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

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Travelin' Rainbows

Rainbow over Twin Rocks

A few days ago, I heard Jana shout up to the house from outside the trading post, "Steve, come down here and look at this." Out here in this wonderland of magical, mystical things and unusual occurrences, that directive generally means: (a) there is a beautiful sunset in the making; (b) there is an extremely large lizard scurrying about; (c) there is an unusual bug to be seen; or (d) Kira, Grange and Tarrik have done something requiring a massive cleanup effort, often involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On this particular occasion, I was confident it was not option (d), because Jana is usually behind the messes that require heavy equipment to repair, and is not so animated when bringing them to my attention.

As soon as the kids were able, Jana, much to my chagrin, allowed them to run the water hose behind the house and create massive mud baths. The kids would then spread mud from one end of the property to the other, and fill the bath tub with red dirt that took a small front-end loader to muck out.

The first time this happened, I shouted, waved my arms and jumped up and down, trying to avert a reoccurrence; all to no avail. Jana patiently explained that mud was good for kids, and allowed them to develop creatively. In an effort to put an end to this mud based creativity promotion, I turned to Barry for support; I found none. Standing firmly behind Jana, he explained that he had recently read an article confirming what she was saying.

Once I realized I was powerless to stop Jana and the kids from engaging in this muddy madness, I decided the only thing to do was clean them as best I could before they made a dash for the house. So, once they were done splashing in the mud, I forced the kids to strip down to their underwear and stand on the rocks in front of the trading post, there to be hosed down with cold water. Initially, I thought the hose might moderate their enthusiasm, but it only made matters worse; they loved it.

Since it was early afternoon when I received the call from Jana, I realized the sun was probably not going down so soon and it could not be a beautiful sunset that had captured her attention. The only reasonable conclusion was that Jana had spotted an extraordinary bug or gigantic lizard. To my surprise, it was neither. Jana was standing by the cars, looking east at a beautiful rainbow that curved over the Twin Rocks and ended in the hay field just south and east of the trading post.

Navajo Weaver Elsie Holiday

I was immediately reminded of Elsie Holiday, who had come in not long ago and informed me that a rainbow's end had landed on her Douglas Mesa home. That, I thought, must be good luck, so I cautiously advised her that good fortune may have smiled on her. I was cautious because these unusual occurrences have a way of costing me money. It was indeed a lucky incident she informed me, but only after the appropriate ceremony is held, and that would require a substantial loan. If the ceremony was not done, the Rainbow Gods might drain all her wealth, and that would surely adversely affect me. The ceremony could be held for only $200.00, and, if I advanced the money, she would ensure it also brought me better business.

My enthusiasm for this new rainbow was much more keen than for Elsie's, since I knew for certain I would not have to loan the owner of the farm a few hundred dollars to guarantee his prosperity, or mine. As I stood next to Jana in the misty rain, looking up at the rainbow, I unconsciously reached into my back pocket to secure my wallet. I felt a little foolish, knowing the local artists frequently give back more than they take, and also knowing the reason these things keep happening is because Barry and I enjoy having the Navajo people come in and share their stories.

We have been told that rainbows play a particularly important role in Navajo culture. For example, Talking God gave one to the Hero Twins as a means of traveling long distances. Their rainbow was only a finger length long, and could be folded and carried in a small leather pouch. Using their supernatural powers, however, the Twins could extend the rainbow and make it long enough for any journey. By stepping into a jewel basket, the Twins traveled at great speed along the rainbow path.

My Subaru is rapidly accumulating miles, so I am considering trading it in on a new, 2006 Rainbow compact, with the carrying pouch option. I will, however, have to get my $200.00 back from Elsie for the down payment. Oh the places I will go.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Web of Life

I have decided I am destined to stumble through life with a perpetual look of ignorance plastered across my ruddy mug. I say this because I have begun to notice my family and friends constantly pushing educational and self-improvement opportunities my way. For example, I often find copies of Discover and Popular Science magazines stacked neatly in the bathroom my fifteen year old son and I share. I know they are not for Spenser, because, according to him, he is up to date on every imaginable subject. The accompanying high powered reading glasses resting neatly on top of the stack are yet another clear indication the magazines are directed at me. Taking the not so subtle hint, I recently picked up a Discover periodical and began to read an article by Michio Kaku, entitled Testing String Theory.

