Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Traditionalist

Okay, call me a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas. There it was, the 21st of December, and I was still in a holiday funk. I had done the internet shopping thing and had found it all very efficient, but I needed the crush of the crowds to get me into spirit. I informed Jana and the kids that I was going to Farmington for the day to wind up a few things. Actually Jana's internet proficiency had already carried the day, so there was little to do. I just needed to get out into the last minute shopping frenzy to secure my Christmas mood. As I prepared to leave, I kept thinking a little nip at the spiced eggnog might get me going faster. Since I was driving, however, I elected to forgo that treat; at least for the time being.

As I drove to Farmington, Christmas carols were playing on the radio, and I could feel my spirits beginning to lift. "Santa Baby" and "Grandma Got Run over By A Reindeer" came over the airwaves and I knew it was going to be a good day. When I arrived in Farmington, the town was busy with traffic, and people were in a jolly mood. I kept hoping for some honking, shouting and finger wagging, but everyone seemed happy, and there was none to be found. As I parked the car, I heard footsteps and then, "Merry Christmas." I looked around to see a stranger with a happy smile on her face. I replied "Merry Christmas," climbed out of the Subaru and proceeded into the mall. I was beginning to think something was wrong with all these last minute shoppers.

At the toy store, the clerks were joyfully restocking shelves and quick with answers to all my questions. Once I was pointed in the right direction, they moved off humming holiday tunes. I found what I needed and proceeded to the checkout lines. There were plenty of registers open, so it didn't seem the wait would be long. As I stood in line with my packages, a woman stepped in front of me. Here is my big opportunity, I thought.

I prepared to grab the woman by the scruff of the neck and throw her to the ground, shouting, "I was here first," but decided it would be more prudent to just shoulder her out of the way. As I positioned myself to do so, she sweetly looked up at me and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, are you in line," and ducked in behind me. With a frown on my face, I explained that I was "just fixen' to shove you out of the way," and she, thinking I was joking, roared with laughter. We exchanged "Merry Christmases," and the clerk scanned my purchases and sent me on my way with yet another "Merry Christmas." By this time I was really worried, but knew I would find what I was looking for at the music store.

The music store was extremely busy, and people were beebooping to a holiday album. I fished in my pocket, pulled out my list, hailed a young woman and asked her for help finding DVDs and CDs. She smiled, located everything I requested, suggested a few new albums and went on her way. The woman at the register quickly processed me and sent me off with a smile and a "Happy Holidays." I also smiled and started to wish her Happy Holidays in return. I managed to catch myself in time, however, and just waived goodbye.

Next it was off to the lotions and potions store. My daughter, Dacia, is now 13, so I wanted to get her something mature, but not sexy. I poked around the store for a while until I was approached by a joyous woman about my age. I explained my dilemma, saying, "What should a man who doesn't understand women get his 13 year old daughter that will make her think I know what I am doing and that I appreciate how she is progressing." She responded by saying, "Don't worry about it, honey, you are just like all the rest; none of you understand us. This is just what you need." I flinched, she smirked and we both laughed out loud. I realized she was right; about men and the gift selection.

I walked out of the store and stopped in the middle of the mall. Santa was taking photographs with happy children and everybody was laughing, smiling and Merry Christmasing. I suddenly realized I had actually exactly found what I had been looking for, and was humming "Jingle Bell Rock," which was playing over the P.A. system. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Winter Reflections

In our weekly missives, Steve and I often mention the spectacular southeastern Utah sunrises and sunsets. Because of our love for this land, and the stunning mornings and evenings we see on a regular basis, it is difficult to avoid overusing the topic. In an effort to expand our literary boundaries and elude repetitive discourse, we have recently refrained from mentioning these occurrences. Lately, however, the winter light has had an effect on my emotional state; so, try as I might, I just can't help bringing up the topic once again.

Sunset near Twin Rocks Trading Post

A beautiful sunset near Twin Rocks

The December light has been especially exhilarating and comforting this year, but I find there are also subdued pangs of melancholy creeping into my consciousness. As I pull out of the trading post parking lot at 5:00 p.m. each day and head north up Cow Canyon, I am witness to a soft and gentle show of pastel twilight. There is the muted display of bent and separated illumination provided by the setting sun, which causes the countryside to appear different.

Multiple shades of purple add mysterious depth to the rough edged canyons and clefts in the rock. These depths go unnoticed during other seasons of the year. Due to the exaggerated effect of light and shadow, distances have become confusing. The mountains spring straight up from their rugged foundations in warm tones of deep blue, contrasted by black groupings of distant trees and icy white caps of snow. The sky has traces of brilliant blue with patches of darker tones spread across the ever-changing vault. Clouds are finger painted stains of blue white, their underbellies tinged with spatterings of reds and pinks. It seems that this light show finds hidden areas of the earth and sky usually untouched by such events.

I have done much soul searching, and now realize that the reason for my mixed up emotional state is directly related to the children in my life. The early evening and muted colors have worked their way into my psyche, letting loose a flood of emotion. The palate of pinks, blues, purples and whites reminds me of babies and young children.

My children, nieces, nephews and small friends are growing up at an alarming rate. Like the mountain, they rise up from a rough and tumble world to stand straight and tall; reaching toward the upper atmosphere with hopes and dreams that will surely take them far. Too far, I am certain. I do not look forward to the day they walk out the door permanently. I know that I am supposed to be strong and prepared to send my offspring into the world. The problem is that I am enjoying their closeness and exuberance for life. I should be ready to release them to explore those canyons and distant mesas on their own, but I'm not. In this respect I am a foot dragger; I have thrown out an anchor in an attempt to slow the progression.

The shorter daylight hours, crisp coolness of winter on the desert, and the setting sun impress upon me a sense of impending mortality. I am beginning to view myself as one of those twisted, bent, contrary and weather worn cedars that frequent high lonesome places in this southeastern corner of Utah. As a result, I don't like mirrors much anymore, and rarely trouble myself to inspect their reflections. As a matter of fact, my wife has shown her frustration with this situation by chasing me around the house with a spray bottle and brush, attempting to properly comb my hair. She refuses to let me exit the house unkempt, fearing it may reflect badly on her. While I was resting on the couch the other day she misted me with lavender room deodorizer, then quickly apologized. I am fairly certain it was intentional, but she swears she didn't see me and simply was responding to a foul odor she detected. I have also tossed out any and all weight scales. I am no longer interested in what they have to say; they were all broken and measuring inaccurately heavy anyway.

No! The children must stay. I am not ready to see them vanish into the sky world; to fly with the big birds and leave me stranded on the ground like a flightless dodo. I guess I am also worried that when the nest is empty, Laurie will look around, catch sight of what remains and wonder whether she wants to make a clean sweep of things. The situation may get totally out of hand. I am inclined to load my wife and kids into a classic 1969 Shelby Mustang and drive like a wild man toward the setting sun, in an effort to maintain time and space. Psychologists, (accredited and self professed), please refrain from analyzing me. I am not interested in hearing about my shortcomings, and would rather not know the troubling details.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Dedicated to Spenser

As I began my Sunday morning run earlier this week, my body felt extremely sluggish, and I wondered whether I would make it a mile before giving out. To get my mind off the fatigue, I began considering the conversations Barry and I have had about Spenser's rehabilitation. Although things are progressing exceptionally well, this phase of Spenser's recovery is especially difficult, because he is now fighting for inches rather than miles.

Spenser Simpson

Spenser Simpson

The thoughts circulating through my head took me back to the first time I went running after the accident. I needed to clear the cobwebs, and thought a good workout might do the trick. Spenser's fate was still very much in doubt, and I was feeling frustrated, agitated and distressed about not being able to help him. As I doubled back for my return trip, I realized there was one thing I hadn't tried; I had never offered myself up in return for his survival. So, as the sun broke over the horizon, I began the process we all go through when one of our young ones is threatened.

I started with the usual, "Take me and spare him," but quickly realized I needed to add a few caveats. Things would be a little more difficult around the store with me gone, so I decided to also ask that Barry's vision be improved and that he be given the inspiration to continue writing the weekly trading post tales. I briefly considered requesting a posthumous Pulitzer Prize, but worried that might be asking a little too much.

After making my suggestion to the powers that be, I plodded down the highway, waiting for a lightning bolt from heaven or a runaway truck, but nothing happened and I arrived home intact. The gods must have found my overture naive, because they neglected it altogether; without so much as a counter offer. Spenser was, however, generously granted a reprieve without any sacrifice from me.

