We stop by the college in Crow Agency. There is no one here because it’s Saturday and summer, and the tribal college looks small and humble, but it looks colorful and good. There are horses running free and a big tree that towers over the central, circular meeting place made of wooden beams and rusted steel that looks perfect for a powwow. We lie in the grass and feel the sun and let it soak into our skin.
Like all of the others, this reservation is also poor. The streets are lined with wooden shacks peeling blue paint, and there are little brown children playing in one of them. Two boys beat the hell out of each other in good fun like young brothers and laugh about it afterward. This place feels like home.
We stop at the gas station on the way out and it’s just like the gas stations back in Zuni. My Navajo sisters (my relatives in Zuni must never hear of this!) squeal in delight at some nostalgic sight and Holy Sweet Mother of — they have big pickles and ziplock bags and red Icees and shredded jerky and . . .
Zuni is where I grew up part-time, home away from home during summers and about every other spring and winter break as a little, spoiled, know-nothing brat from the suburbs of Indianapolis. We always stayed with my aunt, but now we always stay with my brother. The greatest thing in the world was and is the smell of the desert after it rains there. The sand and the sage and all the plants mix together and fill the air with sweet incense and all the dust falls away. We have rez dogs there, too, and so much dust. And satellite dishes. And gas stations like these. I remember the briny smell of great barrel pickle jars being uncorked by another aunt and eating the juicy goodness all wrapped up in plastic sandwich bags. And I remember my brother always getting Icees when we were driving. And all the perfect, bone-dry jerky of all kinds imaginable . . .
But Zuni is another story.
Because then we depart the little heart-tug gas station (only to return when Hailey realizes she’s forgot her phone again and we have to set out all over again, of course) and head up, up, and up into the Bighorn Mountains.
We climb and climb and pull over at an unpromising site for unpromising photos only to realize this place is amazing. There is no grand vista, but tiny blue mountain flowers sprout from every inhospitable crevice and crack. Purple blossoms spot the ground. Rocks in the distance call our name and we answer, running and bounding, and lo! snow just over the rocks, and more rocks and more rocks to climb.
The air is thin and fresh and tastes like ambrosia. I scale rocks. I walk in the snow. I inhale and exhale. I grow five years younger. Close your eyes. Breathe deep and feel the mountain air in every porous inch of skin and lungs. Cool and clean. I throw a snowball at Hailey. She tries to make a snow angel. Snow gets in her pants. I take a picture of Patrick taking a picture. There are antelope and elk and bighorn sheep in the distance. There are — there are — there are . . .
A perfect wind blows. Let’s never leave.
But instead we roll on down the Bighorns to the hot springs of Thermopolis and sleep among a million high schoolers.
Sloan Scholar, Statistics