The Dalai Lama

The article began, "One of the most remarkable claims made in modern times comes from string theory, which holds that everything in the universe is composed of tiny vibrating strings of energy. The strings in string theory are tiny---about a billionth of a billionth the size of a proton. In this view, every particle in your body, every speck of light that lets you read these words, and every packet of gravity that pushes you into your chair is just a variant of this one fundamental entity. Advocates say vibrating strings underlie every particle and every force in the universe. String theory may achieve what Einstein could not, a unified theory that explains how the universe works. But will anyone ever be able to prove this theory? The concept that everything is made of tiny vibrating strings stretches human imagination to the breaking point."

"The math behind string theory is extremely sophisticated and beautiful, and the equations have survived every mathematical challenge. People who have worked on string theory often walk away with a powerful, yet unquantifiable, feeling that it must be true. In an attempt to prove the principles through variations in gravity, scientists are going to attempt a particle accelerator test. The Large Hadron Collider, which is located outside Geneva, Switzerland and is the world's most powerful particle accelerator, is to be put to use. The super collider may be powerful enough to test one of the most bizarre predictions of strung theory; that there are many physical dimensions. Recent versions of string theory hypothesize that there are actually seven spatial dimensions beyond the three we can sense." The article on string theory ends by suggesting, "The remarkable proof of the theory might not cost years of effort and billions of dollars. It might come instead from the most basic tools of science; paper, pencil and a human brain."

The brain I rely on, which I believe to be human in origin, was hurting horribly after my third re-read of the article. I think it was Michael Covey who said that if you read and/or listen to a story three times it will soak in to even the densest gray matter. I have faith in this principle, but, as it relates to me, have not proven it to be totally true. When I arrived at work the next morning, I found a note from two psychologist friends, Jon and Dawn. Jon and Dawn are thoughtfully intelligent people, who have provided me a great deal of positive insight through the years. They too seem to be concerned with my educational and self-improvement opportunities, or lack thereof, and recommended an audio book by the Dalai Lama. I promptly purchased the suggested material and began to listen. The Dalai Lama's essays contained remarkable insight into the connecting web of life, which this wonderful individual calls "Dependent Origination".

In a nutshell, "Dependent Origination refers to the nature of reality and the close connection between how we perceive ourselves in relation to the world we inhabit and our behavior in response to it. In the course of our daily lives, we engage in countless disparate activities and receive huge amounts of sensory input from all we encounter. How we interpret and react to that input effects everyone and everything around us, in one way or another. In beginning to understand phenomenon and reality, we become aware of the infinite complexity of our relationships to all things." Cool!!!!

There are three levels to understanding this model: "1. All things and events arise on a complex web of interrelated causes and conditions. From this we can see that no thing or event can be construed to exist in and of itself; 2. Understanding the mutual dependence which exists between individual parts and the whole, without the whole the concept of parts makes no sense; and 3. All things and events can be understood to be dependently originated, because when we analyze them we find that ultimately they lack independent identity."

Spider Web

I began to see parallels all over the place. String Theory and Dependent Origination were sounding very similar. There is at least one other facet to this story that must be considered, that of Spider Woman in Navajo mythology. Spider Woman's spiritual power, as seen in her silken web, joins the realms of Earth and Sky. As a deity, she is given credit for weaving and placing human arteries, and is thus at least partially responsible for human beings. Spider Woman is the central figure that relates to supernatural power in the quest of the Hero Twins to search out and build a relationship with their father, the all powerful Sun. This relationship provides security of life and sacred protection for the Navajo people. Spider Woman's interwoven web connects all things to a rich and diverse culture on multiple levels.

It sounds to me like String Theory, Dependent Origin and Spider Woman are all part of the same fabric of life. As human beings, we are all connected, and, on another plane or dimension, we are dependent on the natural world for survival. I do not know what anyone else will think, but, to me, that does not sound so far-fetched. There are times I go away from these studies feeling that I have made a profound personal discovery and gained insight into the web of life that maintains our mental and physical well being.

As I recall, in a recent movie, Spider Man, remembering his deceased uncle's words of wisdom, "with great knowledge comes great responsibility and sacrifice", as he turned and walked away from a rejected and confused Mary Jane...what the heck should I do now?

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post