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  • To the Whirlwinds
  • Tacey M. Atsitty (bio)

It was on their second lap around Tsézhinii'áhí when the skies rapidly darkened. Late May and Red Valley hadn't yet had much rain. But it was always this way. Always dry, even up to the tips of the mountains. Rain, when it does storm, falls so briefly in the valley that within the length of a day the fresh pools are taken up in lone clouds. Clouds so small a person could pluck them and stuff them in a pocket.

The man looked to the sky as he led the cross-country team around the neck of the large black rock that protruded from the earth. He often imagined the rock as a monster's thumb from the earlier days. That perhaps the monster was hitchhiking somewhere and then along came Naayéé Neeszghání, who sliced his thumb as he ran by. He smiled as he thought of his oldest daughter, Pepper, and how she became fascinated with sticking out her thumb on the roadside, moving it back and forth, yelling at trucks as they zoomed by, Goin' my way? It became the only way she wanted to travel.

He usually made the team run around the rock only twice before coming back, as the loop was a total of six miles. But today was a peculiar one, and although he was grateful for the cloud cover, he quickened his pace. He was afraid of the abrupt darkness thickening above him, afraid not of the rain but of other ailing forces that fall and twist from the sky.

He remembered chasing a Little Whirlwind as a young boy in Utah. She was a classmate of his in grade school, from Wind River up north. Though it was young love and many years ago, he was still swept up in those first small exchanges of love. But now when he thought of love and wind, he thought of his Nálí.

His grandfather had taught him to bury his face in his hands in the big winds, so that he couldn't breathe and couldn't see, because bad spirits traveled in them. That's how they enter, through the mouth and eyes. His Nálí also taught him not to chase dust devils because they are actually [End Page 54] people, people who are not supposed to come and visit. And so he was taught to stay at a distance and out of their paths.

Already this spring he and his runners had laid out a good path. He didn't have to look, but he knew they were a ways behind him. He shortened his stride and took notice of each puff of breath that came from the ground where he stomped his feet. He had already run ten miles this morning, so he practiced his eagle breathing: two quick breaths in and one long breath out. This breathing could carry him long distances, could carry him through any kind of terrain or weather. He felt good running; he had been taught since he was young to run, to rise in the early mornings before the skyline went orange, to run in the direction the sun would rise, to gather blessings from the Holy People. He had likewise taught his children to run. Most mornings he'd head out when the sky was still a dark blue and then come back as the sun began to rise. His shirt and sweatshirt, his breathing and his eyes full of blessings. Then he'd go to the beds of his older children, his son and two daughters, uncover their feet, and slowly run his forefinger along their soles from the bottom to top. It's time, he'd say. And they knew; they knew not only that it was time to get up, but they knew the route he'd set out for them to run. Sometimes when one or all of them protested, he'd promise them ice cream later in the day.

Today was Pepper's birthday, and he still hadn't bought her a gift. For a while he had wanted to get her a BB gun, now...


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pp. 54-56
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