Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Christmas Tale

Navajo Basket

Lost; with a fast moving winter storm approaching, I was totally and hopelessly lost in the wilds of southeastern Utah. To add insult to injury, I had left the house that morning without the essential tools needed to manage such a brutal encounter with nature. For years, I have purchased neat little gadgets guaranteed to ensure my survival in any situation. Space blankets; fire starters of every shape, size and intensity; a pinpoint GPS system; flare guns; satellite phones; and even a downed airplane beacon, you name it, I had it. The problem was that all of that nifty gadgetry was at home in the closet, safely stowed in a backpack ready to be dispatched in case of emergency.

Well, this was clearly an emergency! I was cold, tired and confident I would be spending the night snuggled up next to an unloving cedar tree. I had left the house early Christmas Eve morning, figuring my family would take advantage of the holiday and sleep late, which would give me a few hours to slip away and enjoy the pleasures of the outdoors. I was intent on driving west on U.S. Highway 95 and motoring across the juniper-encrusted flats which are broken up by alluring, outrageous canyons. During my drive, I found myself drawn off the pavement by a scenic dirt road that ambled through a dense cluster of gnarled junipers.

The drive was sensational to say the least, and the beauty of this natural world easily inspired my sense of wonder. The dirt track took me through clusters of trees interspersed with open areas of stiff, stumpy yellow grass and sagebrush of exceptional height. As I made my way north, I began to notice rock bugaboos. Those sandstone creations of wind and rain are what had brought me to my current predicament. I stopped the truck and wandered over to the nearest red rock upthrust and rubbed my bare hands over its exterior. I could easily sweep away the weathered outer surface and feel the form and texture of the base rock.

Looking around, I realized I was on the outside edge of a pocket of these strange formations. Their numerous and unusual shapes drew me in. The forms reminded me of mythical beings, grotesque to the point of sublime. Wandering through this natural stone garden, I became entranced and lost all sense of time. I was so engrossed in the variations of light and shadow playing upon the jumbled spires, fragrant junipers and mixed vegetation that I completely lost myself for several hours. When dusk arrived and snowflakes began to tickle my nose and eyelashes, I was caught completely unaware.

Hearing the distant hoot of a Great Horned Owl, I stopped dead in my tracks, looked around and recognized the danger of my situation. As the reality of my predicament sunk in, I realized I had been seduced by nature and was about to experience how cold and cruel she can be. Although I hate to admit it, when I discovered I had no idea where the truck was, I panicked a bit; okay, a lot. I took stock of my resources and shook my head in disgust; I was wearing only blue jeans, a light sweatshirt and walking shoes. I dug in my pockets and came up with fifty-six cents in change, a set of keys, a miniature pearl-handled pocket knife and a small turquoise stone I always carry for luck. I chuckled cynically to myself, and thought that after tonight I might have to find a new talisman; one that really works.

Stumbling forward, I looked for a cleft, crevice or depression in the rock to hole up in and fortify myself against the night that was rapidly approaching. As I made my way toward an outcropping of boulders, I was surprised by a flash of yellowish-tan fur. Jumping back with fright, I recognized a coyote skulking under a nearby tree. I wondered why the creature had not run off and left me to become tomorrow's meal. I heard a faint whimper among the rocks, and the coyote circled back, closer to where I stood. Looking down at the ground, I saw a myriad of tracks and realized I was near a den. I thought, "There must be another coyote in there; possibly one that is sick or injured." The coyote and I stood looking at each other in the gloom of the evening and maze of lightly falling snow.

As I studied the animal and it studied me, the story of the Navajo Long Walk came to mind. I recalled reading how, after spending five devastating years at the Bosque Redondo, a Navajo leader had received a vision telling him that a coyote would lead his people home. In response to the message, the People captured a coyote and held a sacred ceremony involving the beast. During the sing, the Navajo participants placed a gift of turquoise in the animal's mouth and released it, promising to follow in its tracks as soon as possible. The coyote quickly left the scene heading in a northerly direction. Soon after, the People were released from their internment. Following the path the coyote had taken, they returned to Dinetah; their homeland.

Reaching into my pocket, I felt the smooth, polished surface of the turquoise and wondered at its magic. The coyote was sitting on its haunches, watching me closely, so I quietly spoke to it, saying, "What do you think, do you want to show me the way home?" The animal looked at me warily and licked its lips. "That's not nice," I said out loud. I took the stone from my pocket and slowly made my way towards the den. The coyote became extremely agitated as I approached the pile of sandstone. I talked to the creature in a soothing manner, telling it the turquoise was an offering; informing the coyote that I could really use some help getting home for Christmas.

It was snowing hard by this time, and growing ever darker. I was cold, frustrated and had begun thinking I was really stupid for talking to a coyote and assuming it was able to understand my situation. Why would it even care. I backed away from the turquoise until I could barely see the stone through the darkness. I spoke to the coyote under the tree, saying, "I would love to spend Christmas with my family. Will you please show me the way to my truck?" The coyote moved forward in a slow cautious manner until it reached the piece of turquoise. It sniffed the blue mineral, and looked curiously in my direction.

Navajo Basket

The coyote slipped back into the rocks where its mate was hidden, and I guessed that would be the end of the story. In a moment, however, the coyote reappeared, eyed the turquoise and inspected me from head to toe. I must have looked like the Abominable Snowman by then, since I was plastered with snow and shivering mightily. "Please," I said to the coyote. "It's either that or you will have me as a house guest this evening." It seemed the coyote considered my statement and found the prospect of me staying unappealing. The creature shook its head and began to move away. I stood there watching and wondering, until the coyote paused and looked over its shoulder. The look it gave me seemed to say, "Well isn't this what you wanted?"

Shaking the moisture from my head, I started after my wild guide. It was completely dark by now, and snow was falling furiously. There were times when I could not see the coyote at all; with only the fresh tracks on the new fallen snow to guide me. I had been tracking the coyote for some time when serious doubts about the sensibility of my decision began to creep into my head. I thought I must be out of my mind to be following a wild animal in the middle of the night. If the coyote was as intelligent as I hoped, he was probably leading me to the edge of a cliff, which would solve a number of his problems in one single step.

I peered into the darkness and asked out loud, "Where are you leading me ancient one?" I brushed the snow from my eyes and squinted deeper into the night. To my utter amazement, I recognized the outline of my truck. Looking down at my saviour's tracks, I saw they led right past the front of my vehicle. I could not believe my good fortune, and scrambled to locate my keys, unlock my truck and fire up the heater to defrost myself and end my uncontrollable shivering. When I finally warmed both the truck and me, I hit the lights. There in the low beam, surrounded by whirling snowflakes, sat the coyote. Our eyes met, and I said with reverent gratefulness, "Thank you . . . and Merry Christmas!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 15, 2005

And The Winner Is?

It seems I have been involved with family businesses since I was old enough to remember. The trading post is organized as a family corporation, and most of the companies I represent have grown out of some type of familial enterprise. So, it was no surprise when I was recently asked to participate in a presentation to a family who had built an extremely successful entity. These entrepreneurial individuals had found themselves in a muddle over how to transfer control to the next generation and decided an independent consultant might help break the log jam.

As I can attest, the challenges of working in a family business can be monumental. People often wonder at how Barry, Jana and I are able to work together so closely without severely injuring each other physically, emotionally and psychologically. In fact, I often wonder too; not how we avoid the damage, but how we survive it. Over the years, I have read a great deal about family businesses and am constantly amazed that the pathologies are precisely the same from entity to entity. Knowing we all suffer from the same problems, however, does not make things any easier.

