Friday, May 31, 2002

Mother Earth

For many years the Navajo people we know have been trying to educate us to the ways of Mother Earth. Mother Earth is also known as Changing Woman because of her ability to be reborn in the spring, age gradually throughout the year and pass on in the winter; a cycle which is repeated each year. This kind and concerned deity has been watching out for her people since they first came into this world. It is not that we are unfamiliar with Mother Earth; as kids we were in constant contact with her. Just after school was out for the summer each year, our mother would shave our heads and turn us loose to rampage around the town of Bluff. We would immediately lose our shoes in order to rebuild the thick callouses on the bottom of our feet, which were necessary to navigate the rough terrain. Summer was a time to search out and explore all aspects of our surroundings; very few things were left uninspected. Craig, Steve and I were the masters of our small universe. We dug forts deep into the red earth, lay in the cool, moist sand under shaded culverts and scaled the great cliffs which give Bluff its name. It was an idyllic childhood, one which offered much freedom and independence. To this day, when I stroll through Bluff, I often come across things that for one reason or another open a window to the past. It is as if, for a moment, I return to that time and become one of three out of control young boys exploding onto the scene.

Spring Flowers around Bluff, UT and Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Today's thoughts arise from a brief thunder storm which struck Bluff. Steve and I were working at straightening up the trading post for the day when the rain began. Steve is Mr. Clean, and gets wound up easily when the dust gets thick and fingerprints obscure the view into the jewelry cases. I am Hasteen Casually Cluttered, and am not easily offended by a messy desk or unorganized back counter. We each do our best to accept the idiosyncrasies of the other and work together to get the job done. As the thunderstorm erupted, I walked out onto the steps just outside of the front doors to enjoy the freshness of the rain. The smell of moist earth and the static electricity in the air captured my attention. As I absorbed the scene with all of my senses, I noticed a car pull up in front of the cafe next door. Out jumped Leslie Keith, a pretty young woman in a nurse's uniform. She flashed a bright smile, waved and disappeared into the cafe. I turned to look through the wet leaves of the cottonwood trees towards the old Bluff City Trading Post. I could just see a small part of it through the driving rain and swaying branches. In an instant I was transported back almost 30 years to a similarly rainy day.

Spring Flowers around Bluff, UT and Twin Rocks Trading Post.

I had just completed my daily chores of cleaning the glass, sweeping the concrete floors, and straightening up the displays of Bluff City Trading Post when it began to rain hard. I ran that small store with the help of my sister, Susan. We alternated opening in the mornings, and worked together in the afternoons and evenings. I remember being very proud of myself for doing such a good job at maintaining the spotless standard Susan demanded. As I admired my domestic skills, and worried about setting a high standard for future projects, I heard a vehicle drive into the parking lot. I walked to the open door and recognized Archie Jones with a small group of his many children piling out of their old white Ford pickup truck. Archie was a bit of an antique at that point; tall, thin and stooped, with a dozen or so quarter inch white whiskers sprouting from his bony chin. He always smelled of rich red earth and juniper smoke, not an unpleasant perfume once it became familiar. Archie was a real character; with a bright happy smile and a gleam in his large, sleepy brown eyes. It was rumored that Archie had three wives, and a boat-load of kids. I know that he was always short of cash, which is why he visited us. We ran a small pawn business and loaned money on his personal jewelry. Archie's word was good as gold, so we never hesitated to provide him money to hold him over until his next check arrived.

