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While visiting a Navaho Indian reservation in New Mexico, the Aldens try to save a forest under threat of development by proving it is the site of a lost, buried ...
While visiting a Navaho Indian reservation in New Mexico, the Aldens try to save a forest under threat of development by proving it is the site of a lost, buried village, but someone is sabotaging their dig.
A New Adventure
"Are you ready for a new adventure?" Grandfather Alden asked with a twinkle in his eyes. It was nearly dusk, and the four Alden children were sitting in the living room playing Go Fish with Mrs. McGregor, the family housekeeper.
"What kind of adventure?" six-year-old Benny asked excitedly. He jumped to his feet, scattering cards everywhere. "Is it a scary adventure or a fun adventure, or is it — ?" He stopped abruptly when his older sister, Violet, tugged on his arm.
"Why don't you let Grandfather tell us?" She gently pulled her younger brother back into his seat.
"Well, I'll give you a hint," Grandfather said, settling down on the sofa. "It's not scary, but it's definitely going to be fun. It's something you've never done before. Oh, yes, there's one more thing. You're going to a very exciting place."
"Ever since we moved in with you, Grandfather, we've had one adventure after another!" Henry said. At fourteen, he was the oldest of the four Alden children. He remembered how their lives had changed since the days when they were living in a boxcar. Grandfather Alden had found them and given them a real home with lots of love.
"This may be the most unusual adventure of all," Grandfather said. "You're going to spend two weeks on a Navajo Indian reservation."
"A Navajo reservation!" Ten-year-old Violet cried. "Thank you, Grandfather." A shy, sweet girl, she leaned over and gave her grandfather a big hug.
"How did you arrange it, Grandfather?" Jessie asked. She was two years older than her sister, and very practical. "I thought that only members of a tribe could live on a Native American reservation."
"Don't worry, Jessie," Grandfather reassured her. "You're going to be special guests. My friend, Ed Talbot, invited me to do some trout fishing in the mountains. He told me there's going to be a Pow-Wow at a nearby reservation, and he thought you might like to be part of it."
"You bet we would! A Pow-Wow!" Benny jumped up again, nearly tripping over Watch, the family dog. "I know what a Pow-Wow is. It's like a big fair, only better!"
"I think it means a celebration, sort of a family reunion," Henry said slowly.
"That's right," Grandfather agreed. "Ed told me it's like a gathering of friends and relatives. There will be lots of singing, and dancing, and friends from other tribes are invited. Usually the townspeople come, too. It's a way to learn about the customs and traditions of the Navajo people."
"Where will we stay?" Violet asked.
"Ed has some friends on the reservation, the Lightfeathers. They've invited you to stay in their home with their two children, Joe and Amy. Joe's twelve and Amy's ten."
"It sounds like fun," Violet said. "When do we leave, Grandfather?"
"To get there in time for the Pow-Wow preparations, we have to catch an early morning flight tomorrow," Grandfather said. "Do you think you'll have time to pack tonight?"
"We will if we get started right away," Jessie said. She stood up and began thinking about what they would need. Probably plenty of shorts and tops, she decided, and some jeans and sweaters in case the nights were chilly.
"Okay," Benny said eagerly. He raced upstairs to his room and tossed his duffel bag on the bed. He was busily sorting through his T-shirts when Mrs. McGregor stuck her head around the doorway.
"Be sure to take your hiking boots, Benny. Your grandfather said you'll be doing some hiking on mountain trails."
"I'll pack them right now!" He threw open his closet door and rummaged through a pile of sneakers until he found his hiking boots. Watch strolled in, tail wagging, and plunked himself down on Benny's bed.
"I can't play with you now, Watch," Benny said. "There's just too much to do." Mountain trails, horses, and a Navajo reservation! Benny took a deep breath and stuffed his bathing suit into the bottom of the duffel bag. Half an hour later, he was all packed and happily stretched out next to Watch, patting the dog's stomach. He wished they could leave for the reservation that very minute. Morning seemed such a long way off!
