Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mobile Museums

Quite often visitors to Twin Rocks tell us the shop looks a lot like a museum. Although our primary mission is to sell art, the comment is still extremely flattering. A few days ago, a woman walked through the doors, took a quick look around and exclaimed,"This is just like a museum, I think I could live here." After I got over worrying about how I was going to manage that situation, and wondering how Barry might look as a fossil, I started thinking about what we do here at the trading post, and how enjoyable it is to work in this evolving "museum."

Navajo Jewelry Tommy Jackson

Many people seem to view museums as a place to see interesting objects, and, if you are fortunate, to have a little good conversation with the attendants. I can certainly understand that sentiment, some of my best museum experiences involve looking at the beautiful items on display while talking with members of the staff. I am extremely fortunate to have been invited into the curation rooms of some nice museums, and have seen many unusual objects. In most cases, the explanations of curators and docents added more to the artifacts than I could have imagined.

One thing I have realized about the items we sell is that the art is to a large extent about the artist, and the artist is quite often molded by his or her art. When I look at a weaving by Eleanor Yazzie, for example, I see her peeking out from behind the fibers; I see her children and her yellow pickup truck and hear her voice. In a Tommy Jackson bracelet, I see him riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle, with his eyes shaded by narrow sunglasses. To me, it is those elements that make Eleanor's weavings and Tommy's silver work so special. People are surely the most important part of our museum, and the exhibit is constantly changing, depending on who is in the store at that particular time.

Each visitor to the trading post has his or her own treasures to display and stories to tell. They have all experienced life in a different way, and are, in essence, mobile museums. Their exhibits include culture from around the world, adventure in countless arenas and knowledge about exotic topics.

Yesterday, Skip wandered into the trading post after hiking around Cottonwood Wash. His personal exhibit that afternoon focused on trees. After many years as an architect, Skip had decided he was better suited to the life of a fruit grower. As a result, he has purchased acreage with a variety of fruit trees in Colorado and begun life anew. As he talked about the trees and how they have changed his life, a smile spread across his face and he began to glow. Skip told me about his grandfather, who had allowed him to work in his garden; planting the seeds of a love that had been dormant for over 40 years. Unexpectedly, the seeds recently sprouted, and Skip's love could not be denied.

Skip told me how he had been out hiking recently and come upon a small sandstone drainage where several juniper trees had taken root in the sparse soil many decades ago. He said the trees were huge, twisted and stunning. Then he blurted out, "I just walked over and gave them a hug." I understood his emotion, that is how I feel about many of the people who come into the trading post and share their beauty with us. Being a bit shy, I have refrained from hugging our patrons on most occasions, but am feeling my inhibitions fade as I grow older.

Eleanor Yazzie

Skip and I talked about a tree Jana had recently purchased from a nursery in Moab. After we completed the transaction, the greenhouse attendant helped me put the tree in the back of our truck and bid us farewell. Before we drove off, I asked whether the unprotected tree would be all right on such a long journey, and he said, "No problem, we have pretty strong winds here in Moab." On the drive home, I agonized over every leaf skittering down the highway as I watched in the rear view mirror. When we pulled over, I could see the damage that had been done to the remaining leaves.

After I related the story to Skip, he said, "You know, it's going to take a long time, lots of care and plenty of water and fertilizer to make that tree okay again. It will need lots of love to survive." That is the beauty of the exhibits on display almost every day at the Twin Rocks Museum; we never know what treasures will be unveiled.

Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Yard Sale

The general order of our home has been slightly askew lately. My wife, Laurie, and our two daughters, Alyssa and McKale, have been preparing for a yard sale. My son, Spenser, and I, however, have been far too busy for such domestic duties; he with Boy Scouts and me with work at the trading post. Whatever spare time we have is spent building Spenser's pesky 1968 Baja Bug project car. Laurie has periodically derailed my focus for what she considers more pressing needs. Somehow she has found time for me to replace the windows in Spenser's room and correct a few minor plumbing problems. Uninhibited air flow and running water seem to cause Laurie great concern. I do not know if my handyman skills have improved as a result of this repair work, but I do know that, because of skinned knuckles and general frustration, my colorful language repertoire has gotten a full and thorough workout.

Yard sales take a great deal of time and effort; there is much rummaging through every nook and cranny of the house looking for artifacts, extensive searching of storage areas for buried treasure and persuasive dialogue to convince everyone concerned that it is time to let go of the selected objects. This time, there were tug of wars, pouting fits, tears and even sobbing, but Laurie is strong of body, mind and verbiage, and stood firm. That, along with the fact that she was backed by her two " mini mes, " made it useless to argue about the deacquisitioning process. It was an emotional experience to walk through the house knowing the boxes stacked and packed around the room contained bits and pieces of memorabilia that were once everyday aspects of our lives.

