Henry Stepped Out of the Hogan and Into the Dawn

Prose, Taos Writing Retreat Issue

Henry Nez was a happy man. He loved his Navajo heritage, his family, and the earth. He sighed with contentment as he glanced around the warm, tranquil hogan and inhaled the pungent aroma of the pinon fire.

He and Flora met at Fort Wingate Boarding School. She was from Two Wells, south of Gallup, where they were now living. Henry was from Twin Lakes, to the north, near Tohatchi. They both attended the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Henry pursued social work. Flora became a teacher.

The two returned to the reservation and married soon after college. The couple wanted to practice and preserve as many Navajo customs as possible. They had a traditional Navajo wedding. Henry’s heart was full of joy as he beheld his lovely bride in Navajo dress walking through the meadow escorted by her clansmen. That was almost eight years ago.

It was now early spring after a wet winter. The unpaved roads had been passable in the morning and evening when they froze, but the nights were no longer that cold. Tributaries of mud dissected the landscape, doom to any pickup that attempted to navigate.

Henry had experienced this isolation before. People could not go to town for work or shopping. Children missed school. Everyone understood. This was part of life on the reservation. The mud would dry. Normal activity would resume.                                                                                

The federal government airdropped supplies for humans and livestock just yesterday. Most of the animals remained nearby, satisfied with this easy source of food. A few malcontents wandered off. Flora’s parents traveled over the ridge by horseback to spend the night at the sheep station in hope of finding the strays.      

The sunset painted the western sky in hues of red, orange, and gold. Night silently crept in. It was still and clear. There were no lights to compete with the brilliance of the stars.

Five-year-old Johnson stirred briefly. Flora slept soundly. It had been an uneventful pregnancy. She was due in three weeks, and would deliver in Gallup. The roads would be passable by then. Henry surrendered to sleep.

A gentle nudge escalated to urgent shaking. Henry awoke. It was Flora. She was in labor and progressing rapidly.

Henry added logs to rekindle the fire. Johnson was still asleep. Henry’s attention returned to Flora. She was comfortable for now.

Henry followed the familiar path to the well and returned with buckets of water. He boiled the water, washed his hands, located fresh linen and blankets, and cleaned and organized an assortment of supplies that might prove useful.

Henry paused to collect his thoughts and calm his fears. He had helped deliver horses. They could do this.

It was time. The baby’s head crowned quickly. The cord was free, and their daughter made her appearance.

Henry and Flora were overjoyed. All children are a blessing, but girls in a matriarchal society are most welcome. The lineage in Flora’s clan would continue. Traditions would be passed on through this daughter.

The placenta was delivered. Henry tied and cut the cord. Mom and baby snuggled in a warm blanket as Johnson awoke to greet his new sister.

Henry focused on additional matters of importance. He had to bury the placenta somewhere in the compound. Her roots would be firmly planted here. Henry’s decision would have significance for the rest of his daughter’s life. The corral beckoned. She would enjoy a special relationship with horses. Her love of animals and their affection for her would always be present. The new father picked up a shovel and opened the door. He must also look for a sign so they would know her name. Henry stepped out of the hogan and into the dawn.


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