Tears in Taos 4

May 12, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

“Patricio tells me he invited you to the gala ball on Saturday. Do you need to go to Santa Fe for a gown?”

Connie snorted. “Yeah, he invited me but I turned him down. I don’t go out with old guys.”

Old guys!” Ramon pounded the table. “You will go out with whoever I tell you to, especially my best friend. How dare you turn him down? Call him right now! I am ashamed of you.”

Connie refused, and the battle that ensued made the dishes in the kitchen rattle, or so Cook claimed. It ended with an infuriated Ramon dragging Connie to her room, pushing her in and locking the door. A careful eavesdropper would have taken note of the fact that Connie’s tears sputtered to a close as soon as her father stalked downstairs.

She made a cell call a short time later. The man on the other end argued half-heartedly, but when she finished the call, her smile smacked of victory. She placed two more calls, and then carefully packed a soft-sided duffle bag and a tote bag replete with papers. The evening deepened, but Connie did not go to bed. She’d cranked open her window and neatly loosened the screen with a small screwdriver. Her father usually went to bed around 10:30 p.m. Fortunately, his room was on the other side of the building.

Her watch was reading 12:30 a.m. when Connie heard the soft scraping noise outside. Giggling, she leaned out her window and watched as a man, puffing greatly, gingerly placed a ladder against the wall. When this was completed she tossed out first the duffle, and then the tote bag, with the man making a grunt each time he caught one. Finally, Connie squeezed out and crept down the ladder nimbly, as befitting someone who’d excelled at gymnastics. She followed the man to his waiting Chevy, still giggling as she slid into the passenger seat.

“That was a lot of fun, but I think you’d better work out more, Patricio!”

“Don’t you start on me, young lady,” he replied, starting the car. “I’m the one who will have to face the raging bull in the morning.”

Her face softened, a new look of maturity settling on her as she said, “Honestly, I owe you everything. Don’t think I don’t appreciate your help. My father should never have become so rigid. I didn’t realize, until this business of college came up, just how bad he’d gotten in his views.”

“I never figured, all the times he’d praised you to me, that he’d decided we would get married,” Patricio confessed ruefully.

“But you weren’t in a position to discuss your romantic affairs,” Connie pointed out.

They drove to his hotel a half mile away, where Connie retrieved the suitcase she’d brought over a few days previously. Patricio stowed it in his car and they drove north to the ski resort town where the Greyhound bus to Colorado Springs would be pulling in a few hours later. Connie was taking refuge with her brother until the family battle played out. Pedro, or Peter as he now wished to be called, had been aghast at Ramon’s insensitivity.
Once he’d seen her safely stowed in the bus station lounge, under the stationmaster’s eyes, and surrounded by a group of other passengers, Patricio hugged her farewell and returned to his car. In the morning, after a few hours’ sleep, he called Ramon and invited him to a local restaurant for breakfast. It was a popular place where both of them were well known; Patricio counted on this fact to stem the uproar Ramon might indulge in. When Ramon arrived, heavy eyed and scowling, Patricio waited until they’d been served coffee and sweet rolls. Then, he put down his cup and reached across the booth to clasp Connie’s father’s shoulder.

“Old friend,” he said, lapsing into Spanish to mark the seriousness of their conversation. “It’s time you recognized the new world around you . . . ”

Tears in Taos 3

April 28, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

One more element needed to be put in place. In a roundabout fashion, Connie asked for a meeting with Patricio, asking him to keep this arrangement in confidence. Puzzled, Patricio agreed. He was very fond of Ramon, but already felt the man was stricter with his daughter than necessary. Perhaps Connie needed some advice now that she was graduating.

They met at Patricio’s office in the hotel. Once she was seated, Connie got right to the point.

“Did you know my father has plans for us to marry?” she asked.

Patricio’s mouth fell open. “Good heavens, no. He does speak a lot to me about you, but it’s always positive.”

“Yes,” Connie tossed her head impatiently, “because he thinks by talking me up you’ll be all the more eager to take me off his hands.”

“Well, I didn’t know … ”

“You know now, and what are we going to do about it? I’m sure your friend who works over at the museum wouldn’t like what he’s planning.”

Patricio wondered for a moment how Connie had learned about his lady friend. Estella was getting a divorce, so they’d been very careful in their socializing. Ramon knew nothing of his friend’s interest. In fact, Patricio realized now in hindsight that maybe he should have seen this coming. What could be done to squelch such an uncomfortable situation?

