Excerpts from

Living from the Inside Out*

by Joy Gardner

Image by Kalalani




Journey to the Navajo

Part 2

Maybe it was the memory of that humiliation that made it so hard for me to go back to Indian country. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to being, once again, the only white woman amongst hundreds of Native Americans—especially now that I was alone. Or maybe I was nervous because I wasn’t sure about what my contribution might be. Just as before, there were things I wanted to learn from these people, but what did I have to offer?

Who knows? Maybe I could teach them about Vibrational Healing. My Indian friends in the Northwest enjoyed learning about how I use crystals.

I checked the map for campsites. Over the next two hours, I kept following signs to campsites that didn’t exist, and going around in circles, until finally I got discouraged and went to a Taco Bell to get a Burrito Supreme, no meat, extra guacamole. That’s my standby for fast food emergencies. This burrito was worse than usual, but it did give me some badly-needed energy.

When I stepped out the door, I was greeted by great swathes of pink, splashed against a nearly dark sky. I hadn’t realized it was so late. I asked directions from a young Navajo woman in a pick-up truck, and she told me how to get to Wheatfields Campsite, over an hour north of Window Rock. “That’s the only place to camp around here,” she said.

I popped a couple of coffee candies and headed north. With the fair going on, I expected the campsite to be full. But Wheatfields was deserted, except for one van. What a beautiful location! Driving in through the tall ponderosas, up the hill, I could choose among the many concrete tables. It was a Navajo campsite; nothing fancy, no fees, and no attendant. Looking around with my headlights, I couldn’t find any flat places. I resigned myself to sleeping on a slope and started to pitch my tent by the headlights, when another light shone upon the trees. Looking back, I saw the nearly full moon, rising above the dramatic hillside, overlooking a large lake. What splendor! I could hear frogs croaking.

This is a good tent, I thought to myself as I drove in the stakes, even though I wanted a freestanding tent and I don’t really care for the black and yellow colors. I was just raising a large rock to drive the last stake into the ground when a car drove up and parked right next to mine. Damn. They had the whole campsground to choose from and they had to park right next to me!

The man spoke with a heavy German accent. They seemed nice enough, laughing together, but they were so loud! I could hear every word they said. Later, when I walked down by the lake, I could hear their voices in the distance. When they finally went inside their tent, which was easily 40 feet from mine, I could still hear every word of the book he read to the children. I tried to be accepting, but these people definitely annoyed me. 

It was a very difficult night. The German family talked until late. My sleeping bag kept sliding down to the bottom of the tent and I had to push myself back up. Eventually I slid all the way down and discovered that it was relatively flat down there, with enough room to curl up. My arms were cold, so I pulled my fleece jacket over my shoulders like a blanket, and finally settled into a peaceful sleep.

I awoke to the sounds of my neighbors, drew back the fly on my tent, and found myself looking out at a huge ponderosa. The light spackled on its yellow-reddish bark, and the air was freshened by the pine. I’m so happy! I said to myself, inhaling deeply.
I love my tent! I heard myself remark.

I woke up determined to eat well. I enjoy preparing meals outdoors, even though it is a bit of a production. I got out Heather’s two-burner Coleman stove, and made myself an elegant two-course meal. I barely noticed when my neighbors drove away.

In one of my new camping pots, I put some olive oil and onion, fresh ginger, hijicki seaweed, and zucchini and cooked it for five minutes with the lid on. Then I put a little water in the other pot, and combined half of a leftover baked potato with feta cheese, tomato and fresh organic kale, seasoned with Spike and garlic salt. I covered that and let it warm for 5 or 10 minutes.

 I knew the kale wouldn’t last until the next day, so I fried up the last of it in some olive oil and put it out for the feral dogs. One cute little black-and-white dog was so desperately hungry that she gobbled up every bit of it.

Then it was my turn to eat. Ah, what a delicious meal. My faithful companion watched me with adoring eyes.

I cleaned up, did some writing, and headed back to Window Rock, feeling a bit guilty for not going in sooner. Now I had just 1-1/2 days to find my jeweler.

