Life with the Navajo— Afterword

Soon after arriving at my parents’ home, Marshall Tome came to visit me. He had planned on staying one week. My parents liked him immediately and treated him with warmth. Nevertheless, after two days in New England, he was ready to go home to the reservation. I could sense his discomfort. I asked him privately why he wanted to leave early. His short response spoke volumes. “The sky is too small here.” I knew exactly what he meant. The sky was too small for me too. I drove Marshall to the airport in Boston. We hugged each other at the … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part XII. Goodbye for Now

I’m sitting on the ground with my legs stretched out and my back against a warm rock, talking to you on the tape recorder. The sun is about to set right behind me. I’m by myself. It’s quiet and peaceful. I have some thoughts and feelings I want to share with you. I’ve been out here herding sheep all summer with lots of solitude and time to think about life while I’m riding around on Jimmy’s back. I could stay in Red Rock forever, marry Marshall, and become a certified member of the Navajo Tribe—and hope you all would come … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part XI. Walking in Their Shoes

I’m herding the sheep right now while I’m talking in the tape recorder. There’s lots of time out here in Red Rock to think about life. I am learning a lot about the Navajo way of being, acting, and thinking. Many things are becoming clearer to me, things that I just couldn’t understand in the beginning. When I first came to the reservation I had a simplistic view that there was no basic difference between Navajos and Anglos. After all, we both are humans struggling for survival on this earth. We both need food and shelter and human companionship. After … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part X. They Forget I’m White

Hello again. Today is August 4th. I have been here two months now. I am alone in the cabin. The only time I talk into the tape recorder is when I am alone. I would never do it when Grandmother was around. One time I took her picture with my Instamatic camera. Since then, she puts her hands over her face when she sees me with the camera or she turns and walks in another direction. Lee Tome doesn’t seem to mind at all when I ask if I can take his picture. He’s used to being in public and … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part IX. Butchering Sheep

I’m back again. That’s the wind you hear in the background on the cassette tape. The wind blows very hard out here. Sometimes the dust is so ferocious from being whipped around by the wind that you can’t see even a yard in front of you. The blowing dust would be worse now, except that this year we had heavy rains during the spring. New growth of vegetation keeps down the loose dirt. The wind just now blew an empty pail off the box in front of me. I’m going to sign off here until the wind dies down. A … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part VIII. Herding Sheep

Life was rugged in Red Rock. We got up at five in the morning with the first light. Virginia Tome told me that if the sun caught a person in bed, that was a sign of laziness. She was strict and critical, but a good teacher of the Navajo Way. When no one was around, I talked into my little portable tape recorder, describing my day-to-day life as a sheepherder. “Today is July 4th, Independence Day. Right now I’m by myself in the log cabin. Lee Tome and Morris have gone to Shiprock to get their pickup fixed. Virginia Tome … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part VII. My Friend Marshall

I first met Marshall Tome when he came to the Chinle Boarding School to interview some of the staff for a story he wanted to write for the Navajo Times, one of the few independent native newspapers in the country. Marshall spoke English flawlessly, without a trace of the Navajo accent that I had grown accustomed to hearing among my students and my friends—an accent that had crept into my own speech unintentionally. After the interview, Marshall said that he wanted to get together and talk some more. He asked for my telephone number. He was not shy. Marshall pursued me … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part VI. Terror off the Rez

Being a young, single woman required a certain amount of caution on my part. Men sometimes interpreted my friendliness as an invitation for sex. All too frequently someone would knock on my door in the dead of night. One of those times, a drunken man came to my front door and yelled, “I know you are in there. Let me in.” He pounded furiously. I held my breath, hoping that I had remembered to lock the door before I went to bed. After a few minutes, the yelling stopped and silence returned. Just as I started to relax again, I … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part V. Spirit Guide

The last manmade structure shrank to a black dot in my rearview mirror as I drove down the cracked and pitted paved highway without a car in sight. The unmarked turnoff to the left was barely visible between juniper trees and sagebrush, the place where the pavement turned to dirt. I had already explored this region once before during my time off from teaching, but this particular turnoff had escaped my attention. Although I spent most of my weekends taking the students in my class to their remote homes, this particular weekend I decided to return to Utah to explore … Continue reading

Life with the Navajo—Part IV. Puberty Ceremony

Most of the teachers who worked for the BIA regarded me as an enigma in my enthusiastic embrace of life on the reservation. The majority of them were middle-aged and looking forward to retiring from the government and moving back home. In contrast to my colleagues, I became so immersed in Navajo culture that I gradually found myself identifying with the Navajo people. Every couple of weeks when I left the reservation to buy groceries in Gallup, I thought how sickly white people appeared, with their anemic-looking faces, as they pushed their grocery carts down the aisles. I had to … Continue reading