Friday, August 21, 2015

Natani the Navajo Dog

I was reluctant to leave the state of New Mexico even when given three other solid options at Four Corners National Monument.

Nearly three weeks in, the Annual Mother/Children Road Trip was drawing to a close.  It was time to head towards home where "real life" impatiently awaited with crossed arms and tapping foot. Can't escape it forever, though I sure would like to try.

perhaps if we hide out in one of the cliff-dwelling abodes
at Bandelier National Monument...

Alex flew back to Seattle after our week together in Santa Fe/Taos and the kids and I jumped back into our trusty duct-taped car.  We pointed the vehicle just slightly north because let's not be too hasty.

The first planned stop on the drive towards Seattle was a sunrise visit to Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation.  We awoke at our hotel at 5:30 am and were soon thereafter on the long, empty road headed towards the entrance.  The road to Monument Valley at dawn is well worth the early wake-up call, the several cups of crappy hotel coffee and the hours worth of yawns to follow from all parties involved.

It's peace in your face

I missed the entrance road a couple times thanks to the sun rising in my eyes.  When I finally turned onto it, and exclaimed at the magnificent landscape rising all around us, I spotted something in the middle of the road.  I slowed down, assuming it was a coyote and feeling excited for the nature we were about to experience.  But as we drew closer, I realized it wasn't a coyote.  It was a lot smaller.  It was more of a.....more of a...... it was a puppy, a stupid little puppy in the middle of the road running straight at our car.

I pulled over to the side of the road and got out to scold the puppy. "You stupid puppy!" I said.  "Get out of the middle of the road before you get hit by a tired person driving a car! Now go find your people!"  I picked her up and carried her to the side of the road where I made emphatic shoo-ing motions with my hands then turned back towards the car. She pounced, wrapped her paws around my ankle and began biting it, tail wagging.  She was very happy to spend some quality time with me.

I shook her off my leg, picked her up again and released her further into the brush.  I then jogged back to the car but when I opened the driver's door to climb back in, I looked down to see her face staring up at me.  She'd caught me.  Her long tail wagged like a windshield wiper in a very heavy rain.

I ignored my children's delighted cries.  I told them I was going to start driving and hopefully the puppy would get out from under the tires and run back to find her people.  I rolled slowly and she darted away.  As the car picked up speed and the kids assured me she was well away from the wheels, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I did not want to deal with a dog, I only wanted to drive my kids through Monument Valley at sunrise.  That was the plan.  I like plans.

I picked up speed but a nagging feeling compelled me to look in the rearview mirror.  And there she was -- running after us as hard as her little legs could carry her, tongue hanging out of her mouth, eyes fixed on our retreating vehicle with a desperate wildness.

"Mom!  Mom!  Stop!" began the hysterical cries in the backseat.  She'd been chasing us for over a quarter of a mile when I surrendered.  She needed help and she'd chosen us to give it.  F*ck.  I took my foot off the gas and put it on the brake, hard.

I chucked the puppy into the car.  She immediately fell asleep in Lucien's lap.

She was bone thin, no collar, and quite dehydrated judging by the dullness of her eyes and the cracked dryness of her nose and mouth.  But I still told the kids, "OK, we're going to help her find her owner" because I am delusional when I really want something to be true.

I rolled up to the Monument Valley entrance station and greeted the Navajo woman working within. "Well hello there!" I said cheerfully.  "We just found a puppy in the middle of the road.  May I have a list of campsites so I can drive around and find her owner?"

The woman looked at me with a mix of pity and regret and said slowly, "Ma'am, I guarantee you that dog does not have an owner."  She told me the Navajo reservation, Monument Valley in particular, has become a depressingly popular place for people to abandon unwanted litters of puppies. The wild dog population has exploded.  Judging from the looks of "our" puppy, she was either dumped there or was born of the wild dogs already dotting the landscape.

My mind reeled as I pulled into the parking lot of the Visitors Center, which was not yet open given the early hour. We were the only people in the parking lot save a group of hikers strapping on packs for what looked to be a days-long trek through the valley.