Connie told him in very precise detail what he had to do. She laid out the campaign with a very general-like precision. On this Saturday, there was a fundraising dance at the Taos Hotel. Patricio would ask Connie to attend, and also inform Ramon of his intentions. Once Connie had outlined the rest of the plot, Patricio was left shaking his head in mingled dismay and admiration. Frankly, it was time his good friend had a shake-up. This was the twenty-first century, not the old days!

Patricio told Ramon of his invitation to Connie over their Thursday night drink. Ramon was delighted. Matters were falling out just as he’d figured. Now that Connie was done with school, Patricio was looking her over and the rest would come quickly. The girl was as beautiful as her mother. Ramon would enjoy his grandsons very much.

When he arrived home for dinner, Cook informed him that Connie had a headache, and gone to her room to sleep. Somehow, the next morning, she didn’t show up for breakfast. Ramon had to wait until dinner that night to mention what he’d learned.

(continued next week)

Tears in Taos 2

April 22, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

Connie waited until after the evening meal. Ramon insisted on dining formally and employed a cook housekeeper who made many tasty New Mexican dishes. When the meal ended, Cook took away the dishes, and Ramon enjoyed a glass of Sangria. Connie produced a folder from under the table. She laid out the materials for her father’s inspection.

“What’s this all about?” Ramon demanded, annoyed at having his routine disrupted.

“It’s colleges, Daddy,” Connie said, flinging a long strand of hair away from her face. “I’m a senior now and it’s time to apply to colleges—those that we agree upon.”

“Why on earth should you be thinking of college, girl?”

Connie’s mouth gaped open. “Daddy, every one of my classmates is applying to college. We need degrees for our careers!”

Ramon snorted. “You don’t need a college degree, girl, to get married and start a family. Waste of money.”

“Father!” Connie cried, scandalized. “Pedro went to college, why shouldn’t I?”

“Because he’s a man, child, and you are not. He is my heir and will carry on the family name.”

“And I’m not important, therefore? All the girls in my class are preparing for college. And you can’t tell me that you can’t afford it!”

Ramon looked impatient. “It’s not a matter of being able to afford it, it just isn’t proper. Girls of your background and breeding settle into good marriages with one of their kind.”

Connie was shocked—and beginning to be scared. She hadn’t expected such a strong reaction. True, her father had always been strict with her about dating and curfews, but she’d never imagined he would cling to such a medieval attitude. “I suppose you have someone in mind, already?”

“I do,” Ramon said smugly. “I believe that you are just the right wife for Patricio Alguin.”

“Patricio!” Connie all but screamed. “He’s old enough to be my father!”

“All the more reason he’ll make an excellent husband. An immature girl like you will benefit from having a man who can guide and shape his wife into a proper helpmate.”

The yelling match went on for a while, and Connie retired to her room in tears. Ramon had threatened to lock her in there until she came to her senses, and restrict her activities to a standstill. No prom, no graduation ceremony, no socialization until Constancia realized the wisdom of her father’s plans.

While Connie was not of a scholarly bent, she was a bright young woman who had flourished during her schooling, always anticipating the day she’d spread her wings and soar into adult freedom. Now, she understood that matters were much more alarming than she’d ever imagined. It was time for her to earn her self-determination. Back at school, she looked around for champions. The clever girl found them, using a keen sense of the romantic as guidance.

The high school librarian, Miss Clarke, and Mr. Ridley were sweet on each other. They did a good job of concealing their attraction, but Connie and others had spotted giveaway signs. First, Connie asked for an after-school talk with the librarian. Sarah Clarke was frankly shocked at Ramon’s old-fashioned, paternalistic attitude; she’d met him several times and while finding him rather endearing in his Old World charm, she was appalled by his chauvinism. That such a belief should still exist in this day and age was ludicrous.

Then, Connie spoke to Mr. Ridley. He, too, was dismayed by her father’s attitude, but less likely to wish to cross swords with the formidable Mr. Valdez. Connie managed to get Sarah to plead her case, and John Ridley reluctantly agreed to arrange a meeting with Ramon.

Afterward, he admitted defeat. Not only was Ramon adamant about his daughter, but he came close to threatening to complain to the school authorities about staff interference. Ramon’s pride had been punctured by this approach from outsiders. He retaliated by keeping Connie in to miss a crucial school basketball game and rally. John Ridley retired from the encounter shaken, but quietly convinced that Connie Valdez deserved better consideration. This conviction brought him and Sarah together more. A discreet conspiracy began.

Peter Valdez received several phone calls from the high school, followed by a more emotional call from his sister. Ramon’s disregard for technological advances had allowed Connie to purchase the cell phone that all members of her generation couldn’t do without. Sarah Clarke was friends with a woman who she felt could aid the entire venture, and spoke to her.