The air was nippy the next day when they set off for the airport. Mrs. McGregor was driving Grandfather's station wagon, and Violet was wedged in the back seat between Henry, Benny, and Watch.
"Are you sure we can't bring Watch on the plane?" Benny asked when they pulled up in front of the terminal.
"No, I think Watch will be happy with Mrs. McGregor," Grandfather said. "She'll make sure he gets plenty of exercise."
"And plenty of play time," Benny said. "He likes to run around outside."
"Don't worry, Benny. I'll take good care of him. Have fun, everyone!" Mrs. McGregor called as they unloaded the luggage from the car.
A few minutes later, the Aldens checked their baggage at the airline counter and waited for their flight to be announced. Benny spent the next half hour watching sleek, silver planes take off, until Grandfather finally stood up. "That's our flight," he said. The children trooped after him as he handed the tickets to a flight attendant and boarded the plane.
"This is fun!" Benny said, settling into his seat. He kept his nose pressed against the window as the plane taxied down the runway and then took off. It was a clear day and, after lunch, Jessie leaned over and pointed out the Mississippi River to him. Later, he nudged her excitedly. "I think that's the Grand Canyon!" he said.
"Pretty soon we'll be in New Mexico, and you'll see real cactus plants," Henry said.
Once the plane landed, Grandfather ushered everyone into a taxi. The sun was setting in a blaze of color when they drove down a twisting road and saw a group of beige stucco ranch houses nestled at the foot of a mountain range. A split-rail fence ran around a part of the reservation, and two children rushed to open the gate when they approached. The girl gave a shy smile when Grandfather asked them if they knew the way to the Lightfeathers'.
"We sure do," the boy piped up. "I'm Joe Lightfeather and this is my sister, Amy. We've been waiting for you."
"Do you want to get in and show us the way?" Violet asked. "We can all fit in, if we put down the extra seat."
"Okay," Joe replied as he and Amy scrambled into the taxi.
"Oh, it's beautiful," Jessie said when they pulled up in front of a cozy adobe house with a red tile roof. There were clay pots full of cactus plants on the front steps, and a giant ficus tree shaded the front lawn. A man and woman hurried out to greet them.
"You must be the Aldens," the woman said. She shook hands with Grandfather and the children as they stepped out of the taxi. "I'm Toni Lightfeather, and this is my husband, Bob. Welcome to our home."
"We have a cat named Snowball. I hope you like animals," Amy said softly to Violet.
Grandfather asked the taxi driver to wait while he chatted with the Lightfeathers for a few minutes. Then he looked at the darkening sky. "I think I'd better be on my way now. Ed's cabin is about an hour's drive from here."
"Aren't you staying for dinner?" Joe asked, surprised. "You should see what Mom's fixing. She made all my favorite foods — fried chicken and stuffing, mashed potatoes, and chocolate layer cake."
"Those are my favorites, too!" Benny exclaimed, and everyone laughed.
"I appreciate the invitation," Grandfather said, "but Ed's expecting me for dinner." He hugged each of the Aldens. "Have a wonderful time, children."
"You, too, Grandfather," Violet said. She felt a little sad that Grandfather was leaving, but she knew she'd enjoy herself at the Lightfeathers'. Amy and Joe looked very friendly, and she could hardly wait to ask if they had any horses. They waved until Grandfather's taxi was out of sight, and then turned toward the house.
"Oh, here he is," Amy said, scooping up a large white cat who had scampered out from under a bush. "Violet, meet Snowball. You can hold him, if you'd like. He likes to be scratched under his chin."
Violet cradled the cat in her arms and he began to purr loudly. "That means he's happy," Amy said.
"Maybe it means he's hungry," Benny said hopefully.
Mrs. Lightfeather laughed. "I have the feeling that you're the one who's hungry, young man. Would you like to help me in the kitchen while everyone else puts the suitcases away?"
"Sure," Benny said eagerly.
"You and Henry will be sleeping in Joe's room, and the girls can stay with Amy," Mr. Lightfeather said.
While the rest of the Aldens trooped into the house and made their way upstairs, Benny followed Mrs. Lightfeather into the kitchen. It was light and airy and filled with hanging baskets of green herbs.