Since that time, I have dedicated my morning runs to Spenser. After seeing how well prayers worked for him, I began to think I might be able to create my own positive energy exchange; a running prayer as it were, channeling strength to Spenser through jogging. As I ran faster and longer, I imagined Spenser becoming correspondingly quicker and sturdier. I equated each step of my journey to a step along his personal path. As I became stronger, I envisioned him becoming more powerful; each stride bringing him closer to a full recovery.

This process has continued since my initial commitment, so on Sunday morning I began to move from feeling unsure about my progress to focusing energy on Spenser. As I passed the two mile marker, I began to wonder whether I could run the loop from the trading post, past the mission, to the intersection of the Aneth/Montezuma Creek road and down Cow Canyon into town; a distance of approximately eight miles. I had not covered that stretch of pavement for a long time, but Spenser was inspiring me and I thought it might be possible. The sun was shining, and the thought of sending some good vibrations his way made my spirit glow and my legs feel stronger.

When I reached the intersection of the Montezuma Creek road and Highway 163, I knew I had to make a decision. My mind was questioning whether my body would cooperate. I felt the doubts Spenser must sometimes feel during his therapy, but decided to push forward. A band of cattle held their ground on both sides of the road a short distance after I made the turn and a bull began to paw the ground in a threatening manner. Once again I thought of Spenser and let out a whooping "haw." The cows scattered, and I surged ahead, my strength and courage building. At that moment I knew we would make it all the way.

As I started down Cow Canyon, I envisioned a time in the next several months when Spenser will have overcome the majority of his obstacles, and will be on his own downhill run. The valley opened up as I descended into Bluff, and I spied the Jones farm; the end of my journey. I knew in spring the alfalfa fields will once again turn green, and Spenser will have worked through the winter of his discontent. Right now things are difficult, but soon enough the accident will be a distant memory.

Just as the miles had passed in spite of my doubts, so shall Spenser's struggles pass with time and determination. I have realized that in trying to help him, Spenser has made me stronger and more determined. That, I believe, is the power of love.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Believe you me!

Tis the season to focus on loved ones; a time to re-establish those relationships so important to a life of harmony and balance. Our trading post tribe appears to be growing larger and more varied with each passing year, and in many ways that branch of the family tree is as important to us as our immediate clan. Many Navajo people have become part of the brood, and, because of the value they place on the family unit, we have learned much about the importance of familial relationships from them.

McKale and Alyssa

McKale and Alyssa Simpson

Our local friends have worked hard to maintain good relations with all of us at the trading post, even though it often seems that doing so might cost them their sanity. In the not too distant past, it was essential for the Navajo people to develop and preserve strong associations with tribal members and with the local trading post operators. Each group provided a different type of security in an extremely difficult environment. By relying upon each other, these people were able to build more safety into an otherwise harsh and unforgiving world.

Life can be just as troublesome and frustrating today as it was 100 years ago. It is therefore still important to build the stability of strong family ties into our daily lives. I recently experienced the sense of well being and emotional security kindred support offers, and it helped prop me up in a time of overwhelming anxiety. That support also gave me the resolve I needed to keep moving forward. Building tradition, trust, affection and a wealth of good memories with family and friends may be the insurance I need to keep this future old geezer out of the rest home.

On school nights, it is a tradition at our home to prepare for bed soon after dusk; a 9:00 p.m. down time is not unusual for us. Because we rise well before dawn, an early retirement time is essential. The problem is that being in bed for my girls, Alyssa and McKale, does not always translate into being asleep.

A few nights ago, McKale was trying to talk me into making up a story for her listening pleasure. I was claiming cranial melt down, and suggested that either she or Alyssa tell me a story. Alyssa came up with the idea of creating a story in the round. She suggested one of us start by forming an idea and creating a paragraph or two. Then the next person would jump in and add his or her two cents. This process is repeated until the story is complete.

The girls created a story about a very large bull elephant with a bad attitude. The elephant lived in the jungle and maintained a private mud wallow; no visitors allowed! As our hero is enjoying a relaxing mineral bath, a laughing hyena with a pink flamingo in his jaws trots by, on his way to a barbecue.

The elephant experiences a moment of pity and rescues the doomed bird. Placing "Pinkie" on his heavily tusked head, our hero belligerently turns to leave. Feeling cheated, the hyena foolishly latches onto the rogue elephant's delicate tail.

As you may guess, a full blown jungle ruckus ensues; vegetation is uprooted, muck and yuck is flying everywhere, and every animal in the neighborhood arrives to participate in the mayhem. There are screams of terror and delight, howls of laughter and pain, and moans of agony and pleasure. The elephant cannot detach the persistent hyena from his hind quarters until the flamingo hollers, "Just sit down"!

The pained pachyderm skids to a halt and plops down on the no longer laughing hyena. As the tremendous pressure peaks, the hyena expels all excess air pressure. This causes a rather unique sound, and when the elephant raises himself the hyena nervously laughs as he attempts to regain his breath. The elephant and the flamingo are humored by the combination of "tunes" escaping from the tortured beast and begin to add to the musical melee.

The other animals become greatly amused and excited by the whole affair, and they add rhythm and melody by banging coconuts, strumming jungle vines and giant spider webs while emitting every guttural sound possible from their underdeveloped vocal cords. Before long there is a full fledged jungle band. The newly formed group decides to take its music on the road, and becomes a huge hit in the "wild kingdom." The whole of the natural world falls in love with them.

I am not sure how well our hyena friend held up to the pressures of stardom but I am guessing that it was a real gas. As the story developed, Alyssa, McKale and I laughed out loud, minimized our parent/child gap and built stronger ties. We also had some plain old-fashioned fun.

We are privileged to work with a number of talented and creative artists here at the trading post. Often we sit together and have discussions concerning creativity, cultural tales and just plain fun ideas. Just as the story my daughters and I came up with got out of hand so, often, do these planning sessions. It is a wild and crazy experience working and living around such relaxed and funny individuals. The fun part is that you never really know what may come of it.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 2, 2004

One Piece at a Time

My life is defined by a series of mileposts; both physical and mental. As I travel the freeway of life, I am constantly marking my journey by certain monuments and occurrences. As the years pass, certain things stick in my consciousness as indicators of a specific time or event. The mile markers stretch out in a 45 year long chain of events that reminds me where I have been and what I have done.

Duke and Rose at Twin Rocks Trading Post

Duke and Rose at Twin Rocks Trading Post

As mileposts go, one marking 50 years seems extraordinary. Rose and Duke, the collaborative team who, along with Dr. Fallon of the San Juan Hospital, are responsible for bringing me into this world, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last weekend; adding another link to their matrimonial chain. As a young man, I remember sitting at a silversmith bench in a back room of the Blue Mountain Trading Post, repairing bent or broken turquoise jewelry and listening to radio commentator Paul Harvey on the local station; KUTA, AM 790, the Voice of the Canyonlands. KUTA, like many things from that era, is long gone. At the time, however, it was one of the only ties I had to the outside world.

Each afternoon, in addition to the daily news, Paul brought us the names of people married 50 years or more. During that phase of my life, I could barely conceive of two people spending that much time together without something going desperately wrong. Whether it be bad tempers, bad health or just bad luck, there seemed far too many things that might get in the way of a couple staying together five decades.

Another milestone that marks that phase of my life is a song by the immortal Johnny Cash entitled One Piece at a Time, which also came to me courtesy of KUTA. In Blanding, Utah, country music was king, and Johnny was the king of country. Cash's song is about a worker who labors many years in a Cadillac factory, and, over the course of his career, carries off enough parts to build a patchwork Caddy.

The construction of this trading post family is a little like the building of that car; we are a collage of parts and pieces collected over the past 50 years. There have been many times a component had to be jettisoned or reworked because it was not adequately aerodynamic, or simply did not fit. Overall, however, Duke and Rose have been able to fashion a workable, although admittedly oddball, vehicle.

When I think of that car Johnny created, I can see a Cadillac with a sporty tail fin on one side and smooth lines on the other, different colored seats front and back, windows that leak air because the seals do not match the glass, a combination of white and black wall tires of varying sizes, a mosaic of exterior colors, and an engine that chugs out more than a little black smoke.

The car of my imagination is very much like this family, which has many disparate parts, leaks hot air and often emits embarrassing sounds. We have also frequently been accused of not firing on all cylinders and having more than a few loose screws. Although we rarely ride around in style the way Johnny did in his car, we do drive everybody wild with our unusual way of doing things. When Duke and Rose began construction of this vehicle, I am sure they never expected it to look like this.