With that in mind, I cautiously entered the conference room where the meeting was to be held. The discussions went on for several hours, and toward the end of the presentation, the exceptionally competent moderator stated she wished to utilize an old "Native American" method for resolving conflict, a method which she felt was applicable in their situation. The formula, she said, had four parts: (1) you have to show up; (2) you must participate in the process; (3) you must be honest; and (4) you should be open to unexpected outcomes.

Since those four factors appear to be the model for success in almost any aspect of life, I have been constantly thinking about them and how they apply to the trading post and my individual situation. I even began wondering whether the technique would be helpful in resolving the financial conflicts which arise when Barry and I are negotiating the price of an expensive rug or basket.

I was still mulling over the formula when the alarm went off the Saturday morning following Thanksgiving. It was a cold, gray, blustery day outside, and I was inclined to pull the covers up over my head and let the morning pass without even bothering to get up and feed the kids. I had, however, committed to run in the annual 5K Turkey Trot in Blanding, and knew I must at least show up and participate.

Honesty did not seem a serious concern in that particular situation, since it is difficult to be dishonest about running in such a small event. I did not even consider the fourth factor of the formula; unexpected outcomes. I have never been fast, so winning foot races has not become an important part of my agenda. In fact, Morris Swenson, my high school football coach, thought so much of my athletic skills that he labeled me "One Speed." The young guys, and even some of the old ones, always finish ahead of me. If I am lucky, I get a ribbon for placing in the top three in my age group; quite often because there are only two or three of us to start with, so we all get awards.

So it was as I stood on the starting line of the Turkey Trot, shivering, looking west along Highway 191 to Center Street and thinking about how much I would like to be inside a warm house instead of out in the cold. The first half mile of the course is slightly uphill, and once in a while I can gain a small advantage over the other old guys on this portion of the course if my muscles and joints are working properly. When the starting gun went off, I realized they were not; my legs were stiff and my lungs sputtering as I struggled to find a rhythm while staggering up the hill. The young guys were already pulling away as I crested the rise, but the old ones were still close enough.

Gary Torres, another local writer known as the Caveman because of his column titled My Cave My View, passed me just after the top of the hill, and I began to worry. During the July 4th race, Barry had informed me that I could not, under any circumstances, let Caveman beat me or it would further besmirch our reputation. Gary's column has won numerous awards, and ours has won, well . . . none. It may be fair to say that Barry was suffering pencil envy.

Keeping Gary close enough that I would have the chance to catch him during the last mile, I soldiered on. Suddenly, things began to go my way. I rounded a corner to find Gary on the horns of a dilemma. It seems all those young, fit runners, including the petite little girl in flip flops and toe socks, had taken a wrong turn and gone off the course. I considered letting Gary go as well, but that formula for resolving conflict popped into my head. "Gary, that's the wrong way, we need to go this this direction," I shouted, realizing almost instantaneously that I might have to gin up some excuse to explain to Barry why I had lost to the Caveman this time out. So much for honesty and integrity.

Gary corrected his trajectory and got back on track, but it was too late; I shot passed him. There I was, firmly in the lead, with my journalistic nemesis behind me and all the leaders on a misguided adventure. Years ago, somebody had said to me, "I am so far behind I thought I was in first place." Well, lightning had struck, and I was in the lead. I could not help chuckling to myself. A sense of fairness overwhelmed me and I briefly thought of slowing to let Gary catch up. Barry's directive was ringing in my ears, however, so I kept chugging along.

As I turned the corner towards the finish line, I could see the "What in the heck is Steve doing in the lead," look on the faces of the crowd. My sense of fair play returned, and, thinking I could easily snow Barry into believing that Gary had taken some unfair advantage, I stopped before the finish gate to let him and the others pass. The race organizers, however, shouted, "Go on. It will teach them a good lesson," so I sheepishly strolled across the line; just in front of the Caveman.

At the awards ceremony, I received the "Old Sage" award for having the sense to stay on course. It goes to show you what can happen if you just show up, participate and expect the unexpected. Who knows, if I can win a foot race, maybe I can organize this family and these artists. Now that would require a real miracle.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 8, 2005


As young boys my two brothers and I would climb up onto the high points surrounding Bluff, gaze down upon our small community and look for adventure among the landscape, citizens and structures below. Much like the raptors that drifted on the updrafts and air currents high above our closely shaved heads, we found ourselves in constant search of nourishment; they for food, we for adventure. The locals were acutely aware of our mischievous nature and did their best to eliminate temptation.

The Simpson Clan

Old Mrs. Bourne would lock away her valuables in a boarded up chicken coop and with bloodshot eyes tell tall tales of children that disappeared without a trace when left unattended. This foxy ancient actress would also attempt to gain our friendship and cooperation by plying us with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was no use though, we had a mental picture of her entire cooped-up inventory and easy access through a loosened board on the roof. We knew better than to steal anything, but found it exhilarating to tip-toe through her warehouse of wondrous objects.

Roy Pearson took the opposite approach, this kindly character left everything he had out in the open and available for inspection. There were no locks on his outbuildings, no fences and no ferocious dogs to impede our progress. In fact, if we found something that sparked our curiosity we would simply go to Roy and ask him about it. Roy was exceedingly patient and tolerant of our presence and more than willing to educate us with his knowledge of construction and mechanics. There was always a "Help Wanted" sign on the door of Roy's gas station when it came to us. We would often earn quarters by emptying trash cans, stacking oil and sweeping up around the place.

Bill Huber's Silver Dollar Bar was a favorite hang-out of ours as well. Bill often left the door open, and we would peek into the cool, darkened interior to see who was there playing pool and drinking beer. There were quite a few oil workers in Bluff at the time, and if there was not an excess of coarse language and bawdy humor Bill would allow us to hang there. If the opposite were true, Bill would sic his little, ratty dog on us and send us scampering. In that case we would slip around back to where Bill lived with his family in hopes of catching a glimpse of Bill's teenage daughter, Barbara. I am sure Barbara was not aware of us since she was extremely popular and much courted by area high school boys. No matter; we were strangely impressed by this raven-haired beauty and kept a keen eye out for her.

Hiking back across Cottonwood Wash took us to Clemma Arthur's Turquoise Cafe where we would spend the quarters we earned at Roy's gas station. Powdered Hostess donuts under glass and orange soda in a frosted glass were always available for starving young adventurers. Clemma had a group of rough and tumble boys of her own and two girls that could hold their own with any of them. Tammy was the youngest and feistiest of them all. She was our age, and you simply did not mess with her unless you were in the mood to lose some hide and hair. To this day, I consider Tammy to be a true and valuable friend. I have the scars to prove our hard won friendship!

The highlight of our days had to be the first of the month. Our two sisters would join up with us, uninvited of course, and head over to the post office. Dorothy Nielson was the benevolent post mistress back then and managed a quaint and wondrous world of miniature bronze vaults with twist and turn dials that allowed access to communication with the outside world and local interaction. Wanted posters plastered one wall forcing us to consider our actions and the dubious honor of being recognized as infamous, but the real draw was the parade of Indian people who flooded the town on "payday".

Satin and velveteen swirled and shimmered about the hips and shoulders of patient women with copper-colored skin. Tall black hats of felt, and crisp new blue jeans rolled up at the cuff showing off highly polished cowboy boots adorned many of the men. Shining black hair, combed and pulled tightly back and meticulously tied into the traditional bun with fresh white cotton string was worn by both. On days like this, the people were much more animated and excited, flashing brown eyes and brilliant white teeth, it was a sight to behold; nothing like what Hollywood portrayed in the movies.

They arrived driving all manner of vehicles, from bicycles to pick-up trucks, and if we were lucky a horse drawn team pulling a wagon outfitted with rubber car tires. By the end of the day, the wealth of the Navajo Nation would be redeemed from many a dark and dusty pawn vault to gleam and glimmer in the afternoon light, only to be returned to darkness within the week. The Indian people were patient with our inquisitive gawking and seemed to accept us as we did them.

