Tayo and Rocky join the Army because Rocky wants to join and because they both want to travel. However, the young men did not plan on seeing the Philippine jungle and the death that occurs there. Tayo cannot bring himself to shoot Japanese soldiers because they all resemble his uncle Josiah. Rocky is killed, and as the rain pours down incessantly, Tayo curses it and begs for it to stop.
Back at Laguna, New Mexico, Tayo sees the result of his curse. The land is dry, and nothing is growing. Tayo is as sick as the land. He keeps throwing up and cannot eat. Tayo’s family decides that he needs a healing ceremony, so the tribal healer, Ku’oosh, is called in to cure him. His ceremony, however, does not cure Tayo’s sickness. Ku’oosh, knowing that Tayo needs a special ceremony, sends him to a medicine man named Betonie.
Betonie cures with elements from contemporary culture, such as old magazines and telephone books, as well as with native ceremonies. He explains Tayo’s sickness to him. It is the witchery that is making Tayo sick, and it has the entire Native American population in its grip. The purpose of witchery is to prevent growth, and to grow is to survive. Betonie explains to Tayo that a new ceremony is needed and that he is a part of something much larger than his own sickness.
The Navajo medicine man makes a sand painting for Tayo to sit in to reorient him. When the ceremony is over, Betonie remarks that it is not yet complete. There are a pattern of stars, some speckled cattle, a mountain, and a woman whom Tayo has yet to encounter.
The speckled cattle are of Mexican origin, designed for the hard existence of northern New Mexico. Uncle Josiah bought them before he died, but when they were set loose to graze, they started south and kept moving, and neither Tayo nor Josiah can find them. Tayo realizes that part of his ceremony is to find these cattle.
He begins his search at the place where they last saw the cattle and soon meets a woman who lives in a nearby house. He ends up eating dinner and spending the night there. Later they make love. Tayo already had an experience like this one when, before the war, he went to the home of The Night Swan, Josiah’s lover, to tell her that Josiah could not make their appointment. After Tayo and The Night Swan made love, she said that he would remember this moment later.
While he is staying with the woman, he sees a pattern of stars in the north and decides to follow it. The search takes him to a mountain named for the swirling veils of clouds that cling to the peaks. On the mountain Tayo comes across the barbed wire of a ranch and finds the speckled cattle. He cuts the fence so they can escape toward Laguna. Two ranch hands catch Tayo but do not see the cattle in the distance. They are going to take him in but leave him when they see the tracks of a mountain lion. Still in search of the cattle, Tayo comes across a hunter with a freshly killed buck across his shoulders. The hunter suggests that Tayo’s cattle are probably down in the draw by his house. Tayo follows the hunter down to the house and meets the hunter’s wife, who is the same woman with whom he slept at the beginning of the search. The cattle are held in the woman’s corral; they came down off the mountain the previous day. Tayo says good-bye to the woman and takes the cattle back to Laguna.
Upon returning, Tayo tells his grandmother that he is all right; the ceremony worked. He decides to stay with the cattle at the ranch rather than live among other people. There he again meets the woman, who this time calls herself Ts’eh, claiming that her Indian name is too long. They spend much time together, making love and talking. She teaches Tayo about plants and rain, and he is immersed in her love.
Ts’eh leaves and tells Tayo to remember everything she taught him. He takes a long walk and finds himself at the uranium mine. There he...
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