Along the way, Duke has been the engine and Rose generally functioned as the steering mechanism. While Duke worked late nights and early mornings to power the beast, Rose provided the direction we needed to keep us moving forward. I remember a few instances when we veered off the pavement into the bar ditch, but Rose proved an effective navigator, and we all entered adulthood without any missing limbs or felony convictions. There were, however, a few close calls.

As this family chugs into the next half century, hopefully some of the lines can be softened and a catalytic converter installed to neutralize the emissions.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Consider the Unexpected

The weather is changing here in Bluff; it is the time of heavy frost in our isolated river valley. The massive, twisted trunks of cottonwood trees ice over, and their upper regions form white, gnarled webs of interwoven branches that probe the slow-moving fog banks. The supporting ranks of tamarisk poke straight up from the frozen red soil like gaunt, frigid warriors.

Comb Ridge, west of Twin Rocks Trading Post

Comb Ridge

From time to time, this icy beauty is disturbed by a struggling middle-aged jogger dragging his blossoming backside down a ribbon of asphalt in the early morning hours. Bursts of vapor escape his burning lungs, forming mushroom cloud plumes trailing his tortured pace. Wild deer, turkey and the occasional coyote scatter at the slap of flat feet on pavement and the swish of swollen, velcro-encased thighs.

The identity of this tenacious character has eluded me, butt, I mean but, I admire his fortitude, endurance and strong desire to fight the ravages of time and too many chocolate chip cookies. I am sure the spectacular red rock scenery and clean, crisp autumn air help him maintain his concentrated efforts.

During his morning sojourns, this lonely runner must have realized that a connection with the natural world is required to survive in the great American Southwest. For me, that association with the elements is very appealing, and is a fundamental reason why I choose to live and walk in this invigorating landscape.

Not long ago I found myself sitting in church, trying to find a comfortable position to relieve the pressure on my aching backside. I had begun to believe those benches were meant to remind us that pain and suffering are essential aspects of a spiritual life. On this particular Sunday, I was there because my wife and kids are becoming quite proficient at identifying my numerous shortcomings, which they believe can be effectively corrected through fervent prayer and inspired repentance.

As my oldest and dearest friend made his way to the podium, I straightened my posture and sharpened my attention in anticipation of his speech. Wayne is not actually old; we have just been friends a very long time. Although he has more gray hair than I, he is young at heart and very healthy as a result of the lifestyle he leads. In spite of my sore back, because I know how much Wayne dislikes public speaking, I was enjoying the moment. From the early stages of our relationship, we have both found a perverse pleasure in watching the other suffer through stressful situations.

As Wayne faced the expectant congregation, I could see a nerve twitching near his temple. He swallowed hard, as if forcing down an unwanted portion of aged blue cheese. I imagined him sensing a rise in his internal temperature, and was sure I detected a slight, nervous quiver in his voice. He looked like a cornered raccoon, and I expected him to head for the deep brush any moment.

I watched my friend closely, enjoying his discomfort, and silently evaluating which exit might best facilitate his escape. Much to my chagrin, the exodus never occurred. Wayne dug deep into his core and found the much needed strength to proceed with his assigned task. Before my slightly out of focus eyes, a transformation came over my old buddy.

Wayne's continence changed, and he morphed into someone I had never seen. He stood straight and tall, and, in a clear voice, spoke of finding comfort in conversations with his maker. He said he found those interactions more meaningful and spiritually fulfilling when conducted in the presence of nature. Because of its sincerity and reverence, his talk was truly beautiful.

Through his unrehearsed and heartfelt presentation, I was introduced to Wayne's close relationship with his natural surroundings. He spoke poetically and romantically about spiritual dialogs with his creator. As he continued, a coarsely grained, lichen-encrusted rock came to life, and canyon rims, sapphire blue skies and twisted cedar trees sprang clearly into my mind. The smell of pungent sagebrush and rich earth kicked up by his boots invaded my senses as I imagined his journey.

It was truly inspiring to hear Wayne speak. I saw a completely new facet of his psyche that day. It was like the time my wife sneaked her hand into a hot, comforting shower I was enjoying and cranked on the cold water. The sensation was unexpected, and unexpectedly exhilarating.

With Wayne's help, I rediscovered the relationship among heaven, earth and human beings. The cool blue mountain heights are a refuge for our souls, as are the warm weather worn canyon depths. The rain, wind and sunshine scour clean our minds and rejuvenate our spirit. Each life-giving spring; fertile valley of dark, rich earth; and desert oasis reminds me of creation and continuation. We are in the land, and it is in us. Now I understand why that jogger jogs.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Birds of a Feather

As I run down the road in the morning, I often marvel at the easy beauty of this small river valley, and wonder how the natural world relates to my personal sphere. I am always looking for a message from the animals, trees, rocks or anything else that may have something to say. It is probably naive and self-centered to think I can properly interpret whatever signs there may be, but I can't help trying.

Jones farm just east of Twin Rocks Trading Post

Jones farm just east of Twin Rocks

Many years ago, my torts professor, Charles Luther, asked those of us in his first year class if we thought rocks and trees had rights. At the time I was confused by the question, and worried it was yet another trick designed to convince us we did not have the appropriate tools to master complex legal issues.

As we came to learn, however, Chuck was a dyed-in-the-wool conservationist, and dead serious. Our love for him brought us a greater understanding of the wider world, and a closer relationship with the environment. As a result of his tutelage, I have come to realize that rocks and trees not only have rights, they have a life independent of their two-legged cohabitants.

A few weeks ago, I was plodding eastward towards the sunrise when I spotted a flock of Canada geese descending over the red rock cliffs, obviously aiming for the sanctuary of the Jones farm. From the way they were careening from side to side, squawking loudly and incessantly, I began to think they may have had a hard night of carrying on, and were trying to get home before sunup. Their tightly defined V had become a disheveled W as they skittered through the sky on final approach. I became concerned there may be more than a few injured geese if they didn't quickly pull themselves together.

By the time I made my way back to the trading post, the geese were satisfactorily settled, eating alfalfa stubble and strutting around the hay field. From the looks of things, they had all made the descent safely. As the vision of their flight over the bluffs replayed in my mind, I began to think the management of the flock was similar to the management of the trading post; wild and often out of control.

The following week, I was once again out on my morning run when I spotted hundreds of blackbirds winging their way from one tree to the next. Once the flock was settled, one of the birds would become dissatisfied with its perch for one reason or another and lift off, unsettling the entire bunch. The birds would then take flight, circle the adjacent trees and reestablish themselves after a few moments. This cycle was repeated countless times as I progressed down the highway.

It was at that point I realized the geese and blackbirds were clearly sending me a message about our trading post management. After thoroughly analyzing the situation, I became satisfied the birds were right and determined it was time for a change; things were going to be different at the store.

This morning, I picked up a copy of a book written by a local author who had unexpectedly and prematurely passed on. I have been troubled by her death, because I had let local politics get in the way of knowing her. She was gone, and I had only now discovered the beauty of her words. There was much I wanted to say to her that would go unsaid, and many questions I wanted to ask that would remain unanswered.

As I read her latest book, I realized that she, like Chuck, was genuinely in touch with the natural world. I am not sure what it was in her verses that struck me so deeply, but all of the sudden I knew the birds had not been referring to the trading post management at all; they were commenting on my life.

I am the one who bounces from side to side as I walk down the hall of life, scuffling and scraping myself as I go; I am the one who staggers through life like a drunk who has had too much party and too little sleep the night before; I am the one who bounces from project to project, like a stone skipping across the pond, sinking to the depths only to be dragged back to the surface and cast upon the water again, the cycle repeating itself endlessly; and I am the one struts around my hay field honking and carrying on like I know everything and listening to no one.

Those birds had known all along, and I just didn't see it until now. There is only one thing to do; tomorrow I am petitioning to join the flock. If I can only find a way to fly, I will fit right in. I wonder how it will be living on the farm, and what I will do when the the weather warms and the geese return to their northern home. I will have to get a down jacket, some Gortex and start working on my Canadian visa. After years of searching for a sign, it seems I have finally found my rightful place in the cosmos, and we birds of a feather will squawk together.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Trax of My Tears

Lately I have been spending a lot of of time on Salt Lake City's Trax train system. Laurie and I have been blessed with family members who volunteer to spend nights with Spenser, and their help has given us the opportunity to rest in preparation for his daily therapy sessions. This scheduling helps Laurie and me avert the dreaded "hospitalitis" that creeps up on you after too many sleepless nights spent in a hospital room.

