Pollen Road of Life

The pounding and anguish made the screen blurry and increasingly distorted. As I rubbed my eyes, I became annoyed and so I rubbed aggressively in frustration, because I could hear my grandmother’s voice as she told me before getting on the bus, “Shiyázhí (my child), soak in as much as you can today, because when I had the chance to attend school, I never thought it would be just as important as our Pollen Road of Life.”

As her practical voice echoed within the gloominess of the dim screen, I thought to myself that she may be right, but I don’t think she worried about migraines that jolted from staring at computer screens all day. I looked at the screen once more and thought to myself as I bitterly shook the mouse that I’d rather enjoy cultivating the agriculture of my people than the distressed blinking and humming of technology.

But I knew Grandma to be wise and so I had to understand her and put it all into practice. “Technology and the world of computers will one day inevitably replace the dying culture and traditions of your people,” the computer instructor said. I looked at the clock behind the instructor and noticed it was 3:10 pm. He finished off by saying, “You will understand one of these days,” and then released us. As I burst my way out of the school doors, a spear of warmth from Father Sun pierced through the woe and released me to solace.

On the bus ride home, all I could think to myself was how my Cheíí (grandfather) had personally requested to use the corn pollen from the corn I planted during early spring, so that he could use it for my cousin sister’s Kinaaldá (traditional puberty ceremony).

From the bus stop, I raced home in excitement, but at the door I walked in smartly. I then looked over at the table and saw both my grandma and Cheíí sipping on coffee. I walked over to the table, and as I reached to shake his hand, he grasped mine and began inspecting it. “It’s only with and of your own hands that will you feed, clothe, and defend yourself,” he said as he gripped my hand tighter. He slowly let go and wiped the tears from under his glasses. “Tii’ (let’s go),” Grandma said as she pointed with her lips to the bag and blankets neatly stacked by the door.

At the Kinaaldá, I listened all night to Cheíí and all those present sing and pray; it was an exhausting experience. Then at dawn, Cheíí got up and then carefully applied the pollen he requested from me to the soles of my cousin sister’s feet. He then began praying. He heartily petitioned to the Creator that his granddaughter shall now walk the earth realm now as a woman with pollen and morning dew at her soles with each step.

The moment I heard that, I journeyed deep into my thoughts and envisioned his prayer. Behind Cheíí, I could see in the flickering shadows on the wall behind him images of my ancestors and their meaning and understanding of walking on the pollen road of life. I saw shadows of warriors venturing out to hunt for food, the men tending to the fields of corn, and children spiritedly following their mothers to gather water from free-flowing springs. And when they returned, there was pollen dashed, sprinkled, and smeared on and all around their moccasins; it was pollen from all the vegetation. As I sat there I couldn’t ignore the fact that there was no doubt that kind of life, a life of foraging culture and agriculture, a life of self-perseverance and selfreliance, would sustain me and my people forever better than any form of advanced technology.

Cheíí then commanded the blanket to be opened so that my cousin sister could perform her final run. Then in a gentle but sincere tone he oriented to my little cousin sisters and brothers to be careful and not run past the Kinaaldá. Then in a commanding voice he told my cousin sister to run! As Cheíí began singing the remaining songs, I watched them disappear into the darkness.

I continued to stare out into the darkness trying to figure out where the runners were. I then finally saw the runners running in a field of corn stretching far out to the east end of my world. I looked to the east and saw the sun cast a glowing ray of warmth in the direction of the runners, and all around them it sparkled. I looked closer, and it came from the morning dew cupped in the hands of the corn people. As I watched my cousin sister race, I could see from the unevenness of her lips that she was exhausted. Then with one deep inhale, she experienced the exhilaration, euphoria, and spiritual stimulation that steamed from the corn people.

The whooping from the returning runners shook me from my trance. As I looked around, I could not bear the piercing of embarrassment I felt as I noticed that my Cheíí had noticed me snoozing. Nevertheless, I collected my composure and sat erect once again. As my cousin sister raced back in, I noticed instantly that her moccasins were smeared with streaks of pollen from the tip to the end and that they were damp from the baptism of the plant people.

As we walk this Pollen Road of Life in our institutes of higher learning, we must remember: While we learn those principles of how the techno-cultural world will one day be the only remaining culture that will feed, clothe, and defend us, we mustn’t forget the principles of the foraging and agricultural traditions of our indigenous legacy. Once we replace it, our identity (as my high school instructor once put it) will inevitably die, and how will we ever call ourselves indigenous again?

Brian Sloan (Diné/Zia) is a generation of the Ashiihi People Clan. His ancestors are of the Deeshchii’nii People Clan, his maternal elders are of the To Ahani People Clan, and his paternal elders are of the Zia Pueblo People of the White Corn Clan. He is a single parent of two daughters of the Bitter Water People Clan, doing his best to set an example for them.

He majors in Accounting at Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, NM, and plans to have his own counseling practice on the reservation someday. “With my traditional upbringing and my military background, I dream to become a substance abuse counselor,” he says, “and when I do, I will be utilizing traditional and military methods in rehabilitating troubled youth.”

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