Timing was crucial. Connie voluntarily skipped the high school prom, but did take part in school parties. She passed her finals, and received paperwork a few weeks in advance of her classmates. Miss Valdez went to the bank at differing times, always when the manager was absent. A date was set for a confrontation.

(continued next week)

Tears in Taos 1

April 14, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

Ramon Valdez was known as a very proud man. His ancestors had come from minor sons of noble Spanish houses; one of them had ridden north with Juan de Onate in the 1690s and settled near Bernalillo. In the 1780s, the second son of the de Valdez family moved north and accepted a land grant in the Taos valley. He was Ramon’s great-great-grandfather. Ramon lived still in the fine manor house on the edge of the town of Taos.

He possessed wealth, this man who owned valuable land and buildings. His stable bred Arabian horses for sale to those with deep pockets. When it came time for marriage, his choice had been a dynastic one. Maria Santiago could trace her pedigree back to the 1700s, and a wealthy family settled north of Santa Fe. It didn’t hurt that she was a handsome woman as well.

Unfortunately, she suffered from an unexpected heart ailment that cut short her life in her mid- 30s; she left behind two sturdy children, Pedro and Constancia. Pedro followed his father to college in Colorado, where he was known as Peter. At present after graduation, he was clerking for a law firm in Colorado Springs. Tall and exceptionally good-looking, he made his father proud. Little did Ramon know, however, that his son might not have the same expectations of life as his father planned for him.

Young Connie was a severe trial to her widower father. She was surpassingly beautiful and equally willful. By the time she was in junior high school, Ramon placed a strict curfew on his daughter, and turned away those young men who persisted in ringing the doorbell to see Connie. She soon learned to invent wild stratagems to gain a few hours freedom here and there. In senior high school, her nickname was “Princess” since her father guarded her so zealously.

Ramon unbent enough to have a few friends. His favorite was a man who was ten years his junior. Patricio also came from an old New Mexican family; his father had been successful enough to become a fine artist whose paintings sold international galleries for high prices. Patricio worked in his father’s gallery just off the Tao Plaza; he also managed several other properties, including a fashionable hotel.

Over the last couple of years, Ramon had decided that his Connie would make a good wife for Patricio. He did not speak of this to either party, but indulged his fantasies as he lingered over his evening drink. Twice a week, he would drop into a popular local bar and meet Patricio and a few others for cocktails. Ramon enjoyed this fellowship.

Connie was in her senior year and busily planning to discover what college would take her the farthest away from Taos and her strict father. One March, her guidance counselor prevailed upon her to discuss her college choices with Ramon. While Connie was a good student, she was not scholarship material. Some of the colleges she wanted to apply to were expensive. Mr. Ridley urged her to open a dialog with her father. The girl left his office filled with anticipation, though. Mr. Ridley and others had spoken of the freedoms a college student gained.

(Continued next week)

The T-Rex of Tsegi Canyon – 5

March 4, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

Mrs. Littletree went to their battered refrigerator and brought out a handful of ice cubes; these she dropped into three glasses and then she poured out a measure of soda from the big bottle of ginger ale that had been in the bag. They savored their drinks as if sipping fine whisky.

Mr. Littletree folded his hands across his stomach in the mode of a storyteller, and Leland perked up. “Thank you for courtesy we do not see that much of today,” he said. “Your parents brought you up wisely and well. It is true that I know something of what you seek. My brother told me the story long ago.” He paused to stare into space.

Leland tucked his sweating palms into his pants pockets. He could feel the revelation coming.

“But my brother had a good reason for keeping his secret. Even when those white men came to the canyon with their tools for digging. He did not tell them about the bigger bones he’d found.”

Patience, patience, Leland told himself. I must not look too eager. Instead, he nodded politely and waited. But Hosteen Littletree had gained a rapt audience and he was ready to drag out his tale.

“You see, for many years our people, and some Hopis, have had a sacred spring about a mile and a half from the place where my brother found the little lizard. We have kept our prayer sticks there, and do not allow anyone to know where this place is. One day about two years after my brother showed the white men where the bones were, there was a big rain, not common in this area.” His paused as his wife poured him more soda.

“He had gone to check the prayer sticks. There was an alcove near the spring, and he thought he saw something different.” The old man eyed Leland intently, but he knew he needed to just smile and say nothing.

Satisfied, Mr. Littletree continued. “There was what you call it, a fossil, etched on the surface. Jaws with sharp teeth and claws, very wide. It must have been a very big creature.”