Laurie and Barry with Spenser

In an attempt to divest himself of his parents, Spenser has begun keeping the phone near his bedside. In his hoarse, airy whisper, he pleas for help from his aunts, uncles and older cousins to spell him from mom and dad's obsessive care.

As Spenser's physical abilities have returned, so has his sense of humor. At one point I called him a "knucklehead" because he kept slouching in bed. His occupational therapist had recently lectured us for allowing Spenser to project bad posture. After adjusting his position for the one hundredth time, I could not hold in the derogatory remark. Spenser looked at me with a sly, lopsided grin and said, "Don't call me a knucklehead; I have a brain. The doctors said they saw it. Maybe you should get a CAT scan, you may be the knucklehead after all. " It was at that point I decided to give my sassy son a little more breathing room, and accept more outside help to look after him.

From my sister-in-law's house in Sandy, Primary Children's Hospital is at the other end of the Trax line. At first I whiled away the time by people watching. After a number of "What are you staring at," looks, however, I decided it would be prudent to find a good book to kill time.

One of the Trax stops just happens to be located opposite the Sam Weller book store in downtown Salt Lake City. On a few occasions I allowed myself the pleasure of perusing their extensive antiquarian section. It was there I found a set of bulletins printed by the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art of Santa Fe New Mexico in the 1950's. Years ago I read a few of these booklets and found the information they contain interesting and informative. As is common with such rereads, I was amazed at how differently I interpreted the booklets after the many years and countless experiences I have had since I first encountered the pamphlets.

What struck me this time around was how frequently examples of insects and animals were worked into the stories. I know Navajo legends are often portrayed in metaphorical fashion to force the inquisitor to look deeper into the meaning of a particular story. The intensity and effort exerted to understand the story is directly related to the understanding one gains, and the quest becomes very personal. Everyone's quest for knowledge, or journey towards understanding, is quite different.

In the booklets I read how different colored ants were the first recognizable beings; how they single-mindedly worked together to create a suitable environment for their varied society. In doing so, they focused on building a future, and surviving at all odds. The Navajo cultural stories spoke of the mistakes societies make in their struggle to grow and improve. By taking the time to evaluate the consequences of their actions, and learning from their mistakes, the people are able to progress.

One story mentioned Badger, who, with his tenacity and enduring strength, helped the first beings enter the fourth world. This transition into a new world brought a rebirth initiated by adversity and dissension. Anarchy was overcome, and the emergence was achieved, by adopting the strengths and characteristics the animals projected.

There was also a discussion of the Locust, who were able to intercept the assault from upper-world aggressors because of their ability to survive difficult circumstances. Playing prominent roles in the stories are Bighorn Sheep, who dispersed the flood waters with their massive horns, and Coyote, whose overly inquisitive, compulsive and fearless nature initially caused the myriad problems and ultimately lead to their resolution.

I generally first discuss story ideas with Steve before I approach the computer. This process allows me to work out the idea in my mind and side-step quagmires of misinformation. Since my brother was home tending to business, I decided to discuss my ideas with Spenser. He listened intently, inquisitively questioned me about the attributes of individual animals and contemplated my thoughts. I found our conversation thought provoking and stimulating, and realized I had found a new sounding board.

Alyssa, Spenser and McKale

Alyssa, Spenser and McKale

As our discourse wound down, I began feeling good about my story idea, and started working out the details in my mind. Spenser then said," So Dad, if I understand you correctly, the way people act can often be related to certain animals. Right?" " You can say that," I said. "Why do you ask?" "Well" said Spenser with a devious grin, "if that's true, your animal might be something like a crab, a mocking bird or maybe a cranky old bear!" As I boarded the Trax train that night, leaving Spenser in the care of his Aunt Lisa, tears came to my eyes. My boy was going to be okay. His mind is sharp and his wit even sharper, the rest will follow in due time.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Thrill Factor

Barry Simpson's Nissan truck in front of Twin Rocks Trading Post

Barry's Nissan truck, in front of Twin Rocks

Last week I drove my old Nissan pick-up from Blanding to Bluff on my daily sojourn to work. As usual I was spending a great deal of time scanning the surrounding countryside and skyline for photo ops. I have taken to carrying one of our digital cameras around for the purpose of capturing images of interest to post on our web site. Fortunately there is very little traffic when I travel this 26 mile stretch of roadway in the early morning and late evening. There are those travelers who intersect my course on a regular basis that are familiar with my wandering driving habits and steer clear of me. When I first started making this trip there was much commotion surrounding it. Blaring horns, flashing lights and raised appendages were commonplace. These days folks simply hug the shoulder or pull off the road completely when they see me coming.

A few miles beyond the bottom of the White Mesa hill I spied an interesting cloud formation surrounding the morning sun. I quickly pulled off the black top. It must have disturbed the California license plate that had been trailing me for the last ten miles because the driver raised a reaction much like those I had witnessed in the past. The gentleman must have retained some residual "road rage" from driving those West Coast freeways. I exited the vehicle and saluted the vengeful character hoping my untainted response would help him on his way to a "happy day". Refocusing on nature's display, I framed the shot and clicked the shutter, capturing the image for all time, in digital format. The whole computerized process still amazes me. I jumped back in "the beast" and turned the key only to hear the starter grind. I was shocked! This old truck and I have traveled 285,000 miles together without a hitch. I sadly let myself out of the truck, patted the old girl on the hood, shouldered the camera and began walking towards Bluff.

As I strolled down the shoulder of the highway I noticed a few broad, toothy grins and gloating looks from drivers traveling the opposite direction. I was also brushed into the bar ditch a couple of times and pelted with gravel from stealth vehicles creeping up from behind. Most of these characters looked vaguely familiar and I am sure that their "come-uppance" would catch up with them someday soon. I was mostly unconcerned and enjoyed the crisp brightness of the morning along with the soft golden light filtering through the flitting clouds. My only real concern was that Steve would finish "morning clean-up" before I arrived. Good excuses are hard to come by and should not be wasted; mops, brooms, cleaning solutions and other hazardous materials are not within my range of computability. Before long a compassionate school psychologist came by and spared me a long walk to work. He was new to the county and had no past experience with my driving habits. Luckily enough I was with him for such a short time that he was unable to ascertain my psychological profile as well.

As Dr. Duke dropped me off in front of the cafe I noticed that my parents had come for breakfast and a short visit; in other words "to shake up the kids". I quickly explained my predicament and requested a tow when they returned to Blanding. My father agreed without hesitation which should have given me cause to worry. I was so delighted to have solved the problem as to how to get my vehicle to the mechanic that I missed a subtle warning. I checked in with Steve and expressed my regrets for not being able to help him clean up the trading post; he mumbled a vague reply and waved me off. I found a tow strap in the back of Craig's truck and climbed in with my parents to rescue my pick-up.

As we drove over the rise and into the dip where my old truck rested I was saddened by the solitary machine parked alongside that lonely road. That old beat up rig holds a respected place in my heart; we have traveled far and had many adventures together. Lately I have taken much abuse for her dilapidated and rumpled appearance. I tell those that criticize that the old Nissan is a lesson in humility for me and it keeps me grounded as to who I am and where I came from. The truth is that she is comfortable; she has always treated me well and is the only female I know that doesn't sass. I slowly crawled out of the back seat of my parents' truck and hooked the tow rope to my disabled vehicle.

Dad tightened the line between the two vehicles, leaned out the window and yelled, "Hold on, I am going to have to swing wide to turn us around." All of a sudden gravel spun out from his tires, pelting my poor old truck and we were whipped sharply in the opposite direction nearly causing me a disabling case of whip lash. "What the heck was that," I yelled at him over his screeching tires, "Slow down." As I mumbled insults in his direction I noticed a maniacal look in his eyes through his side door mirror. I wondered at his abrupt actions and strange countenance as we began to gain speed. We passed thirty, then forty miles per hour and I began to realize that my dear old dad had something "out of the norm" in mind for me.

I quickly found my seat belt, buckled it tight and gripped the wheel with both hands. We passed fifty mph and I began eyeing the tow rope realizing that ten feet of woven nylon did not provide much room for error between two speeding vehicles. All I could see was the rear end of Dad's Toyota; everything else was obscured so there was no way to anticipate trouble or react to course changes. Because the Nissan's engine was not running my brakes were spongy and not gripping very well. As we hit sixty mph I could see Dad's grinning mug through his rear view mirror and determined not to let him see fear in my face. I relaxed my facial muscles, unclenched my jaw and reached over to crank up the music on the radio. I figured that rock and roll might sound different and have more of an edge to it by adding a thrill factor.

