Monday, October 29, 2012
Cowgirl Sass & Savvy
Eyes of the night upon you
The day wore a hushed stillness broken only by an occasional flapping sound of a crow on the wing. On a high dessert ranch in Navajo country, the mesa lands surrounded the canyons and the cedar covered hillsides painted in layers of bold earthen colors.
A lone cowboy rode along at a slow trot checking his cattle. A movement caught his eye, forcing a glance across a wide deep canyon. Surprised, he saw a man walking in the far distance.
He pulled his horse to a stop, squinting in the light to ascertain what he saw.
Across the way was what he knew to be an Indian dressed in the traditional animal hide apparel of a century ago. Realizing how far from civilization they both were made this very curious to him.
He navigated his way across the canyon in one of the few places that could be crossed. There he found some old cliff dwellings and “picture rocks,” bringing him to the thought that perhaps the Indian had been praying there in an ancient place of honor.
The cowboy looked around but the man seemed to have disappeared. He rode to the spot where he had last seen him from across the canyon and found not the man, but where he had been sitting and another curious sight as well.
Hanging on a large cedar, like ornaments on a Christmas tree, were little figurines made of grass bound with string. One of them, swaying only slightly in a non-existent breeze, was quite clearly a man on a horse. A shiver went down his spine but he shook it off and began to look around for signs of the man he was sure he had seen.
He found the Indian’s tracks and followed them for a short distance where they all but disappeared in the rocks. He circled the area to look for more tracks but found only those made by several coyotes.
“I figured he was hiding in the huge cracks in the rocks so as not to be bothered,” the cowboy related in the telling the tale “So I rode away respectfully, crossed back over the canyon and went on to finish my day’s work.”
The next night the cowboy was joined in camp by a Navajo friend of his named Bobby. They sat by the fire and over coffee, the cowboy told him about what he had seen the day before.
Even in the dim firelight, the cowboy could see Bobby’s deep brown skin turn a pale shade of white. He was visibly spooked when he asked the cowboy if he believed in witches, demons and devils.
The cowboy, without hesitation, replied a simple, “No.”
Bobby, his voice shaking, began to tell the cowboy about skinwalkers. “They are most often seen as a coyote, wolf, owl, fox or crow,” he said. “They have the power to take on the form of any animal they choose, depending on what it is they need to do.”
Skinwalkers, it is believed, have the ability to steal the skin or body of a person. The Navajo believe if you lock eyes with a skinwalker, it can absorb itself into your body.
Bobby told the cowboy that his lack of belief in bad spirits made his soul too strong for the skinwalker. “The little doll on the horse that was hanging in the tree was the tool he made to call you over to his side of the canyon,” Bobby told him. “When you lost his tracks, then found the coyote tracks, it was him leaving with his clan when he couldn’t enter your body.”
“Only one of them will change shape and be seen,” said Bobby. “That’s why you saw only one man. They didn’t want you to feel outnumbered. Stay away from them, and they’ll move on.”
The legend of the skinwalker comes with many stories and warnings, all common with their elements of evil and elusiveness that are magnified by the dark of night.
But there is one cowboy that knows what he saw in broad daylight. Never again did he ride the desert canyon lands without feeling there were many eyes upon him.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.