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