Saturday morning arrived all too soon, and Laurie rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m.. She was soon hard at work arranging her sale items on the front lawn. I followed at a slightly less aggressive pace. By the time I had showered, shaved and dressed, Laurie had a good portion of her storefront in position. I picked up the pace a bit, but soon realized I would never match her speed and stamina, so I went into the house and rousted out the girls to help their mother. As I have been told, the mark of a good leader is to know when to delegate responsibility. By 7:00 a.m., we were open for business, and the bargain hunters began to arrive.

As I strolled around Laurie's yard sale, I became concerned with how she had excavated my collection of mementos. A young woman walked up to McKale's cash box with an armful of kids clothes that sent a wave of memories crashing over me. I reeled at the impact as I relived scenes of our children playing in the leaves, sledding and swimming in these outfits; the recollections played like an old, herky, jerky, sepia toned movie. The only thing that kept me from snatching those clothes from the grasp of that woman was the kindness in her face and a hiss of warning from McKale.

For pennies on the dollar, my most prized emotional possessions began to exit my life; filtering away like sand through an hour glass. I looked to my daughters for support as I tried to spirit away at least a few of the most cherished objects. The girls were having none of it though, it seems Laurie had cut me off at the pass by promising Alyssa and McKale a cut of the take. In their eyes, I was syphoning off cash from future shopping experiences. Where was Spenser when I needed him? Scout camp. Order of the Arrow. Probably no use anyway, he could be bought just as easily. I was on the verge of a full blown anxiety attack.

All at once I noticed an opening. Laurie had wandered off to do some yard work, leaving the girls alone to manage the store. I later learned that my wife was having similar feelings of remorse, and had decided to separate herself from the source of those emotions. In hopes of rescuing my sanity, I nonchalantly scouted a few treasures that I might preserve. I rounded up a doll I had discovered in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, while at a trade show. It had been a gift to my mother "Rosa" who had passed it down to my daughters. The doll represented one of the main reasons I had quit the show circuit; to stay home and spend more time with my family.

I preserved a Hillman Kid's triathlon shirt that Spenser earned when he was eight or ten years old. That shirt stood as a metaphor for the drive and determination my son has based his life upon, and how those qualities are serving him so well in his recovery from a life threatening accident. The sweat on his brow, his rapid heart beat visible through that skinny rib cage and a fierce competitive fire in his eyes were replayed in my mind as I held that shirt close to my cheek. I grabbed up a pair of flowered bib shorts that Alyssa had worn while recovering from a broken tibia. I remembered the relief of discarding the lower body cast reflected on her beautifully freckled face as she stiff legged it around the yard through the multi-colored leaves of fall.

Shuffling through the book pile brought back memories of sitting with McKale, as we alternated reading duties from page to page. During these treasured moments, I discovered McKale's dramatic bent and her remarkable, creative nature. The feelings and images of the circumstances surrounding these items were as tangible as the sun on my face, and equally essential to my life. Adding a few books to my pile, I turned to face my daughters, who were now backed by Grandma Washburn. They jointly asked, "Are you going to pay for that? " Thinking to myself that you cannot put a price on memories and the good feelings they provide, I decided to act! Arming myself with a large aluminum pot lid for a shield and a red plastic bat as a blunt object, I forced myself through their advancing column and made my escape.

My success was exhilarating. The adrenaline was flowing now and I was feeling cocky about making another assault. Laurie had rejoined the group, which made the odds less favorable. I noticed the ladies were beginning to pack up, with the intent of donating the remaining items to charity. I changed tack and called on my dearest neighbors and friends, talking them into taking some of the kids clothes. My intent was to keep the clothes/memories nearby and visible. I then used this distraction to make off with a number of shirts for Kira and Grange, and hard nosed Jana into promising that my niece and nephew would wear them. I was ecstatic It may not have been fair to my family and friends, but my therapist says I am not about being fair these days . . . I am about self satisfaction. I can live with that!

Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Cowboys and Indians

For the past two years, I have had my eye on a new bicycle. My old Centurion had become a dinosaur, and I was embarrassed to take it out in public. In spite of my ancient equipment, the Blanding cyclists have been generous enough to invite me out for their weekly rides. I, however, was comfortable that my big stomach, fat . . . head and archaic bicycle would make it difficult to keep up with the pack, and might even subject me to a certain amount of ridicule. Consequently, I continued to decline their invitations and make up excuses why I could not attend their Thursday evening outings.