The ride back was spectacular. It was dark when I drove up the previous night, but now I could see the burgeoning sagebrush bursting with mustard-yellow flowers, lining the highway as though planted by a master gardener. Rounded hills of red sandstone were the foreground to high jagged buttes, the tops of which were striated in vertical formations like tourmaline in dark rock and sandstone. Truly, this was one of the most dramatic landscapes I had seen—an easy rival to Sedona,

Finally I arrived at the Fair. I asked the guard where the jewelers were. Making a gesture to the right, he directed me to Gorman Hall. I imagined I would go there and no place else. There weren’t many people and it didn’t feel exciting, though it was a lot bigger than it appeared from the highway. I walked past the food stands with the aromas of roasted corn, Italian sausage and shish kebob. I trudged along the sandy roadway, past where they were practicing mountain climbing, and I eventually came to Gorman Hall. 

Taking a quick walk through the big metallic kwonset hut, I saw at least a dozen tables with jewelry. There were also paintings, rugs, sand paintings, moccasins, pottery, and other Indian crafts. Remembering the Guidance from grasshopper, I resolved to take my time. I would make a complete circle around the outer tables and then a complete circle around the inner tables.

The first table on the right was tended by a man in his early twenties, with a sparse mustache, and braces. He had a modest display of jewelry with traditional turquoise set in silver, and some nice inlay work. I did not know that the Navajo used such a variety of stones, nor that they did inlay. One of his rings bore a remarkable resemblance to a pattern I drew while I was still in Hawaii, just before leaving on my trip.

I had been reading a little booklet about sacred geometry so I bought a tablet of graph paper and some Tombo watercolor pens and a compass. I enjoyed drawing geometrical patterns and filling them in with bright colors. One day I did a freehand doodle of a triangle, with deep blue, purple, green, yellow, red and brown segments. I was surprised how nice it looked. I showed it to a couple people, and the response was enthusiastic.


Now, at the very first table I approached, I was struck by a piece of jewelry that resembled my pattern. Though it was not a triangle, it had purple sugilite, blue lapis, and green malachite. Maybe this is the kind of jewelry I’m supposed to make! I thought to myself. I stopped to chat with the young man, and he told me that he learned silver-smithing in high school, “and then I taught myself.” His name was Tim, and gave me his card.

I thanked him and went on to the next booth. The woman was talkative and we exchanged stories amicably. Some of her jewelry was nice, but nothing exciting. The third booth was run by an older woman, who was very friendly. She planned to go to Hawaii in October, to sell her jewelry. She had some nice bracelets, and it sounded as if we could help each other. I felt hopeful. “I didn’t think the Navajo had women jewelers,” I commented.

“Oh yes!” she laughed. “They’re the best ones, because they have more patience for detail.” Then she admitted that she didn’t really make any of the silver jewelry—she just did bead work. “You should come back tomorrow and talk to my daughters.”

That sounds good, I mused. It might be easier to work with a young woman.

I told her I would return and went on to another booth that was run by a pleasant woman, and we talked easily. I asked her where she got the green turquoise, and she said it was from Nevada. I liked her bracelets, but I was beginning to realize that putting pretty stones on silver bracelets wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I was more attracted by the inlay work.

I was tired of going around to the tables, so I went into the art gallery in the adjoining room. I was impressed with many of the paintings. Then I saw the glass cases at the center of the room, where I found jewelry that had been entered into a juried show, with colored prize ribbons. There at last I found the jewelry I had hoped to see. Each piece had the artist’s name and address and a price.

The ones I liked best were done by a man from Sanders, who won two prizes. Each of the big hunks of turquoise was a natural masterpiece, and each had its own unique silver setting that complemented its shape and size. This artist seemed to be in deep spiritual communion with the stones. What an honor it would be to study with such a craftsman.

I asked the woman behind the counter if this man would be coming the fair. “I don’t know,” she said, “He lives on the res’ and he doesn’t have a phone. But the artists will come on Sunday afternoon to pick up their jewelry. Maybe you could speak to him then.” Suddenly I realized that the information on the website was wrong; the fair would be over on Sunday, not Friday. I was glad that I followed my own rhythms instead of rushing to get here.

