Thursday, August 25, 2005


Navajo Basket

When we first opened the trading post, I was constantly amazed by what our customers said and did. If it wasn't the tourists, it was our Navajo patrons doing things that made me shake my head in wonder. Often, as I relived the day's events later that evening, I laughed out loud or mumbled to myself about the comedy or humanity of what had occurred that day. Had anybody witnessed these evening episodes, I may have been subject to commitment in the big white house with large lawns and nicely padded guest rooms.

In the early days, we did a small pawn business, so there were more elderly Navajo people in the store. Pawn has, for many decades, been an important part of the trading post tradition. Many of the older Navajo people use it as a means of safeguarding their valuable possessions from marauding children or grandchildren, or to ensure access to small amounts of quick cash. As our arts and crafts business grew, however, pawn became more and more complicated.

It wasn't that the revenue was bad; the problem was more practical than anything. Because pawning guns was a substantial part of the business, I began noticing the customers becoming more and more nervous as someone carrying a rifle climbed the stairs to the trading post. For many of our patrons, the obvious conclusion was that an armed robbery was in progress and their lives were in danger.

When the customers realized they were not in harm's way, they became immensely curious and wanted to know what was happening. As these events unfolded, their interest in rugs, baskets and jewelry quickly dissipated, and any possibility of a sale disappeared. So, we finally decided pawn was no longer worth the effort and closed that part of our operation.

One disadvantage of ending our pawn business was that many older Navajo people stopped coming to see us. Initially, when we told them we were no longer pawning, they would wink and say, "Well, just for me, okay?" Eventually we stopped altogether and the grandmas and grandpas faded away.

The other day something happened that reminded me of the older Navajos we used to see all the time; people like Espee Jones, Wooeyboy's Son, Nellie Greyeyes and many more. A Navajo woman was browsing through the shop inventory when she spotted the arrowheads we have in the display cases. This particular item is made by Homer Etherton, a man in his late eighties. After I put the basket containing them on the counter, the woman picked up a few points, inspected them closely, and, admiring their craftsmanship, turned them over and over in her hand. After carefully scrutinizing them, she asked, "Are these man-made?"

The first time I heard that question, I was completely baffled, and almost blurted out, "Of course they are man-made. What else would they be?" My long tenure in retail and the gentle demeanor of the man, however, told me I needed to be more cautious, so I asked, "What do you mean?" The elderly Navajo gentleman quietly said, "Are they made by Horned Toad?" At that point, I explained that the arrowheads were produced by Homer, which seemed to satisfy him, but left me with several burning questions. Our cultural differences, and my desire to avoid looking overly foolish, stopped me from pursuing the matter further, so my inquisitor walked out the door without satisfying my curiosity.

Navajo Folk Art

Not long after that incident, a younger Navajo man came in, bought one of Homer's arrowheads, inhaled four times, patted his chest with the point and seemed to whisper a prayer. He then placed the item in a small leather bag that hung around his neck. Since we were contemporaries, I felt comfortable asking him what it all meant. He explained that Navajo people believe horned toads chip arrowheads with their breath and that the points are protection against evil spirits.

The brief ceremony allowed him to breathe in the protective essence of the arrowhead before placing the talisman in his medicine bag. He explained further that it is the "nonman-made" points; those from the ancient Puebloan culture, that are most powerful and offer the most protection from evil. Unfortunately, incidents like those are more and more rare. Navajo culture is rapidly changing, and many of the old ways are no longer observed by the young people of the tribe.

A few days ago, a biologist for the state of Utah wandered into the store. Her department was conducting a study of the local vegetation to determine how it compared to their baseline study from the 1970s. She said their findings indicated that the more substantial bunch grasses like Indian rice grass and buffalo grass had, to a large extent, given way to cheat grass. I could not help thinking this was very much like Navajo culture; the strong traditions are being replaced by television, backwards baseball caps and baggy pants. It makes one long for more "non man-made" items.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, August 18, 2005


On a brisk, fresh, starlit morning, my son Spenser and I carefully and quietly made our way across the frosted rows of crested wheat grass stubble, towards the hideous form of an ancient pine tree. This particular snag was perched on the edge of a group of evergreens, on an east facing rise which overlooked a small reservoir. It was late October, 1996, and we were out and about before dawn, looking for a monster buck. It was hunting season and, with his enthusiasm for the outdoors and newly acquired taste for venison, my six year old son had re-ignited my passion for this customary fall event.


