Thursday, December 21, 2006

Self Help

I was having a bad day! It was getting on towards evening and I had not gotten much of anything done at the Twin Rocks trading post. I think it was the first telephone call of the morning that got things started off wrong. I received a page from Kathy saying there was an irate customer on the line seeking someone to take her frustration out on. I hesitantly picked up the phone and said, "Hi this is Steve how may I help you?". I sometimes use Steve's name when I need a scapegoat.

The top of the Bluffs in Bluff, Utah
Bluff, Utah from above.

The woman on the other end of the line wasted no time letting me know she was angry because she was getting a first class runaround. She jumped right on me, saying, in an aggravated tone of voice, that her ring needed repair and I should take care of the unhappy situation, "post haste". "Okay", I said, "everything we sell is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Simply send me the ring and we will repair it, right away." There was silent hesitation at the other end of the line, then a sigh of resignation. I said, "You did buy the ring from us, didn't you?" The woman said, "Sadly no, I bought it directly from the artist."

A few minutes later the entire story was related to me. It seems a couple years ago this now unhappy collector bought a very expensive coral ring from Hasteen Begay on the Portal in Santa Fe. Recently the coral had dislodged and escaped somewhere into the wild grasslands of northern Vermont. The woman had wisely charged the transaction on her credit card, so she called VISA to solicit their powerful aid in resolving her dilemma. VISA, with their supercomputer and know-it-all data base of information, gave her our 800 number and said, "Go forth and seek satisfaction". So, I found myself attempting to arbitrate a situation that had absolutely no relationship to our business, and on our dime.

How the credit card company connected this poor woman's complaint with us will surely be one of those forever unsolved, troublesome mysteries. Now that I knew the woman's problem, I began searching for a solution. Finding one, I rolled out the Rolodex and extracted Hasteen's phone number and address then gave him up! The poor woman was no better served, but at least she had a bead on someone other than me. She thanked me for my somewhat selfless help. I told her it was not a problem and that if she had further troubles to call our complaint department at 1-800-Steve's your man.

Next I got a call from one of the turquoise miners we work with. I won't mention his name for fear of retribution, but this guy is, as dear old dad often says, "rough as a cob!" For years I took this saying for granted, not really understanding its actual significance. One day I couldn't take the lack of knowledge any longer and risked asking my father exactly what it meant and where the saying originated. He explained that the term sprang to life in the days of outdoor facilities. Paper products were a rare and valued commodity, not often afforded and certainly never wasted. Every little thing was used and used again if an additional, beneficial purpose could be found. It seems a feast of roasted corn was not only a treat for the palate, but afterwards the dried cob provided a cleansing tool for the derriere. The fruit of the corn served a higher purpose, providing sustenance and the cob was brought back into service to serve a lower purpose; cleaning up. Thus the saying, "rough as a cob!" I had to ask.

As I spoke with my turquoise supplying associate, I felt I was being formally abused, much like the sensation the cob might have provided one's backside. After having my personal safety and my life threatened several times, we came to somewhat agreeable terms on the purchase of his highly desirable blue and green gems. Just before he hung up, Mr. Turquoise laughed and told me that just because he threatened to break my knees and stuff me in a mine shaft didn't mean we weren't friends; it was simply his way of showing affection. I love that guy!

So it went the rest of the day, until it came to a point where I was feeling chaffed and raw about the coarseness of the situation. I felt as if I needed to get out of the shop and reconnect with the natural world. I hoped Mother Earth would treat me with more respect. I found my coat and grabbed the digital camera; I had lately been noticing the beauty of the cap-rock on the cliff tops above town. As I drive home each evening, the play of evening light and shadow on the roiled and domed surfaces had captured my imagination and was now drawing me in. Leaving work an hour early would give me enough time to witness a sunset "on the rocks!"

I told Steve where I was going and that if a Mrs. Norton from New England called to act like they were old friends. I was out the door before he could ask any questions, jumped into the Toyota and headed north. I drove up Cow Canyon, took a hard right on the belt loop and another onto the first dirt road that ran parallel to the canyon. Five minutes from the front door of the trading post put me within a short walk of my goal.

Stepping out of the car forced me to contend with a brisk and bitter breeze, my ears felt the nip of low temperatures and my eyes immediately teared up. It seemed nature was not going to allow me a reprieve from a less than perfect day. I had only a light coat and no hat, but I was determined to get to the slick rock and see the sunset no matter what. Trudging across the desert caused my toes to numb, but I made it to where the desert met the rock. Looking up through misty eyes, I recognized the bold, bubbly formation setting before me. I reached down and felt the sand paper texture of the rock and was immediately calmed.

I scrambled up the slick rock slope looking for a southwesterly exposed stadium seat to witness the end of day. Having grown up in this area, I knew that somewhere in this twisted cauliflower formation there would be a small, out-of-the-way alcove protected from the cold wind and warmed by the evening sunlight. I topped the crest of stone and moved down the other side, soon finding just such a location. It was actually quite cozy and the sun was resting right on the horizon, waiting for me to settle in and enjoy the show.

I have to say that I have witnessed much more grand and spectacular sunsets, but never one so calming. The sound of complete silence surrounded me as did the coarse yet nurturing stone. It seemed my self-perceived troubles dissipated into the rock as the sun descended behind the horizon. It felt good to join with nature and ignore the complications of the real world. As all traces of the sun and my bad humor withdrew, and twilight came forth, I raised up and breathed deeply the cleansing air. Turning towards the west, I was greeted by a nearly full rising moon. I said a prayer of thanks for being able to live in such a strikingly beautiful and unique area and to so quickly and easily commune with nature.

The Beauty of Bluff, Utah
The Sunset from Bluff, Utah.

Walking back across the short strip of under-vegetated sand, icy white moonlight and enveloping purple twilight put me at complete ease. I thought of my family waiting at home and felt warm and comfortable in spite of the nip in the air and frostbite on my ears. I was hoping my wife and children would forgive me for being late for dinner, but was certain I would be easier to get along with when I arrived. I also thought I might have to send Steve out here tomorrow night to enjoy a similar experience. When he finds out I have sacrificed him in the effort to save my own sanity he may be a tad aggravated in his own right. In the meantime, where was an outhouse when you needed one?
(Click here to see additional images of Bluff, Utah's beauty!)

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Off Center

The other day I telephoned John Huling to catch up on a few things. John and his wife Joni live in Vermont, so we don’t get to see each other much. I first met John maybe 15 years ago, when he and Joni were traveling through the Southwest and happened into the trading post. As I often do with our first-time customers, I asked where they were from and what they did for a living. John said he had composed music for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is one of my favorite places in all the world, so we immediately formed a bond. When he gave me copies of his albums we became fast friends.

Kay Harris Flutes
Flute Maker - Kay Harris

A few years after our initial meeting, John offered to play a flute concert at the trading post. The event was a great success, and many people later told me the evening was one of the most enjoyable concerts they had ever attended. During the early stages of our friendship, John determined to teach me the Native American flute. “It’s easy; anyone can do it,” he assured me. I figured if the whales can make music, I probably could too. After an hour of instruction, however, John and I both realized that I had no affinity for it, and that I was both tone deaf and musically dumb. Since that time, John has studiously avoided trying to expand my harmonic horizons.

