Thursday, January 29, 2004

Training Wheels

Recently, I was sitting on the porch of the trading post watching my two nephews riding their bicycles and antagonizing each other. It was early evening; a relaxing time. The day was winding down, and it was almost time to head north, towards Blanding and home. It had recently rained, the air was fresh and invigorating, the earth smelled rich and there were new sprouts of green near the edge of the sidewalk. This certainly meant a new crop of weeds would soon come bursting forth. As I watched, Tarrik and Grange ran their bikes into each other and crashed to the ground. I quickly realized they were unhurt, and smiled to myself as I witnessed their entanglement and post smash up argument about who caused the incident.

Tarrik and Grange in front of Twin Rocks Trading Post
Tarrik and Grange in front of Twin Rocks Trading Post

As I helped the boys untangle themselves, briskly dusted off their back sides and tried to stop the recriminations, a memory popped into my head. The event happened at least ten years ago, but the emotions washed over me as forcefully as they had at the time of the original incident. My eldest child, Spenser, had decided it was time to "take off the training wheels," and test his independence. He figured he was ready to ride his bicycle without being artificially propped up or aided in any way. He also figured he was not going to need the help of his father.

For whatever reason, my four year old foundling had asked me to remove the bicycle extensions and step aside. I learned something about my boy that day that both worried and made me proud. As instructed, I stood back and watched as Spenser repeatedly mounted that miniature bicycle and fell to the sidewalk. As my wife paced back and forth on our front lawn, and frowned at me as if this were my fault, Spenser continued his efforts. It wasn't long before tears of frustration rolled down his youthful, pink cheeks, but he would not accept help or give up his undertaking.

Spenser Simpson
Spenser Simpson

Laurie and I watched in concerned amazement as our son slowly progressed. Soon he was pedaling his way from one end of our block to the other. His determination was remarkable, and his tenacity unwavering. Spenser had pushed his limits to new levels and discovered that one can achieve great success by sheer willpower. At that moment, Laurie and I realized we were the proud parents of a very determined and resourceful young man.

This experience, and my newly found understanding of what can motivate people, has, over the years, proved beneficial at the trading post. I see the same determination to succeed in many of the artists we deal with on a daily basis. Looking across the counter into the fiercely determined eyes of an artist negotiating a price for his or her creation can be truly inspiring, and frightening. With great zeal, they inform us just what it took to produce their masterwork, and why it should be worth more than we are offering. The whole experience can be extremely educational.

There are tears of frustration, grinding and gnashing of teeth, hair pulling and near strangulations. Being the sensitive type, Steve gets rather worked up over these situations. The artists, on the other hand are usually more reasonable. But you have not lived until you have stood opposite someone like Matthew Yellowman, and listened to his impassioned dissertations on what it takes to carve, detail and professionally paint his masterful folk art. Beautifully sculpted roadrunners, along with chickens and ravens in moccasins and sneakers, spring to life under his expert hand. You soon realize that he has powerful emotions concerning his art, and he expects you to understand his motivations.

Then there is Delbert Buck, and his whimsical sculptures depicting humorous aspects of Navajo life. He has a knack for making you snort with laughter when first catching sight of his work. Delbert is low key, easy going and has a much more subtle approach to promoting and educating us about his art. He brings his entire family along to help express his opinions, share inspiration and negotiate terms. They gang up on us, which exaggerates their fervor. I have learned not to underestimate the strength of numbers. Steve and I don't stand much of a chance against that determined mob.

Whether I am dealing with my own family, my nephews, Steve and especially the artists, there are always strong wills at play, exaggerated opinions and emotional outbursts to contend with. Creative individuals often have much to say, and inventive ways of expressing themselves. It seems there is never a dull moment here at the trading post. Maybe one of these days I will feel comfortable enough to express my own point of view. I can feel the training wheels coming off.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Jogging Generalissimo

Staff Note:

We believe in writing this week’s story, Steve may be having delusions of grandeur . This seems to have been occasioned by his recent victory in the Tempe Traffic Court, where he was cleared of the charges of failure to yield and litigating with far too many exhibits. In spite of his vindication by the court, we at Twin Rocks Trading Post have decided he needs a 24 hour “time out,” and have confined him to his office without lunch. Therefore, read this week’s story at your own risk. We disclaim any responsibility for your failure to yield our advice.