We gained our desired location, against the skeletal remnant of the once majestic tree, and settled in to await first light. Our position seemed perfect, we would be difficult to detect among the branches which surrounded us and broke up our form. A slight breeze blew directly into our faces so our scent would not give us away. If we remained quiet, and if the Gods of the hunt granted us their favor, we would be home before noon with fresh meat on the table and a trophy rack for the wall. I was feeling quiet proud of myself, thinking, "Oh what a good hunter am I!" Spenser came over and made a nest of my lap, cuddled up to my chest and promptly fell asleep. As far as I was concerned, it didn't get any better. The memory of that morning with my son so near is one that I hold in my heart, and will cherish as long as I exist. Spenser has been blessed with the ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. I once witnessed him roll his sleeping bag out on bare sandstone; with its attendant humps, depressions and awkward angles, sleep like a baby for the entire night and awake refreshed the next morning. I, on the other hand, am not so lucky.

It was getting brighter, and I began anticipating the sun's appearance on the clouded horizon. I was certain our trophy animal would soon manifest an appearance. The first rays of sunlight broke free and lit the landscape with a rich golden glow. At that instant, I sensed movement from both sides of my field of vision. I tensed and slowly prepared to wake Spenser from his slumber. My senses were on full alert; the game was in the bag. On my right hand side, padding through the tall illuminated grass, appeared a large coyote. On my left, jogging through an obstacle course of burned out stumps, came a badger.

Relaxing a bit, I decided not to wake my son for such insignificant animals. The fact was, I was enjoying his closeness and did not want to lose the moment. The two creatures pulled up to the water at approximately the same time. Without taking much notice of each other, they drank their fill and moved on. The coyote headed almost directly away from us, nonchalantly making his way towards a tangle of deep brush a few hundred yards distant. The badger, however, took a different tack; one that would deliver him to our tree in short order.

Again I stiffened, remembering just how tough and aggressive these mighty mites can be. I was familiar with badgers, and knew just how much trouble they might cause. I also knew that, if not provoked, they were generally quite calm, cool and collected. The beast came on like a line backer; his muscles rippling across his chest, his short legs pumping like pile drivers. At about ten yards out, he pulled up, raised his snout into the air and sniffed. Instantly the badger focused in on us, snorted loudly and stomped his feet.

I could smell his musky odor and make out the silver tips on the black hair of his back and sides. The badger looked us over closely, licked his nose and sniffed again. He must have decided we were not a serious threat, because the brute altered direction slightly and moved away with confidence. Watching the badger strut the other way, I breathed a little easier, and began to think back on a book I had been reading about Navajo myths and legends. The book, by Paul Zolbrod, was titled Dine' Bahane, The Navajo Creation Story. In the book, its author speaks of an occurrence similar to the one I had just witnessed.


In Navajo teachings, Badger and Coyote came into being on a day very much like the one I was experiencing during that fall hunt. The Navajo people believe they emerged through four different worlds before arriving here. An upward moving way occurred, complete with a great deal of learning, experience and metaphorical lesson plans for understanding life and love. The genesis of Coyote and Badger is explained this way; "The people had not been in the fourth world long when they saw Sky bend down and Earth rise up until for a moment they met. At that instant Coyote and Badger, now considered to be children of these two deities, sprang out of earth at the point of contact. At once Coyote skulked among the people and began to educate them through outrageous acts and reverse psychology, where as Badger went back down into the hole which led to the lower world and maintained a hidden, unobtrusive existence. Badger is powerful though, both physically and magically, and not to be dealt with lightly."

