April has been a busy month and it’s taken me longer to get around to my next blog. I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo this month, challenging myself to get 20,000 words written before the month is out on book two, “Ahote’s Path” I think I’m going to make it! I’ve written 16,397 so far. And I apologize in advance to my beta readers. It is going to be well over 50 pages I’ll be sending you once I’ve had a chance to edit all this forward momentum.
In the meantime, I do have something to offer you on my blog. It’s a short story, and it features Cha’risa as the main character. I wrote it earlier this month for the Brains to Books Cyber Conference. Some of you may have run across the story if you were checking out my links at the conference, but for those of you who did not, I’m pretty proud of this story. It is a short read, a bit on the spooky side, and it draws attention to proposed tourist attraction that threatens one of the most sacred places in the Grand Canyon, the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers
Before I offer up this story, there is one more thing I would like to say, and that is thank you to the many of you who responded to my desperate pleas for help during Brains to Books, when I was trying to win the cover wars contest. The outpouring of support was incredibly heartwarming. I had no idea how many of you were actually reading my posts, let alone willing to go to bat for me in my hour of need. It was probably childish of me to want something so badly, but there it is, I really, really wanted to win. But you know what? I already had won. Natalie made a winning cover, and so many of you had my back. I lost cover wars because I didn’t understand the rules well enough. Next year I will know better! And Natalie has already said that she is willing to make the cover for Ahote’s Path! The Havasupai home in the Grand Canyon is stunningly beautiful. I’m sure however Natalie illustrates it, it will be hard to beat!
Okay, so without further ado, for your reading pleasure, here is my short story, The More Things Change.
The intercom squawked. “Mr. Fox, your 2:00 appointment is here.”
Lamar hit the intercom button. “Send her in, Ms. Whittier.” He sat back then smiling. He’d been hounding his associates for months to find the perfect spokeswoman, and from what he’d read in this woman’s file, she could be the answer to all of his PR problems.
As the woman entered the room, Lamar stood and walked over to her. He towered over the tiny woman, who was dressed simply in a flowered, calico dress. On her small feet was a pair of well-worn cowboy boots. While the dress was modest, the tie around her waist accentuated a still comely figure for a woman in her mid-sixties. Not a woman of much wealth, Lamar observed; that would help him with his pitch.
“Welcome,” he said, giving the woman his brightest smile.
She nodded back, not smiling, but meeting his gaze with self-assurance. She had beautiful eyes, a warm brown, that held both an innate kindness and curiosity.
“Sit,” he encouraged her, and pointed to one of his leather arm chairs. He watched as she sat. Her hair was so long, she had to move it over her shoulder to avoid sitting on it. It was perhaps her best feature, dark with dramatic gray streaks. She looked every bit the wise woman. Lamar silently congratulated his team. They may have finally gotten it right this time.
“Would you like some tea, coffee, water?” Lamar offered.
“Tea would be nice,” she said.
He smiled again and walked over to the intercom. “Ms. Whittier, can you bring some coffee for me and a cup of tea for my guest.”
“Certainly,” Ms. Whittier said over the intercom. “What kind of tea does she like?”
“Herbal,” the woman answered.
Lamar parroted that back over the intercom, and then took the seat beside her.
“So, Mrs. Connor,” he began “Shall I tell you a bit about us here, at Grand Canyon Escalade?”
“You may call me Cha’risa,” she said.
“Well, if I’m to call you Cha’risa, you must call me Lamar.”
She nodded and then asked, “If I may, Lamar, can I ask you a question before you tell me more about your company?”
“Certainly,” Lamar smiled.
“How did your people find me?”
“Ah. Well as best I understand it, my associates just put it out there, hoping for the Universe to answer, and apparently the Universe has offered up you.” He had meant to be charming, even a little funny, but she took him quite literally.
“That does explain some things,” she said.
He raised an eyebrow, and then offered, “I think what I find most intriguing about you is that you seem to have a gift for straddling two worlds. It says here you gained the trust of the citizens of Flagstaff, while at the same time maintaining a strong connection to your Native American roots.