During our telephone conversation, I mentioned that I had recently spoken with Kay Harris. Kay makes exceptionally well-crafted flutes in the Native American style, and it was John who brought us together. I had been wanting to carry flutes in the trading post for some time, but could not find the quality I desired. John used Kay’s flutes in many of his recordings, so he gave me Kay’s telephone number and I made the call.

Once we met, I quickly realized that Kay is the kind of individual you grow immediately fond of. Having spent the majority of his life outdoors in the great Southwest, the environment has worn away all of his rough edges. What remains in a gentle man who is as comfortable as an old saddle. Kay and I often talk about the troubled kids he takes on river expeditions, cattle drives, the simple and elegant pine caskets he builds and his flutes.

Kay Harris Flutes
Kay's Trademark

Kay’s trademark, which is on all his instruments, is an offset circle within a circle. He says the wood of the instrument represents our world; the solid silver disk symbolizes the individual flute player and his journey from earth to sky. The metallic disk also represents Kay’s hope that before we reach the heavens we will find some harmony that moves us closer to the center.

John told me that he once asked Kay to make a flute with a perfectly centered circle. Kay declined the offer, however, stating that he could not, because he had personally known only two cases where that type of perfection had been attained. Each instance involved great and painful loss.

After Kay left the store, I thought about my own life and how Kay’s offset circle metaphor fit my circumstances. My journey toward the center has consistently and frustratingly followed an erratic, squiggly and generally unpredictable path. Quite often I feel I am not only uncentered, but mostly unhinged; that, rather than moving closer to the hub, I am actually gravitating farther away.

There are times, however, when Jana and the kids are in my heart; when I am running in the early morning with everything quiet, fresh and new; when the evening light streams through golden cottonwood trees; or when I am cycling on a lonely back road that I feel the center may be near.

Often I remember an interview I saw many years ago. During that segment, Rob Reiner said, “In my life I have had about 10 minutes of happiness; not all at once of course, but one minute here, 30 seconds there . . . .” At the time, I thought Reiner was merely being sarcastic; I later came to believe he was talking about the complete contentment Kay relates to his fully centered circles.

Although those moments of absolute centering may not last long, they are unforgettable. They are love in its most basic element; love of self, love of others and love of one’s environment. It is only love that truly centers us. Kay’s visit reminded me how far I must travel to locate the center, but also how far I have already journeyed. Kay might agree that the adventure is in the undertaking, that we must keep striving and keep loving; the center may be closer than we think.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Pauletta's Rug

"I need $2,000.00 for my rug," Pauletta stated with a look of quiet determination on her face and a trace of a smile on her lips. "Here we go again," I mumbled to myself. Standing before me, backlit by slanting shafts of autumn sunlight streaming in through the open Kokopelli doors, stood the three Ps; Pauline, Pauletta and four year old Paulina. The golden aura surrounding the threesome caused me to recall the last time I encountered Pauline, and how she had attempted to use divine intervention to negotiate an exaggerated price for her weaving.

Navajo Rug by Pauletta Deswudt
Pauline & Pauletta Deswudt @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

Worriedly, and carefully, I scanned the hidden recesses of the trading post, sighing with genuine relief when I discovered we were alone, Focusing on Pauletta, with her adorably crooked smile and her mother's wickedly devious earthy brown eyes, I took the bait. "Why do you need $2,000.00 for your rug? Although I would like to buy it. I am pretty sure it is beyond my budget!" I said. Smiling openly now, and giving me the "DUH" look, this 17 year old, expertly tutored, maiden of the high desert delivered her answer. "My senior class is planning a trip to Miami in the spring, and my cost for the adventure is $2,000.00."

The day before I had received a telephone call from Pauline informing me that her daughter was nearly finished with her first ever weaving, and she wanted me to buy it. I was intrigued, because Pauline weaves extremely interesting old style, hand-spun rugs and I was hoping Pauline had taught her daughter well. Hand-spun rugs are rapidly declining in availability, because the weavers must spend huge amounts of time and effort weaving them. The collecting public has been reluctant to pay for rugs that are not of a refined nature, and hand-spun weavings are generally more "folk art" than fine. They are normally not as finished or symmetrical as rugs woven with the carefully graded and evenly spun commercial wools. Because weavers of hand-spun rugs shear the sheep, clean the wool, card it, spin it and only then begin to weave the rug, there is a great deal of extra labor involved.

There are certain definite indicators of this process. Because of the methods involved, hand-spun rugs are "of and near the earth" and they retain many vestiges of their origin. Strong soaps are not used to clean the fibers because detergent strips out the wool's lanolin; the secret to their durability and stain resistance. Because softer soaps are weak at best, the "ode de sheep" remains. In layman's terms, they smell like sheep and stuff. The smell of juniper smoke, red earth and local vegetation are often prevalent and noticeable. Running one's hands over such weavings with too much enthusiasm can provide a deeply embedded sliver to worry over.

Don't get me wrong, these additions to the finished product are not necessarily detrimental; to me they add to the character of the rug and flavor to the trading post. The warm rich smell and texture are reminiscent of my past. These are the rugs my brothers, sisters and I grew up on. Stimulated by sight, smell and feel, these weavings bring back fond memories of growing up in Bluff in such close and significant proximity to our Native neighbors.

It is not unusual for me to hold a new rug woven in this manner close and breath in its fragrance to relive my memorable and treasured youth. I must caution those new to this endeavor to proceed cautiously, however, while sampling the flavor of the Rez. The other day I spied a hand-spun rug Steve had purchased from Tuley Begay setting unattended on the counter. Striding eagerly towards the weaving, I whisked it up, covered my face with it and breathed in deeply.

Instantly I was struck by the overwhelming fragrance of sheep, flora, fauna and smoke. Stumbling backward, and falling to my knees, I flung the overpowering, aromatic rug away and gasped for unspoiled air. Hacking and spitting in an attempt to clear my airways, I slowly regained my composure and my footing. Priscilla was the only one to witness my self-induced asthma attack, and was kind enough to withhold her laughter. Picking up the rug, she took it outside, shook it briskly and hung it in the crisp fall air for the rest of the day.

Navajo Rug by Pauline Deswudt
Paulina, Pauline & Pauletta @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

As my thoughts wondered, Pauletta and Pauline gazed at me with a questioning air while Paulina played lovingly with the stuffed sheep. As these thoughts coursed through my brain, I smiled inwardly at the bold audacity of this young weaver. I thought for a moment, then calmly spoke to Pauletta, telling her that I too thought she should have the opportunity to travel to Miami. Unfortunately, I explained, I was not in a position to pay for the entire trip in one fell swoop. I told her I was willing to buy her rugs throughout the winter, at a fair price, and together we would accomplish her worthy goals.