I walked around the parking lot holding the puppy, debating what to do and chatting about the situation with a few of the hikers.  The German woman leading the hiking group suddenly approached me and said sharply, "You cannot take that dog."  I was a bit taken aback by her tone and asked cautiously, "What do you mean?"  She responded, "You must put her back where you found her.  She is wild, it's just how it is here."

It seemed ridiculous to call the small puppy chilling in my arms "wild."  "She's just a puppy.  I can't leave her where I found her. It's a desert, there are coyotes," I said.  The woman shrugged and said "There have been many puppies and many coyotes before her. Take her back where you found her right now, maybe she'll find her mother and maybe she'll survive. It's all you can do."

I gripped the puppy more tightly as the woman spoke in an increasingly angry voice.  She was really passionate about abandoning puppies, it must be one of her hobbies and she pursues it with impressive vigor.  Her heartless response ignited a stubborn combative fire within me.  Do not tell me to leave a puppy in a desert.  Do not tell me it's all I can do. Because that is bullshit.

A decision was made in that second.  Because yes, "maybe" she'll find her mother and "maybe" she'll survive.  But she will absolutely survive if she comes with us.

let's get out of this drab hellhole, puppy

I walked away from the woman and whispered to the kids, who were by then wide-eyed and near tears, "Is the mean lady still glaring at us?"  And they whispered back, "No, she's putting on a backpack now" and then I whispered, "Get in the car fast, before she sees us and starts yelling again." The kids hustled into that car faster than I've ever seen them move and I tossed the exhausted puppy back onto Lucien's lap. "This is our puppy now" I said as I climbed back into the driver's seat, peeled out of the parking lot, and pointed the car Dead North.

And that's how we got a new dog.  I soon texted Alex the following: "We found a puppy in Monument Valley and I'm bringing her home."  A couple very long minutes followed in which I could feel Alex's initial shock then hear a long deep sigh before receiving the response, "Of course you are."  He then requested pictures.  Alex, despite his outward bravado, is also a soft touch when it comes to animals.  Thankfully.

The trip back to Seattle was....eventful.  At one point the puppy jumped into the back of the car and pooped on top of our suitcase.  That's tough to do at 70 mph on a twisty road but she's a survivor and probably used to less-than-ideal pooping conditions.

she slept a lot, which was preferable to the pooping

The hotels I'd booked in advance did not accept pets so the kids and I became co-conspirators for a greater cause, speaking in hushed voices and smuggling the dog into rooms in our emptied-out cooler.  The dog accepted this situation without complaint.  I think she knew we were trying to help her so she trusted us completely even when I (loosely, I'm not a monster) closed the lid.

The hotel staff thankfully never questioned why I kept carrying a cooler in and out of the hotel past the front desk.  If they had asked, I would have told them it was my "therapy cooler" and I needed it to get me through a difficult emotional time.

that's our puppy in a cooler
she was remarkably "chill" about the situation
ha ha ha ha

We managed to stop briefly at Bryce Canyon but didn't do the hike I planned because dogs aren't allowed in national parks and leaving a dog alone in a hot car is dog murder.

we'll be back someday
hopefully with no dog
but you never know

We named her Natani, a Navajo name for a Navajo dog.  She's a sweet dog but is also a total pain in the ass.  The most commonly heard sound in our house these days is a loud, "Natani!  NOOO!"  Then she goes streaking past with some forbidden object in her mouth, like a shoe or a cleanly chewed through laptop cord.

She is desperate to please yet she's not very good at it yet.

She digs holes the size of Texas in our yard.  She's eaten our sunflowers and pulverized our watermelon plant.  She's not yet housebroken.  She's eaten several socks and one pair of underwear. She broke the vase Coco made me for Mother's Day.  She jumps on all the furniture with dirty feet.  She sheds like crazy.  She's drawn blood from all of us with her sharp little puppy teeth. She scavenges and eats whatever she can find, especially if it's inedible.  You'll be like, "Hey, Natani, stop eating that plastic bag, it will definitely kill you" and she'll be like, "NOM NOM NOM." 

