Monument Valley, Navajo Nation

If you survive the journey, the hands of a desert god wave to greet you.

First you must trust that there will be water, for you are not of the desert. You are a guest, a stranger: you drink water without knowing where it comes from. Your ancestors wallowed in water. The hands of their gods are tucked deep in muddy pockets. The gods of northern Europe had life springing from every moist orifice… Ymir died with a forest growing from his head.

You miss trees immediately, and when you come upon a piñon who has found a spot moist and shaded enough to make a life in, you reach for him.

Dry place— it rattles in the chamisa, whirls in the dust— dry place.

We have always been there, say the Diné, and I know how they know: when you have walked here, the desert paints you in its own image. You cannot be here without the red dust rising from your feet to settle on every inch of skin. How can a people be from somewhere else if they have always worn the red dust, from birth?

And, of course, there is not enough water to submerge yourself in, not unless you travel down, down, down the risky fissure in the world to the San Juan River, and bathe in the inexplicable green.

On the way back up, five-hundred weary feet, you will become red again, unless you should fall. It would be easy, so easy, on the crumbling lip of the desert. Then it would swallow you.

So, if they have always worn the red dust, they have always been here.

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