Pauletta, Pauline, and even young Paulina seemed satisfied with the arrangement, so it did not take long to finalize agreeable terms for her weaving. Looking down at the wide eyed innocence of Paulina, I took a dollar from the cash register and gave it to her. I advised Paulina to start saving now for her senior trip, which would make it easier on both of us. From that day forth, in an attempt to get her to Miami, we have purchased Pauletta's weavings for slightly more than they might otherwise bring. Every time she walks in the door with her agreeably fragrant rugs, she smiles her mischievous, crooked smile and says; "I'm going to Miami, I need $2.000.00 for my rug! And Paulina is looking for another dollar.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wanda and the Fish Necklaces

When Blue Mountain Trading Post opened in 1976, the Simpson family was still relatively naive about Indian trading. For a few years prior to that, we had been selling Navajo turquoise and silver jewelry in the small filling station we ran just south of Blanding and from our mobile home, which was located immediately behind the business. When we began leasing the service station, we had about $200.00 in cash and owed $200.00, so we were essentially bankrupt. As Duke explained it at the time, “We were broke flatter than a popcorn fart.”

The Fisherman
Barry, Duke & Steve Simpson @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

As children, we never really knew how difficult the financial situation was. Duke made sure there was food on the table, and Rose was relentless when it came to keeping us properly scrubbed and dressed. Rose would remind us that we had to keep ourselves clean and neat, even if we had only one shirt and one pair of trousers. It was, however, never that bad; Levi's, sneakers and freshly pressed shirts were in adequate supply.

When we needed a quarter for swimming or a half-dollar to see a movie, Duke would put us to work, to, “teach us the value of money.” After inquiring into the specifics of the request, he would say something like, “Okay, my work boots need to be oiled.” By the time we retrieved his shoes, the necessary coins would be rattling around inside.

At the service station, Duke and Rose were constantly searching for new ways to supplement their modest revenue stream. Candy, chips and soda pop were clearly not the solution, because no matter how hard they tried, Duke and Rose could not stop the leakage. If they interrogated Craig, Barry and me about the missing inventory, we never had a satisfactory explanation.

When Duke hit on the idea of selling turquoise and silver jewelry, he must have though it was a masterstroke. Craig, Barry and I could not eat or drink it, and we surely would not think of pawning the bracelets, rings and necklaces for a little quick cash at Hunt’s, the local trading post and pawnshop. Craig and Barry were slow learners, and I was too young to be that innovative; consequently Duke’s cash flow improved.

As time went on and our sales increased, Duke realized he had to begin traveling a little to supplement the local supply. Eventually he found his way to Running Bear in Gallup, New Mexico, where, in addition to Navajo jewelry, he might find Zuni and Hopi artwork. There, he could select from a wide variety of handmade items for a modest premium over their original cost.

In the early part of his hunting and gathering explorations, Duke liked to go by himself. When he returned with his treasures, we would often scratch our heads in wonder, inquiring what had motivated him to buy certain things. “Why did you buy that?” we would ask in thinly veiled disgust. He would just smile and say, “Don’t worry, it will sell.”

One day Barry and I had a day off from school, so we put the bite on Duke to take us with him. Rose supported the request, so Barry and I piled into the truck, placed our noses firmly against the windshield and headed south with Duke. When we arrived at Running Bear, we were a bit surprised by what we found. Jerry, the proprietor, was just getting started, so his business consisted of an extremely small storefront with an approximately twelve by twelve foot vault. The vault was stacked from floor to ceiling with rings, necklaces, bracelets, fetishes and other types of Native American jewelry.

It was not the art, however, that captured our attention. Manning the vault was Wanda, the most buxom, vivacious woman Barry and I had ever met. To say she stopped our hearts would be an understatement; she absolutely enchanted us.

As Barry and I stood transfixed by Wanda’s wild beauty, our hearts thumping in our chests, Wanda began taking things from the shelves to show Duke. Casually, Duke would say, “Yes, that looks good. We’ll take it.” Then, smooth as silk, Wanda reached over and pulled two fish necklaces from the wall and, draping them diagonally across her chest, said to Duke, “Aren’t these lovely?”

I did not have the strength to object, and, looking sidelong at my stricken sibling, I could see Barry was in no shape to help. “Yes, we’ll take those too,” Duke said. Jerry just stood next to Wanda, smiling and knowingly nodding his head. These were obviously not the first fish necklaces they had unloaded.

When we got home, Rose began inspecting the purchases. Holding up the fish, she inquired, “Why did you buy these?” Barry and I just smiled and said, “Oh, don’t worry, they’ll sell.”

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Pauline Deswudt
Navajo Weaver Pauline Deswudt

The trading post was fairly busy with tourists, locals and a Mormon missionary couple when I heard the entry chimes go off again. Looking up to see who it was, I winced because I instantly recognized Pauline Deswudt. Pauline weaves very nice hand spun rugs, and is one of the toughest negotiators in the Indian art world. What I did not need at that particular moment was an audience while dealing with Pauline. I knew for a fact that she would use any and every advantage to make a deal swing in her favor. I also knew that working out a fair value for the weaving stowed in Pauline's Blue Bird flower sack was going to take time and concentrated effort. I walked over to Pauline and asked if she would give me a few minutes to help the customers. Pauline smiled and said she would.

I went back to work, hoping Steve and Priscilla would soon return from a meeting with the cafe managers and help me disperse the crowd. I was achieving fairly good success with the customers, helping them find what they were interested in and sending them back out into the gorgeous fall afternoon sunlight laden with turquoise and silver. As I worked, I noticed that Pauline and the missionaries were engaged in animated conversation. I groaned inwardly as she unveiled the storm pattern rug to the couple and began to explain its creation and meaning. Pauline caught me spying on her; I could see a twinkle in her eye and knew I was in trouble.

Before long, the crowd dwindled down to Pauline, the missionaries and me. I chatted for a moment with the missionary couple; they were very pleasant and told me to go ahead and take care of Pauline. "Great," I thought, "they were now on a first name basis with the woman I was preparing to negotiate with." I needed a distraction. Where were Steve and Priscilla? The missionaries told me they were hoping to look around the store while waiting to meet someone. I could tell they were curious how I would treat their new friend. Pauline rolled out her rug, and with great humor in her countenance, quoted a price double the regular rate.

In April of 1880, the Mormon settlers first struggled into this unaccommodating river valley and collapsed upon the red sand in frustration and fatigue. This devout group of rugged individuals were on a mission for their church. Simply put, they were sent by Brigham Young to expand the church's horizons, and bring the Book of Mormon to the Lamanites, (Native people), The stated philosophy was to be as unobtrusive as possible while proving the value the Mormon culture. When Brigham Young Jr. finally released the Bluff Saints from their calling, most of the families moved north to slightly greener pastures in Blanding and Monticello. Some left the country completely, vowing never to return to such a forlorn and desolate land, leaving Bluff in the hands of the heathens.

The point is that descendants of every Mormon family that ever resided in Bluff, and some that never did, still lay a serious emotional claim to our fair city, and an enduring, often times zealous, social responsibility towards her Native peoples. Pauline, the missionary couple and I were all very familiar with the past, present and future ramifications of what was happening right here and now, and one of us was taking advantage of the situation. I was in no mood to get "crosswise" with the religious right over a simple rug deal, nor was I in the mood to be the butt end of a joke either.