Spenser soon awoke, stretching, yawning and causing all sorts of commotion by pelting me with pine cones. Soon an all out battle ensued, and the opportunity for surprising our trophy buck dissipated. We agreed to leave and search for some bacon and eggs. A far cry from grandma Rose's batter fried venison, homemade biscuits and cream gravy, but it would have to do. As we drove away, I looked back in my rear view mirror and wondered at how, as human beings, we are constantly looking for answers to explain our creation. Some choose the scientific approach, some the spiritual; still others look to the natural world. I am sure truth can be found in all those places. Looking over at my young son, thinking of his sisters and their mother and marveling at the miracle of it all, I realized why the questions arise.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hey Ya Ya Ya

My recent morning runs can only be described as slogs. I worry that my wheel bearings may be worn out and my left leg ready to separate from its axle, leaving me to jog in circles the rest of my days. This mechanical malfunction is probably the result of a sore right knee cap, which has caused me to rely more heavily on my left side. In any case, I am beginning to pay the price for years of running on pavement, and am also starting to realize the complications of being middle aged. Whoever made up the advertising tag line, "You're not getting older, you're getting better," was clearly not referring to me.

Native American Drums @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

Yesterday morning, I was well into my run when Johonaa'ei, the Sun God, sire of the Hero Twins, Monster Slayer and Born for Water, and illicit lover of Changing Woman, crested the horizon, riding his blazing yellow steed. As I ran east towards the sunrise, I had to pause a few times to realign my slightly askew frame and marvel at the majesty of Mother Nature. As I approached my turn around point, I heard a strange sound and began searching for its source.

It took a while, but I finally realized the noise was internally generated. I often find that fragments of certain old songs stick in my mind and play incessantly as I run down the road, but this was something altogether new. Tumbling out of my head and pounding through my chest was an unending string of, "Hey Ya Ya Ya"s. Never had I experienced such a occurrence, and I began to wonder whether it might be a sign of early onset senility.

After thoroughly considering the possibility that my brain had gone soft, I decided the more acceptable explanation was that old Westerns and the trading post were to blame. I had recently purchased two large drums for the store, and our customers regularly use them to bang out Hollywood Indian rhythms. The drums are in constant demand by both children and adults, and the music our visitors make is almost universally reminiscent of the faux Indian drumming found in John Wayne and Tom Mix movies.

After a few miles, the chanting stopped, and I remembered a conversation I recently had with one of our customers. The customer wanted to know how the Indian Arts and Crafts Act affected our business. One sure way to get my hackles up is to mention the statute that created the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Jana was President of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association at the time the legislative debate heated up, and she and I had many spirited conversations about it.

The law is basically a federal consumer protection statute which includes both civil and criminal penalties for those deceptively marketing products as "Indian made" which are not produced by Native Americans who have been properly recognized by their tribe. The underlying premise of the statute is that the making and selling of Indian arts and crafts are restricted to tribally affiliated members, because such items represent ancient tribal traditions which must be protected. No accommodation is made for Native Americans who choose not to be affiliated with their tribe. These individuals, despite their heritage, have no legal right to market their work as Indian made.

To me, it is more than a little ironic that the entity doing more to destroy Native culture than any other is all of the sudden interested in protecting and ensuring its continuation. It also troubles me that there is no similar statute protecting African Americans, Jewish Americans, Hispanic Americans and a whole host of other ethnic groups that have ancient traditions in need of protection.

What bothers me most, however, is that, as an outside culture, we rarely know what is tradition and what is not when it comes to Native Americans; thus the Hay Ya Ya Yas and a variety of other stereotypes we commonly promote. I have often wondered how the federal government can ensure and protect a culture it neither understands nor embraces. Not that the government's stance is unprecedented.

As I sat there stewing in the summer heat, a young family walked into the store. The kids immediately snatched up the drum sticks and started banging out Hey Ya Ya Yas. Climbing down from my soap box, I noticed the children smiling broadly. It is hard to know whether their misunderstanding promotes or demeans Native American culture. What I do know is that the children were happy to be making "Indian" music, and were extremely proud of their Native American brothers and sisters. Maybe the federal government can learn a thing or two from those kids. Honesty, integrity and even a nontraditional beat is more effective than statutes and court orders when it comes to protecting and preserving Native American culture.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, August 4, 2005

A Flight of Fantasy

On a delightful afternoon several years ago, I found myself sitting comfortably with my back against a shaded slope, overlooking a small canyon I was preparing to explore. I was somewhere on Bally Flats, just west of Blanding, Utah. A barely discernible side road had beckoned to me as I drove curiously across the sagebrush and juniper encrusted landscape. Four-wheeling through a couple steep, rocky drainages, and around a sandstone abutment, brought me to within a few hundred yards of the spot I now inhabited.