The Old Corral

My big break came when Jana decided she needed another horse. Being the "horse trader" I am, I convinced her I should get a new bike in the bargain. It made perfect sense to me, she got something to ride; I got something to ride. Although the upfront cost of the bike was more than the horse, bicycles do not require daily feeding, I argued. So, using creative math, I convinced her the overall investment was approximately the same. Jana agreed, and I set off for the bike shop.

This new acquisition is not just any old bicycle mind you, it has more features than my first car and probably goes faster; the gas mileage is pretty good too. Having acquired the necessary equipment, it was time to hit the road, so over the past two weeks I have attended the Thursday night rides, which, to my surprise, have not generated any caustic comments about my weight or lack of speed.

Mary Black

In addition to the group rides, I have ridden from Bluff to Blanding a few times. These rides have reminded me why I love cycling, and why I am so fond of this redrock desert. From the seat of my bike, I can see many aspects of this country I miss while zipping along in the car. The pace of the bicycle gives me time to notice, contemplate and enjoy each intimate detail; the deep canyons, the rock outcroppings and even the lavender cheat grass that is extremely beautiful until it gets stuck in your socks.

One thing that has recently captured my attention is an old cattle pen located just south of White Mesa Hill. To me, the enclosure stands as a reminder of what San Juan County used to be and the changes it is currently experiencing. The corral has probably not been used for decades, and has fallen into disrepair. During its time, however, it was likely an integral part of the local cattle industry.

Peggy Black

The Mormon pioneers arrived in Bluff during the late 1800's, and after many years of struggling to harness the river's nourishing moisture, with only limited success, discovered grazing cattle and sheep on the vast open spaces of northern Arizona, southern Utah and western Colorado paid significant dividends. Today, the San Juan County cattle industry has been buffeted by drought, mad cow disease, higher grazing permit prices, changing lifestyles and a variety of other concerns. As a result, many of the younger generation cowhands have had to leave the area in search of better opportunities. The cattle families have felt the pinch.

It is not only the cowboys who have suffered, however; change has affected the Native American community as well. Many of the Navajo basket weaving families we work with are experiencing similar difficulties. Currently there are about 35 basket weavers between the ages of 30 and 70. The number in the next generation drops to about five, causing Barry and me worry that the current revolution in Navajo basketry will be gone before our children mature.

The weavers have been telling us for years that it is becoming harder and harder to find the sumac necessary to weave their baskets. Much of the land where they used to harvest materials is now developed, and homeowners do not want the artists coming onto their property. Public land is also more regulated and more difficult to access.

Sonja Black

The real issue, however, seems to be that the Navajo children are not interested in learning traditional crafts such as basket and rug weaving. These talents take years to develop, and the compensation is generally not much better than working at the local convenience store. Additionally, many of the older artists learned their skills by sitting at their grandmothe's side, patiently watching her create masterpiece after masterpiece. The children of today are too busy to spend that much time with their elders; the Cartoon Network and MTV have captured their attention and consumed their lives.

In many ways, today's Navajo children are better educated and more prepared to enter the world. That is unquestionably what is needed. It is, however, difficult to see the traditional lifestyles fade into obscurity. I still thrill at the pungent aroma of a freshly woven Navajo basket, the spectacle of a cattle drive and the singing of bicycle tires on pavement. I have always been fascinated by the traditional ways and their natural elegance.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Aunt Lisa's Cat

Whenever my family and I head North to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, we are obliged to stay with the Jackson family of Provo. Uncle Wade and Aunt Lisa are gracious hosts, and we adore their children and extended family. The fact is, Aunt Lisa is my wife's twin sister, so all other lodging options are moot. To be sure, if I opted to stay elsewhere, my wife and children would desert me for the comfort and companionship of the Jacksons. Since I am all about family, and the Jackson's generously tolerate my presence, this is where we unload the van.

Alyssa Simpson

On this particular trip we were in Provo to support our daughter Alyssa, who was participating in the Brigham Young University Invitational Volleyball Tournament for Young Girls of Superior Intelligence, Athletic Ability and Good Looks. Okay, okay, I admit that is not really the tournament name; I may have been exaggerating a bit. I can say, in total honesty, however, that when the "Uno Mas" team took the floor, they took it with all of the aforementioned, totally positive qualities and refined social graces a proud group of parents can hope for. Superior coaching, plenty of faith, determination and a fire in their hearts brought the girls to a very respectable second place finish. It was fun and exciting to witness their efforts, and see the girls grow in skill and confidence.

