Thursday, January 31, 2002


I had stopped at the intersection of Highways 191 and 262 to talk with local trucking mogul Billy Gaines. Billy and I had been working on a small project together, and I needed an update. It was 6:30 a.m. and I was just starting my morning run. As it happened, we were adjacent to my canine buddy’s house. Grover, who was feeling neglected because my attention was focused on Billy, began barking loudly. Grover had not been happy with me lately anyway. He had started holding back. Instead of coming to the highway to meet me for a scratch behind the ears, he was staying back by the fence, barking until I patted my thigh and called him. He would then grudgingly come to the road, yapping all the way.

That afternoon I was standing by the microwave oven waiting for my lunch to heat and thinking about Grover. It struck me that it took a very long time for those two minutes to elapse, and that I had lost track of entire decades in less time. I have been at the trading post almost fourteen years, and really don’t know where all that time has gone. My initial commitment to the project was three years, and now I have been here thirteen. When I left California to come back to Utah, the trading post was still under construction. I left the comfort of the office for a job pounding nails beside Jim Foy. Jim was very patient and was also careful to give me jobs that didn’t require much talent and didn’t imperil the overall integrity of the project.

In no time at all, the trading post was ready to open. It was, however, September, the end of the tourist season, so business was less than brisk. That first winter there wasn’t much to do. In fact, there wasn’t much to do the entire first year. By October of the next year Dacia had been born. Dacia came to the trading post with me almost every day, so we stayed busy entertaining each other. That didn’t bring in much revenue, but we had a nice time. I often carried Dacia around in a frontal pack, so I’m sure the local Navajo people wondered what it meant to have a male trader walking around with an infant stuck to his chest.

At about that time, the local artists began to realize there was somebody new in the business; somebody who didn’t really know what he was doing and frequently erred on the side of paying a premium for their work. That resulted in a flood of new items. After a time I realized what was happening and developed a new strategy. When an artist came in with his or her work I would ask, “How much?” They, of course, started high, thinking they had nothing to lose. I would offer less and not budge. After a few minutes of haggling, I would have a fix on how serious they were with the initial price. This was determined by whether they were walking to the door or not. If they were, I knew my offer was too low. If they were still in there pitching, I knew I had gotten close. It wasn’t long before the artists understood my system and would start for the door almost immediately. It gradually began to dawn on me who was better at this game.

At about this same time, my father, Duke, and I were engaged in serious discussions involving the future of the business. I wanted it to be strictly Southwest arts and crafts, and Duke was intent on buying anything that would sell. For Duke, cash flow was the thing. On one occasion he went to Phoenix and bought a truck load of futons with Southwest designs for the trading post. I carried those darn futons out to the porch and back inside every day for three years. On warm spring, summer or fall days, Duke would go missing and I would find him sleeping outside on one of the futons. This put me on the horns of a dilemma; I wanted to use him as a marketing tool (“See how comfortable these futons are, people just lie down and fall right to sleep!”) but didn’t want to embarrass him. Additionally, I never quite worked out how to make a good sales pitch with him snoring? Barry and I are now at the age where we have been seriously considering a trip to Phoenix for another load of futons. We frequently need an afternoon nap and don’t have a comfortable place to rest and lose track of time.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, January 25, 2002

New Image

Some people are born traders. Last week Jana's father, John Kennedy, stopped by for a visit. Since he was born into the trading post business, he has been at it virtually all his life. At 90 years of age, he is still active, and unable to give it up. His love of the Reservation and trading posts requires periodic trips to our part of the country for a little bartering of Pueblo pottery for Navajo baskets.

Barry has been trading with John much longer than I, since Barry was at Blue Mountain Trading Post while I went off on other adventures and misadventures. Although Barry and I have been around long enough to anticipate most demands from the old traders, we were a little surprised when John requested Jana to ensure that a small quanity of bailing wire found its way into his traveling van. We all scratched our heads until we remembered that bailing wire is the adhesive that keeps our physical world together in the Desert Southwest, and that John had been around long enough to be perfectly competent and conversant with its many uses.

Our father, William W. "Duke" Simpson is another example of one who has trader's blood his veins. Duke would not know what to do if he wasn't trading. With Duke it doesn't matter what is being traded, only that a deal is in the works. Duke has been trading since long before Barry and I were born, and may well be trading long after we have passed.

Barry and I are still a little ambivalent about our status as "Indian Traders." Whenever we are referred to by that title, I can't help but feel that many people must think the term relates to some barbaric trade in human flesh.