Leland whimpered softly, and Mrs. Littletree chuckled. She knew what her husband was about, and was enjoying it greatly.

“Why, those jaws were bigger than the entire little skeleton Henry had found. But he also knew, too, that those white men would be very eager to dig it up, and the spring and the shrines would be in danger. He told our headman and was ordered not to speak.”

When he didn’t speak for a moment, Leland thought it would be safe to ask a question. “What has changed, Hosteen Littletree, that you might tell me now?”

The old man sighed. “Well, everything is changing. Most of all the weather. You must know we have had unusually bad weather over the last few winters. My grandchildren tell me this is something new and dangerous. Our planet is warming. Too much carbon in the air, all the noise and pollution.”

“We were wrong as a people to allow so much industry,” Mrs. Littletree put in, shaking her head mournfully. “Look at the losses from uranium.”

Leland nodded vigorously. The Navajo Nation had paid dearly for the powerful metals that fueled the cold war and scientific “progress.”

“Three years ago, my brother knew his time was coming. He had his eldest son take him to the sacred spring,” the old man resumed. They found everything had been washed away, all the prayer sticks, and the spring had dried up. In the alcove, more bones were showing. Our medicine man came with a Hopi priest, and they proclaimed the spot was no longer sacred. We have another location, instead, not far from the ancient ones’ ruins.”

Leland supposed they were speaking of Keet Seel. He raised his eyebrows in question, for hikers could make their way to this site.

“No,” Mr. Littletree said firmly. “It is in a remote place, they cannot find easily. In a direction away from the trail.”

“Hosteen,” Leland quavered. “Are you willing now to have a white man like me look at this site?”

“Yes, my son. I am too old to take you, but my grandson Russell can lead you there. If there is to be digging, it is far enough away not to bother us, and it may bring new money and attention to the Monument.”

Leland rose from his chair. “I honor you in the memory of my father. You will have made his dream come true. Not to mention, mine.” He laughed, and stopped, stunned by the mist that flooded his eyes.

It was Mrs. Littletree who came to the rescue with a tissue and a laugh. “Now, it’s never wrong to cry when you’re happy, young man. Especially if you make your loved ones pleased.”

His old man would be vindicated. Carla would scold and cry, but she’d be happy, too. And they would be so proud that he had remembered his manners, here deep in Tsegi Canyon, so the Tyrannosaurus Rex would soon be free to roar — if only in human imagination

The T-Rex of Tsegi Canyon – 4

February 25, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

Leland thanked them for their hospitality, agreed he’d follow up with Lois, and returned to his campsite to unfurl his bedroll and seek shelter from nippy evening breezes inside his small text. He left the flap open, and soon, Henry, who’d been slow in tearing himself away from the poodle, joined him, providing a warming bulk against Leland’s side.

In the morning, he was up early to wash in the creek, eat gloppy instant oatmeal, and travel on foot to two locations where he’d plan to comb the ground. This took about an hour, and then Leland swung round to the site where the little segisaurus had been found. Little was left buy hollowed out impressions and Leland did not spend much time at the site. Bob had been over the territory with a fine tooth comb.

Instead, Leland took his Explorer to the lodge. He got the last spot in the parking lot; the Monument was busy today. Inside the building, he was able to identify Lois by her nameplate. He waited a bit, thumbing through publications, for the full-cheeked, middle-aged Navajo lady at one of the counters to become free. She was busy helping clutches of tourists. When the area in front of her cleared, Leland walked over.

He greeted her politely in Navajo, and the woman’s cool brown eyes warmed. Leland didn’t envy her job, handling all the diverse folks who visited, with their giggling kids and sullen teenagers. Unhurriedly, he told her about his meeting with the Bitsues, and the information they’d provided about the Littletrees. He explained about his father, too, but she interrupted him, speaking in Navajo also. “Ah, I remember you. You’ve been coming here for years. I recall your father and mother, too. She spoke to me once, when I was selling my mother’s pottery outside the shop.”

He nodded, and waited. He knew he was on inspection, and privately he thanked his parents for instilling him with an appreciation for Navajo values. How contrary to contemporary society were their manners, and many younger Native kids parted ways with these traditional principles. He was pretty impatient in daily life, but here in Coconino County, Arizona, the old ways felt right.

Lois grabbed a pen and a piece of note paper and began sketching the route to the Littletree outfit. They lived in a remote part of the Canyon, but there was a good jeep track to follow.