As we blew up White Mesa hill and through the small Ute village I wondered where the local constable might be and hoped my old man would earn himself a speeding ticket. I determined to testify against him if it went to court; at the very least kick up the fine by adding my two cents to the inquiry. No such luck; there was not a cop in sight, at least from what I could see from my vantage point. I began to notice a growing pain in my left quadricep and realized that I had my left leg rammed into the floor boards bracing for impact. I couldn't massage my muscle because I was too focused on keeping tension on the tow line and maintaining as much distance as I could from my father's back side.

Rounding Shirt Tail Corner, a few miles south of town, I began to anticipate an end to this "object lesson" my father was handing out. The thought of giving him a first rate tongue lashing or even introducing him to Mr. Boot crossed my mind but I quickly thought better of it. Such a thing would just not be right and it would only give him the satisfaction of having upset me. No, for whatever reason my father was playing this prank I would let him have his fun and catch up with him at a later date. I decided to let the whole thing ride, as it were, and enjoy the adventure as much as possible.

We began a gradual slowing as we approached Montella's Repair, we must have been down to thirty mph when he veered into the parking lot. As we came to a complete stop I breathed a sigh of relief, popped open my door and stepped out of the truck. I nearly dropped to my knees because, not only was my left thigh in a knot but my right calf muscle and hamstring were locked up as well, from riding the brake so hard. I smiled sweetly at my father as I unhooked the rope and walked, stiffly, to the garage office to hand over the key and explain the problem. As I returned to my parents' vehicle for the ride to my house I gave my Mother a "where were you when I needed you" look. The look in her eye and shake of her head spoke volumes. Something like "don't involve me in your petty, male, testosterone driven grudge matches. I winced and climbed into the back seat without a word. As they dropped me off I said Thank You and walked away.

As I climbed into the gently used Toyota Tundra my wife had provided me in anticipation of just such a breakdown, I wondered if I would grow to care for it as much as I appreciate that old Nissan. Old habits and bonds die hard; for this "Daddy dearest" is a lucky man. Maybe I will have "the beast" repaired one more time. Who knows, 300,000 miles may be in the old girl after all.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Under New Management

October has always been my favorite month in this village by the San Juan. The reason may be that October is when I celebrate my birthday and the birthday of my first born, but I think there is more to it than that. The first few years I spent in Bluff were extremely difficult, so I am sure I did not notice the beauty of this small river valley during that time. Once I worked through that chapter of my life, however, I began to notice the changes each season brought and settled on the tenth month as the most remarkable.

October in Bluff brings golden cottonwood leaves and the pure light that makes them shimmer like burnished gold. It also brings the chilly early morning air that makes me feel so alive. I have often sat in my office after a day in the trading post and marveled at the beauty of our October evenings and the inky blackness that creeps in as the sun slips behind Comb Ridge.

A few weeks ago I was thrilling at the October weather as I ran toward the sunrise. It had become a little nippy in the predawn, and I had yet to switch to my winter clothing, so my skin was tingling. The leaves were falling from the trees and skittering across the road in front of me, teasing me to increase my pace.

A few months earlier, one of my running buddies from school mentioned that he had run a six minute mile. Being the competitive type, I strapped on my Timex Ironman and set out to determine just exactly how fast I could jog a mile. My time of eight and a half minutes distressed me greatly. For years I had refused to time my runs, knowing full well that I had become a slug, and not wanting to know just how bad I had slipped. After discovering I had been slipping more than I realized, I considered asking my doctor for a Prozac prescription. Instead, I made up my mind to improve.

Since then I have been working on my speed, and have actually run a mile in six minutes forty-five seconds. Although I have not gotten close to six minutes, I have made some significant strides. On this particular morning, my time had again been under seven minutes, which was my goal for that day, so I was feeling good about things when I arrived at the trading post an hour later. I was sure I was looking younger and fitter than I had in years, and was improving by the minute. I began to think forty year olds had nothing on me; before long I might even look, well, thirty-five.

Then "it" happened; something that has been occurring more and more frequently over the past five years. Now, however, I was faster and leaner than I had been in years, so I was not prepared for what happened that particular morning. It came in the form of a post middle-aged man who walked into the trading post and asked the question I have come to fear: "Is this place under new management?" The first time the query arose, I was completely caught off guard. I patiently explained that my trusty side kick Priscilla and I have actually been at the trading post since it opened in late 1989. My response caused the original inquisitor a great deal of confusion, so he blurted out, "No, that's not possible; there was a much younger man here."

I informed him in no uncertain terms that I was that younger man, and puffed out my chest and hiked up my trousers for emphasis. Still a little uncertain whether I was being 100% honest with him, he said, "Really?" Yes, I assured him that it was indeed me he had seen at the trading post so many years ago. I am sure he realized I had begun to size him up, and thought better of going further with that line of questioning, so he walked out shaking his head. Back at home that night, after hearing my sad tale, my family was extremely supportive; assuring me that I looked better than at least 50% of my contemporaries. Above average, that was the answer I needed.

As this trend continued, I became more and more cautious when someone asked, "How long has this trading post been here?" Or "Are you the original owner?" Usually I could head them off, and avoid that blank stare I know is associated with their memories of a younger, more virile trading post operator. I could at least until that particular October morning anyway, when the latest inquisitor repeated the additional comment I had heard only once before; the observation that almost sent me to the plastic surgeon, the Grecian Formula counter and the red Porsche salesman. "Yes," he muttered, "there was a younger man here, and thinner too."

The gentleman was a little startled when I pointed to the door and asked him to escort himself out. Younger and thinner my . . ., well, you know. Priscilla, Natalie and Jason all agree that I look good for a mid-lifer. It is, however, a bit curious that they are most supportive on payday. Maybe my youth really is, as Grange would say, "getting to be gone."

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 28, 2004

A Different Kind of Salve

Although I promised myself to find a lighter topic for this week's story, I have spent the morning with my heart in my throat as I read the most recent spate of messages to Spenser and cannot be counted on to keep my commitment.

A prayer feather

A prayer feather

After reading so many caring notes, I am compelled to let our friends know how the missives have touched Spenser, Barry and the entire Twin Rocks family. The messages offer love, prayers, stories of similar experiences and many other things intended to assist Spenser. The offerings have touched me in a special way, and I feel obliged to thank all those people who are helping Spenser heal.

From the earliest hours of his ordeal, we have been stroking Spenser's head, arms and legs; telling him how much we love him, and how important it is for him to recover. At one point the doctors even asked us to stop touching him, saying they felt we may over stimulate him. Their cautionary advice did not, however, stop us long. As we stood by, willing him to wake, we could not quit holding his hand, kissing him, rubbing his head and massaging his muscles; we had to touch him and we had to love him. We needed him to know we were by his side, whether he was conscious or not.

As word of Spenser's accident spread, we were dumbfounded by the support we received; some from people we barely knew before the mishap. These people began to express their love in much the same way we had; deeply and consistently. Many people chose to let us know they were praying for Spenser, and others found different, equally touching ways to express their support.

Last week I received an e-mail from Floyd and Edda asking whether Spenser might have any use for a certain salve that is especially effective at growing new skin over serious wounds. Our friends wanted to know if Spenser had any outward injuries that might be cured by the cream. In the message, Floyd and Edda said their home was only five hours away, and they would bring the ointment to the trading post if it might help. It seemed extraordinary to me that they would offer to drive so far out of their way to assist Spenser, but his accident has elicited many similarly monumental outpourings of love.

Although Floyd and Edda's cream was not needed because Spenser's injuries are internal, their inquiry comprises one ingredient of a more important salve that I have seen work magic over the past month and a half. That particular balm, created with love, caring and extraordinary tenderness has made all the difference to Spenser. It has begun to heal injuries that seemed too large to contemplate only a few weeks ago and helped him overcome incredible odds.

When I spoke with Spenser this morning by telephone, I told him I had received a message from Clay and Judi, who wanted to give him a prayer feather blessed by a Hopi medicine man. The Hopi healer had said the feather will help make Spenser mend faster if his family love is strong enough. The love of Spenser's extended family of friends will make that a very powerful feather indeed. As I explained Clay and Judi's gift to Spenser, I could hear his interest grow. The conversation was interrupted by a fit of coughing, but when he came back on Spenser asked me to finish the story and said he looked forward to receiving the feather.

