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A Landscape Shared This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     The icy sunrise defies the desert. I runeast into the sunrise with a Navajo family. The women wear richlycolored dresses while bright turquoise hangs around their necks andclinks on their wrists. Winona, 13, runs in front, shining in a silversatin dress contrasting with her long ebony hair. Winona is now a woman,having completed a Blessing Way, the traditional coming of age ceremonyof the Diné. In a few weeks, I would lead my own rite of passage in theJewish religion with my Bat Mitzvah. Winona and I were both enteringinto womanhood, yet we lived in starkly different worlds.

***

I first came to Greasewood, Arizona the previoussummer with Deer Hill Expeditions. Today, at sunset, the day before theceremony, I remembered how I had once wondered how anyone could possiblylive this far out in “nothingness.”

Our Deer Hillleaders had taught us a simple Navajo courtesy: “People have twoeyes, two ears, and one mouth for a reason.” Winona’s familyshyly welcomed me to their home. I met the black eyes of a child, whoquickly glanced away and back again with a bashful smile. Inside thefamily hogan, faded photographs covered with torn plastic wrap reflectedthe orange glow of a small juniper fire. Some of the women ground cornwith a mano and a metate. I joined others in making bowls of thickcornmeal mush, using a whisk of seven thin cholla branches boundtogether with white twine. Each bowl was blessed by one ofWinona’s aunts before being poured into a shallow pit lined withlayers of cornhusks. Glowing coals were spread over the top. I wasstruck by the timeless rhythm of the murmured voices and simpletasks.

We chanted all night, pausing at midnight for mutton stewand fry bread. A medicine man welcomed the spirits of Mother Earth andFather Sky in a melodious monotone. His face was weathered like thesandstone landscape and there was an aura of timeless power about him.Hours passed in the light of an oil lantern. I drifted in and out ofdreams, strangely at peace. My body was worn by the long night, but myspirit soared with the chants and ancient intent of the BlessingWay.

In the morning, Winona’s grandmother washed her hairwith yucca soap and combed it carefully. Winona was beautiful in theembrace of her family. In that moment, I felt the grounding comfort offamily, and realized that I wanted to have that grace in my own life andbe a support for others.

The morning sun was just beginning towarm the frost on the red soil as we emerged from the hogan. As we raninto a perfect dawn, I felt my life had come to a graceful climax.Running beside the enduring Navajos, I knew that I would alwaysappreciate the beauty of the Earth and its rhythms.

When wereturned from our run, the elders dug up the ceremonial cornbread. Ibrushed off the ashes and red dust from mine. There was something primaland deep in that bread. It was simply made, yet completely satisfying.Standing in a lopsided circle with Winona’s loving family, Iredefined poverty. “Poor” is a title the affluent give tothose without houses, cars and televisions. These Navajos had theirfamilies and culture to enrich them. They gathered around Winona,beaming proudly, dining on cornbread as if it were a piece ofheaven.

Later, I drove away in silence. I was grateful that DeerHill Expeditions had brought me to these wonderful people, their homeand the land they love. I felt deeply alive and fully aware that nomatter how poor people are, they are still gifted with the richest ofexperiences. Rolling through deep potholes and rising heat waves, I wasmore world-wise than I had been a day earlier and more prepared for myown rite of passage. In bearing witness to Winona’s Blessing Way,I realized that there is so much to learn from our differences. Be itsunrise or sunset, black or white, Blessing Way or Bat Mitzvah, thepotential for humanity lies in our celebration of diversity.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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