It was 2:30 pm and I was hungry. I knew the Indians ate a lot of red meat, so before I came to Indian country I told myself to be more flexible about my diet. I remembered this advice as I left Gorman Hall, and when I passed the shish kebab stand, the aroma was compelling. A Caucasian woman in a cowboy hat was grilling long skewers with big hunks of steak and onions and zucchini. The sign said, “Marinated in our own Special Sauce. Only $6.00.”

The place was jumping. All the dozen seats were full with Indian people chatting and laughing. It felt like a real friendly place. I stood at the counter near the cook and ordered mine rare. A Navajo guy finished his meal and offered me his seat.

It seemed to get quieter. One by one people finished eating and walked away, leaving me alone with the cook. I felt kind of paranoid with everyone leaving and no new people coming. Was it me?

I didn’t have much time to ponder that because the lady behind the counter was giving me more conversation than I’d had in days!  “There’s a campsite on the mesa just above the fairgrounds over there, and there are showers in that building below the mesa. Things are real slow now, but watch out, when the weekend comes there’s gonna be 150,000 people! We’ve been coming for 15 years now. By the way, my name’s Lynn, but you can call me Shish. That guy over there with the little goatee is my husband, Bob.” She waved to him and he tipped his Stetson hat at me. “We live in Texas, but a few months out of the year we travel around to the fairs. We do real good.

“On second thought,” she said, “I don’t think it’s wise for you to camp out up there on the mesa because those Indians get crazy at night on the weekend. Liquor is illegal on the reservation, so they bring their own moonshine, and those old guys get pretty wild! I’d suggest you keep close to the white people, especially on Saturday night. As a matter of fact, you should pitch your tent on the grass under that tree next to our mobile home,” she indicated a rare little patch of green grass under a lush weeping willow tree behind the shish kebab stand. She told her husband the plan and he agreed that it would be a good idea.

“Well, that’s great!” I said. My guardian angels were watching over me, and that Secret Sauce was terrific.

“Get here early,” she cautioned. “You can’t imagine how many trucks and cars are gonna be here tomorrow. Those places on the grass will get filled up pretty quick. Come around on the road behind the stands, so you can park back there behind our mobile home.” She lit up a cigarette and I followed her into the area behind the stand. I was starting to feel like a carnie, going backstage at the circus.

“Tomorrow, Friday, they’ll be starting the powwow at five,” she pulled out a program that I hadn’t seen.  “The rodeo will be starting in the afternoon and then Waylon Jennings will be playing and they’ll have great fireworks, so you’ll want to be here. On Saturday at nine they’ll begin the parade and that will go on for hours, and no one will be able to get in or out, so you want to be here long before then.”

An older Caucasian lady with a cigarette dangling from her mouth came up from a neighboring stand and Lynn introduced us. The two women talked shop. I thanked Lynn and said “I’ll be back tomorrow.” Suddenly I felt tired. Now that I knew I’d be there for the whole weekend, I was ready to go back to my peaceful campsite for one more night.

I was overjoyed to hear about the showers. I drove over to the building and I paid my $2 to get into the parking area. The rest room was empty and clean and I was so glad to be able to wash my hair. Then I returned to the Wheatfields campsite.

Once again I was entirely alone. I would have preferred the presence of a guard, or perhaps a couple camping at a distance. But I was glad the noisy family was gone. Toward dark a car with a loud radio pulled into the parking area down by the lake. I put out my lights. I didn’t want anyone to know that a single woman was camping alone. I enjoyed sitting in the dark, under the light of the stars, watching the moon rise over the lake. Then I went to the outhouse, which was disgusting, so I took a little hike into the woods.

I went to bed early. A few hours later I was awakened by voices. A man and woman were arguing in the distance. I went back to sleep. In the morning I saw a green pickup truck parked nearby, but it soon pulled out. I lay down on my tarp and did my morning stretches and I meditated. Then I ate some hot cereal with dried raisins, cranberries and vanilla soy milk. I had my tent packed and my gear was almost all put away when a car pulled up and stopped at the entrance. Three guys got out and were just standing there, as if waiting for something. They weren’t talking to each other. I felt uneasy.

