Thursday, January 27, 2005


Without a doubt, water has always been of primary concern in our corner of the world. It is my understanding the Ancestral Puebloans deserted this region because of a devastating drought that overstayed its welcome. Dry and dusty can, after all, only be tolerated for short periods. Although I may be over-simplifying a complex situation, it is necessary under the circumstances, so please bear with me.

View of Blue Mountain from Bluff, Utah

The early people of this area developed an understanding of plants, animals, water and weather patterns which rivals modern biological and meteorologic training. Their cultural teachings focused on balance in all areas of life, including land stewardship. Archaeologists tell us Navajo people wandered into this territory several centuries ago; perhaps seven hundred years or more. Their adaptive skills in this parched and desolate landscape helped them survive and multiply. They did not rely on fixed locations like the Puebloan people. Instead, they moved through the land to survive, migrating from one location to another as things changed. When the water, grass and wild game began to dwindle in the current location, they simply moved to the next little patch of heaven. Simple, efficient and practical.

According to David S. Carpenter in his masters thesis entitled Jens Nielson, Bishop of Bluff, the Mormon settlers arrived in our sandstone valley April 6, 1880. From that day forward, it was a battle for them. An unmanageable river, scant rainfall, disease and all the trials and tribulations associated with eking out an existence in a distant, troublesome desert environment had to be managed. Exactly when the Simpsons arrived in Bluff is uncertain. Someone probably left the back door open, allowing us to slip in unnoticed. One of Bluff's rare, measurable rises in precipitation came from the tears shed by residents of this small community at our coming out party. Although we have been invited to relocate on numerous occasions, we have held fast. What is even scarier is that Steve and I are currently the only people writing any sort of interpretive perspective for our fair town. It is common knowledge that once the information is written into the public record, the stories are considered fact.

Blue Mountain

Even though this climate can be harsh, there is always beauty. A purely natural, raw expression of exposed earth and sky; the type that enchants many of us beyond our ability to describe the emotions. It is simple, yet sophisticated; an experience that changes one's perception of true beauty. Add a little moisture to the mix, and a fresh, nourishing perspective assaults your senses.

The soft shadow of an early winter's evening had settled over our tiny hamlet as I recently left the trading post parking lot. A faint, delicate twilight was wrapping itself around the sandstone boulders, stunted brush and distorted cottonwoods of Cow Canyon as I passed through its sheer walls. I exited the ragged rift at a fast clip, and was pleasantly surprised to find the sun had not yet set. I found myself emerging from the semi-darkness of the chasm into the rosy blush of evening light.

The drastically slanted sunlight projected itself across the high mesa in a warm and pleasing glow. The light emanating from the leisurely setting orb was magical. The soft-colored illumination provided a luminous effect to the surrounding landscape. As I drove north, the shadow of my truck kept pace at the side of the road. I waved and smiled to myself, watching as my specter flowed out and back, undulating with the lay of the land.

As I crested the hill north of Bluff, my focus was instantly drawn to our local mountain, and its white cap of moisture. The impact on my emotions caused a breakdown in my motor skills. I was so caught up in the scene that I nearly missed a curve and side swiped an oncoming Grey Hound bus. I am sure the passengers witnessing the red blur of careening metal rocketing their way experienced a spike of emotion.

After regaining control of my vehicle and senses, I refocused on the beauty of the stark white visage set before me. The adrenaline rush I had just survived may have contributed to the heightened pleasure I experienced. The contrast between red rock canyon country, purple depths of distant color, blue smudge of evergreen trees on backlit slopes and the rosy hue of refracted sunlight was awe inspiring. It never ceases to amaze me how attractive Mother Nature is for such such an elderly lady. Maybe it is her inexplicable character and perpetually changing countenance that make her so appealing.

Blue Mountain

The stark beauty of that moisture laden mountain rising up above the canyon country almost brought tears to my eyes. Remembering the historical record made me realize the water Gods had granted us a short reprieve. A long drawn out drought has been busted; at least for now. With the arrival of spring will come a bounty of wild flowers, green grass, a fast flowing river and all manner of new life from the much needed moisture. If we are lucky there may be enough water to give Steve a real bath; now that will clear the air. This is the type of precipitation our pioneer and Native American brothers and sisters were most thankful for; that which provides a continuation of body and soul.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Hot Air and Big Baskets

Late last year, Carol Edison from the Utah Arts Council asked if I would get together a few local basket weavers and come to Salt Lake City for the Folklore Society's Annual Convention. She wanted to get the word out about the beautiful Navajo baskets being woven in Monument Valley, and thought the conference would be a good forum. A few years ago Peggy Black, Lorraine Black, Joann Johnson, Barry and I had done something similar at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art. The Museum of Art event had been great fun, so Carol hoped to recreate that same excitement for the folklorists.

