FROM THUNDER TO BREAKFAST Chapter 7 — Walpi
“In the late 1940s Hube Yates used to take a group of boys from a boys’ camp on an annual horseback ride up to Walpi, on the Hope Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona. The little settlement chiseled out of a cliff amazed him. “The horses up there walk down those cliffs with tiny feet like mountain goats. If they fall, they’ll fall for a hundred and fifty or two hundred feet. They’re thin horses. They have no width. There’s no space between their two front legs, so they almost bump each other. It looked like both front feet came out of the same hole.”
It was obvious that Hube, the horseman, had spend a great deal of time studying the anatomy of cliff-dwelling horses.
“My horses couldn’t stand on those trails because they’d need three times that much space. Every one of those Indians’ horses have manes like some shaggy dog. Their forelocks hang down over their faces and you can’t figure out how they can see.
“Those Indians go down the trails in the mornin’ and walk all over that valley below with a skin and pick up every little stick until they get a bundle. What I don’t understand is how they can come back up without that bundle knockin’ them off the cliff. Sometimes the bundles are as big as two or three pillows. They utilize every little bit of a stick for cookin’ firewood.”
He was concerned too about the children. “Why, a white person would scream bloody murder if they saw one of their little kids goin’ down that trail with a steep cliff on one side. You talk about acrobatics and trapeze stuff—it would scare you to death. I’ve watched their children on the cliff and reminded myhself that they’ve done that all their lives, generation after generation, and they think nothing of it.
Hube got acquainted with an Indian there who was about sixty-five years old. “He didn’t think much of white people standin’ around takin’ pictures of things that are sacred to the tribe.”
This Hopi man told him, “All our lives, from one generation to another, the sacredness of our ceremonies has passed down through us. I know you don’t make light of Indian ceremonials. I know this is not a show with you.”
The Indians there had been known to smash tourists’ cameras against anything that was handy. “There’s always somebody who wants to chisel,” Hube said. “I’ve seen somebody tryin’ to hide a camera. They thought nobody saw them take pictures, and an Indian would go over, grab the camera they were hidin’ behind themselves, and bust it all to pieces.”
There was no mistrust between the Hopi and Hube. The Indian wanted him to meet his father. Hube said he’d like to.
“He took me to a rock house on the cliff. We went in and he introduced me to his father, who was sittin’ back in the corner of a dark rock room. He got up off a buckskin chair. When he came over to me and my eyes got used to the dim light, I saw that his eyes where white. He was blind. He shook hands with me. He was about about a hundred-and-thirty or a hundred-and-forty years old.”
Years later Hube felt like kicking himself for not writing down any of this encounter. Although his memories about other experiences were very sharp, he couldn’t remember the old man’s name.
On the other hand, the very old Hopi remembered the government treaty they made when the whole Indian village was moved out because of a draught. “It was a matter of history,” Hube said. “He remembered his mother draggin’ him on a skin stretched between two poles, takin’ him about forty-five miles to where there was water. They spent the rest of the summer there where they planted enough crops to keep them together before they went back up to the mesa again.”
Hube skipped the trip to Walpi the next year, but the following year he took the boys up again. When the son of the very old man saw Hube he issued an invitation: “My father would like to see you.”
“He took me over to the rock house and, by gracious, I walked in that room and I saw that his eyes weren’t white. They were not a blue-blue, but a light blue. He had his eyesight back. He got up and walked over and shook hands with me. He still had a lot of fire in him.
As he walked across the room he said, “I missed you last year.”
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