A book came in the mail, "Navajo Women Saanii." This is no ordinary book, for it is written by Betty Reid, Navajo, with photos by Japanese photographer Kenji Kawano.
This book carries me back to when Betty and I lived in a log cabin in the Chuska Mountains on the Navajo Nation. We worked for the Navajo Times, which for a while was the daily Navajo Times TODAY in the early 1980s. Most days, I traveled across Navajoland for stories and usually Kawano was assigned to photograph those stories.
Our lives were filled with Saanii, Navajo women, who showed us how to spin sheep's wool into yarn and make kneeldown bread from fresh ground corn. There was always something for the women to laugh with us about, always a secret to whisper. They always showed us a gentler and more loving way to be. Stepping lightly on Mother Earth, with memories of trading posts and wagons, grinding blue corn and gathering wild tea, they always spoke to us with tenderness.
At home, in the log cabin on the mountain, we fed the woodstove with wood and dug out of deep snow. We drove down the mountain and struggled with computers, copy editors and deadlines. Those were sweet times and this new book, "Navajo Women Saanii" brings it all back, like Navajo women singing.
Some of the women we interviewed during those years are listed in Betty's new book in the section, "Twenty Noteworthy Navajo Women." One of those women was Claudeen Bates-Arthur, who died in 2004. She was the first Navajo Attorney General and the first female Navajo Chief Justice. One sentence Bates-Arthur said during an interview for Navajo Times is always with me. I asked her who made the most difference in her life and why. She said it was her mother. "She was always there for me," Claudeen said.
Another woman on the list of 29, is Annie Dodge Wauneka, who died in 1997. During her last years, she spent a day showing me her sheep and windmill, remembering how she spent her life. It wasn't the Presidential Medal of Freedom for helping eradicate tuberculosis, or the politics and travel, she remembered. It was her family, the sheep and the windmills.
In this book, "Navajo Women Saanii," Betty tells the stories of women living the quiet life of the Beauty Way and women balancing traditional and modern ways, from educators to rodeo riders. She writes of grandmothers, mothers and daughters. She writes for future generations.
"I remember chubby lambs in the spring and watching women snip wool off the sheep and goats by hand as they gossiped and laughed. I remember the flashlights we relied on for light during inky-black winter nights ..." Betty writes."Traditional Dine' (Navajo) elders say we live in the Fifth World. It sparkles with everything magical."
The mountaintop where we lived in Crystal, between the trading post and the lake, was magical. Looking out the front door, we could see all the journeys, the moon rise, the tracks of bobcats, deer and wild turkey in the snow and the changing colors of oak leaves with the breath of winter.
Life sparkled with everything magical.
Ahe'hee', thank you Betty.
"Navajo Women Saanii" is published by Rio Nuevo Publishers in Tucson. Betty Reid is a news reporter for the Arizona Republic. Kenji Kawano lives with his family on the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, Arizona.