Monday, November 3, 2003

Mr. Bluehouse, and Living in Beauty

As I drove from Blanding to Bluff last Monday morning, I greatly enjoyed the hint of fall in the air. I noticed that there was a puffy layer of fog over the San Juan river. That is a common sight in winter, but it seemed a little early in the year for such cover. There was a layer of clouds blanketing the great vault of sky. The sun was rising and it was resting just above the horizon and just under the slightly darkened cloud layer. The light was magnificent; the cliffs glowed a bright orange with dark highlights. The puffy white layer of fog against this spectacle exaggerated the overall effect. It had recently rained, at long last, so the sparse vegetation seemed much greener, and the red earth much warmer in tone. I pulled off the road and shut off the engine of my much used pick-up truck, rolled down the window and breathed in the beautiful sights and fresh smells. I must have been sitting there for a good five minutes, soaking up the radiant sight, when I remembered that I was late for work and noticed that a truck was bearing down on me from behind. The roar of the truck made realize that I was not quite far enough off the highway.

Quickly rolling up the window to avoid being pelted by small rocks and sprayed by the residual moisture, I let the truck pass and continued down Cow Canyon into the teeming megalopolis of Bluff, Utah (population 300, give or take a few, depending on recent births or deaths). Feeling revitalized by the vision I had just witnessed, and the effect of moisture after a long dry spell, I remembered the words of a Navajo man I had met the previous week. It was the morning of the Utah Navajo Fair in Bluff and people were gathering in our parking lot, preparing for the parade that would wind its way through town to the fairgrounds on the west side.

I was perched high on the porch, enjoying the commotion and the display of gaily dressed royalty; dancers; and bright eyed children, when a distinguished Navajo gentleman made his way through the crowd of cars, trucks and people. Up the steps he came. He firmly shook my hand and introduced himself as Milton Bluehouse. He said he was running for Navajo tribal chairman, and had come to Bluff to be in the parade and campaign for office. He had decided to forgo the entry fee and try to advance his grass roots support through one-on-one interaction. We sat there savoring the frenzied activity as people made final preparations for the parade. Mr. Bluehouse and I made small talk until the review made its way out of sight, whereupon this kindly gentleman asked permission to go inside and look through the trading post.

Wandering through the store, Mr. Bluehouse continually expressed his amazement at the diversity of the inventory. He said that he had never before seen such a varied selection. He seemed most impressed with the creativity of the local artists. It is always interesting to know what the Navajo people think of this trading post and the happenings that surround it. Watching Mr. Bluehouse react to the art, and the meaning related to each piece, I felt he truly was moved. He most enjoyed those pieces relating to Navajo legends. It was as if he was testing my knowledge and sincerity with his many and varied questions. He paid particular attention to how I related the stories, explanations of the art and information about the artist to the customers who came in while he was present. About that time our father (who art in Blanding) came into the store. I introduced him to Mr. Bluehouse, and they fell into lively conversation while I attended to other duties. They made their way back to the shade of the porch, seated themselves and continued their discussions for a good two hours longer.

As I went about my cleaning duties, I noticed that my father and Mr. Bluehouse seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their conversations. I caught brief snatches of their dialog as I passed from time to time. It seemed that they were spending a great deal of time talking about the area, the art and our association with the artists. Finally Mr. Bluehouse stood up, shook hands with my father and said, "Good Bye." Before he left he came back into the trading post and said that he had better get on with his campaign or give up completely. As we shook hands he looked me in the eye, made an expansive wave with his arm, and said, "You are very lucky to live with such beauty." Knowing how important it is for Navajo people to "Walk in Beauty," I greatly appreciated his statement. I thanked him for his enjoyable visit and wished him luck in the election.

As I drove up to the trading post after witnessing that glorious morning, I went in the back door and belatedly "opened up." Switching on the lights, I took in the art displayed throughout the store, and scanning the different pieces I was reminded of the stories and interaction associated with several of them. I went to the front doors and removed the heavy bar, swung them open and stepped out onto the porch. I took in the remnants of that memorable morning and, breathing deeply, I remembered the words of Mr. Bluehouse. As I turned to go into the trading post, I realized that I fully agreed with Mr. Bluehouse's evaluation. We are indeed very lucky to live with such beauty.

Copyright©2003 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Saturday, November 1, 2003

Perfect Sunday

Last Sunday was one of those fall days that makes me believe Bluff may be the perfect place to live and work. Almost every week I see articles about professionals dissatisfied with their careers, about mothers trying to balance professional and family responsibilities, and about the demands the current economy has placed on us all. When I start worrying, I look around the trading post and at the beauty just outside these doors and I think, “This certainly is a great place.”

View of  Twin Rocks Trading Post from cemetery hill
View of the Trading Post from cemetery hill

The culture is deep, and the landscape unmatched in this small town along the San Juan River. Over the centuries, this little river valley has attracted the Paleo-Indians hunting mammoth; the Ancestral Puebloens (also known as the “Anasazi”) building their cliff dwellings and pecking their petroglyphs in the rocks; the pastoral Navajo; the warring and raiding Ute, the proselytizing Mormon pioneers; and the contemporary culture, objective still unknown. Our father, Duke, has always maintained that Bluff is a place where outlaws come to hide. He has frequently regaled us with stories of Bluff in its former days; when people like Bob Wise, a genuine outlaw and gunslinger, lived in Bluff. There are certainly some modern day outlaws in Bluff, however, they certainly don’t measure up to Bob Wise. The current fugitives shall remain nameless, and their crimes unmentioned.

