When we woke up Friday morning, I decided to tell the shaman about my first encounter with a mountain lion as he was fixing our breakfast. I explained how Devin had transitioned into a bear to save us, while also informing him that it was the very first time that Devin had ever done anything like that before, or even knew that he could transition. The shaman chuckled and made an immediate decision.
“Since you are apparently aware of what a mountain lion looks like and recently had another close encounter with one, I believe we can shorten the training process slightly.”
“That’s fine with me.”
When we finished eating, we immediately got to work. Although the routine we normally followed with each new animal was repetitive, yet very effective, the shaman shortened it even more this time. The only sand painting he made had the man transitioning into a mountain lion at the top and the mountain lion transitioning into a man at the bottom. I still had to chew on a button of peyote while I was lying on top of a mountain lion’s pelt within the sand painting, while at the same time the shaman beat his drum, chanted, and danced around me. The only difference was that I was now getting used to doing these things.
This took us until midday, but that was only because I’d fallen asleep again during the ritual, and when I woke up the shaman had me make my first attempt at transitioning into a mountain lion. I thought I’d done fairly well at it, but the shaman offered me a few suggestions about how I could improve, and then he allowed me to walk around inside the hohrahn as a mountain lion for a while.
Pops, Gramps, and Devin showed up just as we were finishing for the day, and they came inside toting plastic bags and a case of green tea.
“I’m glad you remembered that we were going to bring supper with us again,” Pops began, “and that we agreed on having Mexican tonight. I brought the haatali a vegan taco and a black bean burrito, while we got the rest of us two chicken enchiladas with an over-easy egg on top of each one. We also got each of us side orders of Mexican rice and Mexican street corn salad, and we can wash the meal down with a bottle of green tea.”
“Once again you are very thoughtful in getting something for me and for considering my dietary preferences,” the shaman stated.
“It wasn’t a big deal and it is the least we could do, since you agreed to help Mac become a skinwalker.”
We then chatted as we were eating our meals, and that’s when Gramps asked the shaman a question. “You suggested that maybe we could see some of the sights off the reservation this weekend, so do you have any suggestions about where we should go?”
“I am afraid the choices I would make might not be the things that would interest you. I would prefer going to the places associated with my native heritage or those of other native groups, rather than the places you might wish to see.”
“Those places sound interesting to me,” Gramps responded. “What do the rest of you think?”
“It sounds good to me too,” I quickly stated. “I feel that as long as we’re here, I’d like to learn as much about the native peoples as I can.”
“Yeah, me too,” Devin concurred.
“It’s fine with me as well,” Pops added, “and Mac’s right. It would probably be good for us to visit those places as long as we’re here.”
The shaman then told us about the locations he’d find interesting, and since we thought they sounded interesting as well, we agreed to visit them.
“Will you come with us?” I asked the shaman.
“I am sure you would prefer to investigate those places on your own,” he replied.
“Actually, I think getting your impression about those places would be valuable and you’re more than welcome to join us, if you would like to do that,” Pops responded.
“Yes, come with us,” I added, and Gramps and Devin quickly told him the same thing.
“As long as none of you object, then I would enjoy going with you.”
“I’m just surprised that you’re giving me the weekend off,” I told the shaman.
“Since you are doing so well, I felt you might enjoy a break, and then next weekend you will be moving on to something new, and I hope the others will help us with that.”
“Ok, but will we still be able to finish everything by the end of the month?”
“Yes, you are catching on more quickly than I had anticipated and your accomplishments have a great deal to do with how much Devin was able to teach you before you came here. He apparently is a very good teacher.”
I saw Devin blush briefly before he responded. “I just taught Mac some of the same things that my dad, Pops, and Gramps taught me.”
“That may be, but it is you who had to make it interesting enough for Michael to retain, especially since he could not transition into any of those animals yet. And something you just said reminded me of another thing I have been curious about and meant to ask you. Why do you call your grandfathers Gramps and Pops?”
“Before I met Mac, I always called them grandfather and great-grandfather, but when Mac started spending time with all of us, he asked them what we he should call them. They agreed that Mac could call them Grandpa Jacob and Grandpa Isaac and I thought it would be simpler and less confusing if we called them the same thing. For that reason, I asked for their permission to call them that as well, and they agreed.”
