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Incredible Story of Navajo Mike, Child of the Dust Devil Air

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"Sit still, the earth will talk to you."
Navajo proverb

The wind blew a small tornado of tumbleweeds onto the parking lot of the Motel 6 along the old Route 66 in Moriarity, NM., on Saturday. So many tumbleweeds it blocked the entrance to the parking lot and made parking impossible before someone from the hotel came out to clear the lot.

I spent hours watching "dust devils" kicking up in the desert from my hitchhiking spot, just past the Interstate 40 East sign and in front of the "no pedestrians" sign.

Dust devils are updraft funnels resembling small tornadoes and rarely do serious damage but don't get hit in the face with a tumbleweed dust devil.

On Sunday, in a cloud of desert gravel, Navajo Mike appeared in his dusty 2001 Silverado.

He was fresh from the Gathering of the Nations, the biggest Native American powwow in the country. More than 1,500 Native Americans entertained at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque for the weekend.

"I'm going to Amarillo," he said, a four-hour drive into the Texas Panhandle.

"We're going to get to know each other," I said, he nodded.

Navajo Mike was born in a small town in the Navajo Nation, which straddles Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the biggest Native American semi-autonomous region in the country.

He's employed by a power company, which sends him to small towns throughout the region. He now works north of Amarillo. He has a light beard and appears strong, but doesn't appear to be a weightlifter.

Soft-spoken, he started talking about the powwow dancers.

"They each dance differently and even the world champions dance differently from the last time."

But mostly, he talks about "heartbreaks and mistakes," a line from a country song I heard while writing this piece.

He almost married a girl once but she cheated on him. Another girl did something so heinous he didn't want to be in the same house anymore and sold his $140,000 home for $8,500 - "never wanted to see that place again, it held bad memories."

Love was on his mind because he has another.

She's also from the Navajo Nation. He's 36. She's 18 and in community college. He wants her to come stay this summer. She uses his debit card. He'll take time off work "to show her a good time" when she comes.

He doesn't want this one to end like the others. He's deeply worried and excited.

Perhaps to change the topic to something less serious, he started talking about his grandfather, "who was very strong."

He was hit by cars seven times. He was hit once when inside a store, another time walking outside a store, another time in a car stopped at a stoplight.

"Cars kept hitting him and he kept living ... he had nine lives ... got hit by a car seven of them."

But I had been at that Moriarity corner for two nights and I was uncontrollably sleepy. When I get drowsy, I can fall asleep with my eyes open. I fell asleep standing up while waiting for a ride beside the road, nearly falling over when I woke.

I was in that half-sleep state when I noticed five-dust devils around us as we drove, one strong tower and four satellites.

In retrospect, in the hands of someone more supernaturally minded than I am, they looked like they could have been visiting someone they recognize.

Omen on the wind

I remember some omen birth stories from my school days. Genghis Khan was born with a blood clot clinched in his fist. Alexander "the Great" (the Persians call him 'the devil') was born the night the local temple burn to the ground and a Persian magi predicted disaster. Jesus Christ had a star and three magi.

Native Americans have numerous omen birth stories but Navajo Mike's stands out.

In part, because its message isn't clear ... yet.

His mother and grandmother say he was just a year old when a dust devil drew him up into the air and above their grasp for "about 600 feet." They ran after him, trying to pull him back before, "it dropped me down into their arms," he says on a video I took of him while he was driving.

"It's a true story and a good story," he says.

He clearly thinks it means he is something special, nature knew it and showed it by lifting him up in a dust devil.

Now, when he sees dust devils -- and he sees them often in this part of the world -- he thinks about what it meant.

What was that all about. What is this life all about.

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Journalist Michael Sean Comerford is taking a year to work in carnivals coast to coast. He's hitchhiking from San Francisco to the East Coast to his next carnival job and writing along the way.