On top of all that, Oscar is very unhappy with the situation.  As a schnauzer of 14 years, he is not into this puppy bullshit.  She tries to play with him and he tries to rip her head off.  It's like a toddler constantly jumping on a crabby old man.  It's not a good match and we've managed so far with several baby gates to keep them separated.

Natani is making it her life's work to get on the other side of that gate and play with that damn schnauzer.  Lots of hurling her body at the gate, chewing on the gate, attempting to jump the gate and falling backwards.  Oscar, in a silver lining, has more pep in his step than we've seen in years.  He now lives for his white-hot hatred of her.  He's got renewed purpose in life and it's REVENGE and DESTROY HER.  He spends most of his time growling under his breath and plotting.

She's kind of a nightmare, I ain't gonna lie.  Alex just ran past the window outside, pointed at me sitting in here at my desk and yelled, "We did NOT need a puppy in our lives right now!" It appears Natani's gotten a hold of the garden hose and is having the time of her life.  Yikes.  

She's the worst.  Truly.  But she's home.
(And she's awesome)

Over 3800 miles traveled, three weeks, seven states, one dog.  It was an immensely successful road trip this year.  I'm not sure how I'm going to top it next year.  I may need to rent the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile and bring home a bear.

See you next year, New Mexico

Goddammit, Natani!  NOO!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Andrew and The Pueblo Prince

If I could live half the year in New Mexico, I would.  I love Seattle and am not willing to give it up entirely (even though it's changing rapidly and starting to suck a little bit) but the lure of New Mexico is intoxicating.  There's something in the New Mexico air that feels like a hug, something in the ground that wafts up through the sagebrush, envelops me in its arms and rocks me like a tiny baby.

That sounds like the premise for a horror movie but I promise it's not scary.  It's more warm and cozy.  Yet wild and rugged.  The light is just different there.  Plus, enchiladas.

Taos, New Mexico is quite possibly the only place where I'm excited to enter a church...

...and equally as excited to stare at the back of the church.

We stayed with a family friend in Taos.
She has a home with expansive views of mountains and sky.
She is doing something right.

A sweet new low maintenance pet

Step off, what the hell is that.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I first visited the Taos Pueblo on a family vacation when I was 16 years old.  We met two young Native American men during that visit who have since held significant places in our family lore.

The first was someone I'll call "Andrew."  We met him at the Taos horse ranch where he led trail rides for out-of-towners.  Andrew was my age, maybe a year or two older.  He was confident, cocky, funny.  He told us he was content with his life because he had everything he needed to be happy -- a horse, a house, and a rifle.

"Andrew" circa 1991

Andrew for some reason decided my family knew a lot about horses.  The truth was we knew what horses were but beyond that our horse smarts were a little fuzzy.  Andrew nevertheless led us on a very challenging mountain ride; our horses ran up narrow paths and jumped dry creek beds and sagebrush.  I dropped my reins and clung to my horse's mane at one point, screaming with fear.  Those were good family times.

Andrew repeatedly looked over his shoulder and yelled at my mother to keep her horse moving.  Mom disrupted our ride with her inability to control her animal.  "Don't let her stop to eat!  Don't let her stop to eat!" Andrew yelled but Mom could only throw her hands up helplessly as her horse wandered off the path into the brush to eat as if her stomach had no end.  We could no longer see Mom but could hear her disembodied voice say things like, "Well come on now, horse, stop that."

What did he expect when he put my mother on a horse named "Grandma"?  Everybody knows grandmas don't listen and are quite ornery.

My sister visited the Taos Pueblo years later and found Andrew still at the horse ranch.  She recounted our family's experience years prior and he laughed, then took her and her British friend, who had never been on a horse in his life, on the same "advanced level" ride.  More running through mountains, more jumping, more screaming with a few very British hollered "Oh dear Lord"s thrown in for international flair.

The Taos Pueblo
A many centuries-old UNESCO beauty

It's been over 15 years since my sister's return visit but I was still hopeful I would find Andrew at the ranch.  I carried the above photograph of him on my tour of the pueblo but didn't need it -- as soon as I mentioned his name, people smiled.  He's well known, well liked, but no longer conducts trail rides at the horse ranch.  He's moved on to other things, like starting foundations and such.