With a tortured smile plastered across my lips, I quietly told Pauline that there was no way in Hell that I was going to pay twice the regular price for her weaving. Pauline laughed out loud at my uncomfortable predicament, the missionary couple, nonchalantly, moved in closer to better hear the conversation, and I began to sweat. I could see where an unfortunate misunderstanding could arise from this particular circumstance. I was probably overreacting, but one can never be too cautious when it comes to political or religious fallout. I had to consider that my darling Mormon bride, a descendent of the original bishop of Bluff, "Brother Jens" no less, might take exception to an ideological misstep on my part. Pauline could see the deer in the headlights look in my eyes, and quickly pressed her advantage. "Please!" she said piteously, "I really need the money!"

Navajo Rug by Pauline Deswudt
Handspun Navajo Rug

The sister missionary had seen and heard enough, she clutched her purse, determined, I am sure, to give Pauline whatever currency was contained therein. The brother restrained his wife and bodily moved her across the store, mumbling something about nonintervention. I was a bit taken aback by his overly generous gesture; Pauline looked surprised as well and slightly guilty. Seeing a way out of the corner I had been painted into, I was about to tell the couple that they were more than welcome to purchase the rug directly from Pauline; it was fine with me! At that moment, a bright eyed young man in a black suit and a name tag poked his head in the door, located the couple and said, "Sorry we're late, we can go now!" The missionary couple quickly exited the building.

Focusing in on Pauline I said; "Darn your dry Navajo sense of humor, you could have had me black balled from Bluff. " "I know," laughed Pauline, "that's what makes it so funny!" Pauline must have felt sorry for me after that, because, without further debate, she quoted the price we both knew the rug was worth in the first place. I wrote her a check and she departed, still chuckling to herself at the joke she had pulled off at my expense. From that day forth, I have made a point of never mixing business with religion and Pauline.

With warm regards,

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bridge Beads

“How long are you going to wear those,” Jana asked when she noticed I had recently begun wearing two strands of cedar berry beads around my neck. “I’m not sure,” I responded, knowing full well that the look in her eye was one of uncertainty, and possible fear. It was obvious she was concerned that this seemingly slight change in apparel might signal a much larger problem. A reversion to the freewheeling 1960s was clearly weighing heavy on her mind. Barry readily acknowledged that he also had serious concerns. As for me, I was thinking on a more personal level.

Cedar Berry Bead Maker Alfonzo James

Jana and Barry were wondering whether the necklaces indicated some kind of sea change, and hoping it was just another attempt to get their attention. The 60s be damned, psychedelic posters, love beads and lava lamps had no place in the trading post as far as they were concerned; that was too far from traditional trading for them to accept.

Now, in all fairness, I was a little too young to have felt the full impact of the 60s. When the Simpson family moved to the Bay Area of California in 1967, I learned of San Francisco, Height-Ashbury and wearing flowers in your hair. For the most part, however, that decade passed me by without so much as a ripple. To me, free love meant getting a kiss from mom, and getting high involved climbing tall trees or scampering up the steep sandstone cliffs embracing Bluff.

The cedar berry necklaces I had recently acquired are variously known as ghost beads, sweet dream beads or, as I recently learned, balance beads. The traditional thought is that they chase away bad dreams and let you sleep in peace. One newly developed theory is that they lend a certain equilibrium to your life. As with many Navajo beliefs, this one is constantly evolving.

Although they do, in some ways, resemble the love beads of the 60s, cedar berry beads have a deeper heritage. Older Navajos would often put cedar berries in their mouths while walking at night. The berries were believed to ward off the bad spirits that skulk about in the darkness. Today, a few local Navajo people make their living stringing and selling the beads to tourists. The necklaces are extremely simple in construction; just strands of colored seed beads interspersed with cedar berries. Barry and I have been buying the necklaces for years to give as gifts to little girls who wander through the store.

Recently a progressive young Navajo man named Alfonzo James strode into the trading post with a slightly different, more simple design. Instead of the standard double strand with a tassel on the bottom, Alfonzo and his mother decided a single strand of beads was more aesthetically pleasing, cut production and labor costs in half and garnered the same revenue stream. Their simplified design is a testament to Navajo ingenuity and confirmation of the concept that simple is best.

Being a very broad-minded and driven young man, Alfonzo, while trying to convince me to purchase his entire inventory of about 400 sets, explained that his mother, with his assistance, made the beads to support his desire to obtain a degree in international business. He had recently returned from an educational trip to China, and was eager to generate the cash flow necessary to finance his next trip to Egypt.

Alfonzo expressed a desire to expand his travel plans and eventually transfer to a larger university where he can finalize his degree. Selling the beads is an integral part of his overall business plan. As we talked about his latest trip, Rose walked into the store, overheard the conversation and began sharing her China experiences with Alfonzo. “Did you go to Tiananmen Square? Did you see the terra cotta soldiers in Shaanxi province? Did you eat Peking duck? Did you visit the Forbidden City?” For the next half hour Rose and Alfonzo stood toe to toe, excitedly firing questions at each other. Having discovered a fellow traveler, both were in a heightened state of adventure; reliving their similar exploits.

It was then that I realized Alfonzo’s beads represent a powerful connection between our Anglo and Navajo cultures, a bridge allowing Alfonzo to experience the world on his own terms and a means for Barry and me to help Alfonzo realize his dreams. It was also then that we began referring to the necklaces as bridge beads; a vehicle for change.

In spite of Barry and Jana’s concerns about my new attire, and its potential effects on the trading post, there is no immediate crisis on the horizon. The psychedelic 60s are safely stowed in the past, although, from time to time, mom still gives me a little free love, Grange is now getting high on the cliffs and Kira has a new lava lamp.

To learn more about how you can help save the Bluff Swinging Bridge click here!

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 9, 2006


Navajo Ceremonial Baskets
Navajo Ceremonial Baskets

The young French couple stood across the counter from me, studying a small ceremonial basket with intense concentration. They had asked to see the weaving a few minutes earlier, then, in halting English, asked if I would explain its significance in Navajo culture. It does not take much to get me talking about the depth of meaning associated with ceremonial baskets, so, before I knew it, I was overwhelming them with information. The young woman seemed to understand better than her mate and soon formed an attachment to the weaving and its metaphorical significance.

The gentleman was not so easily sold, he continued to stall and ask questions; seemingly uncertain about spending his hard earned Francs on the basket. The mademoiselle patiently listened to his questions and my explanations for a few minutes longer, then quietly intervened. Placing her hand on his, which held the basket , she said " C'est Magique!" He looked into his sweetheart's eyes, understood her passion and relented on the spot. As they walked out the door with their new treasure, I thought to myself,
"She is right, it was magic!"

