I used to teach at Ch’ooshgai Community School, a boarding school on the top of a mesa on the Navajo Nation. One spring morning when the students were in the hallway changing classes, one of the older boys began calling out: “Herald! Herald?” Soon there were others calling out to Herald, and in short order it became a daily routine during class changes. “Herald! Herald? Oh, Herald!”
I had the older boy in one of my classes. “So, who’s Herald?” I said, looking up from my attendance sheet.
He shrugged his shoulders and grinned, trading glances with other kids in the room, but he had nothing to say.
I got the same response from other students when I asked, but the calling out to Herald was to last until the end of school. I kept my ears open. One day whilst the students were visiting quietly as they finished up an assignment, one of them said to another, “When he lands on the roof of the school, you’ll cry, Jerome.”
“No way,” said Jerome. “You’ll cry when it thunders and you get all your stupid hair singed off, dumb ass.”
“Who’s he?” I said, ignoring the profanity. “Are you two talking about Herald?”
All I got were cherubic grins and shrugs.
I had repeated instances like this. Nobody would answer my questions, but I was beginning to piece together a great dragon of a beast with a twenty foot wingspan, able to set fire to things from the air. Could this be the fabled Thunderbird? No wonder no one would tell me. Outsiders were always making fun of their legends, and they weren’t about to give me the chance to.
There were certain old people who swore that there was indeed a gigantic bird which flew up and down the Rockies before storms. Ornithologists scoffed at this of course, saying that somebody with binoculars would have seen it long before now. But could there ever have been? I well remember the bobcat that Dad shot in the chicken house which the Zoology professors insisted could not possibly have been there. I started doing some research. Soon I discovered Argentavis magnificens, a late Miocene monster of a bird with a 23 foot wingspan that weighed between 150 to 175 pounds, which flew the skies of Argentina, six million years ago.
I finished my maté and went outside to a rock to eat my fry bread and mutton stew and to look out over the dry grass of the countryside. My head spun at the thought of it, as I sped south in my mind’s eye into a never-never age of pristine wonder, past the tall trees of the White Mountains, past meadows and upland hills, long before there ever was a Nogales, and on down the great mountain chain, all the way to the slopes of the Andes Mountains in Argentina, where the great Argentavis soared on the updraughts of a gathering storm, just like the dragons in Good Sister, Bad Sister, except that our dragons are rather more Jurassic, with bony tails and mouths full of teeth.