The day started like many others; at 5:30 a.m., I woke for my morning jog. My mind kept trying to convince my body that it was best to stay under the covers. I couldn't help thinking, “Hey, you are almost 45 years old, and the way time is flying, you may be 50 before the end of next week, so you better get a little rest.” I struggled out of bed and put on my running clothes. Little did I know today would be a jog to remember.

At 6:30 a.m., I was still standing on the porch talking with Mark about yesterday’s events. Mark and I always talk about the things we want accomplish before we fade into obscurity, and today was no exception. As Mark and I chatted, I couldn't help thinking, “We were meant for greater things, so when will they happen?” Oh sure, Barry and I publish the most widely read internet column originating from the Bluff, Utah; yes, I have become recognized as the top trading post lawyer in San Juan County; true, Mark makes a mean red trout supper and has even been mentioned in Time magazine; and it is beyond dispute that Barry and I have bought and sold a few great Navajo baskets, but I was sure there was something more.

As I waddled east toward the mission, I noticed Bishop Plummer’s flock of sheep on the highway again. As usual, the sheep wandered from side to side, munching the grass and not paying much attention to the cars that passed. These sheep, having been brought up in the Episcopal faith, are very patient, tolerant and liberal, so the traffic did not distract them from their hobbies. At least not until a brown Dodge drove onto the scene.

The flock was stuck in the middle of the road and the driver was in a hurry; obviously not as patient as the sheep. The truck horn blasted three or four times, scattering the sheep and clearing the road. I proceeded through the confusion as if nothing had happened, thinking however that we had just missed an opportunity for breakfast of smashed sheep soufflé.

The sheep reminded me of the trading post, and how slow the pace can be. People come in, and Barry and I start our approach, “Hello,. . . How are you today?. . . Isn't it a nice morning? . . . Just let us know if you have any questions. . . . We don't have many answers, but we will try. . . . “ We have convinced ourselves this low stress life will allow us to live extremely long lives, but what about our 15 minutes of fame?

As I made my turn and began my jog back to the trading post, I once again noticed the sheep. They were split into two groups, one on the north side of the road and the other on the south. All of the sudden, it dawned on me that this was the moment I had been waiting for all my life. I had always been fond of the military term, “Divide and conquer,” and I instantly knew I would conquer the flock today.

Long ago I recognized that all great men are molded by their individual circumstances, I just had not found the right opportunity. This undoubtedly would be the crowning achievement of my life to date. I could see it clearly, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Lincoln and Generalissimo Steven P. Simpson; the jogging general of Bluff, Utah, conqueror of the flocks.

As I approached the sheep, I began to worry that my opportunity was fading. They stared at me and I could tell they were considering a consolidation. Fortunately, providence shined upon me, and a red Isuzu Rodeo with California license plates drove past, freezing the sheep in place and reminding me of the time I had ridden in the Rodeo.

I became light headed, and thought I was going to faint. Luckily my mind quickly cleared and the sheep stayed put while I quickened my pace. I split the flock with precision, waving my arms and shouting, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” I was slow to realized that I did not have any torpedoes, functional or not, and that my battleship was worn and listing a little to the left. But I wasn't taking on any water and the sheep must have recognized that there was still life left in this old battle-ax; they bolted for the safety of the boulders. From the little round nodules left scattered across the road, it was clear that I had scared the . . . , that my mission has succeeded brilliantly.

As I proceeded west, a beam of light broke through the clouds and shown upon me. A white Subaru passed. The driver, a local woman who never waves or smiles at me during my morning maneuvers, was consistently smug, and I could feel a dark cloud obscuring my victory. The next two drivers waved vigorously and redeemed my belief that the early morning conquest would be the subject of songs and legends. As Meatloaf, the poet laureate of the 1980s, once said, “Two out of three ain't bad.” It was going to be a great day.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Spider Woman Lives

"Daaad, there is a spider in here, come get it!" My daughters, Alyssa and McKale, had spotted the creature on our ceiling and wanted it dispatched, post haste. When a spider shows itself in our home, it is my responsibility to catch and release it into the wilds of our backyard. My wife, Laurie, has transferred her arachnophobia to each of our children, so there is no one else to do this deed. I have often tried to impress upon my family a more compassionate and cohabitational attitude towards our web weaving friends. Sharing Navajo cultural stories about spiders and encouraging my family to overcome their personal fear factors concerning these eight legged creatures has not been successful.

Pictures of spiders in Barry Simpson's home

Here at the trading post, Steve and I deal with web weavers on a regular basis. In the Navajo culture, there resides a benevolent being known as Spider Woman; she dwells within the Navajo rug and basket weavers who frequent our establishment. Spider Woman's aura surrounds them, tenaciously attached by threads of wool and sumac.