The family literally flooded into my newly scrubbed and mopped establishment, shaking the rain from their clothing and tracking mud inside the store. I gave them a frustrated look and realized that I would not have to worry about what I would be re-doing for the next few hours. Archie noticed my consternation, and shrugged it off with a smile. The fact that moisture had come to our mostly dry climate was too important to let small matters interfere with his good mood. I guess he thought an explanation was in order however because he walked up to me and began explaining. Archie spoke very little English, and my Navajo was, at best, inadequate. No matter, his young daughter Leslie stepped forward, as if on cue, and began to interpret her father's words. His nearness of presence, aromatic scent, sincere look and tone of voice demanded my attention. I could tell by his attitude that he wanted me to understand what he was saying; that it meant a great deal to him to share his message. He touched his weather worn face and said, "My skin is red like the earth. I was born through her; she is my mother." I stood there listening intently, looking at his animated face and wondering at what he was saying. He continued, "All good things come from her. Be good to her, and she will be good to you." Leslie interpreted. His message, spoken through a shy child's soft voice had a definite effect on me. It made me want to know more. Archie stepped back seemingly satisfied that he had made his point. We finished his pawn transaction and they exited into the storm. My mind switched back to the present; from the fragrance of Archie to the fragrance of the falling rain and the electric energy of the lightning.

Mine has been an interesting journey into the traditions and culture of the Navajo people. I find their messages as motivating and thoughtful as many other belief systems I have come to know. Theirs is a unique perspective on the world; their eyes see the earth through a different lens, and their hearts feel different emotions. The old view which requires treating the earth as a living. breathing and giving entity has great merit. Respect for the natural world is vital for its survival, and for ours. I know that when I am in close contact with the Earth, I feel more at ease and draw strength from her natural beauty. So, if you find a little red dirt sifting out of the packages you receive from us don't be disturbed - we are simply sharing with you the secret to our quiet, calm, genteel world; the secret of Mother Earth.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, May 24, 2002

The Great Lizard Roundup

The first half of May had remained cool and comfortable. The nights were even a little chilly, requiring a blanket as insurance against the early morning cold. Then, almost without warning, the heat arrived. The entire week had been a scorcher, and instead of a blanket we needed a fan. Even the lizards seemed to be affected. They stayed under the porch more than usual, taking advantage of the breezes that circulated through the overhang, and convening in counsels of two or three, as if to discuss the temperature.

Kira & Spenser with their Lizards at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The day dawned like every other that week; bright and hot. I opened the side door of the trading post and was immediately mobbed by a flock of moths. There had been a worm infestation earlier in the year, and the worms had apparently morphed into moths. There were moths everywhere. I retrieved the little red vacuum we keep for just such occasions and sucked dozens of them into its small holding bin. That didn’t seem to diminish their number one bit. They were still everywhere, and now they were madly dispersing in all directions. Having lost the battle of the moths, I decided to proceed with my usual morning cleaning duties.

All in all it was shaping up to be just another ordinary day at the trading post. Then Barry arrived with his son, Spenser. Barry had taken Adam, Spenser, Tarrik and Grange camping the night before and was just coming back. It was Kira’s seventh birthday, and I needed to leave the trading post to help Jana with preparations for Kira’s party that evening. As I was placing a mistakenly returned sleeping bag in Barry’s truck before going to find Jana, I noticed him: the giant Collared lizard Barry and Spencer referred to as a “mountain boomer.” He was just under Barry’s truck; by the left front wheel.

As Spenser meandered across the porch from the restaurant to the trading post, I directed him to look under the truck. “Wow,” was all he could say. I knew we would have to catch the lizard, and that “Wow” was soon followed by “Can we catch him?” The Navajo people believe that lizards are keepers of knowledge. Lizards are often portrayed as well meaning, thoughtful, elderly beings with the time and patience to properly educate those who desire to learn about Navajo culture and tradition. We are not quite sure why so many lizards take up residence at the trading post, in spite of their intermittent capture. It may be that they perceive a need to impart their wisdom to this mob, in the hope of improving our condition.

Spenser has always been the master lizard catcher around the

, although some of the other nieces and nephews have given him a run for his money from time to time. I discouraged lizard hunting when the kids were younger, but have recently changed my policies. Before the kids became master hunters we would wind up with short-tailed lizards, and severed tails squiggling and wiggling all over the porch. Also, the kids generally wanted to take their captives home, which I felt was a bad idea. After a few discussions about what it would be like if someone took them from their moms and dads, the kids devised a catch and release policy. I am sure the lizard moms and dads were relieved. The kids also discovered that they could squirt the lizards with water and capture them whole. The cold water startled the small creatures, causing them to stop long enough for the kids to snatch them, tails intact.