"I'm going to let you make a big decision, Benny," Mrs. Lightfeather said. "Joe told you I made a chocolate layer cake today, but my husband made peach ice cream for dessert. He wanted to surprise me. What shall we do?"
"That's easy," Benny said quickly. "We can have both!"
"Two desserts?" Mrs. Lightfeather said doubtfully.
Benny rubbed his stomach. "If there are any leftovers, I promise to eat them."
Mrs. Lightfeather grinned. "You've got a deal."CHAPTER 2
"I love your room," Jessie exclaimed a few minutes later. She and Violet had finished unpacking their suitcases and were admiring the colorful blankets on their twin beds.
"My grandmother made those," Amy said proudly. She was a tall girl with dancing brown eyes and long black hair. "All the colors and designs have a special meaning."
"Look, mine has an eagle on it." Violet peered at a beautiful black-and-white eagle with his wings spread against a pale blue sky.
Amy nodded. "The eagle is a symbol of honor. See that wavy line at the bottom? It stands for the mountains."
"Tell me about mine," Jessie said. "I see a deer and a turtle and some kind of a bird."
"That's a hawk," Amy explained. "He stands for swiftness. The deer means love, and the turtle is used in a lot of Indian designs. He's supposed to be wise."
"Wise?" Jessie said, surprised. "I never think of turtles as being very smart."
Amy smiled. "They live a long time, don't they?"
"I'd love to make one of these," Violet said eagerly. "Are they hard to do?"
"Very hard. In the old days, Navajo women had to shear their own sheep to get the wool. Then they made dyes from berries to color it."
"It's perfect," Jessie said admiringly.
"No, that's the funny part," Amy piped up. "There's always a tiny mistake in the design. The Navajo women put it in on purpose. They thought if it was too perfect, it would offend the gods."
"Really? I don't see any mistake in mine," Violet said.
Amy laughed. "I never could find it, either." She headed for the door. "I think we'd better go down to dinner now."
"Good, I'm starving!" Jessie said.
"We invited a special guest to welcome all the Aldens to the reservation," Mr. Lightfeather said a few minutes later. He was standing at the head of the dining-room table, next to a small wiry man with leathery skin as brown as a chestnut. "This is Kinowok, the oldest man on the reservation, and our storyteller."
"A storyteller!" Benny said excitedly. "I bet you know a zillion stories."
Kinowok smiled as Mr. Lightfeather helped him into his chair. "I've never counted them," he said in a surprisingly strong voice. "But if you stay long enough, you shall hear many."
"What kind of stories do you tell?" Henry asked, as everyone sat down. "Do you know any mysteries?"
Kinowok spread his palms in a graceful gesture. "Everything around us is a mystery. It all depends on how you look at it."
"That sounds like a riddle," Benny said, as Amy passed him a giant bowl of mashed potatoes.
"Let me explain," Kinowok said, settling back in his chair. "I live at the edge of the reservation, in the foothills. When I walked here tonight, I stumbled across a mystery. I saw some blades of grass that were crushed and some broken dry sticks." He paused. "What did it mean? Can you solve the mystery, young man?" he asked Henry.
Henry hesitated. How could some dry sticks and blades of grass be a mystery? "I guess not, sir," he said finally.
Kinowok gave a broad smile and turned to Joe, who was sitting next to his sister, Amy. "Joe, can you explain it?"
"It might have been a deer running through the brush," Joe said. "He could have crushed the grass and broken the sticks. You'd know for sure if you spotted his tracks."
"Wow, I never thought of that," Benny said, impressed.
"Can you tell your friends anything else?" Kinowok continued. "Let's suppose that I did see tracks."
Joe thought. "Well, you could look at the footprints and tell right away if the deer is male or female. The female has sharper hooves and narrower feet, and the male has a rounded point on his hooves."
Benny was so surprised he nearly forgot to eat. Imagine telling all that just from a footprint!
"And you can tell a lot just from his toe prints," Amy said.
"Toe prints?" Violet asked. "I never heard of such a thing."
