The Wind and the Tumbleweeds

It was back when I had a contract job as a data collector for the CDC. I drove around the state of Arizona conducting surveys at junior high and high schools. I went to spots so rural that GPS was useless, street signs were minimal, and directions came as a series of landmarks like “go a mile past the police station and jail” and “turn right at the blue house.”

That morning, I left Winslow at dawn and drove through the wild flatlands of northeast Arizona, passing the rugged, breathtaking vistas of First and Second Mesa. When I arrived at the main school of the Hopi Nation in Keams Canyon (population 206), the sun was just beginning to warm the air. I checked in at the office. Two students escorted me to my first classroom.


View from the Hopi Reservation by Biotour13 on

I’d been in dozens of schools by then, facilitated surveys in hundreds of classrooms, and I immediately sensed something different at the Hopi Junior/Senior High School. Though energy buzzed in the hallways as the students moved from class to class, the voices were much gentler than you’d find in the average teenage hub. All the students were well-groomed and most wore simple, neutral colored clothing. Both the boys and the girls had long, glossy black hair, often past their waists, none of it dyed or spiked like I’d seen at other schools.

I stood out among these people. I’d come, in a way, representing the federal government that had not been kind or just to their people. But rather than ignore the stranger, the students made eye contact and greeted me as they passed. Even more delightful, they took the survey seriously. They didn’t sleep through my presentation, tear holes in the scantron sheets, draw fire-breathing dragons or phallic symbols on the questionnaires, or fill in random bubbles to make patterns down the page. They listened. They read. They asked questions. They completed their surveys without the usual teenage angst.

That day I noticed the dignity. The Hopi teens carried themselves well, with unique confidence. There was no stiffness or awkwardness, at least not that I could detect. Theirs was not a defiant dignity hefting the weight of a troubled history. They had a shared, quiet surety, like they knew who they were and were happy to be so. Spending the day with them made me feel calm. Their gentle way wrapped me in a silky cocoon of peace. (Or maybe it was a nest of their long black hair.) I could have stayed in that peace for an age.

It was time for school to let out. I was wheeling my materials toward the main entrance through a thin crowd of students when a sudden, violent wind swept through the hallway. Gusts pushed through, one after another, so strong that all the doors blew open. Then tumbleweeds three and four feet high barreled in and smacked against walls and students, leaving broken bits of twig along the hallway.


Tumbleweed, by Natasha Monnereau on

It was difficult to walk into that wind. I narrowly avoided the ragged edge of a tumbleweed. I leaned my body forward — my hair stinging my face as it whipped around, blinding me — and pushed toward the exit. Soon tears streamed out of my eyes. I yanked hair out of my mouth. I laughed. There was nothing to do but laugh.

I looked at the students around me expecting to see some of the shock I felt, but none of them seemed fazed. There were a few lowered eyelids, a slight smile or two, but no major reactions. They just kept moving. I guess gale force winds and indoor boulder-sized tumbleweeds can’t shake the calm of Hopi teens. It must be their way in their natural environment.

I remember this today because I’m trying to borrow some Hopi calm and dignity in a gale force week. This weekend I’m leading a retreat for 100 women. I have a team of volunteers to mobilize, a speaker to host, and guest band coming in, and dozens of details to chase down a handful of rabbit trails. My hope is to get to the retreat with some stores of energy — It’s a terrible feeling to be exhausted at the starting line.

I want to enjoy the retreat as a participant. And I want to be a warm, welcoming presence to the many newcomers we’ll have. But I’m just not sure I’ll have it in me.

I’m doing the best that I can. I delegated better than I ever have before. I’m being careful to not over caffeinate as a means to survive. I’m drinking lots of water. I’ve made myself go to bed early every night this week. I’m taking breaks to rest during the work day. I’m praying and using positive self-talk and taking deep breaths, but there’s still stress.

Last night I went to bed at 10:30pm but was still awake at 1:30am because details were whipping around in my brain. This week has been full of very difficult conversations in ministry and there are more to come. This morning, someone called me “just a little girl.” Recently, I spoke out of turn and hurt a friend; today I understood, felt sick about it, and called to make it right. Meanwhile, sheets of rain fell for hours as I worked and ran errands. The irony is that we’ve hardly had rain here in years, and now we’re in the middle of a weeklong winter storm. Flooding and mudslides may be a real part of my retreat weekend. I certainly hope not, but at the very least I expect to tiptoe through unavoidable puddles and have wet socks.

So, what I need right now is the calm and peace that I experienced among the Hopi people. They live in a rugged, sometimes harsh landscape and yet they are unmoved by the winds that pushed me back and brought tears to my eyes.

What I want is to arrive with my dignity intact. I want to shed this stress and have peace, to allow the details to play out in a fine concert of imperfection and be satisfied. Fully satisfied. (And then I want to return home, sleep in, have a late coffee-and-donut breakfast, and then walk the sugar off in the sunshine.)

Surely there are tumbleweeds heading my way this weekend. I hope I have the resilience to dodge them, laugh, and carry on unfazed.

One thought on “The Wind and the Tumbleweeds

  1. Loved this gentle reminder of softer pathways amidst the many “storms” of everyday life. Thank you for your eloquence!


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