I quickly put my things in the car, got inside, closed the windows, locked the doors and drove out by a little side road that I had discovered. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I’ve gone to all kinds of places that most women would not go alone, and I’ve never been attacked. I think that’s because I’m willing to act defensively, even if I’m not sure that I’m in danger.

I felt relieved I wouldn’t be camping there for another night, and I was glad to be heading back to civilization. I got to the fair at about 1 pm, and things were hopping! There were tons of people. The huge parking lot was nearly filled and there were cars along the highway for blocks in either direction. I was glad I had special permission to park behind the stand; I couldn’t have had a better space.

I set up my tent under the weeping willow tree, which was the only tree of any kind in the whole area. I was grateful to find some rare shade in the middle of the day. There was just one other tent under the tree. I made my way back to Gorman Hall, directly to the table where I hoped to meet the daughters of the older woman. The daughters were there, the old woman remembered me, and she introduced me to one of them.

We talked, and she said that she just did the simple work. The bracelet I had admired was done by a friend. No one could remember her name. “Actually,” she admitted, “my sister’s husband does most of the silver work. Let me introduce you.” Then she took me over to the next table to meet her sister and her sister’s husband.

He did beautiful work in white turquoise, which I had never seen before. It’s a brown and white stone called wildhorse. I openly admired his work and we talked for awhile until I felt so comfortable with him that I opened up and told him about talking to the rock at Machu Picchu. He grinned and said the rocks were his main friends. After talking for at least an hour, I began to think that I wanted to study with him. We talked about the machinery he used, and he said that it would cost at least $10,000 to set up a decent studio.

“Well, that puts an end to that idea!” I muttered, feeling utterly discouraged. “I guess my Guidance was wrong.” I was on the verge of tears. I said goodbye to him and his wife and sadly walked away.

At first I felt despondent, but something told me to just relax and enjoy the fair. I went back and wrote a note to the jeweler in Sanders whose work was in the glass case. It was probably hopeless, but I told him how much I liked his work, and asked him to call my 800 number if he was willing to let me watch him.

I let go of the whole idea and went to the powwow at the other end of the fairground. Making my way past the Ferris wheel, the cotton candy, the candied apples and the Useless Items booths, I found the huge arena. I climbed up to a seat in the bleachers where I had a good view of the dancers who were parading around in the most outrageous costumes!

Some men and boys were prancing in day-glo costumes while others wore costumes with huge clumps of big feathers. There were girls in dresses that jingle, and other girls in colorful shawls. Every costume was unique, though there were categories of dancers. There were seven groups of men, with each group sitting around a central drum that was about four feet in diameter. They had names like The Wild Boys, and they came from all over the country to compete. Each group took their turn at pounding their drum with big sticks while chanting and wailing at the top of their lungs. Every group was being judged.

It was totally different from the solemn Kachina Dance of the Hopi where mostly older dancers participated. This Navajo Dance was social dancing, mostly done by young people, and it was a lot of fun.

After a couple hours it was time for dinner. I had been savoring the smell of those Italian sausage sandwiches with onions and green peppers, so I got one. Then I had to find a place to sit down and eat. I could have gone off alone to my tent, but I felt like being sociable. There was a place called the “Hospitality Tent.” It seemed a good time to check it out. I went inside the circular building; there were food stands around the perimeter and picnic tables in the center. Native Americans were engaged in lively conversations at all the tables.

One table had a couple openings at the end of the bench. I smiled at the woman on the left and sat down. I said “Hello” to the young woman in the wheelchair who appeared to be a dwarf. They greeted me, as did the couple sitting across from each other on my right. Then I started to eat and there was no conversation.

I couldn’t think of anything to say. “Are you a dwarf?” No, that wouldn’t do. I was feeling really awkward. I thought of getting up and leaving, but an inner voice said, “Stay here.” The couple on my right finished eating and left, and a tall gangly man with a cowboy hat and his young girlfriend took their place. The guy grinned at all of us and said hello. I felt at ease with him. I took a chance and asked, “Where’d you get that carrot cake?”

He dramatically seized the carrot cake and pulled it into his lap, grinning broadly. “It’s all gone! You can’t have any!”

