A Window on my World

Longtime followers of this blog know that’s how I often refer to it—as a window on my world. During the pandemic, my world shrank right along with everyone else’s, so much so that the high points of any given week might well be whatever showed up in my email. Surprisingly enough, that’s how things stand this week as well.

A reader named Michael Walsh from Lindenhurst, New York, wrote to tell me how much he had enjoyed reading Blessing of the Lost Girls. He went on to say how much he appreciated my illustrating how “Native American traditions and culture are and always will be part of the fabric of our history.”

That statement really touched me because, when I set out to write the first Walker Book in the late eighties, I wanted to make reservation life accessible to people to who would never come to Arizona much less visit an Indian reservation. The person I kept in my mind back then was that proverbial little old lady reader from upstate New York. Now here I was hearing from a living breathing reader from downstate rather than upstate New York, letting me know that I had succeeded.

After reading his message, I started crafting a reply to him, letting him know why his note meant so much to me. In the process I realized that perhaps my blog readers might be interested in knowing that story as well. It’s something I told in live events while I was touring for Blessing, but clearly not everyone has an opportunity to attend live events. And so, as my mother Evie Busk would say, if I’m chewing my cabbage twice, I trust you’ll forgive me.

In my twenties, my first husband and I spent five years on the Tohono O’odham reservation where he was a teacher and I served as a K-12 librarian. I went there knowing absolutely nothing about the Desert People who have occupied that portion of the Sonoran Desert for thousands of years. I found them to be welcoming, kind, loving, generous, and humorous.

When I began writing Hour of the Hunter, the first Walker Family book, I wove the Tohono O’odham stories I had learned and told during my time as a librarian into the background of the book. By the time I was writing it, I had been away from the reservation for twenty years, but the people I had met and the things I had learned there were still engraved on my heart.

Fifteen years later l when Queen of the Night, Walker #4, was published, I was asked to come to the reservation to do a book signing at the tribal museum in Topawa. By then I had been away from the reservation for more than thirty years. On the 70 mile drive from Tucson to Topawa, I was very nervous. I felt as though I had treated the Desert People’s way of life with respect in my books and that I had honored their belief systems, but I had no idea how they felt about me.

When my second husband and I arrived in the museum’s parking lot on that cold, blustery March Saturday morning, I was astonished to find any number of out-of-state vehicles—cars from Michigan, Montana, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—waiting there. It turns out some of my snowbird fans had seen the event posted on my website and had driven 140 miles round trip to see what it was all about.

The program began with the emcee asking a medicine man to do the invocation. It was done in TO, and he was very longwinded. I know that he was talking about me part of the time because occasionally he used the word “Librarian.” Obviously there’s no word for “library” in the Tohono O’odham language.

After the invocation, the emcee announced that a group of young people were going to come out and do a circle dance. We were advised that this was a sacred dance and that we were not allowed to take photos during it. “However,” he said, “once we open it up for social dancing, you’re welcome to take photos, and you’re also welcome to come down and join the circle.”

So I sat there watching the circle dance, but the whole time I was thinking about something else. In 1973, our last year on the reservation, my first husband and I were invited to come to the wine dance. The wine in question is made from the fruit of the saguaro cactus. The Desert People use ribs of dead saguaros to knock the fruit down from the top of those giant plants. Then they collect the fruit in baskets and take it home where they boil it, mash it, and ferment it. The resulting beverage has the color and consistency of tomato juice with the wallop of tequila.

Wine dances generally take place in August. Attendees sit in a circle around a bonfire. Why a bonfire in August in Arizona? In cities with lots of cement and asphalt, those hard surfaces retain the heat, but out in the mesquite-covered desert, once the sun goes down, it can be bitterly cold. When the dance starts, the wine is poured into a cup that is passed from hand to hand with each person taking a sip before sending it along to the next one. That continues until sunup or until everyone in the circle is falling-down drunk and barfing into the dirt.

