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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Code Talkers and Skinwalkers

Clouds were naught but tendrils; tossed across an azure canvas as a Bad Company tune played grandly in my mind.  “…the color of the sky I’m told.”  And Saguaros resigned to towering pines as the miles whined on beneath our wheels.  

Long before we’d reached our destination, I decided that the sky, the color of the sky; that wistful, winter blue, was the reason for the pesky anxious feeling of impending…well, I had no idea. Then.

But on this recent quick trip to our favorite mountain town, we picked up a copy of their regional newspaper and learned some astounding facts. It seems the wooly worms have spoken in no uncertain terms of the likelihood of a harsh winter ahead. They are, in fact, parading around without their stripes! 

Further collaboration was offered by the observation of the insect population, which has taken of late to traversing single file instead of the usual willy-nilly, non-pattern method. It does seem like ages since I’ve seen a Ladybug, and do those ant hills look a little higher this year? I hadn’t noticed an increase in the number or elaborate construction of spider webs, but you can bet I’ll be on the lookout now!

I was stunned to realize that I had missed this. Me, the consummate observer, had missed the signs of winter! Was there some secret code I hadn’t learned? Well that, and perhaps the close proximity to the Navajo nation, prompted the ponderance  of Code Talking in general and to wonder was it only understood by plants, animals, insects and Native Americans? 

Ans so it was, quite in keeping with my often unusual mind,  I was still thinking of winter and Navajo customs and legends when the sun could no longer warm my skin through the trees. In the waning light, I gazed toward the Mystery Forest from whence strange sounds are routinely reported and shivered. It wasn’t remarkably cold on the deck where I stood, but it would be pitch dark soon.  And I thought about the Skinwalkers.

In life as in legends, Navajos rarely speak of them. If ever. Supposedly, doing so would bring harm to yourself and your family.  Yet a number of encounters have been reported, though not by the Navajos themselves. 

Skinwalkers are essentially humans with supernatural powers, as in the ability to transform into any animal or other person they desire to be.  Unfortunately—and evidently not always a deterrent, one must first commit the evil deed of killing a close family member in order to become a Skinwalker. 

This likely explains why, unlike other tribes, Navajos do not wear animal pelts except for ceremonial occasions; in which only  sheep or buckskin are worn. 

At any rate. these skinwalking entities are considered extremely evil and therefore, highly dangerous.  Seen always at night and often near high country backroads, it is considered prudent to not turn your back on one and to speak the skinwalker’s full name out loud (if you happen to know it!) in order to dispel its powers and basically, save yourself.

On a lighter note, the Navajos have a host of engaging winter games. For instance, a game called “Shoes” or the game of Silence, where the last child to speak wins.

And of course, the String games, which are only played in the winter “when the spider sleeps”, lest a spider sew up your butt.  ( I swear, that’s how the story goes!)

Are you seeing signs of winter in your area? Have you ever played String games? 


  1. Good morning, dear Diedre! You are my first stop of the day and what a pleasure it was to read your post. Who else but you could whet my appetite with an opening paragraph as poetic as the one you crafted? I only dream of writing that well. I dream of it because I cannot express it in words.

    It fascinates me to realize that the Navajos were attuned to nature to such an extent that they were able to observe signs of a harsh winter in the deviant behavior of insects.

    I never heard of the term Skinwalker. It seems like the supernatural beings possess powers similar to those of vampires. Helpful hint: if a skinwalker's name happens to be Beetlejuice, don't say it three times. If his name happens to be Candyman, don't say it five times. :)

    The game of Silence is inspired. In the coming months I plan to introduce it at holiday parties whenever I encounter groups of screaming kids. :) I remember those string games but I never played. As you know, Diedre, I live on the Central Gulf coast of Florida. The only sign of winter here at this time of year is a slightly lower air conditioning bill at the end of the month. :)

    Thank you, dear friend Diedre, and have a wonderful Wednesday!

    1. Oh I disagree, dear friend! Whether fun or heartfelt, your posts are always expressed with impressive elegance; a difficult task for many.

      Beetlejuice - haha! If only Navajo names were that easy to pronounce ;-)

      I have to believe the game of Silence was indeed invented by a harried Mom :-) Playing the game at holiday parties was my first thought as well!

      Seasonal changes here in the southwest are few and far between and like you, if not for lower electric bills and shorter days, we might not ever know a change has occurred. Nothing like a trip to the mountains to remind us, huh?

      So glad you stopped by, Shady - thanks!

    2. << Oh I disagree, dear friend! >>

      This is an example of how a disagreement between friends can leave both feeling very happy. Thank you, dear Diedre! :)

  2. Skinwalkers...hmm...I never heard of them before. I think it would be cool to be a skinwalker but not by killing a close family member. I could never do that.

    The last child who speaks wins. I need to try that game with my nephews who are currently chatting my ears off.

    1. Ha! Is it Fall break there too? Grandson and I are diligently (somewhat) studying Common Core multiplication this week. Ugh.
      I'm with you, Chrys. The evil deed is a deal-breaker for me. Otherwise, I think I'd like to walk around as a fox for one evening ;-)
      Thanks for popping in!

  3. Jim Butcher in FOOL MOON did an interesting take on skinwalkers in Modern Chicago -- plus a one of a kind wolf that could turn into a human: his description of a human with a wolf's outlook and perceptions made for a fascinating read/

    1. Roland, good to see you making the rounds! Fool Moon sounds fascinating indeed ;-) I imagine writing about skinwalkers in modern Chicago would be an exhilarating exercise in creativity!

  4. Beautifully written! Yes, winter is's funny how many legends and customs there are. Often the history attached to them is fascinating.

    1. I am honored by your compliment, Stephanie. Thank you :-) Perhaps growing up in the southwest has instilled the innate curiosity, as well as admiration for the rich cultural diversities that even now, effect our history.

  5. I don't think I'd ever heard of a skinwalker before! I LOVE that idea (as a novelist, not as something I'd like to encounter on a daily basis, lol). And sigh. Yes, winter is coming. It's cold here in Charleston and I've already developed a stubborn cough. I'll likely be drinking green tea all day. Already wishing for spring!

    1. Temperatures dipped below seventy this morning and I was scrambling for a sweater - ha! Predictions are for a really wet winter this year and I'm dismayed because it just seems colder when you're wet.
      I do hope that cough is short-lived, it seems to make everything more of a task. Green tea sounds like just the thing to soothe it! Feel better, hon.


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