“Then why are you calling them Gramps and Pops now?”
“When we were on our way here, Mac and I were talking and thought that the others we met on the reservation wouldn’t understand how my great-grandfather could look younger than my grandfather. We also didn’t think they’d understand how Grandpa Isaac could be Grandpa Jacob’s father, so we asked if we could call them Gramps and Pops instead.”
“I see your point about how it would have been confusing to the others, and that would have included me, if I did not know you were all skinwalkers, so I guess it makes some sense in this case. It is just that the Diné would never consider calling them anything other than grandfather and great-grandfather, the same as you used to do.”
“I know, but it will also work better for when we introduce them to our friends at college, because Gramps and Pops have agreed to come to some of the home football games with us this fall. That way we can tell our friends that Pops is Gramps younger brother and my great-uncle.”
“Yes, I can see where that would work better for you to use with your friends as well.”
After we ended this discussion, we agreed to go to sleep, because that way we could get an early start the next morning. I spread out one of my blankets on the ground and then Devin slept with me on it and we covered ourselves with the remaining two blankets. The shaman used his blankets as well, but Gramps and Pops decided to sleep as wolves. They felt that since wolves are smaller than bears it wouldn’t be as crowded in the hohrahn, and the wolf’s fur would keep them plenty warm enough throughout the night.
When we woke up the next morning, the shaman used the food we hadn’t eaten for the previous night’s supper, along with what had been dropped off for this morning’s breakfast to feed all of us. However, rather than preparing two different meals this time, he combined it all in one pan and produced a unique breakfast for us. We were also given a chunk of flat bread to go with it, along with a bottle of green tea, and it proved to be a very tasty and filling meal.
Once we finished eating, we all went out and loaded into the SUV, and then the shaman directed Gramps on the best way to leave the reservation and get to the Interstate. We then took Interstate 40 to the first location, which was the Petroglyph National Monument on the west side of Albuquerque.
“I know what you told us about this place,” Devin stated, “but what makes it so special?”
“There are a great many rock drawings in this area and many of them were made by the first people that lived on this land. Most of the drawings are hundreds, possibly even thousands of years old, and the majority of them were most likely drawn by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Some of them may have been drawn by my ancestors as well, and there are other drawings that could have been made by some of the first Spaniards that came to this region.”
“Why are the drawings called petroglyphs?” I asked.
“That is the name your scientists and archeologists gave to the rock drawings and carvings, especially those that are prehistoric.”
“Ok, so is it all that’s here?”
“No. The first features we will come to are a series of dormant fissure volcanoes.”
“I know what a volcano is, but is a fissure volcano different?”
“Technically, it is. A fissure is a crack in Mother Earth, and when the lava that lies deep in the ground below the fissure comes to the surface, it flows out of the fissures. As the lava cools, it eventually changes into basalt rock, and that continues to build up and forms the cone-like mounds that you will see jutting up from the otherwise flat landscape. When the ancient people first came to this area, they discovered the basalt rock was good for making drawings to convey messages and ideas to others in their tribes, since they didn’t have a written language to use at the time.”
“What kinds of messages and ideas did the drawings represent?” I followed.
“They might have merely been representations of objects or animals that they could point out to the younger members of the tribe. They might have also represented a complex idea, such as the history of a tribal event or what various ceremonies represent. They might also have been maps to indicate to others the location of the best hunting areas.”
We then drove around until we spotted several fissure volcanoes and I made a comment.
“It seems strange to think there was once volcanic activity in New Mexico. It’s just not the kind of place that I would associate with volcanoes. When I think of volcanoes, I’m more likely to think of Hawaii, or Washington, or Alaska. I might even think of Iceland or the Far East, but not New Mexico.”
“The types of volcanoes you are referring to would be the volcanoes that sometimes experience violent and explosive eruptions.”
“Yeah, like Mount Saint Helens, Mount Vesuvius, and Mount Fuji,” Devin added.
