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

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