Listening Woman (1978)

Listening Woman (1978)


In the context in which Tony Hillerman tends to use the word "harmony," it refers to the Navajo concept of hózhǫ́, the state in which all living things are ordered, in balance, and walking in beauty. The opposite of hózhǫ́ is hóchxǫ́ǫ́, which refers to disorder and chaos in one’s life. In Hillerman's work, chaos and imbalance manifest as as physical or mental illness, infections of the body and souls contracted from contact with mainstream U.S. culture.


The steep, vertical edge of a mountain, hill, or mesa. Cliffs expose the rock types and different earth sediments of the mountain, and can be created either by erosional forces or by structural forces. Erosional cliffs are created when the rock is weathered down starting at their base. Erosional cliffs are prevalent in areas with mountainous sandstone or sedimentary rocks that are prone to weathering. Structural cliffs are created with fault displacement or when a significant landslide occurs. In most cases, there is a sudden large drop past the edge of the cliff, creating a dramatic change in elevation between the top of the geological formation and the bottom of the cliff.


The flat valley or other ground that is bounded on two sides by steep vertical walls. This almost creates a v-shaped gap in the landscape. Canyons are often formed by rivers and streams, which have cut through the rock of the earth and created a deep valley. A famous example of a canyon is the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This canyon was created by the Colorado River which, through preferential erosion, incised the canyon into the bedrock. Canyons are numerous in the southwestern United States due to the specific environment of the region and the erosion that has occurred there over millions of years.

trading post

A trading post is an establishment where goods can be traded. It is also a social center where news and gossip are exchanged. Trading posts have been associated with American frontier culture since the seventeenth century. Over time, trading posts developed into a cultural institution at first funded and backed by empire, later by national interests, and most often by enterprising business men.

Trading posts became centralized hubs in a network of exchange that both participated with and circumvented the burgeoning capitalist system that was imported into the Americas along with settler colonialism. Although trading posts were initially intended to provide support to the European traders and trappers who traced their way across the North American continent, Native American groups were also drawn into the posts' exchange network. Native Americans traded furs, pelts, and even scalps for finished goods such as steel knives, firearms, woven textiles, food stuffs, and alcohol. Although not every post was poorly managed, trading posts earned a nefarious reputation for taking advantage of Native traders by offering poor exchange rates, trading products that were infected with diseases, and promoting the purchase and use of alcohol.

Many trading posts are still in existence. In the Southwest, they still symbolize "the frontier" as they are located as at the dividing line between "wilderness" (Indian country) and "civilization." Today, trading posts can be reached by pickup truck, tourist RV, and even the occasional horse. Many trading posts are also preserved as National Historic Sites.


Witches are people, men or women, who practice witchcraft. In many cultures witches are typically believed to be female. In Navajo societies, witches are most often believed to be male, although older people and women without children are also believed to be witches. These witches cause harm or illness to the people they curse or who encounter them. This sickness can be cured by completing curing ceremonies.

In the Southwest, there are strong concepts of witchcraft for both the Pueblo groups and the Navajo. For the Navajo, witches may also refer to Navajo wolf, wolf, or skinwalker. In some Native American legends, a skinwalker is a person with the supernatural ability to turn into any animal he or she desires. In addition to transforming into animals, the skinwalker has other powers. He or she can read others' minds, control minds, bring forth disease, destroy homes, and even cause death. While Europeans warned of a wolf in sheep's clothing, certain tribal beliefs cautioned against a human in wolf's clothing. Literally, the Navajo wolf, or witch, can also be referred to as a skinwalker.


A large piece of rock that has been detached from a larger rock surface by weathering, whether physical or chemical.

summer hogan

Also known as a brush hogan, a summer hogan is a temporary shelter typically made of three forked poles and covered with the boughs of cedar or piñon pine. These structures are generally used during summer, when it is too hot to have thick earthen-walled hogans. Summer hogans are also constructed for ceremonial use. When used for ceremonies, summer hogans are constructed with specific materials, depending on their purpose. For example, if a summer hogan is constructed for a ceremony to bring female rain, piñon branches would used, whereas for a ceremony to bring male rain, cedar would be used. Additionally, summer hogans take varied forms, depending on the use or need. If the hogan were being constructed for a ceremony, for example, and only a wind break would be needed, then the hogan might have only one wall.


Among the five branches of the Unites States military, the Army is a large military force that is trained for war on land. The mission of the U.S. Army is to preserve peace and defend the nation. The first U.S. army was the Continental Army that was organized for the American Revolution between 1775- 1783. Like all other military branches, the U.S. Army operates under the ultimate command of the President, with the next highest ranking official being General.


Also known as an anvil cloud, a thunderhead is the towering head of a cumulus cloud that is moving in the direction of high winds aloft. A thunderhead usually signals the imminent potential of downbursts of heavy rain accompanied by violent winds.


A word used by Hillerman to refer to the work of people known in some Native American traditions as witches. In the Navajo tradition, about which Hillerman wrote most often, Navajo witches are also known as Navajo wolves or skinwalkers. In general, it is believed that witches cause physical infections that stem from spiritual imbalances associated with death. Because witches are connected with death (to become a witch in the Navajo tradition, one must murder a family member), all dealings with witches are always already tainted with death and uncleanliness. If one becomes infected with illness because of contact with a witch, or because one is the target of a witch's hex, healing ceremonials need to take place to cure the sickness and help the invalid regain balance, also known as hózhǫ́ . Hillerman used the same term of witchcraft to refer to other evil goings on and unproper behavior for other tribes, like the Hopi.


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