Barry has often brought up the fact that we are not nearly eccentric enough to be "real" traders. This has led to the development of many strategies for improving our image within this business. At one time or another we have thought it might work to:

A. Wear Hawaiian shirts and flip flops;

B. Grow pony tails and wear Hawaiian shirts and flip flops;

C. Grow pony tails and long beards and forget about Hawaiian shirts and flip flops;

D. Grow pony tails and long beards and wear western shirts and cowboy boots;

E. Grow long hair and beards and get tatoos and motorcycles;

F. Drink lots of alcohol and treat our customers badly;

G. Enter the world of the great unwashed, and never take baths or wash our hair; or

H. All of the above.

Nothing seems to fit very well, so for now we have to be content with being just plain old milk toast traders with no distinguishing characteristics. Suggestions are always welcome, but we have become sensitive to our lack of an acceptable image, so please be thoughtful and cautious when submitting recommendations.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, January 18, 2002

No Blue Blood

Barry was gone over the weekend, so I had plenty of time to think about the state of the trading post. Generally I am running from one project to the next, not focusing on any one thing for long, but last weekend was different. Barry wasn’t here to cover for my distractions, so it was up to me. Being alone in the store for three days caused me to consider several things afresh; including my pedigree.

Barry and I have often wondered how it would have been to be born with blue blood. Although we have silver spoons in the store, we were definitely not born with one in our mouths. If our parents can be trusted, and, being severely honest, they have yet to deceive us, Barry and I are of the same genetic pool; we are both basically mongrels. I sometimes have my doubts about Barry actually being my biological brother, and Rose used to say something about finding him under a rock, but in general we are very similar. Our maternal lineage is Portuguese and our paternal ancestry is mostly Scandinavian, with a hodge-podge of other things thrown in.

Several years ago, our sister decided to trace the family’s genealogy. After checking a few branches of our family tree, and rattling several bones that were better left undisturbed, she decided to take the prudent course and immediately terminated her research. She felt very strongly that there were certain bits of information that should not be brought to light, lest an unmanageable scandal break out. Therefore, we have never been sure of our true history. It is safe to say, however, that no royal blue blood flows in these veins.

On the other hand, I believe we may have developed a strain of something, a virus possibly, that has stained our blood a different shade of blue. I had never considered the possibility of having turquoise blood until Doug The Post Card Man caught me at the local convenience store Friday morning as I was rushing to get milk for breakfast and get back to the trading post in time to open. Doug had been in the trading post earlier in the week and had seen the display of unset stones Barry has placed in one of our show cases. The stones represent several of the very well known turquoise mines that are no longer producing. Doug was immediately captured, and began to investigate just how he might acquire one. Since he comes from a trading post family, Doug may have also contracted the virus. His eyes became large as saucers as he perused the stones, and he began to talk about a trade if possible, and an outright purchase if not. Barry and I generally take the position that the stones are not for sale, but we will let them go to certain people who have the addiction. Doug was showing all the signs necessary to become one of those people.

At the convenience store I informed Doug that Barry was very protective of those specimens, but that he could stop by the store, identify the object of his desire and give me the chance to make a case in his behalf when Barry returned. Doug was there when I opened the door.

Later that same day, John, who is in the terminal phase, stopped by for a visit. John informed me that he had contracted the virus about 30 years ago, on a trip through Arizona. During that trip he had purchased a piece of turquoise at Tuba City and had never been the same. He mentioned a pathology I was only just beginning to understand, and asked me if it was okay to display his symptoms. I readily agreed. He disappeared out the door and soon returned with a small satchel. The carrying case was of a mundane gray and a little worn; nothing that would attract the attention of other turquoise virus victims. Inside the bag were several items wrapped in small bathroom towels. When he carefully unwrapped the parcels I felt my fever rise. Inside were about a dozen bracelets displaying the finest examples of domestic turquoise. Royston, Number 8, Bisbee!

My head began to spin. John had what he called “samplers.” These were bracelets which incorporated several types of turquoise, or several stones from the same mine which had different colors and matrix patterns, into separate artistic masterpieces. My breathing became shallow and I thought I was going to faint. I tried on a few of the bracelets and was amazed at their beauty. Afterwards John thanked me for “allowing” him to show me the bracelets and promised to bring more next time. I could not hide my surprise at seeing so many beautiful pieces of turquoise or my enthusiasm for seeing additional samples on his next pass through Bluff.