Maybe it is the time of year that makes me think of supernatural occurrences and their associated paraphernalia. The apple-crisp autumn mornings, warm harvest gold sunlit days and lingering nighttime hours packed with brilliant diamondesque star-filled skies are mystical. Our sunrises and sunsets glow ominously with wide ranging variations of blood red and pumpkin orange light enhanced by smudged black, smoke-like cloud patterns. The trees are losing their leaves and taking on a more skeletal, primordial appearance. Crazy-weird, chaotic weather patterns affirm the struggle between summer's tenacious warmth and the cold frosts of winter, adding to the magical feel of the season.

Navajo ceremonial baskets speak of an awakening of consciousness, life lessons, morality tales, connections to ancestors, family relations and visions of a bright and positive, progressive future. All this, contained in a tightly woven, specifically patterned plaque that is an essential element in all ceremonies led by a Hataalii or Medicine Man. Ceremonial baskets are woven of sumac, a sacred plant that provides healing sensations to the weaver and strength and durability to the basket.

Mother Earth is known to absorb all energy, whether positive or negative, and reflect it back to the world of humans in an uplifting, widely dispersed, nourishing manner. She allows only the ceremonial basket to momentarily neutralize her powers, giving the singer time to re-create a healing ceremony and redirect that energy directly into the patient. Magic? Yes, for those who believe!

Medicine Man John Holiday
Navajo Medicine Man John Holiday

I have always held an affinity for Navajo ceremonial baskets; I believe it came at an early age. When they ran a filling station in Bluff during the 1950s, our parents traded gas and oil for baskets; there were stacks of them placed about our home, in corners, under the beds and on high shelves. Duke and Rose still have some of those same weavings; treasures they lovingly associate with weavers, traders and ceremonies long ago re-assimilated into the bosom of Mother Earth. Due to these woven mementos of the past, those ceremonies are gone but not forgotten .

I am sure we will always want to carry Navajo ceremonial baskets at the trading post. As long as they are available to us, we will make them available to others. Ceremonial baskets are exemplary ambassadors for Navajo tradition and culture. A simple, circular step pattern woven with splits of red, black and white sumac portrays the basic, essential elements of a dissipating belief system. The Navajo have a unique, agriculturally based culture that has served them well for possibly thousands of years. Science has caused many of those once loyal to those beliefs to question their viability. Progressive thinking is natural and beneficial, but the old culture and tradition should also be remembered and respected; it also has much value. If ceremonial baskets can aid in the cause, that is indeed magical.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Thoughts on the Construction and Destruction of Bridges

The San Juan River Swinging Bridge by Bluff, Utah.

An individual is defined by the bridges he builds and maintains. The most important bridges are not necessarily those that span great rivers or chasms; it is often the smaller, less well known structures that bind or bring diverse people together which make the greatest contributions.

My mind is crowded with fond memories of bridges I have successfully traversed, and regrets for the ones I failed to properly navigate or carelessly burned along the way. Songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water and excerpts from The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller enter and exit my brain at the most unexpected times, reminding me that I must proceed cautiously when life delivers me to a new crossing.

Bridges have played an extremely important part in my life, so it was with great reluctance that I drove to the edge of the cliff just east of Bluff to view the status of the Swinging Bridge. This structure has for several decades connected our small, mostly Anglo, community on the north side of the San Juan River to the vastness of the Navajo Nation on the south. It had been rumored that the bridge was down, and I needed to see for myself.

Tourists and townspeople had both informed me that the Swinging Bridge was desperately clinging to its moorings, and that it simply did not have a chance of survival. I wondered what this would mean to the Navajo people, and how we, the residents of Bluff, would take our friends and families to visit the small Ancient Puebloan ruin located on the south side of the river.

The bridge’s origins are shrouded in mystery, and nobody seems to know exactly who built it or when. The most likely scenario is that it was constructed in the 1950s by an oil company to allow the enterprise’s Navajo employees easier access to the fields located near Montezuma Creek and Aneth. One thing is sure, the bridge has been an integral part of the community for many, many years.

The San Juan River Swing Bridge broken apart by Bluff, Utah.

As I turned off the paved road onto the dirt path that runs to the cliff overlooking the river, I could hear the generator of an oil pump popping loudly in the distance, its echo bouncing off the cliffs and rattling around the valley. Similarly, memories of my experiences on the bridge ricocheted through my head.

Looking back, I remembered Duke and Rose shepherding their young, expansive brood carefully across the span, over the twisting path and up the precipitous slope to the ruin, which is variously referred to as Sixteen House and Canyon del Echo. It was only a few months ago that I had taken Kira and Grange along that same route and enjoyed a gloriously sunny day digging in the dirt as the kids scrambled from rock to rock laughing and shouting.

Sitting in the sandy bottom of a small wash as my two renegades ran wild, I remembered the first time I rode a bicycle across the cable and plank structure; recollected teetering from side to side, wondering whether the bike and I would end up splashing into the San Juan; and relived the satisfaction of successfully reaching the other side.

Climbing out of the car to make the short walk to the overlook, I felt my emotions rise. What would I find? As it turned out, the rumors were correct, the old gal was partially submerged; lying on her side in the muddy river and accumulating a collection of debris that may eventually pull her downstream in a tangle of cable, cut boards and wire.

Can she be saved? Only time will tell. Many people speak of lawyers and lawsuits. “Nobody wants to take responsibility because of the potential liability,” they say. Fear of attorneys and our incomprehensible machinations and indecipherable vocabulary may doom the bridge. We all need to remember, however, that lawyers were children once too; that many of us know the value of building and maintaining quality bridges; and that a functioning, well maintained bridge is a truly wondrous thing.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Of Monuments and Markers

It was my studious son who reintroduced me to the literary genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Spens is taking an English literature class from Mr. Nielson and had been assigned to unravel the mysteries of Hawthorne's The Minister's Black Veil. All I could remember about the tale was that an early American preacher had curtained himself off from reality, forsaken quality of life, abandoned love and died a lonely, misunderstood martyr; or something to that effect.

Twin Rocks Trading Post
Twin Rocks Trading Post in Bluff, Utah.

Spenser's mother sent him to me, claiming her high school home work duties centered around higher math, science, social skills and hygiene, not literature. She said it was my job to interpret indecipherable metaphor. Laurie told our son that I was somewhat skilled at creating semi-believable missives and might be able to help him bluff his way through this assignment. Spenser was frustrated by the subtleties Hawthorne had so skillfully woven throughout his message, so, putting aside his skepticism, Spenser asked me for help.

Approaching the story with an open mind, I completed it with disillusionment. Looking at Spens, I shook my head in frustration and told him all I had gotten from the story was that Mr. Hooper was a NUT; he had passed up a babe to make a statement that no one wanted to hear or see for that matter. "Well, that was helpful," said my cynical son, "With that interpretation, I'll be sure to get an A." "No worries little dude," I said, "Mr. Nielson and I played high school football together; we are tight. Just remind him of our glorious past and you will score big." Spenser sat back, viewed me with an amused air and said, "Yeah, I heard about that. Mr. Nielson told me to never speak of it; something about the sins of the father possibly causing the son a great deal of grief!'