In spite of their role in Spenser's recovery, many people have told us they feel unable to help; that they feel powerless and don't know how to be more involved. I have tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to tell them their concern, love and caring is having more of an impact than they can imagine. Every week we give Spenser the e-mails, cards and letters we have received over the past seven days. You can almost see him improve as he reads the words, and his spirits soar to know there are so many people pulling for him.

The love and support contained in your messages is a balm stronger than any other. I have seen the love in your eyes, read it in your messages and know its healing properties. One day soon Spenser will be out of the hospital and back home. The support of his extended family of friends will be largely responsible for getting him there.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Thoughts on Human Nature

Spending six weeks in St. Mary's hospital with Spenser has given me a new perspective on how serious injuries affect an individual. I am certain this particular course of study would not be endorsed by Dr. Freud, however, since the old man has long since passed into the great beyond, we will never know for certain.

As I have been watching the patients in this hospital, the resident psychologist has been watching me. The bloke has taken to inspecting me rather closely, and has begun to ask disturbing questions like, "Do you realize you are constantly tugging at your right ear and mumbling incoherent statements?" I have asked the misdirected man to please leave me be, and to focus his attentions on someone more in need of his services. My requests have resulted in even closer scrutiny, and comments like, "Very curious."

Initially, I focused my attentions exclusively on Spenser and was unaware of the tragedy surrounding me. Spenser's ATV accident had caused serious head trauma, requiring complicated brain surgery that surely saved his life. Hour after hour I sat and watched my son, hoping and praying he would awaken from his deep sleep. As Spenser regained consciousness, he reached out to us with love, compassion and a deep-seated set of values.

The hospital staff who came to know Spenser grew to love him. He expressed his gentle nature with open appreciation for the kind and compassionate care of the doctors and nurses, which resulted in vigilant care that kept him from slipping away. It was at this time I began to form the hypothesis that an individual's true nature is revealed in life threatening situations.

As Spenser emerged, I also awakened to the world around me and my thesis began to gel. Not long after my awakening, I noticed a seemingly rough hewn individual in the room next to my son. This man had also sustained a head injury and was working his way back to the world he had known prior to the accident. His upbringing had apparently been close to the earth, which his colorful outbursts aptly demonstrated, and he returned there quite often. He seemed comforted by anything that took him back to the soil, and I realized I was seeing his raw, exposed persona; unvarnished by years spent away from the land.

After Spenser moved into the rehabilitation ward, and we established ourselves in his new room, he and I were regularly serenaded by a Navajo medicine man who sang and chanted traditional melodies. These songs and chants came in the wee hours of the night, and were provided by Hastiin Yanito. Mr. Yanito had been involved in a serious car accident several weeks prior to our arrival and was experiencing a recovery every bit as miraculous as Spenser's.

Since he had served a stint in the military and was educated as a teacher, Hastiin Yanito speaks English very well. The pain from his injury, however, took him back to his roots and traditional language. Often he spoke only Navajo to his doctors and nurses, exerting his special sense of self and pride in his strengths as a Native American, teacher and medicine man. Polite and distinguished, he expressed himself in traditional Navajo ways, which was revealed in his choice of language and means of expressing his beliefs.

Spenser often noticed the songs and chants drifting through the rehabilitation ward and seemed enchanted and calmed by the peaceful intonations. As a result, we had several discussions about Navajo culture and its origin. Spenser and I missed Hastiin Yanito when he moved from our floor to a rehabilitation facility in Mancos, Colorado, and wished him God speed.

After several weeks of careful investigation, I have concluded that no matter what we wish to portray, our real personality emerges when we are faced with life threatening injuries. Suffering coaxes the beauty or the beast from the hidden recesses of our minds, and we are incapable of hiding our true nature. I am proud to say that Spenser has proven his mettle through this ordeal; he has been polite, conscientious, kind and extremely determined to regain his full capacity. He has also never lost sight of what his mother and I have taught him about compassion and love for his fellow human beings.

Now that I have come to understand this aspect of psychology, I may go find that psychologist and discuss the ear tugging and incomprehensible statements. I may be able to teach him a thing or two about human nature, and I may have stumbled upon my next career.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I Miss the Patipillers

"Dad, look, a patipiller," Dacia shouted as she spotted a fuzzy red and black caterpillar slinking across the trading post porch several years ago. We both crawled on our hands and knees following the tiny creature as it inched across the vast expanse of concrete. I still remember the look of wonder in my daughter's eyes as the hairy, many-legged projectile wandered off.

I also experienced the wonder, but for a different reason; I knew the time would come when every word emerging from my little girl's mouth would be perfectly recognizable, and wondered how that would make me feel. I was confident it would not give me the same warm sensation I felt at that moment.

Although it seemed I would enjoy many years of imperfect diction, that was not to be. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was marveling at the sentences Dacia was able to form, and all those fabulous mispronunciations and malapropisms were gone. There were, to be sure, a few phrases I did not fully understand; but that apparently was intentional, not the result of misplaced letters or misused words.

Six years later Kira came along with a completely new vocabulary, and I was enchanted once again. She has long since given up asking to play games on the "papooter" and picking the "lellow" flowers, but I think of her almost every time I turn on my computer or see a stand of daffodils. The thought of Kira struggling with her language skills sometimes helps me forget the stresses of trading post life, and reminds me what is really important.

Even Grange is beginning to progress from throwing "woks," being "firsty" and wearing "wed jammies," to hurling stones, asking for a drink of water and sleeping in red Spider-Man sleepers. Last night, the rain came, with bright flashes of lightening and loud crashes of thunder. I felt that warm glow envelop my heart when I heard Grange explain to his mother how the "funder" was cracking and the "wain" was falling.

On the west side of the trading post is a tangle of bicycles, scooters and a "Booley" bike trailer. Some of the equipment has not been used for years; because it is too small, too pink or just not cool enough. Every time I attempt to thin the heap by pitching part of it in the dumpster, the discarded article magically reappears at its original location before the trash man arrives to cart it off. I have been informed that sentimentality is the explanation for this phenomenon.

Jana and I often work with Grange to improve his speech and correct the mispronounced words. Just as the kids continue to retrieve the equipment littering the porch, from time to time I talk with Grange about "fighterfire" heroes and "oneing" in the morning; just to ensure he does not grow up too fast. Maybe I am being a little self-centered, but I want to keep him young a while longer. Call it sentimentality or call it selfishness, although the kids have made great progress in language arts, I find myself hungering for the days when Dacia made me chuckle every time she wanted to visit the "stupermarket" for a treat.

Living and working at the trading post has given me an unusual opportunity to experience the day to day development of my children. Often Grange will grab a bicycle or scooter, motor up to the front door, look inside to see what I am doing and yell, "Love ya dad!" When I tell him I love him too, he just says, "yep," and moves on to the next item on his agenda.

I already miss the patipillars and lellow flowers, and will surely long for the funder when it no longer crashes outside my door. Yep.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Mormons, Methodists, Baptists and Bikers

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I sat in room 3317 of St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado and began to drift into a mid-afternoon nap. Jana and I had been visiting Spenser the prior evening and had stayed into the early morning hours talking with Barry, so I was a little tired when we returned the following day. As I fell asleep, my mind began thumping to a pulsing, rhythmic sound.

All at once I realized the pounding in my head was actually the memory of helicopter blades whirring in the background of a cell phone call I received while standing behind the trading post counter almost five weeks ago. Since I am a child of the Vietnam era, helicopters always make me anxious. They remind me of tragedy, and injured and dying young men. Although I was too young to have been involved in the conflict, I vividly remember watching the evening news broadcasts and have seen all the movies. So, on that particular day, the thumping of blades confirmed my worst fears.

Michelle’s exact words have escaped me, but the fear I felt upon receiving her telephone message frequently returns, climbs up my throat and threatens to spill out my tear ducts. The gist of Michelle’s message was that Spenser had been in a serious accident and had to be airlifted off the mountain. As I hung up the phone, I could not get the sound of that helicopter out of my mind. It was that sound that had startled me from my slumber; the pounding rhythm that to me now represented both injury and salvation.

A follow-up call requested me to meet Barry and Laurie at the filling station in Monticello and drive them to the hospital. By that time I knew Spenser had been in an ATV accident and had suffered serious trauma to his brain. When we arrived in Monticello, Barry stood at the roadside waiting, his clothes stained with the blood of his son; my nephew. The scene constricted my throat and made it difficult to breath. After a trip I feared would last into eternity, we arrived at St. Mary’s just in time for the neurosurgeon to inform us he was taking Spenser into surgery; the situation, he said, was extremely troubling.

