I was not surprised to find that the humming of the bus engine put me to sleep. I had brought my knock-off Walkman and headphones but didn’t need them. There was a curtain to pull across the opening of the bunk and once it was pulled it was like I was in my own little cocoon. The murmur of people talking in the back didn’t penetrate the engine-and-road noise once I got drowsy. The bunks had no windows. If you were morbid you’d say it was kind of like being in a coffin. (Yeah, a coffin where someone had stashed you some Gatorade and a box of tissues in the niche by your head.)
It was well into mid-morning by the time I woke up, and what woke me was realizing we weren’t moving anymore. I pulled back my curtain and could hear voices. I had no memory of where or when we were supposed to stop: I hadn’t looked that far ahead.
Apparently we were stopping for some breakfast… and sightseeing? We were pulled over in some kind of national park and Carynne was encouraging everyone to hike around a little bit.
Huh. I climbed out of the bunk and checked the schedule she had taped to the refrigerator door in the front lounge. Yep, there it was on the schedule: “Pueblo tour/Marty nap.”
I’m not completely sure, but I think the “Marty nap” was Carynne’s idea. Or maybe she just fussed over him. Given that our safety was in his hands, I wasn’t about to argue with that.
The bus was pulled over in a campground area set up for RVs. I pulled on my hi-tops and some sunglasses and went out to join everyone else gathered around donuts and coffee on a picnic table. A cream-filled donut later and I was starting to feel awake.
Ziggy had his camera and after a quick trip back to the bus to get some Gatorade, he and me and Colin set off toward something Ziggy wanted to see, which turned out to be ten-thousand year old cliff dwellings. There were even some cave paintings and such. To tell you the truth, though, I could have just looked at rocks and cliffs all day. The landscape is so different from what I’m used to, it might as well be on another planet. The Native American stuff was really cool, but the non-human stuff was just amazing.
“Going to write a song about big rocks?” Ziggy joked at one point, when I had walked halfway up one that was sticking out of the ground like the corner of a massive book.
I climbed up the “pages” and slid down the “cover” on the other side. “Maybe,” I said. “You?”
“Maybe.” He snapped a bunch of pictures of me. I probably had ridiculous bed head. Bunk head. Whatever. I didn’t care.
We were walking on the trail back toward where the bus was parked when two women were walking the other direction, one younger, one older. My first thought was they were Mexican, then I realized they might be Native American, at least in part. I wondered if they worked in the park. The younger one was wearing a backpack but didn’t look like a hiker. We stepped aside to let them pass.
The older woman came straight up to me and took my hand and said something I didn’t understand. She was pushing something into my hand.
“No, we don’t want–” Colin said, but the younger woman cut him off.
“A gift,” she said. “We’re not selling them.”
“But–” I started to say, but then the older woman moved on to Ziggy.
She put her hand on his cheek and said something that sounded like praise. She was smiling. She pulled something out her pocket and gave it to him also.
“Er, thank you,” Ziggy said, with a slight bow.
The older woman walked up the trail then, without looking back. The younger one kind of shook her head in a long-suffering way and started to follow.
“Wait,” I said. “What did she say?”
The younger one turned back with an eye roll. “She thinks you’re cute.”
She snorted. “What do you care what a crazy old lady thinks?”
Ziggy held up a bracelet of beads. “Does she make these?”
“Yeah. Great wise shaman says you’re special.”
The elder woman had stopped further up the trail. She barked at the younger one, scolding her.
The younger one shrugged. “She says I should respect the two-spirited, like you,” she said to Ziggy.
“What about him?” Ziggy asked, with a jerk of the head toward me.
“Like I said, she just thinks you’re cute.” Another bark. “She gives that one to all the people she meets she thinks have Native heritage. But seriously, I think she just gives them to the people she thinks are cute.” Have a nice day.” And with that, she turned and hurried to catch up to the older woman.
I looked at what was in my hand. It was also a bracelet of beads, on a kind of stretchy string so it could just be slipped onto the wrist. The beads were green and flat.
Ziggy showed me his. The beads were grayish silver. “Hematite, I think?” he said. “Yours look like malachite, maybe?”
“No idea,” I said.
It wasn’t the kind of bracelet someone needed help to put on, but he took mine and slipped it onto my wrist. So I did the same back to him. He grinned toothily.
“I’m pretty sure they sell these same bracelets in Chinatown,” I said.
“That just makes it even weirder and more cool,” he answered. “You can wonder what that was all about, or you can just accept it.” He held up his wrist. “If I remember my New Age bullshit correctly, hematite is grounding.”
We started back toward the bus. “So what’s malachite?”
I looked at Colin. “Sorry, dude, apparently you’re chopped liver?”
“I’ve already got enough crap around my wrists,” Colin joked. He normally had a leather strap with studs on it and some other stuff, sometimes going halfway up his forearm, though I’d trained him to always take everything off his right wrist before tuning the guitars. Prevented scratching. “I didn’t know you were part Native American.”
“Neither did I,” I said.
“Yes, you did,” Ziggy said. “Digger said you’ve got a Cherokee great grandfather.”
“Yeah, yeah, and Digger also says we had some ancestor on the Mayflower. I don’t believe it.”
“Seriously? That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing he would bullshit about.” Ziggy shook his wrist and the beads made a quiet clicking sound.
“Doesn’t it? Who was he trying to impress at the time?” I shook my head. “When I was a kid it wasn’t Cherokee. He used to say ‘Lenapeh.’ I think he says Cherokee now because it sounds better.”
“He was explaining why he can’t grow a beard or mustache, actually. Says it’s the Native American blood,” Ziggy said. “You know, just because he’s a liar doesn’t mean he doesn’t tell the truth sometimes.”
“And a broken clock is still right twice a day,” I answered. “If you want to believe I’ve got some American Indian blood in me, feel free. It doesn’t really make any difference. Both sides of my family are so muttish the only thing you can really call us is American anyway.”
“Muttish American,” Colin joked. “It can be an ethnicity of its own.”
Ziggy laughed. “Yeah. I can be a spokesperson for Muttish American rights. Wait, so which of us is muttisher?”
“Don’t look at me,” Colin said. “I’m just Welsh-Irish.”
“I have some Welsh,” I said. “Let’s see. On my mother’s side, her parents were Armenian-French and Scottish-Welsh. On Digger’s side, well, if you believe him, there’s English going all the way back to the Mayflower, Native American, Swiss-Italian, Czech… maybe Austrian, too. Honestly, I’ve lost track. It’s not like we followed any of these country’s traditions or even talked about it much.”
“Yeah, that’s muttish alright.” Ziggy chuckled.
“American,” I insisted. “That’s all you can call me.”