That idea may be offensive to our Milghan (Anglo) sensibilities, but if you think about it, that makes sense because it’s taking the fruit from the top of the saguaro and returning it to the earth, thus closing the circle.

As I said, my first husband and I were invited to attend the dance that year, but the problem was, by then we had a baby, so my husband went to the wine dance while I stayed home with the little one. From that day on, until his death from chronic alcoholism at age forty-two a decade later, my husband rubbed my nose in the fact that he gotten to sit in the circle and I hadn’t.

That’s what I was thinking about as I watched the circle dance on that cold March morning. And the thought that was going through my head at the time was this: “Judy, you’ve bitched about this for more than thirty years. Isn’t it about time you put your money where your mouth is?”

So when the emcee opened the dance to social dancing, I stood up to go down and join the circle. That’s when something wonderful happened. The Desert People in attendance gave me a standing ovation. You can’t see the goosebumps that appeared on my leg as I wrote those words, but trust me, they were there.

As I reached the circle and joined hands with the people on either side of me to start dancing, the thought going through my head was this: “My life will never be any better than this!” But then, miraculously enough, a moment later, it did get better, because all those Milghan ladies from all those out-of-state vehicles came down and danced in the circle, too!

That’s when I knew I had succeeded in making reservation life come alive for my readers. That moment was then and remains to this day the high point of my literary career! In 2000 the University of Arizona awarded me an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, but that ceremony doesn’t hold a candle to dancing in the circle at Topawa!

So this blog is a public thank you to Michael Walsh from downstate New York for letting me know that I actually succeeded in doing what I set out to do all those years ago.

The window on my world really doesn’t get any better than that.

46 thoughts on “A Window on my World

  1. I haven’t read Lost Girls yet, but have read all the rest of your books. I live in Oklahoma and we don’t have “reservations” we have “Nations” of the five civilized tribes. I live in the Chickasaw Nation area. My town is where their head quarters are. Out town would fade into nothing without them. It is amazing what these tribes do for their people. There are many other tribes that do similar, but the five civilized tribes do amazing things. I have a hard time imagining the difference in reservations and what is here. Keep on keeping on, I read and re-read your work.

  2. Talk about goose bumps! This blog brought goose bumps to me as I read about you being applauded as you joined their dance. Those Natives love and adore you for your sincere concern for their way of life. They realize your respect for them. I can just see the smiles of everyone there and feel the warmth of each hand holding that of another. Thanks for sharing this not just with your New York reader, but with all of us. PLUS—HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  3. Know exactly how you feel. Once I was asked to join in a peyote ceremony around Taos. That experience stays with a person, so welcoming. For a naive young girl from Iowa it changed me, all for the better. Your books are wonderful, you have definitely succeeded in bringing that way of life alive. Thank you!

  4. Judy,
    Wow, just Wow, brought tears to my eyes. Thank for for sharing the best day of your life.
    ( as you can tell, I’m not a writer)
    Pam Jewett
    Fox Island, Wa

  5. You, and your sharing of this beautiful experience, have brought me to tears. Thank you.

  6. This post brings back memories of my time around Taos. Was fortunate to experience a ceremony of the Pueblo people. Such an experience that I carry to this day, as you so elegantly describe. Thank you for all the enjoyable books.

  7. I’m new to your blogs, this is my 3rd. They just keep getting better and better. I am such a fan of yours.

  8. Thank you for telling us about life on the reservation in Arizona. I don’t know why we aren’t taught more about Native Americans when we are in school. I grew up in Iowa and don’t remember ever studying any tribe. There was a reservation at Tama, but we never studied anything about them.

    It’s the same thing here in Connecticut. Native Americans operate a very successful casino, but we’ve never been taught their history.

    Thank you for writing and also Happy Birthday!

