Matthew Lassey

Photo of Matthew Lassey and family. Matthew was the overall best essayist in the 2013 Aldo Leopold Writing Contest

Photo of Matthew Lassey and family. Matthew was the overall best essayist in the 2013 Aldo Leopold Writing Contest

  Essay

Back when we lived among the red rocks our true home was built of earth and sky; I’d awaken to soft conversations at dawn. Changing Woman appeared from sunlight and mist. Ceremonies restored hozho , (balance). Now we navigate the white rez. Driving our war ponies to the Conoco Station to satisfy their thirst, we spend the days slaying the diabetes monster and walking between worlds out of balance. Like commodity cheese, the rez is disguised. Something is not quite right. I was learning to be ten and measuring the decline of being a part of the ancient stories. I make the journey in my mind as we maneuver the potholes past the chapter house and a Hogan with a satellite dish. Canine carcasses litter the highway in juxtaposition to empty Hot Cheetos bags and Big Gulp cups on the way to the Wellness Center. After school, I run the wash with friends to a classmate’s home to borrow a DVD because we didn’t have a satellite dish. Her aunt tells me to go get my mom for dinner. She’s prepared an elk roast. We sit down to eat. We wait to pray while my mother brings drinking water from the Conoco. It is February and inside, two litters of kittens keep us entertained as we are warmed by a chunk of burning black rock in a small stove. We finish our dinner and retreat outside to listen to stories of the elders. We are warmed beneath a crater filled with more of the black burning rock. I am thirsty. My mother says it’s time to go home and “no” I many not have a Big K Soda. We take home a borrowed DVD and walk the wash to the teacher housing, where we cannot drink the water from the tap because of past uranium mining contamination, and where my mother only allows me to take brief showers. We can hear the deep cough of my classmate Luna almost the whole way home. Later, outside my bedroom window, I hear a thump. “Our” herd of wild horses nuzzles the frosty glass knowing my mother always has apples. Tomorrow is a big day. We will meet my grandfather, and I will go with him alone for the first time to cut wood for our small stove and for the home of my grandparents. I cannot yet use the saw, but I am strong and can carry and load the large pieces of pinion, juniper and cedar for splitting. My mother will drive three and a half hours to buy groceries from a Co-op even though Wal-Mart is an hour from home. I am older now, and I can use the saw. In fact, although my grandfather still takes me to cut wood, his role has changed. I have become the keeper of the family andirons. I understand the land ethic of my elders. I understand why we have a garden, compost, recycle, and why my mother hates Wal-Mart.