Having failed miserably at evaluating the scholarly mindset of the past and present, I wandered off to ponder my personal reality. I sat down at the computer hoping to dial-up the internet and tap into an educated interpretation of just what the heck Hawthorne was trying to say. I hoped that with a little insight into the author's logic, I might redeem myself in my son's eyes. I googled Nathaniel Hawthorne and came up with twelve thousand some odd hits. The first highlighted listing was titled The Ambitious Guest. I have very little patience for filtering through internet listings, so I clicked on the first entry and began to read.

What I found in this story, contrary to a overly zealous dude parading around in a black veil, was something I could personally relate to. The story of The Ambitious Guest tells of a closely-knit family in the business of serving travelers. What struck me most was the similarity between this historical family and ours. In the introductory paragraph, Hawthorne writes, "They had found the 'herb, heart's-ease,' in the bleakest spot of all New England. This family was situated in the Notch of the White Hills, where the wind was sharp throughout the year, and pitilessly cold in the winter, giving their cottage all its fresh inclemency before it descended on the valley of the Saco. They dwelt in a cold spot and a dangerous one; for a mountain towered above their heads, so steep, that the stones would often rumble down its sides and startle them at midnight."

Substitute Bluff, Utah for New England, sharp wind for red wind and cold for hot and you have the Simpson family and Twin Rocks Trading Post. In the third paragraph of the story, I was again struck by the similarity of our situations. "Though they dwelt in such a solitude, these people held daily converse with the world," Hawthorne wrote. We too are privileged to share refreshing moments with a culturally diverse mix of friends and visitors on a daily basis. The unique introduction we receive to the outside world via our guests provides us a familiarization, communication and education few can claim in such an isolated environment; a treasure indeed.

In Hawthorne's story, a passionate young guest finds warmth and simplicity of spirit in the New England family. As time goes on, he opens his heart and expresses his dreams to them. The youth's secret is a desire to find personal satisfaction in life and to leave a legacy of honor and glorious substance that future generations will recognize long after his death. It is his wish that he not, "pass from his cradle to his tomb with none to recognize him." The story was too close to the bone for me to ignore; I was enthralled and read on.

"As yet," cried the stranger--his cheek glowing and eye flashing with enthusiasm--"as yet, I have done nothing. Were I to vanish from the earth to-morrow, none would know so much of me as you: that a nameless youth came up at nightfall from the valley of the Saco, and opened his heart to you in the evening, and passed through the Notch by sunrise, and was seen no more. Not a soul would ask, 'Who was he? Whither did the wanderer go?' But I cannot die till I have achieved my destiny. Then, let Death come! I shall have built my monument!"

The adults of the family were drawn into the conversation, they spoke of opportunities lost and desires unfulfilled, but also of unsuspected twists and turns in life's road. Looking upon their children, the bounty of their harvest, they found themselves happy to have declined more worldly desires. The general consensus was contentment and happiness. The heart of Hawthorne's message, for me, was the youth's concluding statement. "There now!" exclaimed the stranger, "It is our nature to desire a monument, be it slate or marble, or a pillar of granite, or a glorious memory in the universal heart of man."

Hawthorne states, "Every domestic circle, should still keep a holy place where no stranger may intrude." Yet in his story, the writer found a way for the reader to witness the innermost wishes and desires of an intimate group. Their dream of leaving behind a monument to their existence became extremely personal. Because of the parallel lifestyles, dwelling places and desires to leave a lasting memory, I longed to know that the family had achieved their lofty goal

Alas, this was not to be. The sacred mountain towering above their heads let loose a thundering, scouring landslide that ended any hope of future recognition for this thoughtful and conscientious group. Each and every one of them was brutally interred among the rock and rubble, not a trace of their existence remained. Looking up at the towering twin spires of rock and faulty mortar above our humble heads now makes me terribly nervous. I fear that any positive mark we might desire to leave upon this earth may be reduced to a stain upon the sandstone. What a dreadful thought!

With a great deal of thoughtful consideration, I solved our dilemma. I have left instruction with my wife and children that if the cliffs surrounding our romantic and dangerous place of business release their tenuous grasp and entomb us, we are to be left as we are. They have been instructed to simply place a plaque upon the largest stone stating that here lie a goodly number of the Simpson clan. We will then have achieved our dream of a spectacular grave site and monument to our dubious trust in the stability of sandstone. With this solution we may obtain posthumous satisfaction. I apologize in advance to anyone else caught in the landslide, but, in this case, the needs of the few are greater than those of the many. Rock on!

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Grange on the Rocks

Fall was settling in, and it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Two suicidal deer had elected to stand their ground as Jana hurled the Travelin’ Van towards Dinosaur National Monument, so she and the kids were marooned at home for a few weeks after a good start to their big adventure.

Grange Simpson

As I sat on the porch next to the house above the trading post, reading the latest installment of Newsweek magazine, I was fascinated by the afternoon sunlight playing on the cliffs. Anna Quindlen’s most recent column was about, “[T]hat sense of waking up in the morning and thinking there may be good things ready to happen.” She expressed a great deal of concern over how that excitement gets lost in the incessant cautionary remarks we feel compelled to dispatch our children’s way.

In the background, I could, from time to time, hear rocks rolling down the talus slope. Lately Grange had become obsessed with scrambling up and down the slope between the trading post and the cliffs. Every time I went looking during the past week, I had found him crawling over the boulders behind the house. Although I had cautioned Grange not to roll the stones towards the buildings, his sense of adventure quite often overwhelmed my remarks; so the rocks kept rolling.

As Anna Quindlen educated me about teaching kids “Love of life,” an internal debate raged inside me. Should I re-advise Grange to stop, or should I let him enjoy himself? He could not move stones large enough to do any real damage, so I chose to let let him continue. For a long time it was quiet, so I assumed Grange had merely found something else to distract him. After about a half hour, I heard his voice, “Kira [pause]. Kira [long pause]. Kira, look at me.”

Steve on the Twin Rocks
Steve going up the Twin Rocks in Bluff, Utah.

By this time I was curious, so I extracted myself from the chair and walked behind the house. Grange had somehow managed to climb the almost vertical cliffs and was sitting at the base of the Twin Rocks, smiling like the Cheshire-Cat. My heart leapt into my throat as I envisioned him tumbling off the tall cliffs. In my youth, I had known someone who had done exactly that, and, although she survived, she was never quite the same.

The next instant my mind flashed back four decades, and I remembered myself sitting in almost that exact location. When we were Grange’s age, Craig, Barry and I had climbed these same cliffs hundreds of times without fear or fall. As I shouted up to him, “Just sit down; don’t move,” I imagined Anna saying, “Careful, don’t destroy his adventurous spirit.” So as I laced on my shoes to climb up to him, I knew I had to proceed carefully and let him enjoy his success, but teach him to stay safe. Anna’s comments had come at a convenient time.

steve and grange on the Twin rocks
Steve & Grange on the Twin Rocks.