At times like these I am reminded of my torts professor, Chuck Luther. Chuck was a great advocate of animal rights, and frequently asked us if we thought rocks and trees had rights too. Since we had no idea that he was actually talking about environmental issues, we generally answered, “No!” He was loved and admired by all his students, and has had a great impact on many of us. Once I realized the importance of his questions, I became much more aware of the environmental issues which were so important to him. Since the kids have developed a means of enjoying the sport of lizard hunting without harm to the reptiles, I paid due respect to Chuck’s memory, to the Navajo culture, and to Spenser’s request. “Let’s get him,” I said.

Barry sneaked around behind the truck as I got the water hose. Spenser positioned himself to grab the prize once it was sufficiently saturated. Barry then scattered a few small stones beneath the truck, and the lizard moved out into the open. A few more stones from Barry and the flood was unleashed. Spenser danced around for a second or two, dodging the spray of water and positioning himself to grab the lizard without getting a bad bite. The trap was sprung. Spencer stood holding the lizard in his hand as a big smile spread across his face. After admiring its rare beauty, and showing him to Jana, Kira and Grange, the lizard was allowed to return to his business. Shortly after that we captured a second large specimen. A little while later Spenser caught a third, monsterous, beast.

As it turned out the day was anything but mundane. It was a successful afternoon of hunting for Spenser, and a good day for the lizards who still stalked the grounds discussing the heat, and undoubetly explaining to their companions how they had escaped the great lizard round up. Of course we also had a few stories to tell. The lizards began to grow with every retelling of the story, until I was sure I overheard Barry and Spenser telling someone that the last lizard captured was the size of a full grown crocodile.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, May 17, 2002

The Hat Basket Affair

It was mid-morning. The day outside was bright, yet still had a bit of the briskness of early spring. There must have been a couple of dozen shades of green visible through the open doors of the trading post. The cottonwood trees were budding, cheat grass was sprouting, the sage and rabbit brush were beginning to add new leaves to their dusty foliage and the Russian Olive trees showed in bright contrast against the red rock cliffs along the river. Steve had propped the Kokopelli doors open earlier that morning to let in as much of the vista and fresh air as possible. We were invigorated by the beauty of the day and nature's developing display. There were a number of people in the store who seemed equally impressed by the man made art inside and the natural art outside. Everyone was in a good mood, and there was a lot of laughing and joking. Good feelings permeated the store.

The Ceremonial Hat Basket - part of the Twin Rocks Trading Post Collection.

A young woman entered the trading post, trailing a uninspired looking guy behind her. Her eye caught the basket display behind the counter near where I was standing. She strode right over with an inquisitive air and began asking questions. She was fascinated by the baskets and showed an affinity for them, and a deep respect for the culture and symbolic motifs embodied by the weavings. Her friend stood back with an unconcerned look on his face and fidgeted in an restless, uneasy way. It wasn't long before there were a number of baskets on the counter that were being discussed.

We were in deep discussion concerning the sacred nature of the myths and legends the baskets portrayed. All of a sudden the young woman's partner stepped up to the counter, grabbed a basket, inverted it and plopped it on his head. In a loud voice, he declared, "All I need is some string, and I'll have a great Coolie hat!" At that moment, time seemed to stand still. Everyone in the trading post paused and stared at the young man, amazed at what he had done. My mind flashed back 25 years to a meeting between a very young weaver and an inexperienced trading post operator. What that skinny little basket weaver had so eloquently conveyed to me 25 years before may have begun to dawn on this uninspired young man. I didn't have time to explain to the young man, because he sensed that he had made a grievous error. He gently set the basket back on the counter, and quickly exited the building. I mentioned to the young woman that the Navajo people believe that placing a basket on one's head confounds the mind. The young woman, shocked by her companion's statement, and possibly realizing that her friend's mind had already become confused, apologized for him and followed him out with a determined look about her. I felt sorry for him in more ways than one. His future seemed about to change.