That was the point at which I realized I too had contracted the virus and that my blood truly runs turquoise.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, January 11, 2002

Fool's Paradise

bluff sunset
Sunset over Bluff by Twin Rocks Trading Post

Recently Jana decided that Kira and Grange are lacking in proper religious education, and began taking them to St. Christopher’s for Sunday services. It reminds me of a time long ago when Rose decided her children were not properly progressing, and Craig and Barry wound up as altar boys at the mission. Had I been a little older, I undoubtedly would have met the same fate. As a result of my youth I never received proper instruction and have suffered from a severe lack of spiritual training ever since.

Although I fully support Jana’s conclusion, I long ago decided that, for me, God resides outside. I therefore take my spiritual training out of doors. Lately that has meant that I am on my bicycle heading north while Jana and the kids are at the mission singing hymns and giving thanks. When I am out on the road, I feel that higher presence in every molecule of my being, and see Him (or Her) in every rock, plant and beautiful vista. I have often described myself as a polytheist, because I support and believe in everyone’s religious choice; so long as it doesn’t harm anyone. Therefore, I see lots of different faces in those rocks, plants and vistas.

The Navajo people who come into the trading post treat us to religious experiences on a regular basis. For example, after the recent heavy rains, I was talking with Lorraine Black, who informed me that the downpour was the result of her throwing water on a lizard during a recent squaw dance. She said, “They warned me, but I did it anyway, and look what happened.” The traditions of the Navajo are firmly grounded in the earth and its creatures, which strikes me as terribly interesting. After hearing her story, I asked if she would mind just sprinkling the lizards rather than inundating them. I also asked if she would consider doing it on a regular basis.

Later that week Elsie Holiday brought in a weaving that she said was intended to generate additional sales, and put us all on the road to economic recovery. She explained that it was a very special sun basket, and that after it was finished she and her family had prayed over it and asked the spirits for a little help. The funny thing was that it worked; business has improved significantly.

Kira and Grange seem to be responding well to their new routine, and I am certainly feeling closer to the Creator than I have in a long time. I generally leave the house about 6:30 a.m., when the day is fresh and everything seems possible. During last Sunday’s ride, I strapped on my cycling yarmulke, left the house before the sun came up and narrowly avoided a collision with our restaurant manager’s Jeep, which may very well have put me in immediate contact with a higher power. Whether that would have meant meeting the higher higher power or the lower higher power is subject to some debate around the trading post, and an object of great concern for Rose, who probably hopes there is still time to salvage me.

Since Barry was out of town, and I had to be back by 9:00 a.m. to open the store, I had made arrangements with Rose to redeem me in her white Toyota chariot if I couldn’t make it all the way to Blanding in time. After my close encounter with Mark’s Jeep, I began the long pull up Cow Canyon with the old Bob Dylan song, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, and the saying “God looks out for fools and small children” running through my mind. I felt a little discomfort when I realized that I didn’t fit neatly into the small child category and had only one other alternative. The air was cool and the hill was fading, so I quickly rationalized falling into that unfortunate class.

As I crested the hill, Janice Joplin’s song about Bobby McGee overtook Bob Dylan, and I could hear her scratchy voice singing, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Remembering the mindbogglingly beautiful sunset from the other night and the balloon ride that I had recently taken, I realized just how lucky I am to be living and working in a place like this.

view of bluff from balloon
View of Twin Rocks from Hot Air Balloon

I had noticed the sunset as I walked out the side door of the trading post one evening, and was stunned by its beauty. The sky was bright red and the clouds seemed to be swirling in a vortex, leaving a dark void in the center of the sky. I had seen beautiful evenings before, but this one nearly overwhelmed me with its colors. Luckily the camera was handy and I was able to digitally record the scene to share with Barry, Rina and Natalie. I don’t think they would have believed me without pictures. As incredible as it seems, they think I sometimes stretch the truth. I suspect it has something to do with not being an altar boy, but I can’t confirm that.

A few days later, several hot air balloonists showed up asking to use the trading post parking lot to launch. I readily agreed, and was offered a ride in return. Barry said he would stay late, so I tumbled into the basket. The ascent took us up over the Twin Rocks, and gave me a view of the entire river valley. It seems incredible that we have such experiences right out our own front door, but in Bluff, anything is possible. Using Janice Joplin’s logic, I am freedomless, but if this is incarceration, I’d like to stay a while.

Based upon the natural beauty we experience here on an everyday basis, and the exceptional people we are fortunate enough to interact with, if God really looks out for fools, this is a fool’s paradise.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post