Open Field Playground

Depth of Field by Alisha Valdez of the Institute of American Indian Arts

Depth of Field by Alisha Valdez of the Institute of American Indian Arts

Thirty-six years ago, one of the challenges I had to overcome was moving from Farmington, New Mexico, to a remote area called Whitehorse Lake community. At first, it was hard to adapt with no electricity or running water. I grew up with oil lamps and Coleman lanterns for lighting.

While growing up in Whitehorse Lake, I herded sheep for my grandma. The sheep and goats were let out at 7:00 a.m. every morning and herded back into the corral at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. When watching over the sheep, my younger sister and I would play out in the fields alongside the sheep and goats.

Herding sheep was our playground.

We were not worried about doing household chores like washing dishes, sweeping and mopping the floors. Our toy cars and houses were spam, sardine, and Vienna sausage cans. I packed our spam, sardine, and Vienna sausage cans in a Bluebird flour sack bag the night before along with our homemade slingshot made from a V-shape tree branch attached with braided thick rubber bands, marbles, and a stainless steel spoon. We made believe that the spam and sardine cans were our vehicles and the Vienna sausage cans were our houses. Our homemade slingshots and marbles were for the unfamiliar dogs that might try to attack the sheep. The slingshot and marbles were like a weapon to chase the dogs away. The stainless steel spoon was for digging out wild onions for Grandma’s homemade dumpling mutton stew.

At times, I tell these stories to my children and they laugh every time they see a spam, sardine, or Vienna sausage can. Today, we have electronic gadgets such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops as well as Direct TV and internet installed in our homes to play with. But through all my challenges and responsibilities those days playing in the open fields are of great value to my life and the lives of all my children.

Debra L. Tolino is a student at Navajo Technical University.

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