“Oh, darn!” I said, and we started a banter and everyone joined in, and pretty soon we were all laughing and talking. Then I said to the girl in the wheelchair, “I’ll bet you’re older than you look.” She smiled and told me she was eighteeen.

It was a breakthrough. I decided that I wasn’t going to let myself be intimidated by being afraid of what the Indians or anybody else thought about me. It just felt better to be friendly. The truth is that some folks are friendly and some aren’t, whether they’re red or white or green, and if they’re not friendly, that’s no fault of mine. So I just relaxed and decided that I’d take more risks and reach out to people and not worry so much about how they reacted to me.

That was a good Italian sausage. When I finished eating it was getting dark and I got the bright idea that I could watch the fireworks from my car. Everyone seemed to be operating on “Indian time” so they didn’t start for another hour. By then I was ready for bed, even though the rest of the crowd seemed to be just warming up. I was glad I didn’t have to drive for an hour to set up camp. I made my way to my tent and went to sleep in the middle of all that craziness.

I woke up at 2:30 in the morning, hearing someone talking with a drunken slur over by the shish-kebob stand. The air was filled with music, and clearly the party was still going strong. I can sleep through almost anything, so I just rolled over and went back to sleep.

 I awoke at 4 am to a ground-trembling, massive roar. It sounded like the Dump Truck from Hell, scraping its way along the roads, consuming everything in its path, like my tent was about to get crushed in its massive jaws. I knew it was irrational, but I literally wanted to jump up and run away. “Be patient,” I soothed myself. “It will soon be over.”

I was wrong. It went on until 6 am. I did not sleep. Finally, when it stopped, the air was blissfully still. I could hear the Indian family in the next tent talking quietly. I lazed around in my tent for another half hour. The family left. I finally got up, gathered my things, and went to the bathroom, which was a horrible mess. I splashed cold water on my face and decided to brush my teeth out by my car. The air was chilly and I was craving sunlight.

After I cleaned up I had an odd impulse; I wanted to draw. I didn’t know what I would draw, but I went to the car and got my tablet of graph paper and my Tombo pens that are felt markers on one end and watercolor paint brushes on the other. I wanted to sit with the Indians. I thought about sitting under one of the canopied areas that I had been avoiding, where the Navajo sat watching people go by. I wandered around, checking out those areas, but only men were there. I wanted to be with the old women.

Eventually I came to a smaller arena that I hadn’t noticed before. It was surrounded by bleachers that were covered by a tin roof. A radio blared out in Navajo. A few old people, mostly women, were scattered among the bleachers. An old Navajo woman in the traditional long-sleeved wine-colored velvet blouse and long velvet skirt with turquoise jewelry and a cloth over her head was sitting on the third rung of the bleachers, just where the sun joined the shade.

That was where I wanted to be, and I wanted her company. So I did something daring. I walked right up to where she was and I said, “It looks like you’ve found the perfect place.” She sort of smiled at me and I sat down on the fourth rung. I suspected that she only spoke Navajo, so we  sat like two lizards on a rock.

I was immersed in Navajo. I’d been in their company for days, eating their food, listening to their language and their music, watching their dances, laughing at their jokes. I’d even been embraced by Em-ma. And there I was, sitting in the sun with yet another grandmother, looking out at the sandy arena. I felt a strong desire to capture this experience in color and pattern, and some day I might capture it in stone. I would make my pattern with straight lines, so it would be easy to cut.

I got out my pens and the graph paper pad. It was the same kind of paper that I used for my card weaving so long ago. I wanted to portray the feeling of the arena. There was a pole at the center of the sandy circle. I took a light brown brush and painted a central area, 8 squares wide and 8 squares long. Then I took a darker brown pen and painted the four squares at the center.

I stopped and waited. The radio announcer was now speaking English, and I realized that all that Navajo talk had just been an advertisement for an RV sale in Gallup. My gaze wandered across the bleachers and up to the string of small green and red triangular flags—the kind they string up at used car lots. Yes, I thought, I would surround the sandy arena with green and red triangles. It was fun to be sitting outdoors, next to the grandmother, playing with colors.