“Well,” Cha’risa said, “All that was a long time ago now.”
Lamar brushed off her concern. “The more things change the more they stay the same, right?”
“No, not in my experience,” she replied. “People are meant to grow, to evolve. It is actually an illusion that we all keep circling around the same old issues. It isn’t a circle at all, it’s a spiral.”
“Really?” Lamar pretended to be interested, but in truth what she said made no sense to him. “So,” he continued, “shall I tell you some about Grand Canyon Escalade?”
“Yes, please do,” she encouraged.
Rubbing his hands together in anticipation, he started in. “I’ve been working for a while now on a project to make the most spectacular part of the Grand Canyon a tourist destination.”
“Yes, let me show you.” He grabbed some plans from his desk and carried them over to the coffee table, just as Ms. Whittier entered with the tea and coffee. “Set them right there, will you?” He nodded his head toward the end table sitting between the two chairs.
“Thank you,” Cha’risa said as the secretary set a steaming cup of peppermint tea down beside her.
The secretary smiled back at her as she placed the coffee near her boss, and then left the room. Lamar never noticed as he unfurled the plans and smoothed them out on the table before them.
“So the proposed development is located here,” Lamar pointed to a spot on the map on the eastern rim of the canyon, clearly within the Navajo reservation.
Cha’risa leaned forward studying the area intently. “That is right above the confluence.” She looked up at him questioningly.
Excited, Lamar continued to tell her more about his vision. “That’s right! The heart of the Grand Canyon, right where the Colorado and the Little Colorado meet, that’s where we’ll build a tourist attraction to rival all the others! I have big plans, Cha’risa, big plans!”
She waited for him to continue, so he jumped right back in. “Up on the rim we’ll have a hotel, a restaurant, an RV center, a cultural center, all kinds of attractions. But that’s not the best part! Right here, at the rim, we’ll build a tramway that will shuttle as many as 10,000 visitors a day down into the canyon. We’ll build an elevated walkway along the cliffs for easy access in and around the canyon floor, and we’ll also build this!” He pointed to a large amphitheater also below the rim. Can you just picture what concerts would be like inside those canyon walls, under the stars?”
When Cha’risa looked at him next, her eyes were somber.
“You do realize,” she said, “that the confluence is sacred ground for many tribes, mine included.”
“Yes, but just think of it,” Lamar insisted, “once only the most determined souls could access this place, now anyone can go see it!”
Cha’risa was quiet a moment considering her next words. Finally she spoke. “When my first husband went to this sacred site, to Sipapu and the salt caves, he ran all the way from the Hopi Pueblos. It was a journey of many miles and great hardship. When my son went, it was along a different path, but it also required a long and difficult journey both physically and spiritually.”
“So you get what I’m envisioning!” Lamar enthused. “Once this project is approved, people will be able to make the journey in comfort, in a glass tram, in just ten minutes.” He sat back beaming. It was only after an awkward silence that it began to occur to him that Cha’risa might not be seeing things quite the same way.
When she broke the silence, her words were again carefully chosen. “What makes the experience to Sipapu sacred is as much about the journey as much as it is about the place. You are putting at risk spiritual practices that have been in place for thousands of years.”
Lamar was still trying to think of a way to bring the conversation back on solid footing when Cha’risa asked, “Lamar, why do you think I would make a good representative for this project?”
Lamar gave a silent thanks that the conversation was now moving away from the all this spiritual mumbo jumbo. “Well,” he began, “we are looking for someone who can be reassuring, someone who can speak to the tribes of the region and be a voice they would respect and trust.” He looked at her then. “I think you could have a steadying influence on a lot of these loud nay sayers.”
“Are a lot of people are fighting this?”
“There are some environmental groups, some indigenous groups, and the one I personally find the most frustrating, the Grand Canyon Trust.
Tell me,” she asked. “Do you think your project can benefit the Navajo, the Hopi, the Havasupai, the Zuni?”
“Oh, it will definitely benefit the Navajo. We’re going to need a lot of service workers for all these facilities we’re building. The Navajo are in desperate need of jobs, and we’ll bring those along with us in spades.”
