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FISSURE: A Life Between Cultures


We didn't live long in Shiprock—a little less than a year because my father had been transferred to the mission in the small valley that was Teec Nos Pos. My mother packed our house into the pickup, and my father took several loads before we all piled in with the last one. We drove west over thirty miles of dirt road punctuated by cobbles the size of babies' heads, bumping at last down into the place that would become home. And yet, it would never really be home, though I would not understand that until I was older. Because we were not Diné, we would always be guests in Dinétah.


Where Shiprock was the gray of round river rocks, the white of the flat plains, the secretive blacks and browns of the great monolith, and the narrow strips of green edging the river, Teec Nos Pos was all color. A great rock-and-earth mound of melon pink, verdigris, mauve, violet, chocolate, peach, sorrel, gold, and cream dominated the valley. Atop the heap, gigantic sandstone blocks stood guard over us. Despite their majesty, the guardians had been given the comical name, The Three Monkeys. Dark and light greens of junipers, piñons, and scrub oak, graced the valley. The indigo of the Carrizo Mountains closed off its southern end. Great cottonwoods rose above the arroyo top and gave the valley its name, T'iis Názbas in Diné bizaad—A Circle of Cottonwoods.


Teec Nos Pos became the first place where my heart set down tendrils into the Earth, and they are there still. Even now I sometimes dream of that valley. I dream that I have made a tree house in the little twisted oak that seemed so tall when I was small. In my dream, a stream runs beneath the tree, and a huge slab of apricot-colored rock bridges the water. The bridge becomes a path that leads down to an abandoned house covered in scarlet Virginia creeper, a house that never existed, any more than my tree house did. I wander through the rooms of the white, board-and-batten house, trying to find my place. I live in this dream, looking for myself in this house. It happens again and again.



My brother Rick is two years younger than I, closest to me in age and experience of my seven brothers. More than fifty years after we'd moved away from Teec Nos Pos, he and I took a trip there. It was the first time that just the two of us returned together. We drove the rolling highway from Shiprock and kept long silences, each in our own thoughts. Then, bringing us out of our reveries, I asked him, "How do you think of Teec Nos Pos now?"

"I think of it as the place of my Magic Years," he said without pause.

I looked over at him, a little surprised, waiting for an explanation. "There's this book about early childhood called The Magic Years, and at Teec, I was the age of those years." His face took on a dreamy look, reminding me of the little boy with blue-gray eyes—the boy who was always looking to someplace beyond. He said, "I remember a time when I made a circle of little stones on the dirt and sat down cross-legged in it. I was probably about five. It was by the apple tree. That tree was magical too, because of the names we gave the branches."

I smiled and nodded. We had called the branches Big and Little Buttermilk, Montana, Big and Little Texas, Wonderland. We spent hours owning the branches we sat on, negotiating trades, chattering with each other and sometimes with the traders' children or Sally and Carol Belone, the daughters of the dormitory matron up the hill.

"I was sitting in my circle," Rick went on, "trying to get a tooth loose so I could get a nickel to go to the trading post and buy a Big Hunk candy bar. Pretty soon I was watching these lizards go in out of crevasses in the rock ledge just above the arroyo. I could fly then, too. I had dreams that I was flying."

I asked, "Do you remember the time that Miss Mims called down because you hadn't shown up at school? I guess Mom always called if you weren't going to be there, so the principal was worried when she didn't get a call. Mom told her that she'd sent you an hour earlier. Do you remember this?"

He shook his head.

"Mom went out to look for you and found you sitting on a rock halfway up to the school, watching a pair of birds."

He laughed. "I don't remember that." In that moment, I realized something I would notice several more times on this trip. Our age and gender differences, our personalities, have given us different memories of this place.

Then he asked, "How about you? How do you think of Teec Nos Pos now?"

"I think of it as home," I said. "Even though by the time I was sixteen I knew that I was really only a visitor. I understood that I could never come back here to live. I call it Home-Not-Home."

It was his turn to nod. He knew the reason. Because we are Bilagáana, we can only come back to live temporarily, for professional reasons, unless we had happened to marry someone Diné.

I went on. "Still, it's more home to me than any other place on Earth. When I fill out profile questions, I say that I'm from Teec Nos Pos. I come back to Teec in my dreams." I didn't tell him the specifics of the tree-house dream, the dream of the nonexistent house where I am trying to locate myself.

Later it came to me that the first place we think of as home is not a place. It is a memory of a place. My favorite poet, Rumi, wrote, "It is right to love your home place, but first ask, 'Where is that, really?'"


© Anna Redsand, 2024. All rights reserved.


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