It has been a real adventure becoming familiar with our local weavers . Through the hearts and hands of these artists, Spider Woman spins her webs of myth and legend, prolongs a fading culture and expresses her opinions. Materials gathered from the earth are artfully reworked into expressions of the ancient Navajo stories. If you look closely, and open your mind, the Navajo perspective begins to come together in a tapestry of form and movement.

Through the weaver's, the culture begins to unfold in unique and fascinating ways. What once seemed only visually intriguing becomes doubly stimulating when the stories associated with the weaving are told. Interpretations of a practical and functional belief system are expressed through skills passed from hand to hand through the generations. Tradition, ancient ceremonial practices and suggestions of harmony and balance are woven into exceptional works of art. Spider Woman spins and weaves her magic into each creation.

Mountains, mesas and monuments are stylistically and lovingly portrayed; geometric red rock canyons and scattered juniper trees come alive on these textural canvases. Subtle images such as lizard tracks across a desert sand dune, wispy cloud formations and lively displays of early morning light find their way onto the one dimensional art forms. Their portrayal brings forth depth of field and a feeling of experience that tempts the senses into loftier realms of reality.

Spider Woman lives in the art of those who believe and welcome her into their world. She provides her followers with skill in gathering necessary materials, the patience required for proper preparation and the ability to incorporate singular mental images into the art. With her aid, Navajo weaving becomes more than warp, weft and design. Spider Woman provides the motivation and creativity it takes to produce exceptional art pieces.

It wasn't long after the spider incident with the girls that Laurie's three sisters and parents came to visit. Somehow the fact that "dear old Dad" had an affinity for spiders came up, and I was chastised for tolerating their presence for any reason (The spiders, not the sisters-in-law). Laurie and her siblings are sticklers for a clean house, and arachnids do not blend well with that philosophy.

Before I knew it my in-laws had formed a posse and rounded up three more of my crawly associates. Much to my dismay the "tidy team of bug bashers" banished the creatures to the rich earth of the flower garden. I am having trouble convincing my family that spiders are good and beneficial allies. I may have to weave a web of deceit and liberate those spiders from their leafy exile. I know the perfect little corner where they will have the opportunity to grow and prosper.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 8, 2004

To A Trader Dying Young

The telephone call came shortly after Jana and I returned home from the Heard Museum North Gala. We had been invited to participate in the small art market associated with the event. Bill Malone from Hubbell’s brought rugs and Jack, Judy, Jason and Carrie Beasely were there with Navajo folk art. Carol was calling to tell me Jason and Carrie Beasley had been in a terrible accident on their way home, and Carrie had died in the collision. The emotions I felt surprised me. I had known Jason about five years, but didn’t know him well; and didn’t really know Carrie at all. I had seen her a few times, but don’t think we had ever said more than a friendly, “hello” to each other.

Jason’s father, Jack Beasley, is the father of contemporary Navajo folk art, and I had gotten to know him well over the years. When Carol mentioned that Jason, Carrie and their two girls had been hit by a drunk driver, a flood of fears and sadness washed over me. The fears related to my own family, which is always crisscrossing the Reservation between Bluff and Albuquerque; the sadness was for Jason and the girls who now had a gaping hole in their lives and in their hearts.

Just a few days earlier, Jana, Kira, Grange and I had been in Scottsdale for the Gala. Jason, Carrie, Marley and Haley were also there. While Kira and Grange rampaged around the fish pond, Carrie, Marley and Haley calmly and serenely strolled through the adjacent shops and around the pond; I couldn’t help note the difference. I remember thinking how perfectly contented they seemed. Jana, Kira, Grange and I were also happy to be out, but it was more of a renegade, escapee happiness.

Lately I have been obsessed with how a few seconds can change your life. Once I had time to consider Carrie’s death, I couldn’t help wishing that somehow someone had slowed them down for a just few seconds. It struck me that Jason and Carrie would have avoided the accident altogether if they had arrived at that location only five seconds later, or if circumstances had been slightly different.

As I go through my daily routine, and especially as I drive across the Reservation, I often wonder what misfortunes I may have narrowly escaped. Unlike Jason and the girls, my family has been fortunate so far. I often wonder what I would do if Jana and the kids were hurt or killed, and I don’t know if I am strong enough to cope with the loss.