The Ceremonial Hat Basket - part of the Twin Rocks Trading Post Collection.

It was not long after I decided to stay in the business my parents had started many years before that I first met Evelyn Rock, the young weaver who taught me basket handling etiquet. I remember that meeting well, because I was amazed that such a frail looking teenage girl had the strength to weave such tight, hard baskets. She was indeed thin, but she had plenty of muscle, and an attitude to match. I very much enjoyed buying ceremonial baskets from Evelyn. She was not afraid to stand up and fight for a good price. Her zeal and way of expressing emotion was enjoyable. Not only was she feisty, she was also willing to share what she knew about the meaning behind her work. Evelyn had a habit of educating others in a way they would not forget. One particular lesson has stayed with me through many years of trying to develop a better understanding of the Navajo people and their art.

It was a grand spring day, much like the one I have just described. The setting was our Blue Mountain Trading Post in Blanding, Utah, the year was probably 1976. In walked Evelyn with an unusually lumpy looking, cloth wrapped parcel in her hands. She walked right up to me, set the package on the counter and said, "I have something unusual for you, but if you buy it you can't sell it, you have to keep it from now on." I poked at the bundle with a smile and asked if it was alive, Evelyn didn't appreciate my attempt at humor. She sighed, unwrapped the package and placed a ceremonially designed weaving in my hands with the unusual shape of a bowler hat; similar to what one might see on the head of a cocky Irishman, resting at a jaunty angle above an over-large mustache and protruding cigar. I was impressed, and rolled the hat basket around in my hands, marvelling at its unique nature. As I slowly moved it towards my head Evelyn quickly stopped me and said, "You might not want to do that!" I looked questioningly at her and she began to explain the ceremonial nature of the basket, that the act of weaving is sacred and that the basket materials are a gift of the deities. Those same deities may take offense at the suspected mistreatment and lack of respect for something so meaningful and essential to Navajo culture. "What might they do?" I asked as I gently set the weaving back on the counter. "Well! The old people say that by placing a basket on your head there is a chance of causing great distress in both the mental and/or physical state." Yikes!!!

The Ceremonial Hat Basket - part of the Twin Rocks Trading Post Collection.

As I contemplated the now dangerous item, I squinted curiously at Evelyn and asked why she would weave such a thing, and more importantly why she had presented it to me. She smiled sweetly and explained with a mischievous air, that I appeared to be the curious sort and that she thought I would appreciate such an unusual item. I believe her comment went something like this; "What is life without a little temptation, and if you don't believe in that type of hocus pocus it probably wouldn't affect you anyway." I gave her my most snotty look, grumbled a bit and bought the basket. Evelyn gave me a devious look, stuffed the cash in her jeans, turned and left the building. I sat there for some time pondering the hat basket and its significance. Shrugging off my state of wonder and confusion, I re-wrapped the weaving, placed it in a box upon which I wrote "Danger Will Robinson," a reference to my favorite T.V. program. At least Evelyn had warned me before I put the darn thing on my head.

Looking back through time and reevaluating Evelyn's "gift," I realize that it was just that. A gift, of sorts, that was intended to provide one heck of an object lesson. The message this young weaver was trying to convey was, step up and educate yourself to the meaning of what and who you are dealing with; show the proper respect and courtesy, or pay the consequences. Evelyn provided an instrument to help me gain a better understanding of her world. Either that or an avenue to send me off to an alternate reality where I couldn't possibly do any harm. As for the young man who committed that critical mistake, I am not sure what will became of him. From where I stood, I could tell he was beginning to show signs of an adverse reaction, which included a distressed demeanor, dazed look in his eyes, and muttering. Poor Guy! Oh well, better him than me!