Now the old one was turning around and sitting backwards on the bleacher. Why was she doing that? Then I started to feel hot from the sun. If I moved up another rung I would be in the shade, which would be too chilly. If I moved down I would be in the full sun. “I can see you’ve got this figured out!” I murmured, as I turned around, putting my back to the arena and to the sun.

I wondered if she was looking at my pattern. I hoped she was. I had a feeling that she would like what I was doing. It was like planning a pattern for a rug. I began to fill in the spaces between the triangles in yellow, and then a strange thing happened. Tears came to my eyes, and my heart felt full to bursting, and a lump came into my throat.

I hadn’t made a pattern since Myna died! That was over 30 years ago, and now, here I was, sitting next to an old Indian woman like Myna’s namesake, making patterns in the sun. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I finished my drawing. It was so beautiful! Now I knew I was healed. I could finally let go of the pain, and embrace my visual creativity again. I understood why I had to return to the Southwest to reclaim my visual creativity. Whatever else happened, I was utterly happy that I had come. It was totally appropriate. What wisdom those old stones hold!

The old woman got up and walked away. After a short time, another old woman came and took her place. We smiled at each other. I was already working on a new pattern with two shades of pink and a streak of red on a background of beige and black. This one was for Myna, for my baby.

When I completed that pattern I was ready to go back to the fair. I was beginning to realize something. The man with the white turquoise told me that it would take $10,000 to get the right equipment to make jewelry. But the young man with the mustache told me that he learned silver work in high school, and then he taught himself. I’ll bet he didn’t have $10,000! How did he do it? Even though I didn’t consider him a master jeweler, his inlay jewelry was closer to what I could imagine myself doing than anything else I had seen.

In fact, I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t be making jewelry at all. I would just be doing a kind of mosaic in stone that a person could put on their wall, or on their altar.

So I went to find Tim, to talk about what I wanted to do, and I brought my new patterns. When I arrived at his booth there was an extra chair, which was empty. I told him what the man said about the $10,000 and he responded, “I just started out with the tools in my toolbox,” pointing to a long box in the corner of his booth.

“Could I see what you have there?” I asked.

“Sure!” He motioned me to come around behind the table as he opened the box. “I got this at Wal-Mart for $14, for cutting metal,” he said, and he told me how each tool was used, and how much it cost. “I just made this pendant this morning with what I’ve got here,” he said, showing me a nice pendant.

“So I could get enough tools to get started for maybe $500?” I asked, hopefully.

“Oh, easy,” he said.

“Can I show you a couple patterns I made, so you’ll understand what I want to learn?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

I showed him the patterns I had just created. “You did that this morning?” he said. I thought I detected a bit of awe in his voice. “You want to talk to Victor,” he said with conviction, indicating the empty chair. “Victor’s the one who does the inlay. I mostly do the silver. I’m just learning to do inlay. Victor’s the one to talk to. Come back later and he’ll be here.”

Now things were starting to get exciting. I was ready for breakfast, so while the rest of the fair was watching the big parade, I walked up the street to MacDonald’s, to use their restroom and get a MacMuffin—a little indulgence that I allow myself once or twice a year. The line was about 20 women long! I started talking to the woman in front of me. She lived in Burlingame, California, but she and her family came back every year for the fair, so the kids could see their cousins and remember where they came from.

I found the parade tedious, like most parades, and I didn’t get friendly with anyone else, so I returned to Tim’s booth, where I was happy to meet his friend. Vic was also a young man, probably in his twenties, of slight build. I introduced myself and brought out my patterns, and then he got excited. “Yes, we could do this! We would do the red in coral, and we could get stone already cut in triangles like that. We could get some in malachite and these pinks we could do in shell…”

I was thrilled. He knew what he was talking about, and he seemed eager to work with me.

Tim said, “If you came to my studio in Grants on Monday, I could show you my equipment, and Vic would be there.” We agreed to meet in Grants at 1 pm. He gave me his card and some vague instructions and drew a rough map on the back of the card. I said I’d call when I got to Grants. Then I said goodbye and left.

This story is continued in Parts 3 & 4.

You can order the whole ebook, Living from the Inside Out, for $5 by sending us an email.




Copyright Joy Gardner 2008

*Living from the Inside Out by Joy Gardner is an unpublished book.