At that time in our lives, I am sure that we thought we were preying on the people of Bluff. If the truth would be known, it is my guess that the people of Bluff were praying for us. I know for a fact that they were looking out for our best interests and watching out for our well being. It is a different life now: computers, fashions from the east and west coast and modern high speed connections available to everyone. Most importantly, what remains, is a deep seated concern for the children. We all set aside our petty disagreements with each other and keep a sharp eye of compassion and care for our youth. They are our future, and it would be best if we all made a concerted effort to keep them off of the post office wall.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 1, 2005

A Few Stones Short of a Full Cluster

Navajo Brooch

Once in a while Barry and I have visitors to the trading post who say something like, "Wow, I am glad I finally caught you open. I have been here several times and you are always closed." Since our official hours for most of the year are 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., seven days a week, and Barry and I are usually here early and late, I always wonder how these people consistently arrive when we are closed.

During the winter, traffic through the store slows dramatically, so in late October we begin closing Sundays. Last Sunday, I was out washing the car when Nellie Tsosie drove up in a large Dodge truck pulling a horse trailer. Nellie is the purveyor of Natural Pinon Cream; that magical, mystical stuff Duke and Barry maintain will cure any ailment and make you younger, smarter and sexier. Duke tells everybody that all it takes to turn your life around is a little dab on your toast each morning. From time to time it is clear our patrons are wondering whether it is worth a try. When that happens, I am required to give the customer a wink and explain that Duke is really just joking; the bread is not necessary.

As I scrubbed the long neglected car, Nellie strode up the front steps and crashed into the locked door. After coming to an abrupt stop, she looked at me and asked, "Closed?" "Yep," I explained. "Why?," she wanted to know. "Because, after taking advantage of the Navajo people all week, I need to go to church and ask for forgiveness," I said. She cautiously bobbed her head, unsure whether I was serious or not and certainly not wanting to do anything that might prejudice her chances of nailing down a sale. "Well, Grandpa always told me that the white traders who take the whole package go crazy when they get to be 55 or 60," she said. "In fact, the one down home did go crazy and move to Mancos. You just can't always take the whole package," she continued.

"Where's my buddy, Barry," she wanted to know. "Also gone to church. He needs more help than I," I laughed. Again she knowingly bobbed her head. She was working hard to get me to unlock the trading post and the checkbook. "You know how Grandma is, she always wants you to give her something extra, even after the deal is done," Nellie said. "Yes, I know, that's why I will never go crazy and will go straight to heaven when I die. You guys always get the best of me." She laughed out loud, knowing I was right.

All the Navajo people around here understand that I am an easy mark, so once the deal is negotiated, they ask for a set of earrings, a ring, a pin or a few dollars for gas. Nellie's explanation made me feel a little better, because I have always felt the reason for their requests was that they knew I am a sucker for a sad face or a good story. I now realized it is simply a matter of tradition.

Lorraine Black, for example, told us several years ago that during her latest healing ceremony, the medicine man had instructed her to get a piece of turquoise whenever she sold us baskets. If she did not, he cautioned, she would surely become gravely ill. So, for several months she insisted on receiving a nice pair of earrings to go with her check. At some point, I decided I could not stand the additional financial strain and suggested I just give her a simple, undistinguished turquoise stone. "No way," she said. "I need some new earrings." That was when I knew for certain I had been led down the garden path. When she realized the game was up, she just laughed and went on her way; happy in the knowledge that her scheme had worked for quite awhile.

I reminded Nellie that indeed her mother, Cecelia, had been getting the best of me for a long time. About seven years ago, Cecelia had wanted one of my rugs. She had a customer who needed a storm pattern weaving and did not have time to make it. So we made a deal, Cecelia would leave her squashblossom necklace with me until she was paid for the rug. When she received payment from her customer, she would redeem her jewelry. A few months later she wanted to swap the necklace for a brooch that, like most of the people here at the trading post, was a few stones short of a full cluster. I let her take the necklace and put her pin in the safe. Every month or so for the past seven years Cecelia has stopped by to assure me she will come for the brooch and that I must not give up and sell it. During each visit, I go to the safe, pull out the by now well worn paper sack containing her jewel, and show it to her. After being reassured that our arrangement is unchanged, she happily climbs back in the truck and heads home.

Nellie, being the focused type, patiently listened to my story about her mother and said, "So, do you need any cream." "I can't buy on Sunday, it's my day off and I won't get the redemption I need if I take advantage of you today," I said. "Oh, okay," she replied and began to walk back to the truck. "By the way, that's a nice T-shirt, do you want to trade," she asked. "No thanks, you are trying to get too much of my package," I laughed "By the way, did Grandpa say you will go crazy if you keep taking advantage of the white traders," I asked. "No. It doesn't work that way," she responded. I bobbed my head knowingly.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Saved by the Bell

One hot summer afternoon, I sat on the porch of Blue Mountain Trading Post, swatting flies, telling lies and swigging Snapple Iced Tea with Ezra Begay, an activity that had become one of my favorite past times. Ezra lived a mile or so down the narrow, two lane highway that led south to Bluff; at the Fred and Audrey Halliday place. He, and his sweetheart Sarah, inhabited a small blue house on the Halliday farm, and were responsible for ensuring that the farm's equipment and outbuildings remained free of undesirable varmints and critters. The Hallidays lived in town and had previously employed Ezra as a laborer. Ezra, however, was past the heavy lifting phase, and was enjoying the life of an easygoing agricultural caretaker.

Ezra and I first met in 1976, when my family opened Blue Mountain Trading Post, which was located about halfway between the Halliday farm and Blanding. Earlier in the year I had begun noticing this thin, slightly bent and stately Navajo man hoofing it up and down the highway on a regular basis. Sarah would trail along behind her man in typical Navajo fashion. As Sarah's bones and joints began to stiffen, I noticed them walking together less and less. Ezra, on the other hand, never slowed down. After I had gotten to know Ezra, he often told me that he was used to walking and enjoyed it a great deal. One hot, dry day Ezra stopped into the trading post and asked for a glass of water to moisten his parched throat and check out the new business. That was the beginning of our friendship.

Rather than just give him water, I did him one better and gave him a bottle of the Snapple Iced Tea we kept in a small refrigerator behind the counter. I liked Ezra instantly; his voice was slightly cracked and he spoke in the manner Navajo people often reserve for Anglos. I later discovered that Ezra had been a Navajo Code Talker in World War II, and spoke rather fluent English when he wished. He seemed to get a kick out of replacing his P's with B's, and using a heavy nasal twang when he spoke to "pink folks". As we became more familiar, we would speak broken English to one another and laugh out loud.

Historical time frames have always given me trouble, and the one thing I do remember is that I don't remember dates very well. I believe Ezra and I were perched on that porch sometime in the early 1980's, maybe July or August. This would have been just before Ezra became ill, moved back to his family in Kayenta and died. Anyway, there we sat visiting about his overseas adventures and the conflicts he found between military culture and his own traditional beliefs. About then, a large, dented Chevy conversion van pulled up, and a small, grizzled old gentleman popped out and scooted up on the concrete next to us.

It was apparent Ezra was not impressed with this bandy rooster, because he downed the remainder of his iced tea and excused himself, informing me that Sarah was waiting at home for him. As Ezra exited the porch, he shot me a look of distrust and headed down the highway. I thought about that look as I focused on the man standing with his face to the glass, hands shading his eyes, studying the interior of the store through the large picture window. The old boy removed himself from the pane of glass, sat down and focused his gaze on me. He began asking questions about who I was, how long I had been there, whether I owned the place and the source of water for the building. His last question threw me a little bit, so I asked what water had to do with anything.

