disappears up the bank of the wash carrying them, is gone for some minutes. Meanwhile her mother and I fasten one end of our rope to the remaining bucket, throw it over the pulley and tie to the other end a rickety dented pail which stands by the well. It is so full of holes it almost empties in the time it takes to pull it up. But on the theory that two buckets are better than one we lower it alternately with the whole one and fill the tub.
Maria Antonia then plunges two of the white skeins, carefully tied at the top so as not to tangle, into the water which the wool soaks up in a brownish yellow way. Standing over the tub with knees unbent she vigorously rubs soap into the wet yarn. After a few minutes of kneading the foamy mass —the water here is pleasantly soft—the wool appears white and clean. She presses out the soapy water, which has become the color of the sand the tub stands on. We draw a few more bucketfuls of water and she rinses the yarn again in the kneading fashion. It emerges creamy white, so fluffy I can hardly believe it is wet, with an inviting wet-woolly odor. Maria Antonia finds the loops which tie the skeins at the top, shakes them several times and hangs them on the wooden supports of the well platform to dry.
As Maria Antonia and I once more begin to draw water
[paragraph continues] Marie returns announcing that the water for the dyeing is on the fire and will soon be ready. I then help her as she draws more and more water to fill the sheep trough. The flock driven by Ruby appears over the hill. Marie sends Ben and Dan, who have been wading in the trough, out to tell her to keep off the sheep until we have the trough filled. "If they all come up, they drink up the water faster than we can draw it and then some do not get enough," explains Marie.
And now I lower the rope and it jerks up quickly and lightly, no bucket on the end. It wasn't a granny knot this time, just neglect to tie a double knot. But the bucket, our best one of course, is at the bottom of the well. The women merely laugh at my awkwardness as Marie blandly sends the old warp weaver's little girl, who has come up, to her home a quarter of a mile away for a long stiff wire with a hook at one end. We wait until she returns and then have a fishing party. We soon have the bucket out, and in no time the trough is full.
Ruby brings up the sheep, having only with difficulty kept them away. They tumble over, about and around the well platform, sniffing the wool, the water bottles and the soap. "Su! Su!" The goats will eat the soap! The large ewes and mother-goats line up along the trough, so close that the bleating eager lambs and kids cannot get within goat-range as they nose and push into the interstices of the living wool. When the large ones have their fill, the little ones get their turn, hardly able to reach the trough even standing on the tiptoes of their stubby hind legs. Some achieve a jump to the edge of the trough whence they frequently slip into the water as they guzzle it with their parched lips. Funny beings, these
sheep, wiggling, curious, eternally unsatisfied, and stupid, how stupid!…
But Marie quietly turns over the empty bucket to Ruby, gets the dyes from the front seat of the car and starts off once more up the bank of the wash. I follow, bearing the two unwashed skeins of white and the black yarn.
We come to a small fire made of sagebrush and dry weeds over which the two bucketfuls of water are bubbling. Marie lifts off one with a stout stick, opens the package of green dye and casually sprinkles about half of it in. She stirs it with the stick; it is indeterminately darkish. She adds a little more dye, carefully folds the end of the package and lays it at the base of a rabbit bush. She stirs the mixture thoroughly again and sets it on the fire. She now treats the other pailful of hot water the same way, using a whole package of black dye. When they have once more boiled she immerses the white wool in the green and the black wool in the black dye and lets them boil for perhaps half an hour.
We have nothing further to do but wait, and as we sit in the pleasant sunshine and watch I am once more overcome with the casualness of it all. I have at home repeatedly tried dyeing; I have always tried to follow written instructions to the letter; I have invariably achieved only streaked results. Marie has here done only the most essential things. The wool has not even been washed; I am soon to find it will not be rinsed—the dyeing suffices for cleansing and coloring. Verily Navajo ways are not our ways. Occasionally Marie stirs the yarn and lifts it to test the color. Too light, not even, she lets it boil longer.
At last she considers it finished, and after pouring out the dye and lifting the yarn on sticks she finally cools it enough to
press out; eventually she presses it reasonably dry. We gather our water bottles and canteens, place the white wool now dry in the tub, the wet black in one bucket, the wet green in another. We have our soap, our rope, what remains of the green dye. But now, to my surprise each woman and each child is holding a kid or a lamb and intends to take it home. Marie says they became separated from the flock some days ago and after Ruby had driven our flock off a boy who had found them watered his and gave them back to Maria Antonia.
We are loaded, and I start across the wash in what I think are the usual tracks. I have not been careful to have my motor going in the proper rhythm, I have gone about half a car width east of the usual tracks. The car stops. I start it and try to pull forward with no success. I try reverse and the wheels spin. I run the motor until it sounds more efficient and try both ways again. We do not move. We unload our miscellaneous but not heavy load and look into the situation. It had seemed no different from usual. But I had forgotten that the day before there had been a short though heavy shower. It had refreshed us all, but its effects except for making color more steely sharp had been short-lived. Apparently short-lived!