“It’s good the monsoon hasn’t started yet,” Lois said gravely. Leland agreed. A heavy rain would have made travel there difficult if not impossible. They conversed a little more, and when a new wave of visitors made their noisy way into the building, Lois dismissed him politely.

Leland returned to his site, and then brought Henry over to the Bitsues and invited them to come with him. Both declined, citing their joints. He understood, for the track would be very bumpy. Betty offered to keep Henry with them, and Leland thanked her. He was sitting with the poodle already, looking contented. The day was promising to be warm, and the shade under the cottonwood trees would be better than sitting in a hot vehicle.

Arrangements made, Leland set out, glad he’d gassed up in Kayenta. He found the entrance to the road, and the next six miles were terrible, indeed. Jolting and bouncing along the dirt track (which often resembled a cattle trod) tested every feature on his van. At last, the road gave way to a clearing near Laguna Wash, and a group of neatly laid out hooghans. There were ramadas and sheep pens, and all the signs of a prospering family settlement. Leland pulled his Explorer next to a dusty pickup truck, cut the motor, and remained seated.

The sun was warm, but Leland drank from a water bottle and remained in place. A few minutes passed while he eyed the doors to the three octagonal buildings. Finally, a middle-aged woman emerged from one building. Leland exited the van, and instead of greeting the woman at once, he went to the back of the vehicle. Reaching in, after opening the doors, he retrieved a brown bag of groceries from Basha’s. He’d need to restock as a result, but that hardly mattered at the moment.

Lugging his sack, Leland walked up to the woman and engaged her in traditional Navajo greetings. She showed surprise, but listened intently. He took his time, introducing his meeting with the Bitsues and Lois, describing his father’s mission, and then came round to asking if he might be introduced to Mr. Littletree.

The woman smiled, but shook her head slightly. “That one has passed, but I can bring you to his brother. They were very close, so perhaps he may have the information you seek.”

Leland’s heart skipped a beat and he winged a prayer to Changing Woman even as he agreed politely. The woman introduced herself as one of the Littletree family and led him to the hooghan that was sited farthest back.

She went in first, speaking slowly and in a low voice to the two inhabitants. Leland followed her, still clutching the groceries. The man and woman were very elderly, perhaps in their 80s. They wore traditional dress. Mrs. Littletree was clad in a velvet shirt with a broomstick skirt, and had scuffed Keds on her feet. She wore two strands of beads, turquoise and coral, that would probably have made a collector faint. The old man’s pants were scuffed at the bottom, but he, too, wore a velvet shirt with silver button covers. He had a bandanna round his head. Leland knew at once he was a headman of some importance in the region.

At a nod from the younger woman, Leland introduced himself. She closed the door to the hooghan and Leland remained standing. They had kerosene lights inside the dwelling, which flickered occasionally. Carefully, Leland traced his involvement with Tsegi Canyon, his father and mother’s roles, and explained the connection to Floyd and Betty Bitsue. Her name evoked a nod from the couple. The old woman rose from her chair and came over to take the bag from Leland. “Sit here, my son,” she commanded in Navajo.

Hosteen Littletree exhibited interest in the bag’s contents. Carefully, they excavated the bag and the old man gave a sigh of satisfaction when two bags of candy emerged, one of peppermint twists and the other one contained butterscotch discs.

Leland pulled up the third chair at the table where the couple sat. He waited respectfully for them to complete their inspection of the sack; glad for the patience his parents instilled in him from an early age, he willingly repeated his story, careful not to show any signs of exasperation.

The T-Rex of Tsegi Canyon – 3

February 18, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

“I learned a lot of good cuss words,” Floyd chuckled. He called the poodle over and Henry trotted along the other dog’s side. But then the older man turned serious. “I never understood why your father was so obsessed about finding dinosaurs here? This canyon’s known for the settlements of the ancient ones.”

He was referring to Betatakin and Keet Seel, splendid pueblos dug out of canyon walls, made by the people formerly known as the Anasazi. They were the true attractions of Navajo National Monument, although ironically they were really dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans. Tourists could make a paved mile walk to view Betatakin, but the other site was miles away, and available only by hiking in with a guide. Nevertheless, this canyon shared sacred associations for its Navajo guardians.

Carla Coe had spent years arguing with her husband about this fact; the geological environment of Tsegi Canyon did not contain much soil to support the late Jurassic strata needed to locate a Tyrannosaurus. Bob always shook his head stubbornly and returned to the events of 1936, when his former professor Charles Lewis Camp identified a small skeleton of a theropod.