The little troll-like character shot a stream of tobacco juice out onto the graveled parking lot, narrowed his eyes and squinted in my direction. "I'm a witcher," he stated with a cocky air of satisfaction. The statement struck me as extremely funny. Not being able to help myself, I snorted with laughter and asked him if he was a warlock; like the ones on "Bewitched." He was not amused! "I have witched more sweet water wells in this country than any man alive," he said with disdain. "I learned the art from my granddaddy in Oklahoma, and if there is water down there I can find it."

I explained to the man that we were on a well, and that it was tainted with iron. We used the well for everything but drinking water, because it was nasty and intolerable to the human palate. The man smirked and said there was good water below us, he could sense it. My opinion of him, and his senses, thus far was that they were both running contrary to the natural order. "Mister Twister" must have noticed my look of disbelief, because he jumped out of his seat and said, "I will prove it to you boy!"

Jogging to the back of his van, the ornery old cuss threw open the doors and began talking to himself and rummaging around for something. The side windows of the van were tinted, so I could not see what was going on back there. It did not take long before the man re-emerged from the hidden interior of the van with the tools of his trade. He was carrying a white plastic hardhat and what can only be described as a "witcher". It was a metal bar approximately 3/8" in diameter. It had once been about five feet in length but, was now bent in half, with both ends flared out at 45 degree angles. It looked very much like a metal Y.

When the man displayed his headgear, I asked him why he needed a hardhat. He said that, for some unknown reason, the witchin' rod worked in reverse for him. Instead of being drawn down to point out water, the end of his tool would be thrown violently upward and to the rear, causing it to make extreme contact with the top of his head. I looked incredulously at the little magician, thinking he must have taken one too many blows to the noodle before he figured out he needed protection.

After the short safety lesson, the man donned his bumper guard, grasped the "witchin rod" with his palms upward and elbows bent inward, almost touching, and positioned himself on the north side of the trading post. He stood briefly in that position, concentrating, and then, as if in a trance, began a counterclockwise rotation. Just as the man's inner compass found the northwest corner of our property, facing downhill and away from the trading post, the "witchin rod" jumped up and smacked our hero squarely on the head. Another snort escaped my nasal passages, and tears of amusement began trickling down my cheeks.

My family will be the first to tell you that I am a born skeptic; I do not believe in anything I cannot see, touch or taste. Taking anything on faith is extremely hard for me. I was thoroughly amused and intrigued by the antics of my new acquaintance, and began to follow him away from the front of the trading post. Every so often, the metal rod would reach out and touch the crown of his plastic encased head and redirect him towards our goal of "sweet water". It was very funny. We were nearly a hundred yards down slope when the comic character and I heard sleigh bells tinkle.

Spinning on my heels, I sprinted back towards the trading post, cussing at myself for not heeding Ezra's warning look and my own skeptic nature. Luckily for me I had attached a set of sleigh bells inside the store's screen door. Dad brought the bells home from an auction he had attended, and I thought they would make an excellent early warning device to let me know when someone entered the store. I was much younger then, and could move fairly quickly. I rounded the corner of the porch and came face to face with a female duplicate of the "Pied Piper" I had so recently been following.

The little troll-like woman was frozen in time, with the door that had given her away held slightly ajar and a look of alarm on her face. By this time I was angry; angry at being led down the garden path and angry that these two con artists had almost accomplished their goal. I could hear the man coming up behind me and turned on him with a glare and an oath. He looked past me and gave his woman a look of resignation. She dropped the door, turned back to the van and they both loaded up and drove away.

Breathing hard and still upset, I realized there was nothing I could do because no crime had been committed; just a near miss and an exaggerated feeling of stupidity. The next day Ezra stopped by on his way to town and asked about the man he had left me with on the porch. I told him the story, which he thought was extremely comical. From that point on, whenever Ezra would see me he would smile broadly, rub the top of his head in a circular motion, moistly press his tongue to the roof of his mouth, click it and exhale. That is one of the ways a Navajo might express pain and suffering.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Wal-Mart and Indian Art

Last Sunday Jana decided we should go to Durango for a visit to the new knitting store. She has recently rediscovered the craft and is vigorously working to perfect her technique. So, with kids firmly buckled into the back seat, we pointed the pickup east along Highway 162. After a stop in Aneth to satisfy Kira, Grange and Tarrik's desire for Gatorade and fill the gas tank with $3.00 a gallon gas, we were ready to travel.

Navajo Basket

When we arrived in Durango, Jana directed me to the shop, which was a genuine delight. The store was beautifully designed; the skeins of wool, sweaters, shawls and felted items were cheerfully displayed; and the staff, made up of knitting enthusiasts, was both attractive and friendly. I advised Tarrik and Grange that they should consider taking up the craft, since it appeared a good way to "meet chicks." Their sideways glances told me they were wondering why I was directing them toward a career in agriculture; baby chickens did not interest them. Ah, the innocence of youth. Actually, I was relieved that females are still of no interest to the boys.

After a stint in the Durango Recreation Center swimming pool, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the local Subway sandwich shop and started back to Bluff. It was about that time Jana informed me that the tab for all the knitting material she had hauled in was approximately $500.00. The Navajo weavers have recently been telling me that rug prices needed to increase because gas and wool costs have gone up dramatically. Eleanor Yazzie even tried to add on a $50.00 fuel surcharge when she brought in her most recent storm pattern weaving. I was beginning to understand her logic.

As we drove into Cortez, with Jana's needles knickering out yards of material, I noticed the local Super Wal-Mart. Emblazoned on the facade was the slogan, "Always Low Prices." Now, I know many people have developed strong opinions about the Wal-Mart philosophy; how the company treats its suppliers and employees; and a variety of other things. I have no strong emotions about those particular issues, because I see them as merely symptomatic of what the consumers demand; the lowest prices possible. Apparently many people do not realize that we pay the price one way or the other. It seems naive to expect Wal-Mart to provide extremely low pricing without some corresponding offset.

For the most part, my interest in the Wal-Mart phenomenon is directly related to our local artists and the pricing of their creations. Complaints about how expensive their work is are as inevitable as stray dogs at a reservation convenience store. At the trading post, we work hard to give the artists a fair price, which can lead to retail prices that are a little higher than some people expect. We feel, however, that it also results in enhanced creativity and the perpetuation of traditional crafts that are quickly becoming extinct.

We have noticed over the years that when we feel the pinch of a slow economy or a tight money supply and start tightening up ourselves, the artist are less inclined to create fresh, new items. As we slow the outflow of money, the inflow of unusual art slows correspondingly. We find that the artists resort to repetition and poor quality to compensate for the lower income. To me that seems as natural as spring following winter.

Navajo Rug

Recently we sold a wonderful Edith Tsabetsaye Zuni squash blossom necklace, ring and earring set. The set was on the back counter to be packaged for shipping when an officious woman walked into the trading post. As she poked about the store, it became apparent that she had no sense of the quality of art she was inspecting, and was not pleased with the prices she was seeing. All at once she spotted the necklace and asked, "What is that?" I explained to her that it was an extraordinarily well crafted necklace by the premier Zuni cluster artist. "How much is it," she demanded. I informed her that it was already sold, but she persisted. When I told her the selling price, to avoid lecturing her about common courtesy, she blurted out, "Well, that's ridiculously expensive," and headed for the door. I bit my lip to avoid saying something I would regret.

I have lived my life amidst Southwestern art, and in spite of that, much of what I see strikes me as fresh, new and exciting. A beautiful basket, bracelet or blanket can still astonish me. There is a native beauty in much of the local art that captivates me, and makes me advocate for fair prices. Unfortunately hand-crafted items in general do not bring what they should. Many of us hew to the Wal-Mart philosophy of "Always Low Prices" without realizing the offsetting reality. When there is no economic incentive to create those baskets, bracelets and blankets, they will cease to exist.

