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December 14, 2009

Someone posted a comment confused about the source of my writing and who I was.  I always assume everybody knows everything about me because I’m a pretty what-you-see- is-who-I-am person.  But I still realize that not everyone has known me for 40 years.   So briefly, an overview.

I lived my childhood and teen years in Ohio.  I attended a normal Ohio highschool and then Ohio State University.  After teaching in Dover for a year, I moved to New Mexico to work on a mission school  ( I don’t care much for the way Word Press organizes their blog space because it makes it difficult to get the whole picture if you don’t dig through all the categories and tags etc.  My other blog is set up in sequential order flat out and if you want a certain topic you can click a tag… Here it is confusing even for me!  Especially for me…) 

Anyway.  I went to Rock Springs NM to teach on the mission school.  At that time parts of Navajo land weren’t served by public school busses because the road conditions didn’t permit passage in bad weather and the houses were so scattered.  So the  children had to make it to a  main road to be picked up for school.  You can imagine how that worked out!    

 Rock Springs Mission established a small boarding school for some of the children connected with the church outreach so they would be in school consistently.  The kids stayed with us from September until Thanksgiving then went home for a long weekend.  They returned after Thanksgiving and stayed until two days before Christmas when they went home again for a long break-usually the weekend after New Year’s.  Then they returned until Spring Break, sometime around Easter.  Parents could pick them up for the weekend when ever they wanted and some families did that frequently.  Other kids whose families had transportation problems stayed until the Missionary took them home for breaks and summer.   I started teaching there the second year after it started. 

The community of Rock Springs is a entirely Navajo community.  It is designated as Rock Springs Chapter under the Navajo tribal governing system.  Those anglos on the mission were the only whites in the area.  We could go weeks without meeting another anglo unless we made a trip into Gallup.   Some of the workers on the mission made an attempt to learn the language.  Others assumed the Navajo should learn English.  I was one of those who picked up the Navajo language and way of looking at the world.  I was like a sponge. I soaked it all up, until in some ways I thought like a Navajo.  In fact, I still find myself taking a Navajo point of view on many  topics. 

I learned the language, first from the children I worked with every day;  then later I studied with one of the pilot programs for teaching the Navajo language  in the state.  This was at the University of New Mexico Branch in Gallup.  That was a long time ago.  The course was organized with a native speaker and the professor who had grown up on the reservation from a long standing trading company background. The bulk of the learning was verbal and aural.  We studied a text book with the Navajo vocabulary but there was not yet a widely accepted system of phonic alphabetization for the language so spelling was iffey;  if you learned it, it had to be by hearing and repetition.  We had no Navajo spelling tests as I had when I studied Spanish!   I think the Navajo alphabet is established today but by and large it is not a written language but a spoken one.

 The Navajo language is difficult for non-natives and requires that the student be almost constantly immersed  in hearing it spoken to develop a passable accent.  I was one of only two individuals in the class with that sort of background.  I was with the children all day everyday and with Navajos during church services. The other student was a lawyer working with the Navajo Legal Aid Agency.   Both of us were lone Anglos in a Navajo speaking environment.  The difference this made in our ability to comprehend and speak the language was dramatic.  We both loved the sound of the language and  daily to increased the depth of our understanding and vocabulary without really even trying.  I loved it.

It was particulary fun to see the delight on the faces of the teens and adults in the community as I tried my at first very basic vocabulary and conversations skills.  They all enjoyed an anglo who took the time and put in the effort to really learn their language. 

I lived on the mission and taught for several years then moved back to Ohio just a few months before Louie and I were married.  We lived with my parents for a time and then returned to NM.   After my husband died, I continued to live in Ohio, but our kids and I made regular trips to visit Mom and our family in Rock Springs.  I can say without any equivocation that we are as close to our family there as we are to our anglo family in Ohio. 

 My son, Notah, and his family moved back to NM  a few years ago.  I’m living now with my daughter, Rachael and her husband, but still in Ohio.  I was able to spend three months with Notah last spring and early summer.  I’m hoping to do the same again this year.  Rachael and Michael have a ‘Five Year Plan’ that should put them back in NM at the end. That is where our hearts are.

I miss the desert with a tremendous ache sometimes.  I’ll be writing about it here, but if you want to know more you should go to Tangled Highways (  and read those blogs.  I’ve been posting there a lot longer and much of it conveys my impressions of the desert. 

Maybe that clarifies the overall picture of how I got to the reservation and how I can write about the land and the people.

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