“The owl,” he was saying, “is one of the most curious creatures. A bird that stays awake when the rest of the world sleeps. They can see in the dark. I find that so interesting, to be mired in reality when the rest of the world is dreaming. What does he see and what does he know that the rest of the world is missing?” – M.J. Rose
“I am an owl“, he says, his eyes taking on an oval shape, as he stars down the sandy slope at the empty dark highway stretching below us. “Me too”, I say looking up hoping to catch a glimpse of one. The moon a waning crescent above us looks like a perfectly clipped finger nail. “What do you think’s going on tonight”, he asks his eyes still carrying the look of the night predator. “Death”, I reply to him, not sure where the reply comes from. I look down the dark highway and see faint lights coming from the West. “It’s a blue Pontiac” he says his owl eyes knowing. “That’s one”, I say as if we are counting. The New Mexico night opens itself, as if a barren womb, or an open crypt both asking for occupation. I know this as an owl.
“I see something”, he says his owl eyes suddenly becoming more human, tearing up. His Navajo cheeks glisten with two competing tears rolling parallel to each other. “Hush now”, I say bending forward to hide my own glistening eyes. “Owls do not cry”. A wind picks up blowing its way from the Northeast, from the twin peaks, from area’s Northeast of Farmington. “Smells like death”, I say, my owl senses burning with something like fire. “We should be able to do something”, he says almost a statement, still it has the words of a question.
“Another car coming from Shiprock”, I say, the light breeze having boomeranged carries the faint smell of exhaust. My owl senses are alive. “It’s a blue hearse”, he says, his voice carrying huskiness, suddenly he no longer sounds like a young owl. “That’s two, I say, feeling a chill through my down, that spirit which surrounds me, that which will soon be feathers.
“Is it too early for chokecherries”, I ask, knowing that it is. Still a hungry owl might ask a question. “Owls don’t eat chokecherries”, he grimaces, his owl eyes looking distances beyond Farmington. “Some have been known to die by the stems”, he says. Some would die tonight, I think, my owl mind feeling sad, and not so wise, perhaps it’s the sudden distant sounds of screams, the smell of blood. “Perhaps its chindi“, he says his owl eyes turning creamy. That yellow that reflects the falling stars, while we die. That color that wonders if the Great Spirit will catch us as we cross-worlds, wondering what we are, wondering who she is.
“Are you still an owl”, I ask, it is colder now, morning of a new day. He waits a moment, perhaps waiting for the driverless blue Ford pickup with one headlight to pass in front of us. “That’s number three”, he says, without answering my pointless question. “Three died tonight, while we counted cars”, I say sweeping the span of my wings upwards toward the moving sky. He is moving with me now, my friend and fellow owl, our spirits moving higher, reaching to touch understanding of that which can never be understood.
On Sunday, April 21, 1974, the bodies of two men, Herman Dodge Benally, 34, and John Earl Harvey, 39 were found partially burned and bludgeoned in an area Northeast of Farmington New Mexico known as Chokecherry Canyon. The men’s heads had been crushed with rocks weighing as much as 16 pounds. One-week later two children riding bikes in the vicinity discovered a third body, David Ignacio, 52. All three men were Navajo. Some 11.2 miles to the southwest of Chokeberry Canyon two boys played in the darkness near 550 highway while the horrific events mentioned above played out. I still remember that night; we became owls and counted cars, all of them blue.