Recently Elsie Holiday brought in a basket that fuses Mother Earth with Johonaa'ei, the bearer of the Sun. The history of the Navajo people and their hero twins radiates from the weaving. I was happy to pay Elsie's price, because I knew it would perpetuate her creativity and help keep Navajo basket weaving alive for at least a while longer; to me that is worth the the Sun, the Moon and the Earth.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fall Reflections

Bluff, Utah Sunset

Fall is a reflective time for me. During this portion of the year, I often find myself contemplating the past; remembering people, places or things that have moved through the rough and unsettled portions of my life. Looking back, I believe I am now more capable of recognizing the facts without getting caught up in the emotions that so often disrupted my logical decision making processes. Like the Star Trek character Spock, because of my human nature, I have absolutely no chance of completely conquering my emotional failings. I have, however, taken the half human, half Vulcan's lead in forever working toward that lofty goal. I am certain that when I have exercised logical action and considered reaction, the road of life I have so casually traveled has proven less rocky.

People often ask what I do with the time I spend driving to and from work each day. I have generally used this spare hour to study creative writing techniques, theology, personal improvement, diverse cultures, science; anything and everything to stimulate my mind and improve my understanding. Some say it has been ineffective. I disagree. During the drives, I have enjoyed good music, cranked up, so I can feel it reverberate through my bones. In my opinion, music is more emotionally enjoyable when it is felt as well as heard. My family has chastised me on a regular basis after they turn the key, only to be blasted by speakers tuned to full throttle. Of course, after so many years of commuting to loud music, I cannot hear their complaints.

In the autumn of the year I refocus. The audio books are shelved and my DVDs go back into the case.' Tis the season for meditation. I learned this habit from the Dalai Lama, and a number of other well informed individuals. I have found that my thought processes are better organized when I take time to reflect. Imagine that! This time of the year is more conducive to contemplation and consideration. It must be the incredible light and vibrant color the season has to offer. It could also be that it is darker for longer periods, and my pace slows both physically and emotionally. I always think better in the dark; fewer visual distractions I guess.

Navajo Baskets

Getting out onto the land itself also aids in improving my mental state. The Navajo people believe Mother Earth is a cognitive being who continually provides for her human inhabitants, and asks nothing in return. Her considered responsibility is love and compassion for all living beings. There is no negativity in Mother Earth, she actually absorbs all dissension, opposition and disagreement; turns it around and reflects only positive energy. Now there is a high ideal to strive for.

I once read an article about a scientist studying the plant and animal life of Madagascar. He commented on how exciting it was to discover so many new species on almost a daily basis. That relatively untouched land was constantly giving up new information. The naturalist vowed to spend his life on the island, because there was no other place on earth so pristine. It makes me wonder how much we have lost due to our ignorance of the natural world, and the human desire to alter it. Mother Nature has much to offer, we need only take the time to hear her voice, having the patience to learn her lessons.

It seems there is so much to discover, and it is all too easy to become apathetic. The lessons the earth, the world and her people have to offer can be truly inspiring. Maybe it takes maturity and seasoning to begin to understand the important questions in life. Like my butcher always says, "Everything is better with age, and a little seasoning." Maybe that is why I have established such a fondness for fall.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Teenagers, Coyotes, Chaos and October

Our Navajo and Ute neighbors consider October a crazy, mixed up month. Dealing with Native artists has made me more aware of their customs and beliefs, and I may have unknowingly bought into their philosophy. I often relate those same customs and beliefs to my individual circumstances. Whether or not this is appropriate, I cannot accurately ascertain. What I know for certain is that there are occasions when I take a thought or metaphor from Native American culture and twist, turn and reform it to match my personal view of the world. In the past, I would apologize for this indiscretion, but no more; I have come to realize that it is simply a reflection of who and what I am. It is this reconstruction process that has caused me to associate teenagers with Coyote; the symbol of chaos, order and October.

Navajo Pins

A full explanation of how I developed my teenager theory would be long, drawn out and complicated. I will instead try to explain it as simply as possible, by introducing Coyote, aka; First Angry. Coyote is one of the most controversial characters in Navajo culture. He is the prince of chaos, and is most notable as a catalyst, transformer, troublemaker, trickster and deity. For example, when First Man was creating the universe, Coyote stole the stars which First Man had carefully laid out and scattered them, willy nilly, across the heavens. From Coyote's chaotic, unruly behavior, however, changes were set in motion that have made life better for all of us.

The foundation of Navajo ritual is harmony and balance. Coyote frequently throws a wrench into that system, allowing chaos to prevail. Coyote is a trickster focused mostly on his own needs. He vacillates between positive and negative actions, and is both sacred and profane. Coyote gives birth to mischief and promise, he is a deceiver, but also a deliverer of good. Through his actions, change becomes possible, and change, through good and bad, brings newness and breaks the normal routine. Coyote chose October, a changeable and uncertain month, to be his own. Whether we officially recognize Coyote tracking through our lives or not, the fact remains that there is a definite connection between this unruly creature and teenagers.

From Coyote's foolishness, mortals gain wisdom and learn what is proper and improper. Coyote, as the harbinger of change, creates new ways of doing things, so that fresh customs, moral codes, ceremonies and designs for living are created. Coyote's selfish acts thus clarify the boundaries of human and animal conduct. Acting as the wise fool, Coyote is able to speak and act as others of the holy pantheon, due to inherent decorum, cannot. His role was, and is, a large one. In the literary sense, he is a court jester and moral commentator. Sound like a teenager to you?

I have made my case and I stand by it. My own teenagers confound, confuse and mess with my concept of reality. If I am the only one who sees a parallel, someone must educate or lock me up in a padded cell. I am passionate about my kids, but I do not claim to understand what goes on in their heads or what comes out of their mouths. For some reason the fall of the year brings the frustration and confusion I feel about teenagers into sharper focus. It must be the association with Coyote and the month of October, because chaos is a year round constant in my life.

Do not get me wrong, I love this time of year. I feel that autumn in Bluff is the most beautiful season. Cooler days accent the fall colors scattered through town and along the river. The soft gentle glow of morning light filtering through plump, billowy clouds, highlight the cliff faces and rock houses with a gentle, rose-tinted blush. Cool nights force us indoors, because our blood has been thinned by the harsh heat of summer Winter is a close second, because it is so mild, and the frost on twisted, skeletal trees surrounded by tendrils of floating fog in the early morning light is crystalline magic.

Navajo Basket

With all the beauty surrounding me, one might think it would be easy for me to find harmony in my everyday life. To be totally honest, I do for the most part. It is extremely frustrating for me, however, when I cannot openly communicate with my children; the little varmints! I would dearly love to sit down with them and talk about the important issues in their lives, to truly hear what they are saying and advise them in a loving, compassionate manner. My wife thinks it would be much more helpful if I did not try quite so hard. It would also probably be advisable to leave name calling out of my feeble attempts at communication. It is just not easy to talk with teenagers, if I am really fortunate, I get a "yes", "no" or "I don't know" without a snotty look or semi-angry tone of voice.

I will keep trying to communicate, understand their points of view, listen more and talk less. I look forward, however, to the time when the hormones disperse and Coyote relinquishes his hold on my children. When the chaos dissipates and the clouds of confusion lift, I will hopefully begin to comprehend just what the heck has transpired. An elevated level of balance and harmony in our home would be much appreciated by all involved. In spite of these trying circumstances, and the associated chaos, I am very proud of my children and know they are actually great kids; if only because I see how well they treat everyone else!