It was at that moment I realized my right hand had been severed, and there was a very real threat my heart would be torn from my chest; I have never been so frightened. I knew I could cope with losing my right hand while he helped his son, but I would not survive without my heart. I desperately needed that young man to live. The thought of no longer having Spenser running around the trading post shook me as I have never been shaken.

We found our way to the waiting room, staked out a position and waited for the surgeon to return. At about 3:00 a.m., I noticed the man lying on the couch opposite us begin to shiver. Jana had been able to secure blankets from a nurse and we had an extra, so I walked over and placed one on the man’s large frame. As I did so, I noticed he had a long beard, ponytail and tattoos covering his shoulders and arms. Oddly, as I placed the cover on him, the only thing I could make out in that tangle of tattoos was “JESUS.” That struck me as strangely incongruent; here was someone I would generally associate with the Hell’s Angles motorcycle group sporting religious symbols.

Later that morning this bear of a man awoke and inquired whether my brother-in-law Amer and I were responsible for covering him. When we affirmed we were, he asked why we were there. We explained Spenser’s circumstances, and he said, “Well, can we pray?” As we knelt on the waiting room floor, he said one of the most beautiful and meaningful prayers I have heard in a very long time. He later told us he was a member of the motorcycle group Soldiers for Christ, and that he had called his friends to place Spenser’s name on a prayer circle, where people all over the world would be praying for our nephew. The thought of countless people like this man praying for Spenser was extremely comforting, and left me feeling more at ease and more hopeful.

As the weeks have worn on, our Mormon friends, relatives and neighbors have reported that they have been praying and fasting for Spenser’s full recovery. Even the local elementary and middle school students gave up their lunches to ensure Spenser makes it through this ordeal. Our friend Fran early on informed us that her Methodist and Baptist friends had also placed Spenser’s name on prayer lists. All this positive energy and love directed at Spenser has surely helped improve his condition.

As my mind drifted back into focus, I could see Spenser lying in his hospital bed, sleeping peacefully. Over the past weeks, he has crept back, step by step, from the edge of the abyss. To us, Spenser’s improvement is nothing short of miraculous; obviously the result of the love, caring and prayers of the Mormons, Methodists, Baptists, bikers, Catholics, Navajo medicine men, and many others who claim no particular spiritual allegiance. All these individuals have helped keep us sane during an insane period. Thank you.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Of Life and Love

Recently I have had ample opportunity to contemplate the roller coaster of life, and the effect love has on the overall scheme of things. Sitting beside Spenser's hospital bed as he fought for life has taken me to the emotional extremes. In the four weeks since my son's accident, I have experienced everything from gut wrenching, heart stopping fear to exhilarating, unbounded joy. The knowledge l have gained from this experience has not come easy, and I do not recommend this type of training to anyone. I do, however, pray that the lessons my son has taught me during his ordeal will continue long after this incident has become a distant memory, and that they will retain the same clarity and depth I now know.

One thing I have learned from all of this is that Laurie and I are connected at the hip when it comes to our combined weight. When she is stressed, Laurie does not eat and her weight plummets. I, on the other hand, cope with stress most effectively with a cookie in my hand. Our different ways of managing anxiety reminds me of the Popeye cartoon characters Olive Oyl and Wimpy. Olive Oyl lives on love, while Wimpy is in constant search of his next hamburger. The redeeming element in our recent experiences is that Laurie's love encompasses and supports everyone she encounters. I, however, can only watch my waist grow, and hope my belt has adequate expansion holes to manage this crisis.

Not long ago I read a thesis which focused on the founders of Bluff and what they experienced during the early days of the town's colonization. The thesis noted that the pioneers built their initial shelters in close proximity to each other; in spite of an abundance of open land. By doing so, the settlers protected themselves from disgruntled Indian tribes and minimized the ravaging effects of this harsh environment. These settlers were people who had been uprooted from the comforts of civilization and re-rooted in a remote, desolate, unforgiving landscape; they needed each other to survive and counted on the group for moral and practical support.

The immigrants often complained about knowing far too much about each other's business, misbehaving children, barking dogs and all manner of disagreeable circumstances resulting from their living conditions. It was not until they felt more comfortable with their surroundings and had developed relationships with the Native people that the settlers started to spread out and give themselves more room to breath. At that point they also began to understand just how important their early relationships and close proximity to each other had been.

The pioneers realized how much support, care and understanding they had provided each other while they lived in that small camp. They had grown to love one another, and that love allowed them to prosper in a difficult environment. I have seen this same situation develop as a result of Spenser's accident. The small closely knit communities in which we live have rallied around us in love and support, and I am truly humbled by the experience.

While sitting with Spenser late one night I began to feel particularly down and was reminded of my paternal grandfather Woody. At the time of his death, I had not yet begun to understand my grandfather's views on life, and was feeling cheated because of the lost opportunity. As I stood at his burial site looking into the darkness of his grave, I was overwhelmed with sadness. At that point three of my childhood friends stepped up and placed their hands on my shoulders. The love and compassion my friends transferred to me through their gentle touch provided the much needed support I required to make it through that difficult time. I feel that same support now from the many friends who have lent their love to Spenser.

The prayers, fasting and expressions of love we have received on Spenser's behalf have amazed my family. The flowers, cards, e-mail messages and donations of money and food have taught us so much about love and the people who have been willing to share that love with us. I personally appreciate the hugs the most. As for the food, I have to stop. I have absorbed so much nourishment of late that I am becoming less like Popeye and more like Wimpy.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 23, 2004

My Father's Eyes

As I have been reminded again and again lately, the lessons learned from great adversity are often the most valuable. I remember a time, as a teenager, when a good friend and I experimented with explosives. My father soon learned of my foolishness, and although I cannot remember what he said to me, I do recall how he grabbed me by the shoulders and looked deep into my eyes. The impact of his gaze remains with me to this day.

Revealed in my father's anguished blue eyes was the tragic death of his two brothers so many years ago. They had also played with Mr. Nobel's great invention, but with devastating consequences. The great pain, sorrow and loss expressed in my father's eyes conveyed more meaning to me than mere words ever could. It was on that day I realized, with conviction, how much my father loves me.

That lesson caused me to be much more thoughtful and cautious about placing myself in harm's way, and was a valuable experience for me in many ways. I had no desire to cause my father further misery, and have diligently tried to avoided doing so ever since.

Now, as I gaze into Spenser's stricken eyes, I wonder if my son sees in me those same convictions, depth of devotion and love. His situation is vastly different, because Spenser did nothing reckless or careless; he was simply the victim of fatigue and circumstance. At the time of Spenser's accident, we were all weary from an exhausting attempt to return home on a trail not meant for four wheelers; the road was far too narrow and rugged for our ATVs. Spenser and his cousin Keegan had worked extra hard to make the struggle easier for everyone involved. The connection between Spenser's accident and my own experience are similar only in the messages conveyed by my father and me.

The depth of emotion you feel for your children is hard to express, especially when they are injured. My father inadvertently found a way to project his emotions that left no question about his feelings for me. I hope I can find an equally effective way to show my children the all encompassing love I feel for them.

Spenser's health and well being are improving daily. We have been informed his recovery will be long and arduous, but the chances for success are excellent. We cannot begin to express our appreciation to those who have sent love and prayers our way. The communities of Blanding, Bluff and Monticello, along with our trading post family, have provided us a great deal of strength and encouragement which have helped us survive Spenser's ordeal. We can only say thank you, which does not begin to express the depth of our gratitude.

With sincerity,

The Simpson Family.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Thin Green Line

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the trading post and its place in the larger scheme of things. At times, I feel it is simply a brokerage; nothing more than a buyer and seller of arts and crafts. On other occasions, however, I believe it may be helping the local craftspeople improve their lives and introduce their art to a larger world. It may be my arrival on the stage of mid-life, or just an ongoing search to find meaning in what I have been doing for the past several years that has raised the concern. In either case, I have begun to look for relevance in this life among the sandstone skyscrapers.

I remember seeing a movie long ago called The Thin Blue Line. The film was about police officers, and the separation they maintain between law-abiding citizens and those lawless individuals intent on doing harm to the general population. The troopers create that narrow barrier, a thin blue line, that facilitates order and helps keep us safe. I have begun to think of the trading post as The Thin Green Line; a financial buffer that helps a few artists rise above the subsistence level and stop worrying so much about how to pay the bills. In many ways we are like the old time traders; if we do our jobs properly, the local economy becomes more stable and the artists begin to create, rather than just recreate.

