The Blessing Way (1970)

The Blessing Way (1970)


In Navajo social interactions, as well as in those of many other Native American cultures, "uncle" is a title of respect used to address an older male, regardless of actual familial connection. The familial term connotes the intimacy of a social group in which all members are believed to be connected, as well as the respect that is given to older generations.

swivel chair

A chair whose seat rotates to face in any direction, usually used in office environments. Swivel chairs often also have wheels, to enable easy movement along wide desks and their close surroundings. For many years, Tony Hillerman sat in a swivel chair as he wrote as his rolltop desk.


A daily phenomenon that has special resonance in the Four Corners area of Southwestern U.S.. Although sunsets, occurring as they do all over the world every evening, are a common occurrence, because of the Southwest region's general latitude (roughly between 25 and 40 degrees North) and generally clear atmospheric conditions, skywatching, especially sunsets, is a regional practice. Deep purple to black silhouettes of striking cactus and geologic formations contrast with the ephemeral and splendid bursts of rich roses, oranges, and cerruleans that sweep and deepen from the western horizon to the observer's vantage point.


Traces or evidence of movement left in the outdoors, typically on the ground, whether by animal, human, or machine. In the context of Hillerman's novels, a track can refer to temporary marks and clues, as well as to an existing path that runs through the natural environment. Such a path can be a narrow one that is used by animals, especially herds of deer, sheep, or cattle, or it can be a wider, unpaved road that has formed as a result of vehicles passing through the same route over the course of many years. In the rural parts of the U.S. Southwestern regions, such country tracks are fairly common.

Track can also mean to look for or follow the physical evidence of an occurrence, whether the movement of an animal or the clues left behind as a result of criminal activity.

muzzle (animal)

The elongated nose/mouth bone structure of the face of an animal such as a dog or a deer. The same word is also used for the fastening device that may be placed around an animal's mouth to prevent it from biting or to restrict eating.


A person or persons who have knowledge of, or see, a crime being committed. If identified, they can be compelled to give a statement under oath in a court room or to provide a deposition. In trials where the life of a witness or a witness’s family could be jeopardized if the witness provides testimony, they can be placed in a special protective care before, during, and after the trial. This is known as the Witness Security Program, where, upon completion of testifying in court, the witness and their family have the option to be provided with new identities and relocated.

To witness something does not always entail observing criminal activity. To bear witness can also mean having experiential knowledge of something. One can witness an act of kindness, a natural phenomenon, an accident, or a miracle. Similar to the witnessing a criminal act, these other acts of witness often entail an associated testimonial, where the witness shares their observations as evidence or proof their experience.


A native plant to the U.S. Southwestern regions, the yucca is a member of the agave family, characterized by stiff, sword-like leaves. In the center of the yucca plant grow its long spikes that carry clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers. There are over forty species of yucca, and the indigenous peoples of the Southwest have a long history of utilizing the plant's thick, strong fibers in woven textiles and cords. Although woven yucca textiles are no longer in use, the cords remain vital elements in rituals. The Zuni people, for example, use these cords to tie prayer plumes and wands. The pulp and sap of the plant can also be used as a soap, especially for hair washing.

The yucca flower is the state flower of New Mexico.

Santa Fe Railroad

Chartered in 1863 as the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, this railway didn't make it to Santa Fe, NM until 1880 when it connected New Mexico in the east to the Southern Pacific Railroad in the west. In 1895, the railway was reorganized as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company because of poor management, and in 1996 it merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad.


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