“So, you’re talking about maids, waitresses, handymen, landscapers, that kind of work?”
“Precisely! And you better believe it could make a big difference in addressing the levels of poverty on the reservation. Of course the Navajo have to do their part too, to make this all happen.”
“So what is it you need for them to do?” Cha’risa’s face was carefully blank.
“Well, the Navajo nation will need to pay about $65 million for the initial infrastructure, and they will be responsible for its maintenance. They’d have to sign a non-compete for any business activity along 40 thousand miles of access roads into the development. They’d also need to claw back about 420 acres of grazing rights belonging to their people.”
“That seems like a lot to me. Is that all you’re asking?”
Lamar studied her closely, and for the first time since the interview started he began to feel unnerved. He had the strong sense that if he held anything back, she would know. “There are a few more small details,” he admitted.
“We would need the Navajo to pre-approve business site leases without prior review by Navajo offices of historic preservation, environmental protection, parks and recreation, and a few other key agencies. We’d also need them to override some pesky resolutions against Escalade.”
Cha’risa raised an eyebrow. “Who has resolutions against you?”
“Hmmm, well there’s the Bodaway-Gap resolution, and there are others as well by the Lechee, Cameron, Coal Mine and Tuba City chapters. There’s also one by the Dine Medicine Men’s Association and the Western Agency Grazing Committee. Oh, and there is also a pesky Inter-tribal Compact with the Hopi that we’d need the Navajo to get around…”
“Enough, Lamar. I’ve heard enough.”
His face fell. “You’re not interested, are you?”
Cha’risa shook her head.
“It pays well.” Lamar felt it had to be said.
“Look, Lamar, no matter how much you paid me, you’d never get what you needed from me.”
“You do realize I’m Hopi, right? It says that in your file there?”
Lamar looked more carefully at the file then shook his head. “It just says Native American.”
“I don’t suppose you are aware that there is a long history of distrust between the Hopi and the Navajo?” Again he shook his head.
“I thought not,” she said. “I bet it also doesn’t say anything in that file of yours about the fact that I have a checkered history.”
Lamar took a closer look at the small woman in the flowered calico dress. “You do? What on earth could you have done that would raise eyebrows?”
Cha’risa shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “I have dedicated my life to healing people, but there was a time when I crossed the line between a medicine woman and a witch.”
Lamar leaned in closer. “What exactly did you do?”
She regarded him with an unblinking stare. “I killed some men with a single thought.”
Lamar gaped at her wanting to disbelieve it, but what he saw in her eyes made him gulp and sit back, putting some distance between them.
Cha’risa got up, leaving her tea untouched. “Mr. Fox, If you send 10,000 people a day into the heart of the oldest spiritual center in all of the United States, you will destroy something irreplaceable. How many places are left on this earth where we can be at one with the harmony and serenity of a sacred place? If the universe raised me from the dead and sent me to you, it is for one reason only. The Great Spirit needs me to fight against this plan that serves no one’s best interest but your own.”
She held his eyes with hers for several moments longer than was comfortable. When she left the room, an uncanny chill stayed behind. Lamar took a deep breath and then picked up his now cold cup of coffee. It was only when he tried to raise the cup to his lips that he noticed how badly his hands were shaking. He couldn’t take even a single sip.
This short story began as a challenge that a few of us who love writing historical fiction set for ourselves. We were to pick an historical character from one of our books and have that character interview for a job in current day, 2017. I chose Cha’risa, the central character from my book “Cha’risa’s Gift” for this challenge. Cha’risa is a Hopi medicine woman who lived from 1866-1945. The job she is interviewing for is with a development company (not a fictional one) in Scottsdale Arizona that has tried repeatedly to get approval for a project called Grand Canyon Escalade, which would allow them to build a resort property on the East Rim of the Grand Canyon using Navajo lands. All the information Lamar shares with Cha’risa is actual information associated with the project. For anyone who wants to know more about this project, and about those who are opposing it, here are a few websites you can check out.