I was happy to hear he was well but also crestfallen.  I would not go on another memorable horse ride with Andrew as my fun yet slightly irresponsible guide. It's probably in the best interest of my kids' safety my reunion hopes were snuffed.

My disappointment did not abate upon returning to Seattle.  On a whim I looked him up on Facebook and there he was. It was the same big enthusiastic smile but now he was surrounded by a large and equally enthusiastically smiley family.

I sent him a message.  He messaged me back.  He's happy with his life and happy to hear he gave my family such fond memories of our time in Taos.  Andrew and I are now Facebook friends and I've done some reading about the foundation he started, a foundation to preserve Native American languages and teach them to young people.  Great job, Andrew, but tell me, do you miss yelling at my mother?  You must.

There was a second significant man at the pueblo back in 1991.  We never caught his name but he was our tour guide. He was also young, maybe eighteen or nineteen, beautiful with long dark hair in a ponytail all the way down his back.  He was articulate, soft spoken yet passionate about the pueblo and his tribe.  His goal was to graduate college and study Indian Law.  I was so smitten.

My family made merciless fun of me in the aftermath of that tour.  In retrospect, they were quite insensitive to the workings of the teenage heart.  I couldn't stop talking about him.  My family drove me back to the pueblo the following day in the hopes of seeing him again but he was not there.

Anyone seen this person?  
The Native American one, 
not the rest who can't take their eyes off his beauty 
while wearing their early-90s high-waisted pants.

My family and I began calling him "The Pueblo Prince."  The Pueblo Prince set my 16-year-old soul afire with injustice.  I returned home to Ohio after that trip and wrote letters to the editor of our local newspaper about the issues facing current day Native Americans -- sky high rates of alcoholism and unemployment, extreme poverty on many remote reservations where we forced them to live, a loss of sense of identity and high rates of depression and suicide for starters.

(I received some fan mail for those letters to the editor -- a few people thought it was great a sixteen-year-old cared about such things.)

The struggles of current day Native America continued as my theme throughout college.  I gave impassioned presentations to my less enthusiastic classmates.  I wrote intensely melodramatic pieces in creative writing but it's possible I laid it on too thick -- I remember one essay returned with "I'm rolling my eyes, MJ, give me a break" scrawled across the top in red pen.

That teacher probably celebrates the white man's triumph over Native Americans every night before he goes to bed.  If you don't give me an "A" you're part of the problem.

Upon graduation, I decided I wanted to do something different, something volunteer-oriented, before getting a "real" job.  Would I have thought that way if I had not been introduced to people screwing other people over at a young age?  I'll never know but I can guess.

I signed up with a volunteer organization.  I hoped to work at an AIDS clinic with Native Alaskans but that position was taken by the time they interviewed me.  Instead they asked me to move to Seattle to work with adults with developmental disabilities.

And the rest, as they say.....

the way we are
because Alaska just did not happen

that is a f*cking amazing church

I wish this next part was happier.  Unfortunately it ends the way I should have seen it ending.  I sent Andrew the above picture of the Pueblo Prince and asked him if he knew who he was.  He did, in fact they're good friends having grown up together on the reservation.  He told me his name.  It's weird he actually has a name.

I couldn't find the Pueblo Prince on Facebook so instead Googled him.  I wish I hadn't.  It became obvious very quickly The Prince has fallen prey to issues I used to expound upon in class presentations.  He didn't finish college.  He never came close to practicing Indian Law.  He is instead, from what I've read, a "well known alcoholic" in his tribe who's been regularly on the wrong side of the law.

I found a picture of him but I can't believe it.  There's no way he looks like that now yet at the same time there's little doubt.  It's him, and it's as heartbreaking to see as his beauty ever was.

It's cruel irony the man who inspired me to learn about issues facing current day Native Americans now suffers several of them.  I've asked Andrew to wish The Pueblo Prince well for me, and to tell him I remember him and he made an impact with his message.  Andrew has promised he'll pass my sentiments along next time he sees him.  I hope it makes The Pueblo Prince feel good, no matter how briefly.

Look at that.  Still no dog story.

But the dog did not happen in New Mexico.