Steve, Lorraine, Peggy & Joann

Peggy, Lorraine and Joann consented, but Barry was unavailable due to Spenser's accident, so the four of us traveled north for the big event. Before the lecture, I spent a little time walking around a display of photographs Carol had arranged in an exhibit room. Many of the pictures had been taken twelve to fifteen years ago, and featured members of the Black family.

Peering out from the frames were much younger versions of Lorraine and Peggy. I was struck by how the images highlighted the changes that had occurred over the last decade and a half. In the photographs, my traveling companions were not much more than teenagers. Since the pictures were taken, however, they have become wives, mothers, breadwinners and much more. Those images have stayed with me over the past few months, and keep reminding me how much things have changed since we opened the trading post.

Rather than fearing the changes I see happening all around me, I am actually fascinated by them. Although it may simply be justification for my ever increasing girth, to me it often seems the more round we are, the more rounded we become emotionally. I am reminded of the beautiful cluster jewelry I see many elderly Navajo ladies wearing. The silver sheen of these bracelets, pins and necklaces has softened over the years and the edges have been worn smooth. The azure stones have become deeper shades of blue and green due to the absorption of body oils, each gem having developed its own distinct personality. The jewelry, like many people I know, has been burnished and smoothed over time.

Looking around the trading post today reminds me there have also been significant changes in the store personnel as the years have sped past. Lately, I have noticed an abundance of reading glasses scattered around the store. In addition to the magnifying glasses, hot air and big bread baskets have become prevalent. The stories that circulate through the trading post seem to grow larger and more elaborate with each passing day.

In the beginning, most of Barry's stories were simple and direct. Now the tales resemble local construction, which usually begins with a small, centralized living area. The core is then enlarged by adding different sections on an ongoing basis; a bedroom here, a dining room there. After a while, you have a messy, but functional conglomeration of dubious composition. I sometimes catch people looking at Barry the way I see them looking at those houses; with a profound look of disbelief.

In addition to growing stories, personal growth has become a central trading post theme. Although we all adamantly maintain we are closely watching our diets, our bread baskets are growing faster than the business. When the progress, and the additional fabric necessary to conceal the development, is noted, there is a period of denial and grumpiness, followed by continued expansion.

Bluff Balloon Festival in Bluff, Utah

Last weekend, the balloons once again arrived in Bluff. During this annual celebration, we are treated to good company, exciting stories, bursts of hot air and volumes of colorful fabric attached to large baskets. The balloons have made me realize there really is a future in expanding tales, hot air and big baskets, so pass the M&M's, order me some larger trousers and keep in mind that honesty is not always the best policy.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Man in the Maze

The "Man in the Maze" is one of the most common and meaningful images in Southwest art. The design is relatively simple; a rounded maze with a man at the top. Legend has it that this motif was created to illustrate the emergence of the Tohono O'odham people of Arizona's central valley.

Navajo Baskets

To the O'odham, the man of the maze is known as U'ki'ut'l, and is also referred to as Elder Brother. The design reflects the various cycles of life, eternal motion and the countless choices confronting us during our travels through this existance. Correct choices lead to wisdom and understanding, a balanced and harmonious life. Wrong choices lead to pain and distress.

One of our Hopi friends described the image as a commentary on human existance, explaining that the maze represents our passage through life and Elder Brother the ideal man. As we proceed on our journey through the labyrinth, we are given the opportunity to acquire such traits as kindness, wisdom, patience, love, understanding and compassion. If we are successful in our quest, we end the journey at the top of the maze, where Elder Brother resides; if not, we are given a return visit and another try. The themes of living productively and reincarnation permeate the story.

Many other tribes and artists have adopted the design, and developed various explanations to fit their personal needs. The motif is reproduced over and over because it looks and feels good, and adapts well to differing artistic styles and techniques. Just as people often interpret Kokopelli to fit their individual circumstances, Elder Brother and the maze are frequently enlisted to explain a myriad of beliefs.

The reason for these varying interpretations may be that we are all traveling different paths, and attempting to interpret the signs on the road of life is tricky at best. Space, time, and reality can be difficult to quantify emotionally. Each of us attempts to explain and navigate our course as best we can. What we must remember is that everyone else is also doing the best they can under their own personal circumstances.