This seems to be a day of errors. The rain, true, had pretty well obliterated the usual track across the wash, but a little foresight combined with a little Navajo sense would have saved us a great deal of trouble. My slight digression has put the car in dry quicksands just above the old well now covered over. The harder we try to pull out, the women pushing, the deeper we sink in.
Then old Curley, the father of Tom and Atlnaba's husband,
rides up. He is a wizened soul with smiling wrinkles about his eyes and mouth. He rides a small wiry bay horse with a cream-colored mane. We ask him to tow us. We tie the rope to the front bumper, he holds it wound twice round the pommel of his saddle, the horse pulls with all his might even as Jonathan pulls with all the power of his lowest gear. The wheels dig deeper into the quicksands. As I jack up the car, putting on the chains, two riders come loping up gayly.
One has a stolid frame, but the usual jolly expression of the Navajo in the face of the unusual. His strawberry roan is heavier than Curley's bay. He announces blithely that he will simply lift the car out of the hole. "Oh, you can never do that," I exclaim. "Why, it is much too heavy!" "But he always wins when we have contests in lifting!" says his companion. "Well, of course you can try," say I dubiously. Curley tells Marie: "You may just as well leave the car and go home. You'll never get it out of there." The strong man answers, "When I get that car out of there I will go home, and not before."
Whereupon he digs his heel into his horse's belly and trots out of sight. In less time than it takes to tell, he reappears dragging three long poles, half overcome with dry rot, in his lasso. He dismounts, unties the rope, lifts a pole above his head, brings it down with telling force and a three-foot piece breaks off. He continues until he has the three poles broken into short lengths. Then he directs Curley and his companion to lift with all their force when he says, "Yego!" and tells us to shove the logs under when they lift. They set their combined strength to the car's right mudguard. "Yego!" and the car rises six inches. Marie and I, almost lying on our stomachs, each get a log under the wheel. We repeat the maneuver on
the other side and try the motor. We discover that to pull forward involves climbing a grade, very slight but nevertheless a hindrance where every ounce of traction counts. So I decide to work backward. If we can move three feet, we shall be off the quicky part and on to rough sand.
We gain perhaps six inches, but as soon as the wheels get off the short corrugated road we have made for them they again begin to spin. After repeating the experiment two or three times during each of which we gain the width of the combined logs, I perceive that we must increase the length of our rough surface. I find that quite unnoticed, a piece of heavy canvas lies on the floor of the car. Tub, bottles, and buckets are lifted and the canvas is dragged out. I put it near the logs, just behind the right wheel. The men lift again. Hastily I place my log but first slide the canvas under. Marie pushes her log in next to mine. We get both under the wheel. We have only the three pieces of log under the left wheel. Once more we try the motor. And now the car shows signs of a real will to move backward with the right wheel, but the left holds it back as soon as it has moved off the logs.
I make up my mind to concentrate all efforts on the next try. Curley sees the force of the canvas idea, sees also it is too narrow to do for both wheels and in a trice whips his blanket off his saddle and lays it under the left wheel. We now have logs for both sides and fabrics to extend the rough surface. I ask Curley to let his horse try towing once more, this time tying on to the rear axle to pull the car backward. The strong man realizes we are using all our aces on this play. He ties his lasso also to the rear axle. He lifts the car once more onto its logs. I climb to the wheel, he to his saddle. The men hold the ropes firmly around the pommels. Marie and the strong man's
companion push. I, with every gasp of his carburetor, coax Jonathan to his utmost. I slip the clutch and give him the gas, all the gas! The horses strain, the pushers strain. Suddenly we all feel that surprising movement for which each pusher feels that he, and he alone, is responsible. The car is moving, moving—it grips, the horses pick up their feet to get out of the way. With a concerted warwhoop we are out, once more on the firm sand by the real well.
Three feet we had to go. Four hours it took to go it. It has been my custom in the Navajo country, never before having been identified with a family, to pay such men and horses as have helped me out of a "tight place." So I tell these very amiable boys that I have no money with me, but if they come up to the house I will pay them. They mount, once more we load up our children and kids, and start off, this time taking a detour on the well side of the wash, thereby avoiding the crossing. Tired and hungry we arrive home; it is now three o'clock and we have had no dinner. The boys gallop up in no time and I give them each some silver. They are much pleased as they ride off and so am I.
Red-Point rides home singing in the resplendence of the setting sun. As he drinks his evening coffee Marie tells him of our adventure. He is amused; only those happenings are calamities here over which man has no control. But when Marie comes to the end of her tale his amusement turns to indignation. He gulps his last drop of coffee and, followed by Marie, proceeds rapidly to my roof top, where I am as usual absorbing the restful charm of the sunset hour. Red-Point is almost too excited to light the proffered cigarette as he bursts
into a perfect tirade against the, in my opinion, very obliging youths who helped us out of our difficulty.
"You wouldn't have had to pay them anything if I had been here!" Then he chides Marie for letting me pay them, almost blames her for interpreting my wish to do so. "The very idea of taking money for helping Navajo out of trouble!"
This day has been a hard one, think I, as I stretch my back flat on my blankets under the Great Dipper. Muscles are sore and tired, we haven't got much done, but—what a grandfather I have, what an amazing grandfather!