Sunday I was up early for my morning run, and bumped into Mark, our restaurant manager. Having arrived in Bluff by way of East Tennessee, Mark is also a big fan of Bluff. Mark was standing on the porch enjoying the fresh, clear air, and watching the emerging light play on the rocks. He walked out to meet me, and we stood in the parking lot discussing how it would be to have the experience of our current years (which you may realize by now is vast and deep - well, all right, maybe not that vast or that deep -) and the physical health we had 20 years ago. We both would like to scramble around this rugged country with a little more stamina. Mark, who does a great deal of rock climbing and rappeling, and I were both in that forty something frame of mind. In any case, as we stood there watching the sun do its magic, the cliffs radiated a soft, warm, pinkish glow, and the valley became bathed in crystal light. We ultimately concluded that it would be best to be born 50 years old and work our way back.

With Mark urging me to get started, I ran east towards St. Christopher’s mission, and noticed a large patch of red splashed horizontally across the sky. It made me wonder what had happened last evening between dawn and dusk. Whatever it was, dawn’s passionate red lipstick was spread across the horizon as a reminder. As I turned around to make my return trip, the gentle breeze seemed to push me back east, into the arms of the mistress of the morning and the emerging day.

During these morning runs, I generally jog along Highway 163, with the sheer cliffs on the north, and a beautiful swatch of green farmland on the south. Along the course there are petroglyphs etched into the large boulders lying on the tallus slope and small ruins tucked into high alcoves; remnants of the ancient Anasazi civilization. The ruins are generally granaries, where the ancestors stored their harvests. Not long ago, one of the large rocks slipped, exposing the body of a small Anasazi child who had been cautiously buried beneath the stone centuries ago. The child had been laid to rest with a turkey feather blanket and a small pot. The archaeologists quickly did their work, and the child was reinstated in Mother Earth. From time to time examples of the area’s history are exposed in similar fashion, giving us a glimpse into Bluff’s very rich past.

There are also a variety of shapes in the cliffs that, with a little imagination, begin to look like animal or people figures. There are the owl eyes, Davie Crockett in his coonskin cap, the parrot, Mr. Magoo sleeping, and - my personal favorite - the parent and child. The parent and child is composed of the cliffs by the restaurant and the southern tower of the Navajo Twins. From a very narrow section of the highway, in the right light, it looks like a parent holding a small child in preparation of giving her a kiss.

After a breakfast of wuffins (Grange’s word for waffles, which derives from a combination of the terms waffle and muffin) Grange and Kira wanted to go for a hike. Since we subscribe to the “it takes a village to raise a child” philosophy, we called to see if Tarrik wanted to go as well. Tarrik is my five year old nephew. Cindy and Amer, Tarrik’s parents, and Jana and I have an agreement to take all the kids out as much as possible. Today we drove to the west side of Bluff, picked up Tarrik and started walking north up a small arroyo. The day was crisp, 45-50 degrees, with just a slight breeze. As I watched the kids scramble along the wash, I couldn’t help thinking about the Anasazi children who may have also played along this drainage. I am sure those early children had as much fun as Kira, Grange and Tarrik were having. However, it was a little hard to conceive, since my companions were squealing with delight.

At first we made fairly good forward progress, but soon the kids wanted to stop every hundred yards to play in the sandy wash bottom. As the kids made volcanoes and slid down the sandy slopes. I scanned the landscape for an arrowhead that would make Frances-The-Incredible-Arrowhead-Finder jealous, and sat on small cut bank and watched the kids. The sun made Kira and Grange’s red hair glow like polished copper, and Tarrik’s jet-black hair stood in stark contrast. At one point, Kira said, “We should have brought some paper to put up signs in our little park.” I was reminded of that old song from the 1970’s that went something like “Signs, signs, everywhere signs, blocking out my scenery, breaking my mind”. I quickly advised Kira that our little park needed no signs, and was much better than any developed park I had ever visited. I think she agreed, although it was hard to tell.

After two hours of stops and starts, we reached the small boulder field that had been my original objective. Several months ago a large section of the cliffs had pealed off and made a spectacular splash. Since the trading post and cafe are located close to the cliffs, I am always interested in seeing the effects of such slides. Luckily they are very rare. After a quick look - the kids were not particularly interested in the rock slide - we started our return journey. The kids ran in short spurts, shouting “I won,” and arguing about who had really won the race and who was cheating.

Although it seemed that we were in a very isolated place, we were only about a half mile from town. Looking up at the cliffs ringing Bluff, I was reminded how timeless this place really is. That is one of the really wonderful things about Bluff; you can walk out your door and immediately be in the backcountry, and immediately be in an area that is virtually unchanged from what it was hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Having fallen into such a great position, in such a beautiful location, I don’t think I will be worrying about a career change soon. I sometimes worry that if all those disaffected professionals learned our secret, we would be flooded with new arrivals. For now, our sleepy little town of 300 remains unchanged. Wait a minute! I think I was one of those disaffected individuals when I arrived.