Leland settled down now to recount the story of the discovery of the segisaurus. The little dinosaur was first found by a Navajo sheepherder whose flock grazed in the canyon. He brought his information to archaeologists working in the area. It took several years before Camp was able to identify the specimen. The segisaurus was a small creature, not much larger than a goose, and from its position it might have been taking shelter from an ash or sand storm.

Despite the fact that no other specimens of dinosaur had ever been found in Tsegi Canyon, Bob Coe was excited by the creature’s location in early Jurassic soil; he was convinced that this location’s geographic elements might have also sheltered a larger dinosaur, one that might even have been hunting the little theropod.

When the first shadows of dusk appeared, Leland left his new friends and returned to his campsite to retrieve some food, then came back to join them at their firepit. They dined off hot dogs. Leland also brought a container of fudge he’d bought from the small mall in downtown Flagstaff. This made Betty Bitsue smile. Floyd, however, was still digesting Leland’s story.

“So your father came out here year after year pursuing this beast that seemed to be unlikely?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Leland smiled and raked his fingers through his tousled hair. “After a while, it got to be something like a joke, ‘Dr. Coe’s mad quest,’ that kind of thing. But we kept coming, and after all, it’s really lovely out here.”

The Bitsues nodded. The diminishing rays of sunshine beamed over the wash, making the water sparkle in places. Large ravens flew off of a cliff and wheeled in a sky that showed the first stars of the evening. Tsegi Canyon held a promise of renewal. It was a place, Leland reflected, that could draw any dreamer.

His neighbors must have felt this, too. Betty had not spoken much, although her delight in the fudge was audible. Now, as her husband sat musing, she spoke up.

“You know, my mother’s clan was related to a family here in the canyon, the Littletrees. Seems to me I recall hearing that the one who found those dinosaur bones still may be alive, although very old. Did your father ever talk to him?”

Leland thought very hard. He didn’t remember Bob talking to any Littletrees, although he knew a great many Navajo people in the area. Even now, he wasn’t sure why this connection mattered so much. No other specimens had turned up since the 1930s, and Leland was sure his father had been over all the ground near where the bones had been excavated.

Betty wasn’t finished, however. “It’s not clear, but I think this man left the area for quite a while. I think he was in Phoenix because he or someone in his family needed medical treatment.”

Leland waited politely. Betty remained deep in thought, and now Floyd seemed to be examining some point. The stars were growing brighter overhead, making the kind of glittering carpet that can only be found miles from the bright lights of civilization. He felt a peacefulness he’d known from his youth — a sense of rightness with the world.

He was torn from his contemplation by a small stirring of the couple, who spoke in undertones to each other. They seemed to have reached a decision, and Betty now turned to him. “We’ve been thinking, you are a nice white boy, very respectful, unlike so many others.”

Leland nodded in appreciation. This was praise indeed from these chance-met elders. He continued to wait.

“At the main lodge, I have a cousin, Lois Tsingine. She was the daughter-in-law to my relatives when her husband lived. Now, she has remarried. Tomorrow, go speak to her, and she will tell you how to find them.”

By instinct, Leland knew he needed to stay silent some more. The information he was receiving contained a missing piece.

After another moment, Betty continued. “Lois has said that her father-in-law knows something important. Something he has never explained. I think, if you have the right manners, he might want to tell you.” She straightened up and looked at Leland in a very commanding way. “He is very old now.”

The T-Rex of Tsegi Canyon 2

February 11, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

He wished for a moment his mother could have joined him, but Carla Coe was busy picking up her life after the loss of her husband. Privately, Leland hoped he’d be successful at last, if only to bring a smile to a face that rarely showed happiness these days.

Leaving behind a generous tip, Leland headed back to his vehicle. Henry, his yellow lab, waited in the passenger seat, his head stuck out of the rolled down window. The drive to the entrance station for the Navajo National Monument was quick, with few cars on the road this morning. The guy manning the booth leaned out when he recognized the driver.

“Hey, Coe! Long time, no see.” His wide face creased into a big grin.

Leland threw his arm out to strike palms in greeting ghetto-style. He’d known Abner Tso since he was a kid. They’d played together over the years.

“I’m gonna find him this time, Abner,” Leland promised. “Think of all the press and publicity it will bring the Monument.”

The big man gave a gusty sigh. “Money is what we need, Professor. There’s never enough every fiscal budget year…”

“Don’t I know it! How full up is the campground? I heard it was bustling.”

“Every campsite but one is taken. But your favorite area is available, and you can share facilities with Number 40. They’re Diné from down around Albuquerque.”