"It's true," Amy insisted. "If the toes are spread apart, it means the deer was just running around playing. But if the toes are tight together, it means it was running for its life."
"There are many other mysteries nearby," Kinowok said. "But you have to know where to look."
"What other mysteries?" Benny leaned forward. He didn't want to miss a single word.
"When I was a boy," Kinowok said, "my grandfather told me about a tribal village nearby. It existed a long, long time ago, and its people were peaceful and prosperous. But one summer there was a drought, and the river dried up."
"Then what happened?" Violet asked.
Kinowok shrugged. "Without water, the people could not survive, so the families left. Soon the whole village was overrun with grass and weeds, and now it's buried. Just as though the earth had swallowed it up."
"A lost village," Henry said suddenly. "I just finished reading a book about archaeology, which is the study of ancient peoples. It said that sometimes you can find clues if you know where to start digging."
"Could we look for the village?" Jessie asked. "How close is it?"
"Closer than you think," Kinowok answered. "According to my grandfather, it's just a few feet away."
"It's part of the reservation?" Mr. Lightfeather asked.
"No, but it borders on our land. It's hidden somewhere deep in the forest, next to us," Kinowok said. "Some people doubt that the village ever existed. But I have never doubted."
"Wow," said Benny. "I bet we could find it and dig it up if we really tried."
"Archaeology is harder than you think, Benny," Henry said. "You can't just dig things up without knowing what you're doing."
"But we could learn, couldn't we?" Amy pleaded. "Mom, you studied archaeology in college, didn't you?"
"That was a long time ago," Mrs. Lightfeather said. "But I spent a couple of summers working on digs, and I can give you some hints, if you like. As a matter of fact, once in a while some students have tried to find the lost village. They never did find it, however. Henry is right, though, it is hard." She smiled. "Why don't we talk about it tomorrow morning?"
"Then we can start digging!" Joe said. "Sounds great!" said Jessie. "A Pow-Wow and a lost village," Benny said. "This could be our best adventure ever!"
"A village never disappears completely," Mrs. Lightfeather said the next morning. The Aldens were sitting around the oak breakfast table with Joe and Amy, drinking orange juice. "There are always traces left behind, and the trick is to find them. That's what archaeology is all about."
"What sort of traces?" Benny asked.
"It could be a cooking pot, or maybe an arrowhead, or a handful of colored beads. The important thing is to be very careful and not destroy something important." She opened a cardboard box and pointed to some small digging tools and brushes. "You can dig with these trowels, and then use the sifter to catch any fragments you find in the soil."
"Why do you have a paintbrush in there?" Benny asked.
"That's not a paintbrush," Henry said. "You use that to brush dirt off the objects carefully, instead of just yanking them out of the ground. That way you don't damage them."
"That's right," Mrs. Lightfeather said. "Take the tools with you this morning, and remember that an archaeologist is like a detective. You have to look for clues, and put the pieces together. And here's a box to hold any treasures you may find."
Half an hour later, the four Aldens, along with Joe and Amy, were making their way deep into the forest.
"I wonder how much of the village is left," Violet said.
"Probably not much," Jessie spoke up. "Where should we start digging?"
"I've found a lot of arrowheads straight ahead in that clearing," Joe said. "But that doesn't mean there's a village."
"Then let's start there," Jessie said eagerly. "Though I'm not sure I'd even recognize an arrowhead if I saw one."
"Kinowok taught me a lot about them." When they reached the clearing, Joe hunched down in the soft earth and opened the box of tools. "He can even tell what tribe they're from."
"We should start by making a grid," Henry said. "That's the way real archaeologists work."
"A grid?" Benny was puzzled.
Henry drew several lines in the dirt with the end of a stick. "You see, if we divide the area up into squares, we can make sure we don't go over the same place twice."
"That's a good idea," Violet said. "I'll take this square."
For the next two hours, the children worked steadily, scraping away layers of dirt with the trowels.
"Look, Jessie," Amy said, nudging her. "I think you've found an arrowhead. Or at least part of one."
Excerpted from The Mystery of the Lost Village by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1993 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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Posted February 4, 2013