It was still dark in the hogan where the young Navajo boy lay sleeping on a bed of soft white sheepskins. He heard nothing until a firm hand shook him gently and the sound of his grandfather’s voice reached his ears.
“Wake up, Kee! You must hurry before the sun is up.” Kee opened his tired eyes slowly and stared up toward his grandfather’s wrinkled face. He did not want to get up so early, but it would not be good to show disrespect.
Without a word, he sat up and slipped a light woolen jacket over his plaid shirt and denim pants. As he pulled open the heavy wooden door, his grandfather handed him the familiar stick.
Kee peered out into the morning darkness, broken only by a thin, crooked line of light outlining the ridge of the mesa in the distance.
It is so very, very far away, he thought.
With a sudden jolt, the Indian boy darted from the hogan, running past the sheep corral and out across the barren land. He could barely see the clumps of sagebrush that he jumped over. As he ran faster and faster, his heart pounded loudly beneath his shirt. The cool morning wind parted his thick, black hair as he ran on and on, clutching the stick in his hand.
The mesa was getting clearer now as the sun began to rise above it. Kee was filled with awe as he viewed the beauty of the rising sun each morning. Calling on all his strength, he increased his speed. He must not stop now, it was still so far away. The muscles of Kee’s legs stretched and pulled as he ran harder and harder. His eyes stared straight ahead at the line of golden sunlight as it rose higher and higher above the red rock formations and then suddenly burst into the sky. A new day had come.
Panting hard, Kee slowed his pace and stopped. With a powerful jab, he thrust the stick deep into the earth as a witness of his strength. Only then did he allow his body to relax. He sank to the ground to rest.
As the young Navajo boy gazed at the towering red rocks glistening in the early morning sun, he could almost hear the words his grandfather had spoken so many times.
“Every morning you must run to meet the sun. Run as fast as you can until you can run no more, then plant a stick in Mother Earth. Your legs will become stronger and stronger until one day you will plant your stick at the foot of the mesa. Then you will be a man, my son.”
And so morning after morning Kee had run to greet the new day, and each time he inched closer to the horizon.
Will I ever become a man? wondered Kee as he eyed the distant formation. I’m sure I will never reach the mesa and I am tired of running. It is foolishness that the old man speaks.
“Tomorrow, I will only run and hide behind the sheep corral,” Kee said to himself as he strolled lazily back to the hogan.
As he neared his grandfather’s home, Kee sensed that something was wrong. Always before he had been greeted by the sight of the white-haired man waiting in the doorway and smoke curling from the center of the roof. Now the doorway was empty and the smokeless pipe atop the hogan meant no fire had been built. He rushed inside and quickly looked around the eight-sided room. It was empty and he became frightened.
Each summer Kee came to the isolated home of his aged grandfather to help with the sheep and to be taught the ways of his people. He did not always understand the things his grandfather said, but his heart was filled with love and respect for the old man.
Where can he be? wondered the boy as he stood frozen with fear to the hard-packed earth floor. Suddenly, a low muffled sound came from the other side of the log walls. Kee rushed outside and ran around to the back of the hogan. There, by the large pile of cedar wood, lay his grandfather with a look of pain across his face.
“I was getting firewood,” he whispered. “When I fell the big logs rolled onto my legs.”
Kee knew that the logs had to be moved to free his grandfather. He pulled on the logs but he could not move them.
“My arms are not strong enough!” Kee cried. “What can I do?” The old man looked into the eyes of the frightened boy.
“Your arms may not be strong, but your legs are very strong, my son,” he said. “Run as fast as you can to the home of Uncle Hosteen Begay. He will bring help.”
Kee ran faster than he had ever run before, and as the muscles stretched and pulled he felt great strength in his legs. Feeling fear for his grandfather’s safety, he pushed harder and harder, leaping over clusters of rabbit brush and dashing past the scattered juniper trees. His heart beat fast, but he did not tire nearly as easily as he had before.
In a shorter time than he thought possible, the boy had reached the distant hogan of Hosteen Begay and several uncles were on their way to care for his grandfather.
Kee stared out toward the colorful mesa and thought of the many sticks he had planted in his attempts to reach it.
“It is not foolishness that the old man speaks after all,” he declared. “Tomorrow I will gladly run to meet the sun!”