“But volcanoes that erupt violently and explosively don’t all have to appear as a mountain either,” Pops added. “Scientists claim there is a super-volcano below Yellowstone National Park and that someday it will experience a massive eruption. They claim this eruption will be larger than even the most massive eruption that has ever happened at any of the other volcanoes that Devin mentioned. Even though there is currently no dangerous volcanic activity in that area, there is enough activity that generates the energy needed to cause the many geysers to erupt.”
I was still thinking about this as we viewed the fissure volcanoes and moved around to observe the different petroglyphs. The shaman also told us there were supposed to be more than 24,000 of these rock drawings as we began to examine a few of them.
“This one looks like a spear,” I said as I pointed toward one of the rock drawings.
“Hey, this one looks like a spaceman,” Devin proclaimed. I wondered if he would have thought the same thing if he didn’t want to be part of the team that would develop a spaceship that would travel to another planet.
“Look at this one,” Pops announced. “It kind of resembles a dinosaur, but that can’t be, can it? I mean, people weren’t around when there were dinosaurs, were they?”
“Nah, I doubt it, so maybe it’s a drawing of a dire wolf instead,” Devin countered, although I assumed he was actually thinking about the evil skinwalker we had encountered.
Many of the other drawings were easy to recognize as either animals or people, but we also saw a variety of crosses and possibly a few representations of some of the early brands that were used on cattle. We spotted what may also have been maps, and there were other drawings that were far more complicated and we wondered what they represented. That’s when we agreed we may never know what they were supposed to be and suspected their meaning was probably lost when the person that drew them had died.
We stopped for a late lunch when we finished up there, and that’s when I asked the shaman where we were going next.
“Since you took me to a place that has greater significance for me than any of you, I thought our next stop should be a place that may have more meaning for you.”
“Ok, so where are you taking us?”
“I thought you might like to see the Loretto Chapel next, since it is a place that many tourists visit every year. It is located in Santa Fe, so we will have to make another short trip to get there.”
“What’s so special about it that you want us to drive there?” Devin asked.
“Maybe I can help with that,” Gramps said, “because I saw a special about it on either the history or travel channel not long ago. It seems that during the mid-1800s the Bishop of New Mexico invited a group of teaching nuns from the Loretto Order to start a school in Santa Fe so they could teach the young girls. About 20 years after they started the school, they finally saved up enough money to begin construction on a chapel. They chose to use the same architect that had designed a nearby cathedral, but unfortunately before the chapel was finished the architect died. One of the areas that was left undone was a way for anyone to get to the choir loft.”
“You mean they finished the chapel without building a staircase to the choir loft?”
“Yes, but the problem was more complicated than you might expect. You see, building a standard staircase would have taken up too much of the floor space in the chapel, so they had to find another way to get to the choir loft.”
“Couldn’t they have just used a ladder?” Devin followed.
“No, it would have been impractical for the nuns to attempt climbing a ladder while wearing a bulky habit, and that’s the outfit the nuns were required to wear back then. Not knowing what else to do, the nuns decided to pray for nine days to Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, and ask him to provide another solution.”
“Did it work?”
“Believe it or not, it apparently did. On the final day of their prayers, a carpenter knocked on the door of the chapel and asked if they had any work he could do. He was obviously very poor, since he only had a donkey, a hammer, and a carpenter’s square, but the nuns hired him to construct a staircase. Even though they were taking a chance that he’d be able to do the job, they ended up with much more than they expected, because the staircase he built was truly miraculous.”
“What was so miraculous about it?” I followed.
“It was a spiral staircase that didn’t take up very much space, and the carpenter didn’t even use any nails in its construction. It was merely held together with wooden pegs, and the staircase had no central post for additional support, and the wood he used to build it was not native to the American southwest. Another strange fact was that the carpenter disappeared without waiting to be paid or even allowing the nuns to thank him. Due to the fact that they never got his name and were unable to ask him questions, some of them believed it had been Saint Joseph himself. Others thought the man was merely someone who’d been directed there by Saint Joseph, although they were never able to prove either possibility.”
“Then let’s get going, because now I’m excited about seeing this place.”
We all piled into the SUV and made our way to Interstate 25 so we could make the trip to Santa Fe. The chapel was fairly easy to find, and once we were inside we learned a great deal more about the staircase.
Amazingly, we discovered that it makes two 360 degree turns as it rises from the floor of the chapel to the choir loft. Originally, it merely consisted of 33 stairs with no handrail, and all of the weight of the staircase rested entirely upon the bottom step.