Since this area is chronically one of the poorest in the Nation, it is always difficult for the Navajo people, or anyone else for that matter, to find a job and become successful. The unemployment rate is staggering, and job opportunities are rare. As a result of this difficult economic climate, many of the Navajo people rely on traditional crafts to sustain their families.

Under these circumstances, the craftspeople must be assured their work will sell; if it doesn't, the outgo exceeds the income. As a result, the artists frequently become conservative, and simply replicate what they have been successful making and selling in the past. This conservatism stifles the artistry that may otherwise be found in the fingers of the weaver or the hands of the silversmith. In essence, the economic circumstances act as a barrier to innovation; the artists simply cannot bear the risk of making innovative items which may not sell. Even though the rewards can be higher for a new style or inventive pattern, the investment of time and materials simply cannot be justified. The question is always, "What if it doesn¹t sell?"

Many years ago we decided the trading post would be a catalyst for change. The process started very simply, we just ask the people who brought their crafts into the store to make something different. To say we were naive would be a gross understatement. We had no idea what would be required to make the project work for us, our customers and the artists, and no feel for the financial commitment we were making to these people and their art.

From the start, there were the mistakes and misfirings that had to be purchased. Since we had asked for something extraordinary, we felt obligated to buy the piece; even if it was not really what we originally had in mind. Turning away the work left the artist with no other outlet, and the creative force immediately terminated. That meant the project had failed, and the artists would be required to fall back on the old standards or the repo man might begin circling the hogan. By purchasing the mistake, the forward movement was maintained. If the process continued, the next piece might be interesting enough to merit the overall investment.

For over 25 years we have continued to ask for the unusual and have been rewarded with some of the most remarkable work ever produced in this part of the Navajo Reservation. As the artists have become more independent, they seem to feel greater freedom to experiment with new colors, shapes and designs. By acting as that thin green line, and shifting some of the financial risk to the trading post, we have actually set them free to be true artists, rather than simply subsistence craftspeople.

The excitement of seeing the latest creation unveiled can be extremely rewarding for the artist and for us. At this point, we cannot even begin to predict will be brought into the trading post, and that makes it an exciting place. From time to time we still find ourselves groaning over something that didn't turn out exactly right, but the successes far outweigh the failures.

That, I guess, is what the trading post was meant to be; a thin green line, a liberator, a catalyst for change and a means of helping local artists grow and progress in their own unique ways.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 9, 2004

My Hero, My Son

I have a hero. My hero stands straight and tall, and is a reflection of all that is right and good in the world. My hero expends maximum efforts in all his endeavors. He does not always win or stand high on the mountain top waving his standard over the land. My hero is not conspicuous, he is quiet and shy. He is relaxed, with an easy-going manner that wins hearts like a warm spring day after a frosty and forbidding winter. My hero reflects his loving nature in all manner of seemingly insignificant actions.

My hero is a helping hand and warm smile when others have overlooked an obvious need. My hero's nature is nurturing and full of love and respect that causes even the most scrupulous practitioners of beauty and light to take notice. Simply put, my hero makes the effort to ensure that everyone he encounters feels loved and special in some way. My hero has convictions he takes seriously. He practices his sacred vows with faith, knowing they are true and consistent with his view of the world.

Spenser Simpson

Spenser Simpson

My hero is Spenser, my son. I do not know how or why I was blessed with such a special child. I am sure his mother had more to do with his beautiful outcome than I, but I claim some of the credit for him anyway. In him I see many admirable characteristics that are rare in one so young.

It is my belief that parents are under contract with the higher powers to provide their children the tools necessary to build a better world for themselves and others; a world superior to that created by their elders. That was unnecessary with Spenser, he came into this world fully endowed with quality, hand-crafted tools from the Master Craftsman.

Sadly, I must report that my hero has been seriously injured in a freak accident that has brought him down. On Monday afternoon, I experienced a parent's worst nightmare when Spenser was hurt in an ATV accident. Our family outing became a dark and perilous journey when a four wheeler turned over. It was apparent from the start that our path back to the light will be fraught with danger. The events of that day unfolded at unimaginable speeds, and all our attempts to maintain control were ineffective.

The incident resulted in serious trauma to Spenser's head and brain. As I see him propped up in his hospital bed, bruised and battered, I truly regret his pain. His heroism and exploits of love and compassion have become clearer in my mind as I view his immobile form. Contemplating my injured hero, I must have faith he will overcome his injuries. I must believe this is but a test of his strength and determination. I must trust that he will recover so he can continue to help improve our world.

The kind, loving thoughts and prayers received by Laurie, my hero, and me from people we have come to know are much appreciated. I am convinced that the friends and neighbors who send their love and affection to my hero will ensure his recovery. I look forward to the day my hero once again rises to his full potential. Our world needs the quiet heroes like Spenser; they make life worth living.

At this point we are waiting and closely monitoring his progress. Our downward spiral into despair has been checked by the love of family and friends. These individuals are a life preserver that buoys us up in kindness and goodness. My hero will be proud when he realizes all they have done.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Navajo Marketing

"We are never going to be rich, because we are too honest," That is what Jana says when the checkbook is low on funds. I always disagree; not about never being rich, but about being too trustworthy. I have heard Barry tell some whoppers, so I think I am on firm ground. In fact, after watching him at the trading post for several years, I think Barry's stories easily rival anything I have ever seen Duke concoct, and Duke is an undisputed master. As for me, whoppers are not in my skill set, but I have been known to creatively interpret the facts and conveniently forget an important occurrence.

Navajo Basket by Lorraine Black

Navajo Basket by Lorraine Black

Lately, I have begun to suspect the primary impediment to our success has nothing at all to do with honesty; the problem is that Barry and I are just not bright enough to effectively cope with the machinations of these Navajo artists. As an example, for the past several months I have been haranguing Lorraine Black to make us a really creative weaving. I have even gone so far as to get out the photograph album, point to certain baskets she has woven in the past and say, "See, like this, really inventive, really spectacular and really well done." There are times when Lorraine brings in baskets so beautiful they make me want to cry. That is what I was after, and she was not scratching my itch.

Then, about a week ago, she walked in with exactly what I wanted; a basket so stunning I felt my heart skip a few beats. As she put the weaving on the counter and told me her price, my heart stopped altogether. "What!" I exclaimed, thumping my chest to restart the old ticker before darkness enveloped me.

"Look," she said, pointing to the basket. "This is your wife and kids in your truck. Can you see there are three children and they all have red hair. And there you are, standing outside the truck, where you always are, because all you do is work and your family goes everywhere without you." Leaving aside the fact that only two of my kids have red hair, I was very impressed with the accuracy of her commentary and the likeness of the truck, wife and offspring.

Close up of Lorraine Black's Navajo Basket Close up of Lorraine Black's Navajo Basket
Close ups of Lorraine Black's Navajo Basket

She went on to point out that she had also included a representation of Barry's Toyota van with Barry and his family; all inside the vehicle. A very good likeness I had to admit. Lastly, she said, "And here is my truck with my kids. Can you see? That is why I have to ask that price."

Well, I had to admit she had us over a barrel, what would we do if the weaving found its way to another trading post? I could just hear one of the Foutzes saying, "And look at this basket, it has those two clowns from Twin Rocks in it. Isn't it a gas? Can you believe they wouldn't even buy it for themselves. What goofs they are!" While Barry looked the other way, pretending not to notice so he would not have to take responsibility for the huge purchase price, I wrote the check.

Lorraine Black with her Basket
Lorraine Black and her basket

If that had been all, I probably would have continued in blissful ignorance as I polished the glass and swept the porch. But then Julia Deswood came into the store. Although she was equipped with two weavings, she only showed Barry the lesser quality rug. After stripping him of a little cash, she promptly went to the Cafe, laid out the better weaving on the table and set up a retail operation, soliciting the restaurant patrons. When Barry heard of the assault on our clientele, he rushed next door and purchased the second, better rug; all the time wondering why she had not sold him both weavings. The answer seemed obvious to me, Julia was just trying to improve her cash flow and applying the old business adage, "A little competition never hurt anyone."

Then, to top off the week, Elsie Holiday stopped by to chew the fat. As she explained that we had all been witched and how it had taken a special ceremony to remove the curse, I was truly impressed. I had been wondering why business had taken a sudden turn for the worse. She assured me that things would now be much better, and summed up with, "So, can I borrow a hundred?" What was I going to do, risk losing all that good medicine? She walked away with the money.

I am hopeful that Barry and I can withstand the financial strain placed on us by all this creative marketing. If not, maybe Lorraine, Julia or Elsie will offer us employment.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post