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Through the Kokopelli Doors

It was the summer of 1989, and the time had come to carve the trading post doors. A few months earlier I had grown tired of trying to convince the Salt Lake City law firms I would be a good addition to their team and decided to come to Bluff for a little honest construction work. I had traded an air conditioned office in Sacramento for the heat of midsummer Bluff, and the transition had gone smoother than expected. The manual labor was more enjoyable than I anticipated, and I liked feeling that I was helping build something substantial.

The Kokopelli Doors of Twin Rocks Trading Post

A difficult marriage caused me to end my California legal career and return to Utah. I felt the marital union deserved at least one more try, so I gave my notice, packed my things and headed east. Because I did not possess an Ivy League degree, however, the top Salt Lake City firms were not kind to me. As a result, I turned to Bluff as a sanctuary from the disappointment of numerous unproductive interviews. I felt a little time away from the law might clear my head and help me decide what I really wanted to do with my life. Pounding nails, mixing concrete and sanding wood turned out to be extremely therapeutic.

As I stood in the midst of sawdust piles and cast off bits of lumber, Jim Foy, the building contractor, explained how important it was to select the correct symbol for the front doors. I had been gone from southern Utah so long, I had completely lost touch with its culture, and was at a loss what to suggest. After waiting a few days without any constructive input from me, Jim produced a rough pencil sketch of a figure that looked like a combination of insect and vegetable. The body resembled an oval horizontally perched on top of a gourd. Hands and feet protruded from the lower portion of the anthropomorphic figure, a mosquito proboscis projected from its face and a curved horn jutted backwards from the top of its head.

"What the heck is that," I asked. "Kokopelli," Jim proudly proclaimed. I scratched my head, wondering what a Kokopelli might be. Jim did not know exactly how to explain the drawing, but said it had something to do with Anasazi rock art and good fortune. At that point, I felt I could use a little luck and agreed to let him carve the design into the doors. Jim hoisted one of the big laminated doors up onto the saw horses, rolled out his set of chisels and went to work. Under his large, skilled hands, the insect-vegetable image began to emerge from the wood.

At the time, I viewed Kokopelli as nothing more than an artistic feature. After awhile, however, I began to notice more and more people caressing his image as they walked into the trading post. Then, one day, I received a call from a Canadian woman who had been in the store on her recent vacation. She had returned home only to decide she needed a piece of jewelry with the image of Kokopelli engraved, carved or inlayed into it. Conception had been a problem she explained, and something was needed to break the log jam. She believed Kokopelli was the man for the job, so I packaged a set of earrings with his image, including all the appropriate anatomical equipment, into a box and shipped it to her.

Imagine my surprise when a few months later the woman telephoned to excitedly inform me that, after several years of trying to conceive a child, she was indeed pregnant. Kokopelli had worked his magic, she said. At that point, I decided I needed to know more about the character who caused people to caress his carved image and request his intervention in matters of fertility.

What I discovered was a rich, entertaining, multifaceted and sometimes conflicting series of legends about this humped-back flute player that was difficult to categorize. His image is prominently posted on rock art panels throughout the Southwest, and, depending on which story you believe, he is thought to have been a storyteller, teacher, healer, traveler, trader or god of the harvest. Most people, however, focus on his status as a fertility symbol. Some archaeologists with whom I have spoken have indicated the Anasazi welcomed Kokopelli's visits to their small farming villages and believed his presence ensured a good crop. According to Navajo legend, Kokopelli is the bringer of abundant rain and successful plantings, of many types. Legends involving his seduction of young women are many and varied. In spite of that, Kokopelli seems to have maintained positive, productive relations with everybody he encountered.

Not long ago, I was up early looking out over this small river valley from the house above the trading post when I saw a figure walking east along the Historic Loop. The person was hunched over against the early morning chill, and I was reminded of Kokopelli wandering this part of the country thousands of years ago. As it turned out, the individual was Jamie Olson, one of the artists who brings beautiful work to the trading post.

Jamie Olson's jewelry

Several years ago, Jamie had come into the store on a late afternoon and asked, "Do you buy from white guys?" After explaining that I did not care whether he was purple, pink or aquamarine, I asked to see his work. At the trading post we focus on the color of the stones and quality of work, not the color of the individual. Among the pieces Jamie spread on the counter was a flute player brooch, featuring a bird perched on the figure's shoulder; Kokopelli. Jamie's work was striking, and after a little negotiation, I purchased every piece he had that afternoon. It was the start of a bountiful relationship.

I have no idea whether it is true or not, but I like to think the images Jim placed on the doors during the summer of 1989 have brought us a continuous stream of friends, acquaintances and customers. It is amazing how seemingly inconsequential events can greatly influence your life. Imagine what might have happened had Jim suggested Coyote, the Trickster, for the doors.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Recently I found myself standing on a small mesa rim overlooking an area of undulating, under-vegetated hillocks that tapered off into the rough and tumble canyon country a few miles below. As I marveled at the scene unfolding within my field of view, a glorious morning sun began its heavenly ascent behind me. The landscape seemed to be moving and shifting right before my eyes. The play of light, shadow and earthy color had a mystical effect on my imagination as I watched the scene evolve on the terrestrial canvas.

Navajo Basket

I left the house before dawn in order to be on time for one of Steve's early morning strategy sessions. While driving to Bluff, I noticed it had rained on the desert the night before. I rolled down the window and breathed deeply in order to truly appreciate the heightened aroma of the stunted vegetation and rich red earth. About five miles north of Bluff, the sun made its appearance on the eastern horizon. I quickly pulled to the side of the road and stepped out of the car to witness the birth of a new day.

The remaining wisps of storm clouds were being hurried along by an upper air flow unfelt at ground level. The slanted rays of light emitted by the uplifting orb backlit the lofty formations and fired up the surrounding countryside with a soft, rich, golden glow. I glanced off to the west, where the land falls away to Cottonwood Wash and is framed along the skyline by the waves of sandstone making up Comb Ridge, and caught my breath. The entire area seemed to be moving in an extraordinary ebb and flow to which I was totally unaccustomed.

My spirit was drawn towards the spectacle, and I wondered how this occurrence was possible. I came to the tightly stretched range fence bordering the highway and nearly high-centered myself on the prickly barbed wire. I made my way across the saturated sand to the high, rocky point previously mentioned. Focusing on the heavenly phenomenon, I realized the cloud formations were drifting across the face of the Sun, causing shadows to traverse horizontally across the landscape. This, along with the natural contrast of early morning light and shadow, caused a visually intoxicating sensation.

What at one moment was darkened by shadow was, at the next moment standing out in sharp contrast. It was like watching waves roll across the desert. A disconcerting feeling of being out of place and time enveloped my earthly perception. Sandstone, sagebrush and red earth flowed in and out of focus, stimulating my sense of wonder. It was so overwhelming I had to sit down on a large weathered boulder to keep my balance.

It did not take long for the mirage to dissipate into the reality of "post sunrise depression," or "PSD" as I like to refer to it. This is an emotional let-down that affects me to the very core of my being. To my knowledge there is no medication or therapy available that will cure, or even soften, the blow of this mortal encumbrance. I am deeply moved after witnessing a spectacular sunrise or sunset and having to suffer through the realization that it is now gone, only to be found in the confused recesses of my befuddled memory. Bummer Dude!

When I finally arrived at the trading post, I found Steve frustrated with my tardiness. His comment was, "How can we expect our employees to attend these meetings on a regular basis when you are consistently sidetracked by bright, shiny objects and occurrences?" "Good question", said I. "I will try harder, I assure you!" Later that day, Chris Johnson, one of the best Navajo basket weavers ever to walk into the trading post came in with the most spectacular basket I have ever seen, and began to explain its origins to Steve and me.

