Sunrise Flight  into Acid Rain  Cancelled

Irene Nakai

I woke up my mother, father and little cousin around one-thirty in the early morning. My luggage was packed and already in the trunk of the car. Around two o'clock, we bumped down the short dirt road drive to the highway. From there it was a smooth two hours' cruise to Cortez, from where I was to catch my plane to Denver. My mother drove, I sat beside her, and my cousin Victoria and my father were in the backseat. Once in a while, someone spoke, sang a song or told a story. It was a novel experience, traveling in the predawn darkness. Only one car passed us on the road and it was going the opposite way.

We arrived in Cortez in a seemingly short time and got some gas at a truckstop. We also had some coffee and sweet rolls in the adjoining cafe. The cafe had only two other customers when we entered and it was very quiet. Sitting across from me, my mother looked sad so I told her a funny story and she smiled.

At five-thirty, we left the cafe and drove to the airport. I checked in and had my luggage tagged. I barely had time to wash my face again when suddenly it was time to go. I went through security check, came back through and hugged my mother, father, and cousin: "goodbye and I will be back, soon." I remembered my horse and told my cousin to take care of him while I was away. As I walked through the glass door, and past the armed security guard, I was also going through a "time warp."

On the plane I sat at the far end, in the smoking section, although I do not smoke. I had heard from my sister that that part of the plane offered a better outside view, she was right. The stewardess mumbled her well-memorized jargon about airbags and emergency exits as the plane ambled down the runway. Minutes later, we were over Mesa Verde. Down below, there were the still-bald spots from the forest fires of 1970, a drought year. The sun was peeking over the horizon, lighting the eastern slopes of the high mesas of junipers and pinon pines, and already behind, in the northwest lay the Sleeping Ute Mountain, Dzil Naajinii. Looking south over Dinétah, my people's homeland, I saw it enveloped in an ugly, green cloud - the dreaded smoke from the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico. In mourning, I also saw the furrowed alkaline hills north of the power plant. There were also the septic-green pools of dammed water, not sparkling like living water. South of Farmington, on the mesas, I saw for the first time the green hay fields, the product of an optimistic and colossal irrigation project. I questioned, "Would those fields be irrigated with an acid rain? Would the well-known sandstone pillars and mesas of Dinétah be drenched with the same deteriorating rain and would we wake up one day, in a flat dead land? No! No, it must not be." There was only mourning in me as the plane lifted off again, from Farmington, into the north, the mountain country of Colorado. The mountain country scenery was more pleasant but it was remote, now, National Forest/Private/No Trespassing land. Somewhere over central Colorado, we flew over aspen forests and high mountain meadows over-run with cloud shadows. The forests were bright green clumps, the texture of a shedding pony's back. Another time, while over some still snowy mountains, I looked down and noticed the gray-dusted-no-longer-white snow. Shortly after the gray snow, the little plane left the mountains, and Denver and the plains came into view. The cityscape was the same rather monotonous domino trails of squat buildings arranged in rows and patches of small green lawns - paradoxical tributes to a once free Earth.

My black horse runs fast; one ear back,
one ear forward and his mane tangled by 
the wind. I would whistle to the meadow
larks, mountain bluebirds, and all the 
tsídii in the sagebrush and the junipers, and 
we had talked.

Back in Denver, the plane descended, bumped along the runway and taxied to a stop. Slowly, I collected my carry-on bag, tennis racket, and purse, and walked down the steps of the plane and up again into an eight o'clock already-busy terminal. There was a breeze blowing, warm air bouncing off the paved-over Earth. No, it must not be. It shall not be.

Irene Nakai. "Sunrise Flight into Acid Rain/ Cancelled" printed by permission of the author. Copyright ©1980 by Irene Nakai.

As printed in Larry Evers, ed. The South Corner of Time. Tucson, Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, ©1980, p. 92.