I have come to realize that living rationally and peacefully is no easy endeavor. A combination of reflective study, open objectivity and principles built on reason is an imperative. One must adapt to those with whom we share space, if only to improve our lives and mental state. I am hoping my cognitive and emotional understanding will continue to develop at an acceptable rate. I would hate to suffer a damaging loss of momentum or integrity.

For me, the whole process of traveling causes a great deal of brain pain. I am incessantly running headlong into the walls of the labyrinth and bruising my bumpers. It is hard to remember the roads I have correctly and incorrectly traversed. Previous mistakes and missteps are quickly forgotten, and I have a terrible time anticipating those bone-jarring, bumps. My view of the facts is often different from the rest of the civilized world. As my son Spenser often says, "You have a creatively unique version of reality."

At any rate, the Man in the Maze design is certainly thought provoking and inspiring. I am considering a tattoo of the image, and also considering one for Spenser. The design constantly reminds me that life is an ongoing quest for knowledge and understanding. It seems natural to explain the mysteries we face on a daily basis using such symbolism. I know I must continue to strive for the wisdom to improve. Up to this point I have struggled, At some future date I hope the correct and wise solutions to life's tough questions will find me. I can only hope to do better, and work toward the ideals of Elder Brother, otherwise I may find myself enduring a return trip.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Across the Ditch

As I sat in the parking lot of an Albertson's supermarket in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recently, Kira and Grange began their usual routine of scuffling back and forth. Jana had gone inside to get a few things before our return to Bluff, and the truck was rocking from side to side as the conflict escalated. In an effort to remain calm, I switched on the radio and began a close inspection of the people entering and exiting the store. Their ethnic diversity captivated me, and brought to mind a scene I had witnessed the previous day.

Kira Simpson

Jana and the kids had convinced me to attend "Thanksmas," so we drove to the Kennedy home in the north valley of Albuquerque for the celebration. Thanksmas, which falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, was created by Jana's mother to accommodate the numerous family members who have commitments for either traditional holiday, but can attend a party during the interim period.

As the shindig wound down, I walked out to retrieve something from our truck . The winter sun was shining and it felt warm and comfortable inside the pick up, so I decided to crawl in and take a short nap. Just as I began to nod off, I heard two voices which seemed quite close. In the north valley there is an extensive system of irrigation ditches which crisscrosses the land, and the words I heard were those of two people walking west on opposite sides of the ditch which serves the Kennedy homestead.

As the conversationalists approached, I heard a Hispanic man say, "Yes, it's my birthday next Friday; I will be 70." His companion, an Anglo woman walking a small dog, replied, "That's great, you really don't look 70. Happy Birthday!" The tone of the woman's voice indicated she was happy to engage the man, but desired to maintain a clear separation; the ditch provided an appropriate barrier. It was obvious their paths would soon diverge and the brief relationship end; both parties having been congenial, but neither making any significant connection with or contribution to the other.

As the back seat battle raged and shoppers came and went, an unfamiliar tune floated over the airwaves. The words of the song, "Stones taught me to fly, love taught me to lie, life taught me to die," made me consider the disconnected conversationalists from the day before and the many relationships I have in my life. I knew the wisdom of those words, and began to feel I could add a line to the song which would go something like, "Native culture taught me to deny."

At the trading post, we are in constant contact with Native Americans artists of every stripe. The artists and I are at times like the couple on the irrigation ditch, speaking genially, but not understanding each other's needs very well. What is really required is a stint down in the ditch; a struggle through the murky, brackish water of intercultural relations.

When there is time, I browse through the writings of Franc Johnson Newcomb, who seems to have been able to make a direct connection with her Navajo contemporaries. It often seems that many of today's really difficult Native American issues are avoided or glossed over by mainstream America, and by me. We put on our rose-colored glasses and avert our eyes to the unemployment, lack of education, crime, poverty and abuse occurring on the reservations. We walk a parallel path, and shout across the divide, but never get down in the muck and wrestle with the cultural crocodiles. At the end of the day, we go back to our comfortable homes, secure in the knowledge that we have done all we can under the circumstances.

Grange Simpson @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

After years of living with these problems, I have decided the only real solution is education, understanding and patience, pursued on a daily basis. Maybe the belligerents in the back seat will be better prepared to find answers to these difficult cultural issues. They certainly have extensive experience on the battlefield, and are not afraid to climb into the ditch to root about in the mud and muck. Although they are extremely young, they already know color does not determine character.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post