It seems Chris had arisen early the other morning to welcome the day. He said that he had witnessed the most amazing sunrise he had ever seen. The problem, he said, was that he gets depressed whenever something like that happens and then fades away. The basket was his attempt to keep the image of that wondrous morning light fresh in his memory. I looked at Chris and then Steve, with a smile of satisfaction and said "PSD, there is a cure!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Why Have All the Windmills Died?

The other day a friend called to remind me the Moab Century bicycle tour is coming up in early October. Since I have not been cycling much until this year, I had not considered the possibility of riding in the event. A hundred miles in the saddle can be very hard on your . . . well, you-know. So, before I made the commitment, I spent some time considering whether my old legs were up to the challenge.

Windmill on the Rez

Once the decision was made to participate, I knew I had to extend my training rides to ensure successful completion of the tour, so last week I embarked on my first longer ride. I decided the 50 mile loop from Bluff north to the intersection of Highway 262, southeast to Montezuma Creek and back home was the best place to start. Early Sunday morning I strapped on my helmet and shoes and started peddling north up Cow Canyon.

It was a beautiful morning, and the weather was crisp as a soda cracker. Four or five miles after I turned east on Highway 262, I noticed an Adopt-a-Highway sign that said, "In loving memory of S.P. Jones." Old S.P. had been a regular at the trading post in the early days, and it saddened me that he was no longer a trading partner. His was a good family, even though his sons had, on one unfortunate occasion, extended the extremely generous offer of using their newly acquired revolver to embellish me with a few .22 caliber bullet holes. Fortunately their suggestion was quickly withdrawn.

As I peddled east, the purple grass waved in the gentle breeze, reminding me of my step-grandmother, Fern Simpson. Grandma Fern often told us that, as a girl, she had been given the job of delivering messages and doing small errands for Zane Grey, the author of Riders of the Purple Sage. Apparently Zane had lived in Bluff for a short period prior to writing his classic tale, and Fern was his Girl Friday for a time. The purple grasses were loaded with memories from my childhood, which flooded back as fast and furiously as the storm that had struck Southeastern Utah a week earlier.

As I reminisced about my youth, enjoying the sun on my face and bite of the cool air, I began to notice derelict windmills, standing like skeletal sentinels on the landscape. In the past, these windmills had provided water for the residents and livestock of this sparcely populated stretch of land.

Near the first silent windmill stood a group of three mares and a colt. The mares' long, graceful tails gently swished away the ever present pests, but the colt could do little more than thump at the flies in an awkward, uneven rhythm. The windmill's bearings had apparently long ago rusted tight, freezing the blades in place, and ensuring the end of the stream it had previously produced. Soon I noticed another, and then another, and yet another; all had stopped gathering the wind.

Before long I was singing out loud. The song was an odd combination of Peter, Paul and Mary's Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Bob Dylan's The Times They are A-changin' . As the cows along the roadside headed for the far side of the field, frightened by the megaphone on two wheels singing protest songs from the Sixties, it struck me that the windmills were a metaphor for just how much things had changed in this part of the country since I was a child listening to those tunes.

When we first opened the trading post, our personal windmill developed a steady stream of older, "traditional" Navajo friends and customers. The old people often came into the store to pawn their jewelry, saddles, baskets or guns. All it took for them to walk away with a small loan was their "X" on a half page form. At that time, I often thought I should take the time to photograph them. People like S.P. had real character reflected in their faces and radiating from their personalities. Often we could only communicate using the few Navajo words I knew or the few English words they had learned, but it was enough to get the job done.

The thought of taking the photographs and establishing an archive overwhelmed me and the expense seemed too much to bear, so I never got around to documenting these people I enjoyed so greatly and remember so fondly. Before I knew it S.P. and many of the older people of his generation were gone, and it was too late. The windmill had stopped turning, not for lack of lubrication, but because time had taken its toll on our old friends. On that crisp autumn day, as I peddled south, down Highway 262 towards Montezuma Creek, their memories were blowing in the wind. I began wondering where had all my old friends gone and realized that the times they had a-changed.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 29, 2005


As young boys in the 1960's, my two brothers and I haunted the flickering street lights of Bluff . With fists full of pea gravel, we attempted to bring down the acrobatically elusive bats which also frequented the lamps after dusk. Drawn by hoards of insects, which were in turn attracted by the weak illumination, the bats demonstrated the efficiency of their highly developed radar with amazing mid-air maneuvers. Darting in from the deep darkness to snag a meal, the bats were often surprised by our unexpected assaults. I recall how easily they avoided our onslaughts, only to disappear into the summer gloom, and also remember our youthful amazement at seeing such effective countermeasures.

I learned a great deal from those creatures of the night; perseverance, caution and the art of disappearing into the shadows when the unexpected occurred. These attributes came in handy when someone's misguided hand-shot shattered a lamp, pelted a nearby car or ignited a rock fight among our spontaneously combustible inner ranks. Later in life, I was introduced to the role of Bat in the Navajo cultural stories, and began to see how it had played a role in my younger days. I feel fairly comfortable relating my story about these winged creatures, because I am certain the statute of limitations has expired on my youthful misconduct.

Back in those days, our parents, frustrated neighbors and the local constable suspected "the Simpson boys" were responsible for many unsolved wrongdoings in our mostly peaceful community. There was often discussion about whether the miscreants needed a little incarceration time to calm their errant ways. There is something about confession that is good for the soul, especially when accountability is no longer an issue. It may have been the bats though, through their unassuming manner, that provided me with direction and turned me from my misguided path.

There are certainly benefits to being brought up in close proximity to the rich and thoughtful culture of the Navajo. In rare instances, a benevolent care-taker like Bat crosses cultural boundaries and takes a needy knucklehead under its leathery wing to educate him to a higher standard. I often wonder if I inadvertently caught the attention of Bat while attempting to bring his family to earth with my hand-held buckshot.

Looking closely at Bat, and his role in Navajo culture, I have learned that certain beings assist the deities, man, and without prejudice, even malcontents. Bat is one creature which bridges the supernatural distance between man and deity, and plays a major role in instruction as a 'mentor'. Mentors can be few and far between, but are invaluable in helping we humans understand how to approach the supernatural hierarchy when aid, protection and lifeways to understanding are required. Bats are connected to darkness, and are therefore considered by the Navajo to be night protectors and highly effective advisors. Bat mentors are often described as being ever-present, and differ from the deities in that they do not require an offering or payment; they volunteer their aid in a selfless manner.

I have known many mentors in my life: diligent, loving parents; patient teachers; reverent spiritual leaders; true friends; outlaw in-laws; an incredibly patient and understanding wife; and maybe even a bat or two. These days, I do my best not to cast stones at individuals or circumstances I do not understand. I am on constant look-out for new positive and imaginative mentors. There is much knowledge to discover, and I look forward to expanding my horizons in as many dimensions as possible.

If you happen to be passing through Bluff and spy a group of renegade kids frolicking under the night lights, scattering rocks in every direction, my advice is to keep your distance. I know for a fact there is a new generation of Simpsons out there, and pea gravel stings, miserably, when it is slung in your direction up close and personal. The pinon nut does not fall far from the tree.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Real Thing

After many years of searching to find my true identity, I have finally realized that one thing I need in my life is texture. I am like a small child who has to explore everything by touching it, smelling it and occasionally even putting it in my mouth. At the trading post, I am constantly running my hand over the rugs hanging on the walls. I close my eyes, walk down the hall leading to the back door and let my fingers wander across the fibers, feeling pattern changes, exploring irregularities and imagining the weaver manipulating the wool.

Grange Simpson

I love picking up baskets to feel the roundness of their coils and the firmness of their weave. At times, it almost seems that my fingertips can decipher the pattern without help from my eyes. I can visualize the basket makers out in the washes, harvesting sumac, see the artists preparing and dying the splints and imagine the evolving design spiraling out from the center opening.