“It must have been scary trying to go up to the choir loft without a handrail,” Devin stated, and that’s when we discovered the next piece of information.
A banister was added approximately 10 years after the staircase was first completed, simply because the nuns were having difficulty climbing the 22 feet (6.7 m) to the choir loft without a railing. Other supports connecting the staircase to the wall were added later in order to strengthen the staircase, and in 2018 more than 150 stair-building professionals were invited to study it. After examining the staircase for many hours, they left the chapel amazed and perplexed that someone had been able to erect such a miraculous and magnificent structure.
“That was definitely worth coming to see,” Pops said before we left, and the rest of us wholeheartedly agreed with him.
“What are we going to do now?” Devin quickly asked as soon as we’d exited the chapel.
“I will leave that up to Isaac and Jacob, since the next place I thought you might like to visit is back in Albuquerque. I did not suggest it when we were first there because I felt we would have to drive back in that direction eventually in order to get to the reservation, so it would not be an inconvenience. I also thought the place would be more crowded on Saturday and we would be able to see much more on Sunday.”
“In that case,” Gramps began, “let’s find a place where we can have supper. I’m sure you must all be hungry by now.”
“I know I am and it sounds like an excellent suggestion,” Pops concurred.
“I feel guilty that you are spending so much money on me,” the shaman stated.
“Then maybe it would make you feel better if you thought of it as compensation for being our guide.”
While we were eating, we discussed the various things we had seen during the day, and each of us thought it had been a very rewarding and interesting trip so far.
As soon as we got back in the SUV, I asked a question. “Where are we going to stay tonight?”
“I thought we could find a remote location and stay there,” Gramps responded. “The haatali can sleep in the SUV and the rest of us can transition into bears for the night.”
“The haatali can do that too, if he wants,” I blurted out, “because he’s a skinwalker too.”
After I’d said this, I looked around and saw that Pops, Gramps, and Devin’s mouths were all hanging open.
“He is?” Pops finally asked.
“Yes. In fact he’s the same haatali that trained you and it wasn’t his fourth great-grandfather as he first told us.”
“I must admit that I was not completely honest with you and I wish to apologize for that,” the shaman stated, “but young Michael picked up on a few things that I said and figured it out.”
“Why? What did you say that led him to guess that you were a skinwalker too?” Devin followed.
“I believe his first clue was something I had said when I was telling him about how the first skinwalkers had been created, and it led him to suspect that I had been there when it happened. And then he picked up on other things I said later and confronted me about it.”
“Then, why didn’t Pops figure it out when you trained him?” Devin continued.
The shaman stopped and looked at Pops briefly, almost as if he was hesitant to explain why Pops hadn’t been as observant as I was.
“Go ahead and answer his question,” Pops told him, “because I’d like to hear your response as well.”
After a brief hesitation, the shaman answered. “Isaac was older when I first met him, and due to his previous experiences, he had a totally different outlook on the situation than Michael had. Isaac had seen how the war had been tearing his country apart, and he had also seen what the army had done to the Apaches and what they were planning to do to my people as well. This made him more cynical about the world in general and more jaded in his outlook about the future. I believe he was merely trying to figure out if he could change the way the future was unfolding by helping me and a small group of my people, rather than dwelling on the past.”
“Ok, I guess that makes sense,” Devin relented.
“Actually, there were a couple of times when I wondered if he was a skinwalker as well,” Pops confirmed, “but it just seemed as if there was no time to ask him about it. All of the new experiences I was encountering as I was becoming a skinwalker were so overwhelming and taking up so much of my time that I didn’t have an opportunity to pursue those thoughts further.”
“And Michael had a definite advantage of having seen what your family is capable of doing, as well as the fact that Devin was helping him prepare to come here and began the process for me.”
“I had never considered that.”
“And I am not certain how I would have responded, even if you had asked if I was a skinwalker. You see, my son is only a few decades older than yourself and I might have worried that my answer would not only have affected me, but it might have had a greater negative impact on him. I believe you realized I had a son, correct?”
“Yes, I knew you had a son and he was also a haatali,” Pops confirmed.
