The sounds of chopping died away. From deep within the arroyo, the People crept forward to assess the destruction. They huddled at the edge of their once beautiful orchard while the cavalry saddled up and rode away. When the last trooper had vanished up the red-rock canyon, Elder Dasan stood, walked to the first casualty and placed a gentle hand, skin as deeply colored as wet earth, upon the lifeless peach tree stump. He began to chant as he walked from sacred tree to sacred tree, each one felled by the U.S. Army, touching its lifeblood as it oozed from the murdered wood.
Seventy-eight trees had stood that morning. Seventy-eight had been axed to death in a program to drive the Diné from the land. The People wandered amongst the dead trees, some weeping, others with bitter faces stretched angry.
“Ahanu, come to me my son. I have a task for you.” Dasan beckoned, placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder and bent close to his ear.
Ahanu’s rich black hair fell around his face. He hooked it around his ears so as to focus on the instructions of Elder Dasan. When the old man, hands to knees, levered his back straight, Ahanu cast his arms wide.
“But this is a graveyard now. Nothing will grow in this dead place.”
“Yes. It is a dead place. And when the troopers return, and they will, they will find only the bones of their slaughter.”
“Shhh, brave one. Let time speak for now. First, we must prepare.”
The Elder instructed those who had tended the didzétsoh, the peach trees of the Navajo Nation to salvage what fruit they could but to leave the trees as they lay—resting near their earth-bound roots. To the boy he nodded, carry on.
Returned to their village, Ahanu toted the sack to Elder Dasan’s adobe hut. Cool in the afternoon heat, the interior smelled of animal hides and water reeds, the latter sitting in a pile, drying near Dasan’s bed. The old man took the sack and emptied it onto the dirt floor. More than a hundred peach pits spilled and wobbled in the dust.
“Select the largest and most healthy. Put those here.”
Ahanu made to throw a dark, misshapen pit out the door.
Dasan stayed his hand. “Each seed is a gift. From unhappy beginnings, even a mighty warrior may grow. Put those in this pile.”
The pits divided, Dasan then listed a set of ingredients and the instructions to combine them. “This is our secret. If others ask, you are preparing a garden of late squash for me.”
The boy nodded, an accomplice on a solemn task.
Over the following days, Ahanu was seen striding with purpose, baskets of ash or bundles of bones tucked beneath his arm.
Dasan signaled to him knowing the task must be complete. “Tomorrow, we will begin.”