Moon Flowers @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

I seem to be drawn to canyons; their hidden features inspire my imagination. For me, delving into their depths, geologic features, water sources and vegetation is a rich and awe inspiring experience. Being out among the boulders, rabbit brush and prickly pear awakens my senses and enriches my inner being. In these southeastern Utah canyons, I continue to search for, and often find, beauty, harmony and understanding; that oasis of the eye, mind and spirit.

The visible reaches of this particular canyon looked promising. I could hear the music of running water below, and the whisper of the breeze gently rustling full bodied leaves. Benevolent moisture and gnarly cottonwood trees always add to the appeal of these rifts in the desert. Looking closely at the nearby canyon rim, I noticed sandstone semi-spheres that seemed to have been captured in mid-boil, frozen in time, and accepting of encroaching lichen and accumulating blackening patina. A few scattered bonsai juniper trees had clawed their way into unwilling fissures; shaped by nature's gentle, persistent hand.

A red tail hawk grasped a dead, exposed branch of a centuries-old juniper just across the canyon from where I reclined. The raptor cautiously eyed me, realizing I was an intruder in this otherwise undisturbed land. The majestic bird perched on the bent, twisted tree. The juniper, with its sand blasted and sun baked topknot, and dusty, emerald green body, brought to mind an ancient mentor; a Merlin-like wizard, prepared to educate any interested initiate. I wondered if we, as human beings, could manage the multi-dimensional thought and understanding to absorb his wisdom before it was too late.

It was early evening by this time, and the good earth cradled me comfortably. The temperature was pleasant there in the shade. I reached out and picked a white, orchid-like flower, inhaled its essence and tasted its freshness. I felt myself nodding sleepily, and found it difficult to hold open my eyelids. Just before I gave into the temptation to take a quick nap, I noticed a large black carpenter ant make its way across the toe of my boot. I smiled at the creature, thinking that ants are nature's perfect citizens. They are community-minded, bent on ensuring the well being of their hill and, most importantly, highly adaptive to the complexities of nature. I dozed off.

The white flower had somehow induced a mild dream-like state in me, and I found myself looking through the golden eyes of the red tailed hawk I had seen earlier. I could distinguish my sleeping form across the canyon from the tree I now perched in. I was amazed at how real this seemed. Taking advantage of the situation, I launched from the tree and felt the air rush about me; through the feathers of my wings. I gasped at the beauty of my surroundings. From high in the air, I gained a whole new perspective on the world around me.

I caught an updraft and rose even higher. The landscape spread below me, exposing a world of light, shadow and form that I could not have previously imagined. I drank in the wonder of this vast, rugged landscape, and marveled at its complexity and intoxicating magic. I spent time exploring the depths of marvelous canyons and the crowns of monolithic peaks. The journey was awe-inspiring and emotionally moving. I imagined this must be what it is like to open one's mind to new worlds of thought and imagination.

Red - Tailed Hawk

I felt a sharp pain shoot through the calf of my leg and jumped upward as I grabbed at it. My head banged against an exposed root, which produced an explosion of white light behind my eyes. As I rolled to my knees and stumbled to my feet, I realized I was back on earth, experiencing the wrath of an aggravated black ant. I shook the felon from my pant leg and resisted the urge to grind him into jelly with the sole of my Vasque . Through the pounding in my head, I heard the scream of a hawk. I looked up just in time to see him glide over me, wings outstretched, backlit by an outrageously brilliant sunset.

Making my way back to the truck, I wondered at what I had experienced. A flight of fantasy surely, but was there some hidden meaning? Maybe I should show a greater respect towards nature; take the time to appreciate what the natural world has to offer. Was there a fundamental truth buried in the occurrence; one that would take time to decipher? As I fingered the knot on my crown I was struck by an epiphany, maybe the message is really simple, "Don't fall asleep near an ant hill, always protect your head and be extremely cautious about nibbling unknown flora!"

Barry, Steve and the Team

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post