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, May 10, 2002

The Sands of Spring, and the One-Legged Chicken

Spring has arrived in Bluff, bringing with it strong winds that blow the red, sandy earth high into the atmosphere, and into every crack and crevice of the trading post. The post is elevated from the natural ground level about five feet, so one must navigate a series of six steps to reach the porch; another two steps and you are inside. Although many people struggle up the stairs, the sand easily arrives in great quantities.

Looking at the many ancient pottery shards scattered everywhere on the sand mound that covers and surrounds the ruin by Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The spring winds delight in depositing mounds of red sand on the porch and the westerly side of the stairs, requiring constant sweeping lest we meet the fate of the Anasazi village situated just 100 yards west of the store. That ruin, which I believe is approximately 1,000 years old, is completely covered with centuries of sediment. Now that the sand has long since filled the rooms of that ancient pueblo, it just skips across the ruin on its westward march, stopping briefly by the trading post to allow me to sweep it out into the parking lot.

I have often thought that a few years of neglect may result in the trading post also being completely covered by this red dirt. After several hundred years the trading post might be considered a vast archaeological treasure. Barry and I would undoubtedly generate some curious stares from the contemporary scientific community. "Very odd," I can hear them saying as they attempt to decipher the mystery of these two strange beings. So, year after year I sweep, shovel and channel the sand away from our door.

As I swept out after the last big wind storm, I realized how those grains of sand remind me of the events that occur at the trading post on an everyday basis, resulting in mounds of memories; each one as distinct as the grains of sand. From time to time those mounds of memories also need to be swept, shoveled or channeled out of my head. For the most part, however, they simply accumulate. Some of the grains making up the mounds in my mind cause me to laugh when they resurface, and some of them just make me sentimental.

Folk Art Chickens on the Anasazi Ruin by Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The other day Barry and I were talking about all the folk art chickens we have bought and sold over the years, and how folk art has become a very important part of our daily routine. Each morning I come into the trading post, and the colors and shapes of the folk carvings make me just a little bit happier; a little less serious. In any case, I began thinking about a series of carved chickens I once purchased from Anthony Tahy. Anthony carves some of the more detailed chickens we carry, and always does a very nice job. His carvings are done from one piece of wood, usually a forked branch of cottonwood, which allows him to extend the head and tail beyond the base. He generally brings in 12 to 15 pieces at a time. When he arrives, the carvings are spread out on the counter for inspection and discussion. Price is negotiated on an individual basis.

On one particular occasion, Anthony's chicken carvings were all bunched together, and he simply gave me a price for the whole lot. Thinking that it was a fair offer, and since I was happy to avoid the tedious piece by piece negotiations, I readily agreed. As I began to put price tags on the carvings, I realized the reason for my good fortune; one of the chickens had only one leg. Realizing that there was not much I could do about this unhappy situation, I stuck a price tag on it and placed it on the shelf, hoping somebody would come by, take pity on this malformed carving and want it for their collection.

Week after week people came to the trading post, looked at the one legged chicken and scratched their heads in confusion. They didn't know whether it was a joke, or whether somebody had just made an unfortunate cut. Actually, I never knew the answer to the question myself. In any case, after several weeks of dealing with this carving, Matthew Yellowman came strolling into the store. Grange and Kira had been watching a movie about pirates a few days earlier, which gave me an idea. I asked Matt to carve that chicken a prosthesis, just like the pirates used to wear. A few days later Matt walked back in with the problem resolved. The chicken now sported a new wooden leg; one that would have made any buccaneer proud.

The one-legged chicken.

Wondering whether anyone else would reconize my self proclaimed genius in solving this puzzle, I placed the carving back on the shelf. Over the next few days people came in, noticed the chicken with its prosthetic limb and seemed unconvinced that I had arrived at an appropriate solution. In due time the buccaneering chicken found a nice home in Carlsbad, California. I have frequently missed that one legged chicken, just as I would miss sweeping the red earth from the trading post if the spring winds failed to blow.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post