Jana and I have often discussed just how dangerous the Reservation roads can be, especially at night. When we are driving after sunset, we are always doubly cautious. Livestock and alcohol make those roads treacherous. I cannot begin to count the number of friends and acquaintances who have been involved in accidents of one sort or another out there. Many of the artists we deal with have lost at least one friend or loved one to the Navajo Nation pavement.

In the newspaper article relating to the accident, Carrie was described as an exceptional wife and mother; someone completely dedicated to her family. That seemed apparent as I watched her with the girls in Scottsdale. The article reminded me of a poem from my college literature classes. The poem, To an Athlete Dying Young, has stuck with me over the years, and resurfaces at times like these. It is about a athlete who, because of his premature death, is not required to bear the indignities of growing old.

When thinking of that poem in relation to circumstances like these, I have often felt it is difficult to know whether fate is being kind to the dead or playing a cruel joke on the living; maybe both. In my mind, Carrie will forever be the kind and gentle mother shepherding her young daughters around the fish pond. I know Jason and the girls will miss Carrie’s warmth and tenderness, and hope they know that all of us at the trading post are sorry for their loss and ready to help in any way possible. We traders have tragically lost one of our own.


The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high, we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early through the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honors out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s

A.E. Housman (1859-1936

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Can you hear me now?

I have to say that the marketing group for Verizon Wireless has picked up on a catch phrase we can relate to at the trading post. "Can you hear me now?" is often spoken here. We find ourselves using their slogan when we receive a telephone call on our ultra sophisticated phone system and hear someone on a cell phone at the other end. Under those circumstances, dead air, static and unfinished messages are common. I am certain Verizon's be-speckled spokesman has never spent a mobile minute in this spacious canyon country. (Say that three times fast!).

When cell phones, these fanciful creations of modern technology, found their way into our consciousness, we thought we had discovered the ultimate solution to our communication problems. Full and open conversation was within our grasp; a quantum leap in message transmission was now available.

It has always been a problem transmitting messages to the Navajo artists living on the Reservation. Residing among these monolithic monuments is great for the soul, but telephone lines simply do not penetrate the vast reaches of the Navajo Nation. In the past, snail mail and messengers "heading in that direction" were the best we could expect. Although these were an enormous improvement over smoke signals, they were still mostly ineffective.

We all bought into the cell phone craze in the beginning, some of us even invested in the market. We figured that AT&T wireless stock would be a sure thing. We should have gone to the track and bet on the ponies; the odds would have been better. My wife has never forgiven me for that investing faux-pas, and still holds me personally responsible for decreasing the kids' saving accounts and squandering their college funds. My claim of "manifest privilege" has only tightened the noose around my red neck and face .

The thought of being able to get in touch with our out of touch business partners was too titillating to overlook. At the touch of a button, and at the speed of sound, we would have the opportunity to express ourselves openly, fully and completely. Our ideas would be delivered as fresh and pure as the original epiphany Our business would improve greatly, due to the immediate transmission of ideas.

What we did not anticipate is that cell phone signals do not dip into canyons and curve around rock walls to carry our messages. The linear signals and ins and outs of our baroque landscape make for troublesome connections.

Being situated in a rock bowl makes dialing out of the trading post on a cell phone an impossibility. For some reason sandstone does not conduct the signals very well. We are able to receive calls routed through our land line provider, but the reception quality varies greatly. Short of placing a tower on top of the Twin Rocks, we are not likely to improve our situation. Therein lies the problem. Unless we agree to having transmission towers built in and around our natural wonders, cell phones are only going to be useful in limited circumstances.

Wireless phone service is spotty at best on the Reservation. When traveling, my suggestion is to pull over quickly and stop the car when you find a signal. You must however beware of traffic following too closely though. Highway patrolmen take a less than lenient view of rear end collisions caused by "signal stops". Anticipate phone service by watching for a line of local vehicles along the road, and pull in behind them. Chances are this is the location of a narrow band of signal coverage. If you have trouble connecting, wait until the car in front of you pulls forward; you will eventually get your turn "in the spotlight".

The cell phone has dialed itself into the lives of everybody, including the Native people of the Desert Southwest. It has become a necessity, if only because there is no better solution to the communication problems of this vast land of mesas and monuments. We now see our Native American brothers and sisters with cell phones pressed to their ears on a regular basis; often shouting Verizon's now famous slogan with great frustration.

What I am now wondering is "what about satellite phones"? Now there is the answer! Signals from straight overhead, no worries concerning obstacles or distance. I wonder if there is any money left in those accounts. "I can hear it now"..

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post