They spoke a little longer and then Leland set the Explorer down the road to the campground turnoff. He got on the ring road and turned off at a small dirt track about three-quarters of the way around. His favorite spot near the bend of Laurel Wash was there, bringing up memories of years gone by. It didn’t take long to set up his canvas tent, and put out a few cooking supplies near the fire pit. When he saw Henry lope off toward the nearest campsite, Leland thought he’d better follow him.

He found his dog gingerly sniffing a black standard poodle that was the same size. A middle-aged couple sat on lawn chairs. When Leland greeted them in Navajo, shy smiles marked their formerly reserved faces. Before too long, they were chatting away like old acquaintances.

“Well, I remember your father, lad,” the man, Floyd Bitsue said. “We used to come up here when I was a kid to see family at Shonto. They were my mother’s relatives. My dad liked to stay here because their place was so small. Your dad would either camp at this site or over where you are.” He went on to recount how his father and Leland’s used to play cards, and start swearing when their hands were poor.

“I learned a lot of good cuss words,” Floyd chuckled. He called the poodle over and Henry trotted along the other dog’s side.

The T-Rex of Tsegi Canyon 1

January 28, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

Leland Coe discovered he was nervous as he downed his second cup of coffee at the little café south of Kayenta. It’d been five years since he last walked in Tsegi Canyon. He’d spent the bulk of those years back east, occupying his first post-doctoral teaching position. He liked the work, but he’d missed northern Arizona badly. Taking a vacation to the place he thought as his spiritual “home” wasn’t an option; he needed every penny he could save for the research expedition he planned. Any time off was spent campaigning for financial support, in a world where money was less plentiful than in his father’s day.

Leland was a chip off the old block. Dr. Robert “Bob” Coe earned a reputation as one of the country’s foremost paleontologists. A colorful man in a worn Stetson, he, like several others, had been the model for Indiana Jones in the movies series. Bob’s whole life was paleontology, something his long-suffering wife and son had learned at first hand. Dr. Coe had made significant discoveries north of Tsegi Canyon in Utah and Wyoming, real dinosaur country. He’d unearthed one of the giant saurians, known back then as a brontosaurus, at a now famous site near Grand Junction, almost at the border of Colorado and Utah.

The Coe family was nominally based in Salt Lake City, but young Leland had gone to schools all around the country. His father had worked for a variety of institutions, from the Smithsonian to Harvard. As soon as young Leland could walk upright, Bob had placed a trowel in his hand and taught him to dig scientifically. No playground sandboxes for him. By the age of five, Leland could pronounce all the complicated names for creatures from the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. At ten, he was arguing the Big Bang theory and its effect on the dinosaurs. He played football after school, but only as a means of deploying excess energy. His fellow male students laughed at him affectionately, and the nickname “Professor” stuck to Leland for the rest of his life.

The waitress at the Anasazi Inn restaurant, Lily, walked over and offered him another cup of coffee. She spoke in Navajo and he replied in the same tongue, startling the Anglo family eating cheeseburgers at the table behind him. Leland and Lily shared a grin as she poured more liquid into his cup.
“Are you camping out there?” she asked, still speaking Navajo.

“Yeah. Got all my gear in the Explorer outside.”

“I hope you’re not planning on staying at the campground? I hear it’s real full this week.”

“No, I got a spot near there, but not in sight. You know me, too many tourists…”

Lily giggled and walked over to another table. Leland savored his coffee. Once he got into his work, he would be too busy most days to brew a pot.

(continued next week)

Heartbreak at Hogback 3

January 21, 2016  |  Fantasy  |  No Comments  |  Share

On paper, she was building an impressive resume. Yet there were fault lines in her career trajectory. Those who worked with Carole found that she was often closed off and introspective while doing an extrovert’s job of communication. Her manager was frustrated at some offers she turned down without any seeming rationale. One October while in New York, she received a letter through her agency; Carole was finishing a book co-authored with a well-known psychologist on grief management, and finding the process unexpectedly stressful.

The letter was from Everett Muncie. He was bringing his two nieces to the city on a promised high school graduation excursion. He wanted to know if Carole was available one day to sightsee with them. This small piece of a life she’d left behind dug at her resolution. She waited until the day specified and then called Everett’s cell phone. He answered right away and she agreed to meet him and the girls at a fashionable lower Manhattan restaurant. Her manager made the reservation.

The dinner was a disaster right from the start. The restaurant was one with serious pretensions to being trendy, with snobbish staff and well-to-do diners. There was a glorious view out of the windows to the Statue of Liberty, but everything else conspired to make her guests uncomfortable. There were no prices on the menu. The waiter sneered when no one ordered any alcoholic drinks, and Everett’s nieces kept looking around with worried expressions at the mannerisms of the people at adjoining tables. Everett kept up a hearty dialogue aimed at both Carole and the girls.

