"I don't know how to braid"
3. Another southwest story. We return many times to Canyon de Chelley in Arizona, in which Pueblo cliff dwellings can be seen halfway up the variegated walls of the canyon. I am aware even as a kid that the Hopi and Navajo residents of the area have a long-standing dispute over whose Puebloan ancestors had built the "White House" kivas, as they are named. In the early 80s the only way to visit the canyon is with a backcountry permit, or by contracting with a horseback guide company. The National Park Rangers warn us away from the Navajo trail guides, but we use them anyway (more from romantic racism about Natives, probably, than from any kind of principled choice). Riding a horse through the canyon feeds everything that my own romantic racist reading of Indian-themed tales has stirred throughout my childhood. But that mood is broken when a group of Navajo teenagers come cruising through the canyon in a blue pickup truck, kicking up dirt and laughing as they fishtail. At the end of our horseback ride, I want to feel what it was like to ride bareback--to try to recapture the ethnographic fantasy that was disrupted in the canyon by the pickup. When my rented horse is unsaddled I climb back on its back and pose for a picture. What I do not realize is that the horse is sweaty under the saddle, and when I stand up the inner thighs of my jeans and my arms are soaked from the perspiration. When we return to our motorhome I put my jeans in the laundry basket and shower off the smell of the horse.
4. My mom and I walk through a campground; my father and brother are elsewhere. There are some motorcyclists putting up tents nearby. A very large man with very long red hair and a long red beard has just emerged from a shower stall and approaches us. "Can I ask you something weird?" he asks. We brace ourselves. "Could you braid my hair for me?" My mom very calmly gestures to my Ralph Macchio haircut and her own pixie cut and says "as you can see, we are short-haired people; I don't know how to braid." The biker shrugs and said "it was worth a try."