“Then I may not have been as open and honest with you, as I was with Michael.”
“I understand and I’m glad I didn’t ask you then.”
It was a while after we’d finished this discussion before we found a remote location where we felt we could spend the night.
“The choice is yours then,” Gramps told the shaman. “You can either sleep in the SUV or transition with us.”
“Since I do not have any blankets with me, I will also transition,” the shaman confirmed.
A short time later, we had all undressed and transitioned into bears, and then we found a spot where we could lay down and go to sleep.
When we awoke in the morning, we quickly got dressed and then we headed out to find a place to have breakfast. We ended up at a Mexican Restaurant where Devin and I considered having eggs in salsa, breakfast burritos, breakfast quesadillas, or breakfast enchiladas. However, we ended up ordering the Huevos Rancheros, or rancher’s eggs, the same as the others. It’s a vegetarian meal that is typically served for breakfast on Mexican farms. It consists of corn tortillas covered with fried eggs and topped with warmed salsa and feta cheese, and there were refried beans off to the side. It was the first time I’d ever had it and it was absolutely delicious.
As soon as we finished eating, we got back in the SUV and left for our next destination, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It’s owned and operated by the 19 Indian Pueblos of New Mexico and dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Pueblo Indian Culture.
“Since the Diné became very close to the Pueblo at one time and learned how to cultivate crops from them, I thought this might give you a little more insight into our shared heritage,” the shaman said. “I believe it may give you a better understanding of Native American Culture as well.”
We started in the museum and got to see a great many artifacts, and some of them were quite ancient, including carved kachina dolls that were meant to symbolize the ancestral spirit of the Pueblo tribe. We also learned how the 19 Pueblos differed from one another, along with their individual accomplishments and how they had adapted to survive. We also learned more information about the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish.
“The Diné and the Apache joined the Pueblo in the revolt,” the shaman explained, “and even though we chased the Spaniards into Mexico, they only remained there for about a decade, so the benefits that were gained did not last.”
“But you proved a point and were eventually free of the brutal Spanish occupation,” I pointed out.
“That is true, grasshopper, but the Spanish were not entirely bad for us. They introduced my people to horses, goats, and sheep, but they were also brutal in the way they treated us. Even when they finally left for good, they were quickly replaced by others.”
“You mean the U.S. Government, don’t you?” I replied, and the shaman merely nodded.
From there we moved on to the exhibition center and viewed some of the Pueblo artistic creations. We observed murals, drawings, and numerous paintings that were done by Pueblo artists, along with a variety of some very unique skateboard art. There was another area with various types of pottery, and a third area that consisted of a photographic presentation, and the items in those areas were also created by Pueblo artists.
When we finished up there, we went outside and discovered that a group of Pueblo dancers would soon be performing some of their traditional dances. We decided to watch that as well, so we could note the differences and similarities between what we saw the Diné perform at the welcoming ceremony.
“Wow, some of their outfits are way more colorful than the ones the dancers wore when I became a member of the Diné Nation, but some of the other outfits are a lot blander and less colorful as well.”
“Yes, they have more than one outfit they might wear.”
“And instead of using step pyramids in the designs on their outfits, such as the Diné used on their outfits, the Pueblo merely use upside down triangles.”
“That is very true,” the shaman agreed.
“But they use a drum and drumstick that are nearly identical to what you use.”
“Yes, we have much in common, although not everything is the same.”
“But I’ve only seen women and girl dancers,” I pointed out.
“That is true of these dancers, but there are other times when the men and boys will dance with the women and girls. However, you are correct in pointing out that the women and girls do most of the dancing.”
After the first two dances, the dancers coaxed those of us watching to get involved in a dance by forming a large circle around them and then try to mimic what they were doing. However, most of us were quite pathetic as we attempted to duplicate the various moves the dancers made, although I think the shaman did much better than the rest of us.
After watching the first two dances and participating in a third, the dancers stopped, but they did not leave. They stuck around and chatted with those of us that had just watched them and participated, and then after doing this for a short time, they finally left and entered the building, probably to change. When that happened, we got together to discuss what we were going to do next.
“It’s already well past noon and we should probably start looking for a place to eat,” Gramps suggested.
