I’m proud to say I knew award winning novelist and New Mexico icon Tony Hillerman. He was a professor of journalism when I began my pursuit of a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico in the late 1960s. I considered him a mentor while in school and stayed in touch with him after my graduation. He worked for United Press International for a period of time in Santa Fe, and I had a career with UPI in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Cheyenne, WY, for many years. I gave his daughter Anne, a novelist in her own right these days, her first writing job to help me cover the New Mexico Legislature when I was UPI’s Santa Fe Bureau Chief and State Political Editor. He even wrote an article for “The Quill” — the journal of the professional journalism society, Sigma Delta Chi — that focused on my reporting of a notorious murder at Budville, NM, in the late 1960s. As a teacher and a writer, he inspired me in many ways.
Most of Hillerman’s mystery novels are focused on the Navajo Nation, where he had gained great appreciation and respect for the Navajo people. The Navajos in turn appreciated him for his thoughtful and well researched depiction of their culture and awarded him the “Special Friends of the Dine'” award. He considered it his most important of many awards.
One of the things he has mentioned in several of his interviews about his books on the Navajo Nation is the keen and delicate sense of humor that the Dine’ display.
So it came as no surprise when I spotted the signs below in a report about how the Navajos were dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Having been hit very hard by the disease, the Navajos retained their sense of humor when they reminded people about the need for social distancing. Since raising sheep is a long held tradition on the reservation, this sign made perfect sense.