‘Buffalo Ball’ - An Okay Game

Thor Sigstedt - May 28, 2013

I thought I would talk about something almost timeless; something that embodies our culture, even right here in the high desert valleys, basins and mesas of northern New Mexico; something that so many of us can relate to, no matter where we are from.

I thought about sports; thinking about how in 1971 China had basketball hoops in every village and factory and school, playing the game as an integral part of their lives. They thought if we were American, then we would be very good at the game so, during National Day in Peking they pitted us against the Peking University Team in front of a large audience (this was after the ping-pong “diplomacy” team and before Nixon). Of course it was a joke (on us) and they ended up handing us the ball (like the globetrotters) so we could shoot! We got better over time and played in front of huge audiences anxious to get a peek at us and the kids loved to run up and blurt out “OK”!

I thought about Herman Agoya from Okay Owinga, who came to a barbeque here and played hoops in our dirt driveway with the children, while the Chinese guests they came to be with would not try horseshoes out cause they said “it is a children’s game.” Hmm. I recalled playing volleyball in our arroyo in Pacheco Canyon. I thought about baseball, though, which everyone has a story about; a wound from sliding on the dirt and special time hitting a home run or a tragedy like being “benched.”

I had all of these experiences and had begun to think that I just didn’t have the eye or the ability to hit. It became a negative obsession until Roger asked if I wanted to play city league softball some 36 years ago. I said, “Well, I am worried that I can’t hit and don’t want to embarrass myself or anyone else.” I felt sheepish, like the guy tapping his foot and wanting to dance, but just feels he isn’t dance material. I tried out and, wow, I did OK, playing for many years and there is, somewhere, a huge third-place trophy at the Santa Fe Reporter and the then Green Onion, not to mention the then Vergara Printing.

I remember how we used to play in the meadow by the windmill, too, with neighbors and friends at kids parties, running around hoping to not trip over a chamisa or turn an ankle in a gopher hole. Also the places we played and practiced, like Canyon Road Park (that’s what we called it; like we called Valle Grande “Valle Grande” and never dreamt outsiders would hang a hat like the pretentious “Valles Caldera” on Valle Grande) and the field at the then College of Santa Fe, which had “Agujeras Grande” prairie dog holes and mounds tempting death in the outfield. I pass by the newly leveled ball field at the ECI, that Brian must have circled around on with their tractor a thousand times and think, “better than CSF”.

My favorite activity, though, was to gather buffalo gourds by the railroad tracks (usually on a holiday, like Thanksgiving), put them in plastic buckets, grab some of the old softball bats and my huge first baseman’s glove (which I used in the outfield) and climb the gravel track’s “mound” to pitch them to whichever children or passers-by wanted to give it a shot. It was as much fun as ‘taking the ducks to the river’ (an expression I made up based on that chest opening activity!) These images, to me, are timeless.

So when Bernard and Dave and Tom and I took a short hike up to the burned-out line-camp shack this cool spring day and scanned our eyeballs over the Galisteo Basin to Lamy (home of the International Kite Flying Contest ’81-‘87), then clambered down to the other side where we entered the zone which, like baseball and basketball and dancing and ‘taking the ducks……’; the arena where, for some reason, the camera is clicking right and left, the sky is blue blue, the senses are heightened, the imagination is stimulated and you feel like you are at a world class art museum or landscape (and you are!) as you perch on perfectly flat natural sandstone benches under timeless stone overhangs with soot stains in all the right places, the ancient junipers nearby have been hacked by axes a century or more ago to make a wooden club/bat and/or some charcoal (you know; for smelting silver in Socorro and such). Here, someone had a contest, I think, hundreds of years ago; to see which one could paint nicely on this sacred stone and impress themselves (or someone else; perhaps a lover); the best “swing” they could take at rendering a lizard, a toad, and some buffalo gourd “b-balls” or their own “mitts”. Batter Up…..Swing Batter! Okay?

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