Following a route I knew well from my youth, I was amazed how much more difficult the climb had become. Probably some geologic shift I assured myself. As I carefully picked my way to his level, Grange peered over an outcropping; on his face was a colossal smile. He was obviously proud of himself, and I was extremely proud of him too.

For the next two hours, we boulder-hopped, chimney-climbed, found “valuable” quartz crystals and investigated small caves. I was amazed that Grange showed so many of the same emotions I remembered feeling when I was his age exploring these cliffs. As we got ready to descend, I asked him to sit down next to me near the edge. He gave me a questioning glance as I placed both feet on a large rock and began to push. As the boulder crashed to the ground, he laughed with delight. “That one was obviously going to fall soon, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t fall on anyone,” I lied. The next day, a longtime trading post visitor stopped by to see what was new. “Hey,” he said, “did you see those two kids pushing rocks off the cliff yesterday? Very dangerous.” I just smiled and thought about the love of life.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Power Is In The Ritual

As I stood at the counter of the trading post hurriedly adding strips of packing tape to a boxed order I needed to ship, I began to worry that I would miss my deadline. Dave the UPS driver would be arriving any minute, and I needed to send this package with him that day. So I was a little preoccupied when our friend Austin poked his head in the door and declared, "The Power is in the Ritual!" Looking up at my thoughtful friend, I said the first thing that came to my mind. "No . . . the Power is in the Woman; at least the women in my house!"

Design by Damian Jim

Austin gave me a frustrated, "How can you be so dense" look, and moved towards me in his sliding, shuffle-like manner. Austin is a poet and thinker; he is forever planting seeds of thought in my mind, hoping they will germinate and bear fruit. On that day it seemed Austin was serious about his well-considered opinion and wanted me to understand it as well. Unfortunately for Mr. Lyman, I was in an antagonistic mood. I assured him I was thoroughly aware of the meaning of my words and had often considered the implications of a coup, but decided it was more prudent to leave matters of state to more experienced individuals.

Austin placed his palms flat on the glass counter in front of me to emphasize his point and said, "I am talking about belief here, not issues of Mars and Venus!" Looking at Austin's hands on my newly polished display case, I said, "I believe I am going to have to clean this case again, because you are smudging my glass!" Over the years Austin has become acutely aware of our perturbing manner of altering the direction of simple conversations. I blame the problem on Steve, because I was not nearly as bad about practicing the craft before we started working together full time. Which of us is considered the worst, or best, at the art is a matter of debate, or misdirected comment as it were.

Austin shook his head in frustration, and said he did not have time for such nonsense, but thought the message was important for me to consider. He made me write the quote on a scrap of paper and swear an oath to at least think about it. As Austin headed out the door, I sent him a parting shot, saying that I had often cussed, most vehemently, concerning my household power struggle, but other than a short-lived sense of gratification from swearing openly, I had received no significant long-term satisfaction. Austin gave me a hostile look and said, "I' know exactly what you mean".

That darn note and the intense look of frustration on Austin's face have been floating around my desk and mind for months now. Much like one of McKale's morning ditties that I cannot get out of my head the rest of the day, Austin's comment was firmly implanted in my memory. I have thought about his statement a lot over the last few months and have tried to focus on just what he meant. I assume he was speaking of the Navajo people and the ceremonies they practice in order to heal themselves of all manner of ailments.

Since there are few scientifically qualified medications used in these ceremonies, there must be something more the medicine men draw on to bring about relief. I once spoke with an evangelist who swore he had helped bring about the cure of a young woman suffering from an advanced case of incurable breast cancer. This energetic and outspoken individual said he had asked a crowd of 20,000 people to come together and focus their love, prayers and hope on this young woman in order to heal her. According to the preacher, the young lady is alive and well 20 years later and claims that one night of high-powered, highly concentrated energy cleansed her of the disease.

Navajo ceremonial practice has been well documented over the past century. Everything I have ever read on the subject indicates that belief and participation are the key to the cure. In the old days, whenever a ceremony was conducted every individual in the surrounding country attended; often several thousand people would show up. It was thought that residual healing occurred in those who participated as well. The patient was not the only one who benefited from the ceremonial act; the medicine man, the participants directly involved and those simply observing were also healed. All one had to do was believe wholeheartedly to give and partake of the benefits.

Since Austin first intruded into my consciousness, he has caused me to read a number of books on traditional and nontraditional healing practices. My personal interpretation points to the belief that one must truly embrace the ritual in order to realize a positive outcome. It seems the human mind has the ability to convince the body that it can evict any and all poisons, toxins or disease by simply having faith in the power of ceremonial practice. Myth, magic or smoke and mirrors aside, the power of the mind is an awesome medicinal tool.

The more people I speak with on the subject, the more convinced I am that Austin was right; the power is in the ritual. Not only in the tradition of the Navajo, but in most or all other cultures as well. When people get together to practice ritualistic tradition and focus their positive energy amazing results occur. I am sure there is much more to learn on the subject, and I look forward to getting into belief and ritual on deeper levels. It seems that as human beings we are all connected on one level or another; community, ritual and tradition provide us a sense of emotional belonging and empower us to heal ourselves and others in mysterious ways. I concede Austin's subject matter was worth looking into, but next time he's polishing the glass.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Harley, But Not Davidson

A few years ago, probably about the time I turned 40, I remember a group of people who seemed of similar age roaring into the trading post parking lot on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Although I had never really been taken by that particular mode of transportation, I began wondering how it would be to tour the country on one.

Steve & Harley at Twin Rocks Trading Post
Steve & Harley @ Twin Rocks Trading post

When Jana arrived at the store a few hours later, I said, “Hey, I’m thinking about getting a Harley . . . and a tattoo.” Although I anticipated biting commentary about mid-life crises, trading her in for two 20s and budgetary constraints, I was fully unprepared for her response. “Okay,” she calmly said, “but you better get two, because I’m not riding behind you.” I have never again concerned myself with motorcycles, tattoos or 20 year olds.

There is, however, a Harley that has meant a great deal to me. It has been a long time since Harley and I first met, and the facts of our initial encounter are a little fuzzy in my mind, but, to paraphrase Collin Raye, this is my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

It must have been the summer of 1990 when I first spied the cream colored Ford Mustang slowly creeping around town. The car was not one that had been renovated, restored or reconditioned; it was original, right down to the missing hubcaps and dented fenders. Being a child of the sixties and seventies, that type of thing was sure to capture my attention, although the condition of the aging pony did not hold it long enough for me to notice the old codger at the wheel.

It was another year or so before I noticed the car turning into the driveway of the trading post. A spirited man, who looked to be in his early seventies, pushed open the driver’s side door and came trudging up the stairs. He was dressed in a worn yellow button front shirt, cut-off blue jeans with strings hanging down and black Chuck Taylor Hi Top sneakers. His hair was casually combed to one side and his beard unshaven. All in all, he looked like a vagabond.

Did I know a local acquaintance of his, the gentleman inquired shortly after entering the store. “Yes,” I assured him, “I have known him since I was a kid.” “Okay,” he said and, after looking about for a short time, abruptly turned and walked out. As he left, I could not help wondering if he already knew of my tortured relationship with the patron saint of Bluff, and whether his inquiry was really an inquisition.