“They have a restaurant here, the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, and it serves authentic Pueblo food, if you would like to try it,” the shaman explained.
“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea,” I agreed. “I’d like to see if there is any difference between what the Pueblo and Diné eat,”
“That sounds fine to me,” Pops agreed, and then Gramps and Devin concurred as well.
After looking at the menu briefly, I made a comment to the shaman.
“I notice the Pueblo use many of the same basic foods: as the Diné: corn, squash, and beans, but they also use red and green chili peppers and a lot of eggs and cheese. And instead of relying on mutton, the Pueblo seem to eat chicken, beef, and turkey instead.
“Yes, the Pueblo taught the Diné how to grow corn, squash, and beans and we both use them in our food, but we do not do everything the same. We started eating mutton after the Spaniards introduced us to sheep, while the Pueblo made different choices.”
The menu listed the following categories: Small Plates (appetizers), Salads, Sandwiches, New Mexican Favorites (entrees), Breakfast (which is available all day), Desserts, Take Home Bakery Goods, and Beverages. We all found something to order and Devin and I both went with a sandwich. I ordered the Pueblo Turkey Melt, while Devin went with the IPK (Indian Pueblo Kitchen) Burger. Gramps and Pops each ordered an entrée, while the shaman ordered the Roasted Pinon Triple Berry Salad, and we all enjoyed our meals and thought it was a nice change of pace from what we had been eating.
When we finished our meals, we headed back to the reservation and went directly to the ceremonial hohrahn. I thought the others were just going to drop the shaman and me off, but they got out of the SUV as well and followed us inside.
“Thank you for giving me the weekend off and suggesting that we do those things,” I told the shaman. “I really enjoyed the entire time.”
“And the rest of us enjoyed doing those things as well,” Pops added.
“Yeah, it was better than sitting around all day without much to do,” Devin added.
“You could be going places and doing those types of things while you are here,” the shaman countered.
“We could,” Gramps agreed, “but if we’re going to go places and do those types of things, we don’t want to do them without Mac.”
“Ah, that is very considerate of you,” the shaman stated.
“We just didn’t feel it would be right to leave a family member out of doing things like that with us, since we all came here together,” Pops explained.
“I see, and I am grateful that you agreed to take me with you on this trip,” the shaman added.
“Well, since you’ve trained both Mac and me, you’re kind of like family as well.”
“The thought is much appreciated,” the shaman replied sincerely. “And since I have so much food from what we did not use while we were gone, what if I fix all of us something to eat for supper.”
“That sounds great,” we all agreed, and while the shaman was doing that, we continued chatting with him.
“From what we learned today, the Pueblo obviously eat more meat than the Diné,” Devin pointed out.
“Yes, I knew they have been raising cattle instead of sheep, like we do, but I thought they only raised chickens for the eggs. They must obviously raise others for food, as well as turkeys, and I overheard someone say that they are able to catch yellow perch and rainbow trout for food as well.”
“Then I guess they didn’t teach the Diné everything they knew,” I teased.
“I believe they did, but they have learned to do much more than that since our two peoples spent time together,” the shaman replied.
After the shaman finished preparing our supper, we sat down to eat, but some of us continued talking as we ate.
“So, we can come out here next week as well?” Devin asked.
“Yes, and since Michael is doing so well,” the shaman explained, “you may come out here on Thursday afternoon, and spend time going out with Michael, one at a time, so he can see what it is like both as a mountain lion and a coyote. You may continue doing that until late afternoon on Friday, and then you can spend the weekend and the following week here to help me train Michael on transitioning into animals that are smaller than he is.”
“That sounds great,” Devin enthused. “I just wish we could go out farther as mountain lions and coyotes than just around here.”
“I know, but it is not possible,” the shaman confirmed. “If you did that, then you might be seen by others and that could cause them to ask serious questions about what I am doing out here. It could also place all of you in some extremely dangerous situations.”
“Yeah, I understand.”
When we finished eating, Pops, Gramps, and Devin thanked the shaman for the excellent meal, and then they said goodnight to both of us before they drove back to the shaman’s personal hohrahn. They decided to spend the night there, since we would be getting up with the sun to continue my training and they didn’t want to get up that early or be in the way.