  9. Awww I love it!!!! I am Reading Blessings now. I put my name on the waitlist at the library and was so disappointed when they told me I was 59th on the list. I came home and told my son and was saying I hope they are all fast readers. The next day my copy was delivered. My son takes good care of me!!

  10. I finished the Blessings this last week. I feel this blog was written for me. My family roots are in the Wallowas, home of the Nez Perce. I am drawn to these Native American stories and thank you for sending them to all of us. We spend 6 months in Tucson and love their stories. Thank you!!

  11. As usual your words often make my heart start leaking through my eyes at the joy you convey in how you share your stories. I can’t get enough so keep on stepping those steps and charging the gray cells.

    • Thank you JAJ, I am humbled by your kind words and inclusion in your latest blog. You have enlightened me in a way I could not have imagined. As my appreciation grows for Native American heritage and culture, I have you to thank for putting me on that path. My best wishes to you and your family.

  12. Dear Judy, I finished listening to Blessing of the Lost Girls last night and want to add my congratulations to you, for in my opinion, that is the best Walker-Brady book you have written. I couldn’t put it away and ended up listening to it all day and into the early evening before finishing it. It was unique how you wove characters and incidences from your other books into the story that I recognized. It was refreshing. Thank you for that. I have to admit that if I can’t find something different that peaks my interest, I go back and now listen to books that I’ve read of yours before and recently found a J.P Beaumont that I had missed. I’m looking forward to your next book. Thanks again.

    • SPOILER ALERT! Nancy, what I liked about this book is that after all the bad guy did to keep private, he was done in by a little dog named Hazel She lived next door to him in the trailer park and did not like him. She would always start barking and make a fuss when she saw him. That was a good sign that something wasn’t right. Animals know. That was the beginning of the end for him.

  13. Look forward to your blog every Friday morning. And, Happy Birthday to you today

  14. This may be your best blog yet… gave me goosebumps too!!! I am 76 and have been a huge fan for decades!!! LOVE these blogs!!!!

  15. Fantastic…????Just watched the Ken Burns program American Buffalo..stirring compassion for the native people and seeing the disregard for Nature and natives by the European settlers…all for adventure and the almighty $$$… they killed the bison for their hides and left the carcasses and meat to rot, the hides were sold in the East and Europe for lap robes to use in carriages…then they hunted the beavers for the beaver hat fashion craze until the style changed to silk hats…such a good program… thru it all there were a few who kept bison on their farms, so when the US decided to save the bison and protect them there were a few left…talked about the sportsman Teddy Roosevelt who first hunted and later worked to protect the animals and set up our national parks system…so happy to read your blog and hear your tales…????????

  16. I am another one of your top fans. Just finished Blessing of the Lost Girls. As a woman in her mid 70’s I have discovered a thirst for knowledge about my Grandmother, thanks to the Blessing book. I appreciated all tribal information at the beginning of each chapter. My Grandmother was half Cherokee. Now being older I want to find out more about her side of the family. All thanks to this latest book. It was history never talked about. So thank you for opening my eyes.
    Now I am sad we have to wait a whole year for my favorite J.P. Beaumont. That’s a long time for that book to “sit in a can”. Anxiously awaiting my next
    two day read. Keep on writing, your fans love you.

  17. If only you could see my goosebumps after reading this!
    Happy Birthday, Judy, and J.P.

  18. Happy Birthday, Judy Jance!
    October 27th was also my dad’s birthday (He would be 95 if he was still here). He was a huge fan of your books, as am I. It is also my best friend’s birthday. She also loves your books. We were able to come hear you talk at the Redmond Library. It was her first time and even though I have heard you several times, it is always a pleasure to listen to a good story teller. We thoroughly enjoyed your new book, The Blessing of the Lost Girls! A glimpse into Native American culture is a blessing to all who desire to learn more. Thank you for all of your books!

