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