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Apr 22
Gray Mountain, Arizona

                                      October 2nd, 1995

Out of gas again! The chill that ran down the back of my neck when passing that last open gas station should have given me pause. I was so sure there was still a gas station open in the middle of the Navajo Nation, one that served great fry-bread, and one that would get me to Tuba City with a quarter tank to spare. As I fiddled with the radio, tuning into the Navajo language network, the fear inside of me was already questioning what the night might bring.

Six years had passed since I had been down this road. The gas station I remembered was now boarded up and deserted, just like the dreams of most of the people it used to serve. With not enough gas to either press onward or go back, I became a prodigal wanderer in search of a distant Samaritan. I was now seeking in the remoteness of my spirit — the hospitality of the kind.

                        In The Remoteness Of My Spirit

In eight more miles, I saw a gravel road leading to a small ranch house a quarter of a mile at its end. To the right of the house sat a Hogan, telling of native inhabitants inside. In this part of the west, near the New Mexico / Arizona border, it was assuredly Zuni or Navajo, and I bet Navajo, as I parked the bike and walked up the long stone driveway.

I left the bike back on the road to seem like less of an intruder and walked up to the front door while rehearsing what I would say. I was hoping that someone was home, and if they were, that they would open the door. People were very scarce in these parts, and new people usually brought trouble along with them as part of their welcome.

To my great surprise, an attractive middle-aged native woman opened the door before I knocked and said: “Yes, can I help you?” They were warm words coming from the middle of such loneliness that surrounded me, and I explained to her my situation and that my gas was almost gone. She looked down the long gravel driveway for what seemed like forever and then said: “The only gas that my husband Charles and I have is in our white pickup truck which is around back.”

She told me that her name was Juanita, and she was sure that her husband would help me. She then said: “He has just gone into the Hogan ‘to sweat’ and would not be out for more than an hour. If you will remove your shirt and shoes, you could go in and join him, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. Just make sure to announce your presence before walking through the flap.”

Still in my heavy riding suit, I took off my jacket and shirt and the padded boots I wore for touring. I felt a greater weight being lifted from me than just the clothes that I removed, and although I didn’t understand the feeling, I wanted to go inside.

I walked the short distance to the Hogan and stood outside its entrance wondering how I would feel having a stranger walk in on me. The silence of the open spaces overwhelmed me, as the sound of my heartbeat was the only thing I heard. With all that was inside me, I heard myself say: “Charles, my name’s Kurt, and your wife Juanita said it would be OK to come in and talk.” I stood there for a minute that seemed more like an hour until I heard a muffled voice from inside say: “All right, please enter.”

As I stepped through the flap the temperature change consumed me, and the steam coming off the hot rocks made it difficult to see. In the far corner of the Hogan, and with his back to the wall, sat an Indian man bare-chested and shoeless, with his head bowed and hiding his eyes. He had a bright yellow, green, and red bandana tied around his forehead. Its tails drifted down his back with the two ends resting on his belt. With his head still lowered he spoke again, asking: “Please sit down and tell me what has brought you to this place.”

I explained that my bike was almost empty, and he paused for a long moment before saying: “Your path has today led you in the direction of your own choosing. Sometimes without looking we most find our way. You now need to be able to find this inside of yourself once you leave”

                             Sometimes Without Looking …

Finally raising his head, he invited me to sweat with him. Already feeling the effects of the steam, and without any hesitation I said, yes, and we sat there in silence as all things started to change. He asked if I knew why the native man does this? I said: “It was for purification, and to come in contact with himself.” Then raising his head slightly, he said: “You surprise me strange visitor, you know more than was required and more than most know.” He then told me “I was expected,” and that he knew I was coming. He had known it inside himself since the last moon.”

                         He Had Known I Was Coming

He then spoke again: “We also sweat to come in contact with our past lives and those of our ancestors. It strips us of all place and time, focusing only on what’s real. Bow your head and think of nothing, and let the steam come inside you being thankful that on this day the Great Spirit has brought you to me. I will know what is happening, you don’t need to tell me, just feel the steam reach inside you as it frees you from all else.” As I did, a peace replaced my conscious self, and I felt my body leave the dwelling. I saw a distant ball-field of my youth, long ago and very far away.

My father was pitching to my grandfather who was catching. The in-fielders were all faceless and the outfield was gone. Through a connected vision I watched my grandfather pass a signal to my father, and staring as hard as I could I watched for the ball. My father wound up, pitching something toward me, and as it got closer it turned into a white bird with red eyes. The bird flew down low and went completely around me, and then coming up from behind, it rested on top my head.

I could feel its sharp talons grab my scalp as we lifted off slowly. Our speed increased, as we traveled to great heights out of the ballpark and into the dark. I don’t know if the flight lasted minutes or hours. I know that I did see my whole life, both the past and what was to come. I saw my children’s, children’s, children, standing off in the distance, all wearing a sign asking: “What is my name?”

We flew over the Great Canyon, the home of my Mother. We swooped down on the river as our reflections were released to the sky. At the North Rim. the talons let go and my body was now weightless, and in a mindless free motion I was allowed to begin again.

With this, I heard the gentle voice of Charles calling my name. Not from anywhere outside, but his voice was calling from within saying to me that: “Everything was all right and it was now time to come back.” I opened my eyes and Charles was still sitting with his head bowed before me, and without my uttering a word he said: “Ok, let’s go get you some gas.”

I ran to the bike and got the plastic siphon hose from the trunk, as Charles backed his truck down the long driveway, parking it as close to me as he could. We stood there and watched the small tube breath new life into the Venture, and he insisted that I fill the tank all the way to the top. I tried to pay him, but he refused and only asked for a favor — asking if he could ride on the back of the bike with me to a spot about five miles distant.

I waved to Juanita as we took off together, and in a few short minutes he tapped my shoulder saying: “This is the place.” As he got off the bike, there appeared to be nothing but desert and rock in the fading light. I watched him for as long as I could as he slowly walked East off into the darkness with my deliverance in hand.

Kurt Philip Behm
Kurt Philip Behm
Written by
Kurt Philip Behm
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