Thursday, October 27, 2005

Teenagers, Coyotes, Chaos and October

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

Navajo Pins

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

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

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

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

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

Navajo Basket

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

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

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Through the Kokopelli Doors

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

The Kokopelli Doors of Twin Rocks Trading Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie Olson's jewelry

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

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

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 13, 2005


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

Navajo Basket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Why Have All the Windmills Died?

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

Windmill on the Rez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post