The trip was mostly positive, the only negative aspect revolved around a misunderstanding with the cat of the house. Aunt Lisa's cat has a bad attitude. I am sure it has something to do with the way Uncle Wade and Keegan antagonize it. I was but an innocent bystander, caught up in an animal's frustration with the world of humans. The cat's name is Sabre, and I believe her to be a direct descendant of a saber tooth tiger or, if possible, a Tyrannosaurus Rex. She is nervous, jumpy and irritable to say the least; quick to fits of rage and aggression even if only slightly provoked. Looking back at my personal altercation with the beast causes me to assume she is mentally unstable as well.

Spenser Simpson

It all began rather innocently, in the wee hours of the morning. I was revived from a deep sleep by a strong urge to get to the lavatory. Rising groggily, I stubbed my toe on the suitcase at the end of the bed and became tangled in the clothes our kids left lying on the floor. Shaking loose the apparel, I found the hall and felt my way to the bathroom. I entered, closed the door and refrained from turning on the light. I was hoping to maintain as much of the sleep mode as I possibly could. This is where things began to go terribly wrong.

As I reached down to lift the lid of the commode, I heard an ominous guttural growl of warning and then a harsh hiss. I withdrew, knowing instantly that Sabre was parked there and was reluctant to be dethroned. Unfortunately, I was rather in a hurry and in no mood to deal with a feisty feline. With my left hand I reached down to swat the cat away from my much needed basin of relief. With my right hand, I lifted the toilet seat. Instantly Sabre locked onto my left hand with four sets of claws and sank her sharp teeth teeth into the soft tissue of my hand between my thumb and forefinger. I lurched backwards, thrashing wildly until my calves connected with the unmoving edge of the tub, at which time I fell hard into the back wall and plopped into about six inches of tepid water left there by my sweet daughter McKale earlier that evening.

Sabre was working my hand over in rather a harsh manner, and I was struggling to remove her and my saturated derrière from the tub. I struggled to a nearly standing position while trying to release the fireball from my hand and wrist. At this point, my bare feet slipped on the wet tile, and I lunged forward in an attempt to stop myself from falling. I hit my knees, and my mauled left hand, with cat still attached, plunged into the toilet bowl, causing the lid to slap down on my forearm. Still trying to get my balance, I brought my right hand around to brace myself on the tank and inadvertantly flushed the toilet.

There was an explosion of wet cat and toilet water as Sabre blew the lid off of the commode. I was at least free from Sabre's grasp and both of us were fired up and ready for battle. I jumped to my feet and began to circle the shadowy creature looking for an opening to finish her off. All of a sudden the bathroom door slid open and a blinding light blinked on. There in the door stood my son Spenser with a look of wonder on his youthful face. Sabre took the opportunity to exit the room, backing out slowly hissing and spitting the whole time. Spenser took in the scene of me standing there breathing hard, soaking wet and bleeding slightly. He smiled broadly, shook his head, turned out the light, closed the door and returned to bed.

McKale Simpson

The next day I watched Alyssa and her teammates lose their first game to a mean green machine from Montana in the first round. After that they became inspired. I mean to tell you they played volleyball like they were born to it; they played as a team, they were fired up and ready for battle. In many instances "Uno Mas" was out gunned, had a height disadvantage and may not have had the depth of talent their opponents had. What they did have was heart, desire and a imaginative, supportive coach to back them up. I saw teams standing around in shock after being put down. They were bathed in perspiration, out of breath, battered and beaten, amazed at what had just happened . . . I could relate!

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, June 2, 2005


I have come to realize that the choices we make frequently effect us in completely unexpected ways. That is an unavoidable fact. Whether those choices turn out to be positive or negative, we are still faced with certain irreversible consequences. If we made all our decisions with thoughtful, considerate care; acted without emotion or spontaneity; and were extremely fortunate, the ramifications might not be so dramatic. The hope is that our actions will not cause harm to others, since we have an obligation to protect our fellow human beings. That, however, is not always the case.

Twin Rocks Trading Post

Last week an elderly gentleman and his two female traveling companions strolled into the store and taught me a good lesson about making choices. Having sold luxury items for just shy of 30 years, I have developed the ability to know people in a very short time. Within a few minutes, I knew that Mr. Ernest Thomlinson was from Omaha, Nebraska; was 81 years old; and was traveling with his wife Emma and her widowed sister Erlene. I also learned that they had recently sold their large home, purchased a condo and dispersed most of their possessions to their three children; bad news for a salesman. Mr. Thomlinson and his wife were in what we call the de-acquisition phase of their lives! They had never before ventured into the great Southwest, were awed by the unique rock formations and thought the 90 degree heat was excessive and the air far too dry. They were, however, having a good time. Mr. Thomlinson was also an amateur photographer, and had already snapped well over 300 photos on this trip.

