vacation on the rez

my sister lives on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. she has been there for 15 years, working as a pediatrician and public health official in her area. i tell you this because vacations with her can be perilous, wonderful, but perilous.

the hospital compound perches on the edge of town, surrounded by wire fencing to keep out wandering livestock and coyotes. so if you walk past those houses, the next house is a mile away. at night there is no ambient light. if you look at one of those maps that shows ambient light in North America, this part has no light.

one of our favorite activities then is to drive in the desert, where they have their own window rock (what? you think the Navajo have only one?), stretch out on big rock and wait for the sun to go down. that’s when you get the concept of the ‘milky way’. there are more stars than sky.

so on one such trip in the fury to leave, children, husbands, water, shoes, blankets, everyone go pee…someone forgot to go pee. me. i did not realize my problem until we were out of the cars and everyone was dispersed and it was dark. my sister ever the sympathetic one said hold it and then handed me camping shovel. great.

i took my flashlight and my shovel and went to dig a hole. my preference is the log technique, which gives you extra support and I swear i checked around the log for scorpions, snakes and other wildlife detrimental to my health. just me and my log.

i dug a nice hole—i have proof because various nephews and other children came to check on me until i declared my log off limits. then pants to the ankles, clutching my toilet paper, whoo that’s cold, this is definitely not the time for anxiety, i sat on my log, dangling my butt over the hole. i looked at the stars and kind of got lost in star watching when something slid over my foot and into my hole.

i didn’t move, all i could do is very quietly whisper ‘help’. i quickly assessed the situation after 5 minutes of completely silent, yet mindless panic. the chances that the snake was a non-friendly sort was high. my center of gravity was such that i was more likely to fall backwards than get my feet on the ground and run. i needed someone to help me and little by little my feet were falling asleep.

i had decided that all my relatives hated me when a black yeti-shaped figure appeared. ‘are you ok?’ it was my sister. ‘shhhh’ i responded as the snake underneath me rattled a little. i motioned her closer and in a whisper quieter than a whisper explained. she snickered. i did not see the humour in the situation at that time but she was saving my life so if she wanted to laugh she could.

she backed up until we could just grasp hands, nodded her head 1, 2, 3 and pulled. i came off that log before the snake even knew i was there. i yanked up my pants. ‘still need to pee?’ asked my sister. ‘i am never peeing again,’ i said.



  1. cronelogical said,

    January 26, 2010 at 1:14 am

    Brave girl, I’d have lost it forever! Fran

  2. Suzanne said,

    January 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Wow what a story. I love the way you’ve written it. It really drew me in.

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