  19. I am currently enrolled in the LiveStrong program at the local YMCA – a group for cancer survivors. We get involved in physical activities to strengthen our bodies and meet with motivational speakers, doctors, and others to help deal with our anger, depression, and any emotional issues.
    Recently, one of our speakers, a local author, discussed writing what we know and how to approach writing. We got on the subject of US and Canadian history of the abuse of indigenous people, especially those forced into religious “boarding” schools. The author had no knowledge of this issue and was unpleasantly surprised to hear how many women missing from the reservations are just written off.
    I had just finished reading “Blessing of the Lost Girls” and told her about your book; she’s never heard of you but was fascinated when I told her how you weave TO stories into your own novels. Our library is on a 2 week shutdown to improve reader services and online offerings. When it reopens, Peggy will put your book on hold – says she can’t wait!
    So thank you for sharing the TO stories – I look forward to more.

  20. its not often i read something that brings tears to me. but reading your blog did. Thank you for your thoughtfulness of indigenous practices.

  21. I am “proverbial little old lady reader from upstate New York”. I loved Lost Girls, and, as always, relayed the best parts to my eager reader daughter as I read. I will never make it to Arizona, but I am most grateful for the opportunity to learn about life there, from the TO culture to the weather. Thanks

  22. I read your Blessings of the Lost Girls in one sitting, well some falling asleep in the chair but not for long.
    The TO stories to start each chapter was a treat! Love learning more with every book. the tears came with each girl lost.
    Thank you for getting this hurtful history out to the world, may it help get more awareness to the lack of compassion on the part authorities.
    I can only say THANK YOU for you being a part of all of our lives.
    P.S. Happy Birthday a day late !

  23. I agree with the gentleman that wrote you the letter. We lived on the Navajo Reservation, part of the time remote (135 miles to Doctors, shopping etc.. Then we were 75 miles closer to city and across the highway from the Hopi Reservation. I will never forget the experiences we had there.

  24. Around 1989 you were part of a panel at Willamette Writers in Portland OR. It was my first conference and I had yet to publish a book. Several panelists spoke of rocky relationships with their publisher but you talked about a team and a partnership. I vowed that if I ever got a publisher I’d approach them as a team. Forty books later, having working with 7 different publishers, I remember you because I’m on good terms with them all. Thank you. I also worked for 17 years on the Warm Springs reservation in Oregon. Circle danced and felt filled up as did you.

  25. This is a beautiful post. I fell in love with your Walker books. I wished there were more. I have the List Girls sitting next to me ?.
    I was the in order reader that helped you find out what happened to B’s first wife. It was an honor to mention me in your blog several years ago. Thank you. I got through a hard time with my nose in a book.

    • And you helped me again by reminding me to look in Unfinished Business. Clarice is going to play a role in the next Ali book which I should be starting later this afternoon. So thank you again!

  26. I have been re-reading the Beau books. Ralph Ames is mentioned dating a woman who owns a restaurant and bakery in Seattle. Then I read that they were married and dividing time between Settle and Phoenix. In which book is their wedding mentioned? Thanks you for your help..

  27. I’m jealous, would love to be part of the circle dance. I’m glad your stories are an accurate portrait of the desert people

  28. Thanks. I’ve found that I’ve forgotten details and thought I’d missed the wedding. I imagine it was an impressive occasion.

  29. I got to pg 201 & saw Green Chili Macaroni & Cheese.
    I quickly went to the back of the book …. No recipe?

  30. Greetings special lady, I must say thanks to your first husband for planting that seed in your heart. Even tho it was unpleasant for you at that time, years later it gave you the motivation to get up and join the dance. Let ask you — had that not happened, would you have gotten up and danced? Things happen for a reason—-a good reason. You are loved and respected. I saw you at the Apache Junction Library when you were promoting your books. In fact, I saw you twice when you visited AJ Library. You are so delightful, entertaining and interesting, I could listen to you for hours. Love your enthusiasm and zest for life. You have inspired me to walk the 10,000 steps. Not quite there but working on it daily. Fondly, Jan Voellinger??

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