Carole was embarrassed. She couldn’t have engineered a more uncomfortable setting than the one they occupied that moment. Nor could she come down from her introverted mindset; the business of the book was tugging at her concentration. In total, she was letting Everett down, and instead of trying to overcome her innate remoteness, she grew more tongue-tied as the meal progressed. She was also very uncomfortable on a personal level; Everett appeared more mature and attractive than when she’d last seen him, and her crushing sense of dislocation made her unable to respond to his pleasant overtures. His nieces appeared in awe of her. For one wild moment, Carole wondered if she’d simply outgrown the people she knew from a New Mexico life. This thought was followed by one of deep shame.

The final misery came when the check failed to arrive. Carole’s manager had secured the reservation with a credit card and approved an advanced charge to that card. Everett, however, operating from the normal laws of modern social responsibility, wanted to pay the bill. He had no desire to appear like a country yokel, kinfolk in tow, who was too in awe of his hostess to not accept her charity. When Carole refused his offer of payment, endorsed by the waiter with a gratuitous sniff, he became flushed and angry. The dinner party split up on the street outside the restaurant, with Carole hastily hailing a taxi to escape further confrontation. Everett took the girls to an ice cream parlor near their hotel, and refused to discuss any aspect of their meal with Carole.

Needless to say, Carole heard no further from Everett, and attempts on her part to phone him with an apology were answered by voice mail. He never called her back. Mentally, Carole labeled this incident as a bruise on an untouched heart. Outwardly, she moved on, accepting that there were few reasons why she should stay in communication with old neighbors. There was born, however, from then on a desire on her part to escape even further from her hometown. When she found herself the completely shocked recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant, she used some of the money to study abroad.

The place she chose was Iceland. When asked in an interview for The New Yorker why she chose that destination, to her own surprise she argued how the dramatic volcanic landscape reminded her of her home and would therefore stimulate some creative art work. Carole refused to read the resultant article, certain its contents doomed her further in the eyes of those she’d grown up with. She immersed herself in travel, sketching, and painting. She rented a small studio in Reykjavik and socialized sparingly. Driving around the country, she was amazed by how many people knew and spoke English. They were interested in her and her painting with a genuine friendliness.

She stayed a little over a year, and inside something thawed that had been numb ever since the fatal crash. Her identity as a family orphan, survivor and recorder was quietly honored by those she met and talked to. She held no celebrity status, and the naggings from New York could be held at arm’s length. The austere beauty of her surroundings oddly brought memories of Roger closer to her, and softened them with the dignity of time passed. Carole knew it would sound like the biggest cliché, but his physical loss did not diminish her. Somehow, his spirit lived. Perhaps simply because of all the work she’d done in his honor.

Carole finished her part of the book during her first six months abroad. She was pleased with the results. Iceland had served as some sort of abstract healer. Best of all, a longing grew inside her. Every time she viewed a geological monolith that reminded her of Hogback, her heart felt a tug that had vanished completely in the aftermath of her brother’s death. For the first time, she could imagine a return to her home, and a powerful incentive to do so.

Almost six years after that terrible day, Carole boarded a plane for New Mexico. She contacted no one ahead of time. She had no idea of the reception she’d face, but face it she would. The classic cycle of grief and renewal had to end within the shadow of the mountain that had always sustained her. She rented a car in Albuquerque and drove slowly north. She arrived in Farmington and rented a hotel room. With trembling fingers, not knowing what reception she might face, she dialed Everett’s cell phone. He answered, and their conversation was short.

“Everett, this is Carole. The prodigal returns.”

“Where are you?”

“Farmington. At the La Quinta. Want to meet me at Blake’s?”

“I’ll be right over.”

She reached the restaurant only a few minutes before he arrived. She was shaking still, attempting to ease the quivering in her fingers that matched the tingling in her chest. He looked much the same as when she had seen him last time, except he wore an all-out frown. Or was it a grimace? Tears started in her eyes. He hadn’t forgiven her after all. Carole faced his silent scrutiny with chin up, waiting for a sign.

When he seized her in a fierce embrace, she knew many would say she’d come home. But her real homecoming had begun the moment her plane had landed. Now, she was simply living again. The ice-encased persona she’d occupied these past years melted, restoring her to the generous woman she’d always been. Now she accepted love and its inevitability. While tragedy had tempered her soul, her backbone had always been forged from the Hogback itself.