Mr. Thomlinson and I talked for a while and traded a few jokes. In short order, I became convinced he was sprinkling the conversation with a few white lies. For some time now, I have made a concerted effort to resist outright lies or even stretching the truth, otherwise things would have quickly gotten out of hand. Altogether, we had a pleasant visit and I felt I had met a genuine character. All too soon we shook hands and Mr. Thomlinson made his way out the door and down the front steps. Emma and Erlene followed Ernest, thanking me for "corralling" the old timer so they had more time to browse. I watched them through the large plate glass windows as they ambled out to the middle of the parking lot. Mr. Thomlinson then lined up the two women for a photo in front of the Twin Rocks.

The parking lot was busy with lunch hour traffic, and cars were weaving their way around the small group. Mr. Thomlinson was unconcerned with the vehicles, focusing only on getting the shot. His partners were more aware of the danger, shuffling from one position to another to dodge cars or comply with the directions of their diligent photographer. Because of their large size, it is almost impossible to frame a photograph of the towering Twin Rocks with family or friends in the foreground. The difference in elevation between the twin spires and our parking lot is drastic indeed. Mr. Thomlinson, however, had a solution. Before his wife or sister-in-law could stop him, Mr. Thomlinson kneeled down, placed both hands on the ground and sprawled flat out in the gravel. Rolling to his side, Mr. Thomlinson brought the camera to his eye and began redirecting his stunned womenfolk. That was not a good choice!

Witnessing this potential disaster in the making, I moved towards the door, concerned for the safety of my newly found friend. I could see in my mind's eye the headlines that might arise from an associated accident. I knew without a doubt that we would be dubbed, "The Road Kill Cafe" if I didn't get the old man up quickly. Emma and Erlene were way ahead of me though; they quickly positioned themselves for Mr. Thomlinson's photograph and instructed him to get out of the dirt. Mr. Thomlinson captured the image, and, as quickly as his old bones could, moved to his knees. Seeing his progress, I backed into the building to avoid embarrassing him. Placing his hands flat on the ground, Mr. Thomlinson first straightened one leg and then the other. And there he stayed, he could move no further without an odds on chance of loosing hide and hair. He looked like a stink bug with his rear end sticking straight in the air; warning off any would-be attackers.

As I watched, Mr. Thomlinson made several determined efforts to bring his torso up and gain his footing. It was not going to happen; his 81 year old muscles were having none of it. He was trapped liked a mired Mastodon. I again headed out the door to save the poor man, but Emma and Erlene once again beat me to the punch. The two women quickly moved in, grabbed him by the suspenders and hauled back with all their might. The effort was just enough to raise Mr. Thomlinson's palms off of the ground and lift his torso to a level where he could move his right foot forward. His feet began to move in sequence, first one foot then the other, then again, faster this time. The chaotic affair was not yet over.

As with most men of his age, Mr. Thomlinson's center of balance had migrated. His well defined stomach began to move him forward at an accelerated rate. His feet were spinning on the gravel, and his momentum was bringing him dangerously close to a disastrous end. The greater problem was that Emma and Erlene were still attached to the suspenders, leaning back with all of their willowy strength, but being dragged forward and down all the same. I began to run towards the threesome, knowing full well that I would not arrive in time to avert a catastrophe. I was frightened by the potential outcome, because I had witnessed, and experienced, many a gravel crash rash in my time, and knew it would take this group a long time to heal.

Mr. Thomlinson had not given up hope however, and made a last ditch effort to gain his balance by throwing his right foot forward and hauling back with every ounce of strength his tired body could muster. At that point I witnessed a miracle; Mr. Thomlinson's foot connected firmly with the gravel and caught just long enough for him to regain his footing. The three elderly adventurers gathered their wits and smoothed their feathers. I halted my forward motion and peeled off behind a parked car just in time to avoid detection, which may have further agitated the situation.

Mr. Thomlinson now had to deal with the long term consequences of his choice. Emma and Erlene tag-teamed the old boy with verbal abuse; venting the accumulation of adrenaline they had so recently acquired. Things got ugly quickly, so I slipped away and silently wished Ernest Thomlinson well, realizing the bad decision he had made had rippled out and caused a tsunami effect on those he held dear. It was lucky for him, and all concerned, that total disaster was so narrowly avoided. As I contemplated the affair, I came to realize just how much our bad choices effect those we love. The lesson Mr. Thomlinson taught me that day is live, love, learn, listen, react well, and mostly . . . look for forgiveness early and often.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post