Turquoise also fascinates me, I enjoy the coolness of the stones on warm summer days. As the temperatures soar, the stones remain temperate; soothing. With the swamp cooler struggling to alleviate the heat inside the trading post, I often rub the pieces on my forehead to ease my troubles and wear away my worries.

At the home above the trading post, Grange often asks me to make him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He, like his dad, is capable of living exclusively on peanut butter and jelly. His mother prefers the smooth variety. I, however, want texture, and opt for extra crunchy. When it comes to making sandwiches for Grange, I always ask him, "Hey buddy, do you want the super extra crunchy yummy delicious peanut butter, or the smooth?" You can guess what he chooses. I am easing him into the world of texture.

One thing Barry and I most enjoy about the trading post is the fabric of the people. The art is beautiful, sometimes sublime, but what makes it really stunning is the underlying culture; its texture. When you look at a weaving and realize there are generations of tradition woven into its warp and weft, when you can feel the connection to the land in the creation and when you can see the tradition in its construction, you know you are dealing with something really real.

The other day, as I was mulling over a newly arrived weaving, caressing it and wondering whether I needed to give it a bite to get a good feel for it, John, an Anglo who works on the Navajo Reservation, came striding through the front doors with his Navajo friend in tow. As John and I talked about things on the Reservation; the receding culture, the loss of language, the rapidly diminishing crafts, John turned toward his friend and, with a jerk of his thumb, said, "Well, I am more Navajo than he is."

What John meant, of course, was that he believed he has a better grasp of the Navajo language and traditions than his friend; a full-blooded Navajo. John felt strongly about his statement, and also felt strongly that it was true, even though he was not a real Navajo. John had spent enough time living among the Navajo, learning the language and trying to understand the nuances of the people that he certainly knew more about Navajo history than his friend.

A few days later, Bruce Burnham, from Sanders, Arizona called and said he wanted to bring some friends into the store. It was a Sunday evening and the store had closed, but I could not pass up the opportunity to see Bruce, so I came downstairs and met him. We talked about the Germantown revival rugs his weavers were creating; about Billy Malone, the former trader at Ganado; and about recent events at Hubbell Trading Post. He shrugged his shoulders, sighed a big, deep sigh and said, "You know, there just aren't many real, old-time traders like us left." I was surely flattered to be included in the pantheon of "old-time traders," and smiled broadly, but my mind jumped back to John's comment about his Navajo friend. At that point, I could not help thinking about texture.

Aside from the blood requirement for being part of an ethnic group, the "real" both John and Bruce were referring to was a person's texture; the interwoven fiber of an individual. The strings that come together as a result of living in a certain environment for many years. I could tell that John's friend had been raised on the Reservation, he had real red sand between the soles of his feet and the pads of his sandals. He had watched Grandma herd the sheep and spin the wool; he was real, and Navajo was in his soul, in his mind, in his heart and pulsing through his veins. Never mind that the blood was flowing a little slower due to all that fry bread he had eaten, it was genuine Navajo.

I was much more confused why Bruce had included Barry and me within his definition of old-time traders. We were not from an old-time trader family and were not really very old. In fact, we are, for the most part, Johnny-come-latelys. After rolling the thought around in my mind for several days, I finally decided the answer was once again . . . texture. After so many years of doing what we do, we had been woven into trader tapestries. It is probably more like trader pound rugs, with lots of dirt ground into our weft threads to make us seem more substantial. In any case, our fibers, the very molecules of our beings, are comprised of the same material that makes up old-timers like Bruce; a love for the people, a love for the art and a love for this red land in which we live.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Not a day goes by without our trading post customers and artists asking how Spenser is progressing. Steve tells me I owe everyone who supported us through our difficult time an update. Spenser, on the other hand, has requested that he be left out of any and all Twin Rocks stories. Spenser contends that he has been sacrificed quite enough thank you very much! He has informed me that he will file a petition to terminate my parental privileges if I continue to expose his personal life to our readers. I risk much by writing this message, but feel that a one year anniversary report must be made.


One year ago, on Labor Day 2004, our precious child received a traumatic brain injury in an ATV accident that sent our lives careening off in a precarious direction that none of us expected or were prepared for. As a result of the incident, Spenser spent several months in hospitals battling his way back from an injury that almost took his life. As Spenser lay in a coma, fighting to survive, our family learned a great deal about life, love and the will to survive from our young son. As he fought his way back from the darkness, his positive outlook and incredible inner strength helped us make it through the ordeal.

When our family left the everyday care of doctors, nurses, therapists and psychologists, and brought Spenser home, the professionals all told us the same thing: "There are going to be times when you feel extreme sadness, uncontrollable anger and incredible guilt, but you must be strong because you have made it through the most dangerous part. You will learn to survive and cherish the challenges you and Spenser have faced and will face in the future." I have found those words to be painfully true, and feel that, on the anniversary of Spenser's accident, I have grown significantly as a result of his terrible adventure, and have learned much from his gritty determination to overcome this adversity.

Spenser is now a sophomore in high school. He has been elected class president, and has also over-loaded his schedule; placing his parents in high stress mode. He is also taking an algebra class at the College of Eastern Utah-San Juan Campus two nights a week. Spenser is intent on maintaining his usual high academic standards and graduating with his class. Brigham Young University is his goal for higher education at this point in his life, but he has not yet decided on a major. His athletic interests include running with and helping coach the middle school cross country and tennis teams.

Spenser is undergoing daily therapies to help him achieve his goal of recovering full use of his left side. He has a warrior's heart; this boy on the verge of manhood, and I believe he will accomplish whatever he desires. I have never known such a tenacious, vibrant, individual, and know that Spenser will certainly continue to be a positive influence on the lives of everyone he meets. We look forward to his promising future.

Probably the most dramatic new aspect of ours lives is Spenser's decision to get his driver's license. He sat for the written exam recently, and easily earned the right to receive a learner's permit. As parents, Laurie and I are responsible for providing him 50 hours of practice time; ten hours of this exhilarating experience after dark. A week or so ago, with high hopes, Spenser and Laurie embarked on his first day of instruction. Upon their return, my wife determined to thereafter take a hands-off approach and placed all responsibility in my shaky mitts. Spenser tells me he is already a better driver than I, so this should be a painless and stress free experience.

Looking back on Spenser's accident, and the suffering and setbacks our son experienced during his recovery, I realize how tenuous life really is. Through the study of Navajo culture, I have come to know and appreciate the butterfly metaphor. The Navajo interpretation of this simple insect is really quite profound and beautiful. Butterflies, or the larvae they evolve from, represent the belief that even those with the least amount of promise have the ability to achieve beauty and harmony, if they truly desire it. Butterflies themselves portray the fragility of life, and represent the thought that every individual's journey should be cherished as the gift it most surely is.

I have also come to realize how important family and friends are to the human spirit. There is nothing more calming than looking into the eyes of someone who truly understands your pain. A loving embrace or words of tenderness and support thoughtfully expressed in a card or letter can calm the restless soul. Each and every one of you touched us in many ways, and propped us up when we were feeling so extremely vulnerable. From despair and tragedy came a realization how essential compassion is in our lives.

So from this point forth, I will honor Spenser's wishes and leave him alone in his quest to be "normal," at least when it concerns the accident. I cannot, however, be held to this same troublesome standard when it comes to comical circumstance or lampooning satire. As to that, when I see my young Jedi heading my direction casually twirling a set of car keys and smiling as if he hadn't a care in the world, a nervous twitch will undoubtedly wrack my demeanor. The last time we ventured forth, he nearly crashed into the gates of a local religious institution. That one incident could have caused an ex-communication crisis. Immediately afterward, he narrowly missed sideswiping a tourist, which might have resulted in a lawsuit. I can see that "normal" will not be part of my life for some time.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post