ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jim Kristofic’s “Reservation Restless” is a nicely wrought weave with varied strands. The strands are part memoir and part reflection on such topics as friendship, family, spirituality, literature, adventure, nature and Navajo culture and history.
Quick moving and savory, the strands are easy for the reader to embrace. That happens for two reasons. One is that the 38-year-old Kristofic is a masterful storyteller. The other is that underpinning the strands are enduring human emotions.
“The book is about love and beauty and grief and loss,” the 38-year-old Kristofic said in a phone interview from his home in Taos, where he teaches high school English.
Born near Pittsburgh, he was raised in Ganado, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation.
In one of the book’s most touching stories, Kristofic gracefully summarizes the life of his dear, restless, learned friend and mentor, Lyle Parsons of Page, Arizona.
Parsons “breaks the chokehold of alcohol and drugs. He cares for his wife during her breast cancer chemotherapy, then notices his skin is jaundiced because of a tumor in his pancreas has swelled and blocked the flow of bile from his gallbladder.” Parsons has surgeries, treatments, he reads “Huckleberry Finn.”
Now he has fallen unconscious at the foot of his bed. His family flies him to a Flagstaff hospital. At that same time, Kristofic is on a book festival panel in Tucson and leaves hurriedly to see his friend dying of pancreatic cancer.
The author introduces Parsons in an earlier chapter (“Yellow Evening Twilight”) that ebbs and flows with various subjects.
The chapter opens with a tribute to mountains as places where “Navajo medicine singers – the hataali – ranged … to gather herbs, to look for visions, to seek their chants to heal their people.”
Mountains, Kristofic writes, are home to hasbídí (doves), dólii (bluebirds), tsídiiltsooí (yellow warblers) and ch’agii (blackbirds). He likes to share in two languages – English and Navajo – what he observes or thinks about.
In the same chapter, he writes, “Glen and I are walking through ch’ó deenínii (fir trees) and ch’ósh gai (white spruce) and then t’iisbáí (aspen) and chéchi’l bika’í (scrub oak). I am whispering my running song again as we walk through the ferns at the bottom of the mountain. I am walking with Leo and I am walking with Glen and I am trying to walk in Beauty.”
Are these walks examples of his restlessness or something related? Of pilgrimage? Of peripatetic? Of wanderlust? Kristofic seems to thrive on movement and thinks many people do. He refers to Parsons’ wife “out wandering in the wilderness and that wilderness is called Cancer.”
That chapter is also important to Kristofic as writer. When the chapter was in a formative stage as stand-alone essay, he read it to two audiences and it provoked the same reaction. “They were just in tears, weeping,” he recalled. “I don’t know what it was, but that made me understand it was speaking to people.” The reaction pushed him to get the book published.
“Reservation Restless” is the follow-up to “Navajos Wear Nikes.” A planned third volume, Kristofic said, is already written and titled (“House Gods – Sustainable Buildings and Their Renegade Builders”) but not yet submitted to UNM Press.
Kristofic met John Kraker, an emergency room physician in Gallup who built two Earthships in nearby Gamerco and planned to construct more on the Navajo rez. The author worked in an internship program for architect Michael Reynolds’ Earthship Biotecture in Taos.
Researching the third book, Kristofic spent several years interviewing and working for sustainable builders in Taos, Rio Arriba, Mora and Sandoval counties using different methods. He said he studied the builders and what their work “does to one’s mindset and spirit … and to learn their fascinating stories.”