As it turned out, that is exactly what it was, but I would have to wait another year to discover the truth. The following summer, Harley’s battered Mustang once again rolled into the lot. Once again, he crawled out wearing the same worn yellow shirt, cut-offs and Chuck Taylors. Once again, his hair was mussed and his beard unkempt.

He was a retired lawyer from San Francisco and had been coming to Bluff for a month every summer since I was still in short pants, he informed me. The acquaintance he had asked about the previous year was his friend, and Harley knew all about the small town intrigues that were involved. I think the politics of this little village fascinated him, and my role in it was under investigation.

As we began to explore each other, I learned that he had purchased his Mustang in 1964, the first year they became available, and had driven the same car ever since. Harley and that old car had gone down many roads together. He was widely known and respected for his work in estate planning and he was well versed and extremely interested in world religions.

He was cranky and crotchety, but I loved it; probably because I fear that is my destiny and hope someone will spend a little time with me when I am his age and have developed his disposition. He and Barry struggled to find common ground. Initially, Barry could not endure his critical comments, and Harley was often critical. He was more often congenial, polite, warm and well-mannered.

The first few years his visits lasted only an hour or so, and he would putter off to his other adventures, leaving me to ponder what he was really seeking. Year after year the discussions lengthened, until he began to arrive at 9:00 a.m. and leave promptly at 5:00 p.m.; “Cocktails,” he explained.

Hour after hour, day after day, he sat outside my office in a wooden chair made from two by four lumber. When I had a legal or grammatical question, and I had many, he always answered it clearly and concisely. At noon I would walk to the cafe, order two grilled cheese sandwiches and two iced teas and we would convene a picnic on the outside porch. The schedule and the menu rarely varied. Consistency was important to Harley.

I became accustomed to having him at my side for a month each year, he and Barry found common ground and we all learned to love him. He was ours; as odd and oddly independent as any of the rest of us. We claimed him as our own, and he became part of the trading post family.

We all wondered how such a bright, progressive man was able to survive a full month in the same clothes, and how he avoided becoming odorous; which he never was. I began to anticipate his annual visits and plan my schedule so I could spend time with him. I took him to Albuquerque with me during my brief stint as counsel of record in the ill-fated Native American tobacco litigation.

On our way back from New Mexico, I asked him to drive and he refused. I asked him a second time, advising him that I was extremely tired and that we might wind up in the ditch if he didn’t. He was steadfast. “No,” he said, “and don’t ask me again.”

Then he stopped coming. After two years, I received a call from his daughter, “frontal lobe dementia,” she pronounced it. “Has had it for years. It manifests itself in a cranky disposition, uncertain hygiene and an inability to process new experiences.” She said he could navigate the complexities of the trip from San Francisco to Bluff because he had done so for years, but driving down the block to a new market was impossible. Incredible, we thought, realizing that the eccentricities brought about by his illness were what irrevocably bound us to him.

Earlier this year Harley returned for a few days. This time however, he was in a motor home and confined to a wheel chair. As he crooked his finger at me and asked questions about the months we had spent together, the art of the trading and the people who buy and sell it, I was filled with affection for him. Isn’t it crazy that frontal lobe dementia has given us such an unforgettable gift?

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry & the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bird Logic

Cottonwood Tree in Bluff, Utah.
Cottonwood Tree in Bluff, Utah.

I silently stood at the base of the age old tree, trying to blend into the natural camouflage provided by the green, leafy canopy and filtered sunlight. Through the foliage and gnarled branches, the sky was a magnificent blue/white, with nary a cloud in sight. Where heaven and earth meet, the dramatic reddish orange, white capped cliffs that surround our small settlement stood out in sharp contrast. The image laid before me provided a visual feast for the eyes.

Leaving Steve and Priscilla to polish the glass and vacuum the red dust that had crept in during the wind gusts and brief but welcome rain shower the previous night, I had paused in my midmorning trading post duties to slip away for a moment and reacquaint myself with a treasured friend. Laying my hands on the interwoven and heavily textured bark and gazing skyward through her branches has always been a non-pharmaceutical form of stress relief therapy for me. Only a few minutes drive from our front doors stands this highly effective therapist that costs me only my time.

As I stood beside the tree, a dark cloud of small birds emerged from the riverbank. The sizable mass of feathered mayhem erratically darted in one direction and then another, as if guided by an unseen, drunken hand. A high pitched, chaotic blend of bird verbiage emanated from the fowl storm and wrecked the calm and peaceful atmosphere I was hoping to find. I thought for a moment the assemblage would pass me and my therapist by, but at the last minute the birds looped back and alighted, in mass, in my tree.

European Starling

Looking up into the black canopy forming in the cottonwood, I witnessed what I assumed to be an overwhelmingly large flock of Starlings. Those birds covered the tree thicker than hair on a bear, and the din they made was unbearable. Frowning up at the interlopers, I was about to let them know they were most unwelcome when, from the upper reaches of the tree, came a large, ominous drop of white rain. Sidestepping the assault, I realized I stood in harm's way when it came to being fertilized from above. It seemed the birds had something to say about me being there as well.

Feeling trapped and highly offended at the same time, I hugged the trunk of the tree and quickly relocated under one of its main branches. I should have simply walked away, but I was angry now; mad at these nasty natured neighbors and frustrated that my moment of solace had been snatched away by their intrusion. I cupped my hands and quickly clapped them together three times. The entire flock exploded into the air, as if triggered by a shotgun blast. At that exact moment, I learned a terrible lesson. It seems that frightened birds commonly "let loose" upon take off.

Cottonwood Tree in Bluff, Utah.
Cottonwood Tree in Bluff, Utah by Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The entire open space under that tree was whitewashed in a matter of moments. If I had not taken refuge below my protective branch, I too would have found myself turd and feathered. As it was, I stood mostly untouched. Counting myself extremely lucky, I decided it was time to return to work. Beating a hasty retreat away from my Cottonwood tree, I realized that nature really does not care much about human beings.

On my way back to the trading post, I had a few moments to ponder what had occurred and develop a few thoughts: first; the animal world probably figures they have been forced out of prime natural habitat far too often to feel sorry for their greedy, upright neighbors and will take a cheap shot if given the opportunity; secondly, it seems reasonable that if given the forum to vent their frustration they will do so without hesitation; and thirdly, there is no better way to make a point than to cause a stink about it. Lastly, and probably the most important point of all, as dear old Uncle Willy would say, "piss on 'em if they can't take a joke!"

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Slice of Santa Fe

The $12 drawing from Santa Fe
The $12 Santa Fe drawing

With the cooler weather and shorter days that edge us towards winter, it is now dark as I leave the house above the trading post to begin my morning cycling tours. If I am able to wake on time and if I ride hard to the top of White Mesa Hill, I crest the steep incline just as the sun breaks over the horizon between Sleeping Ute Mountain and Lone Cone. The expanding glow and receding shadows creeping across this broken, wild landscape make my heart pound faster than it otherwise might. In spite of my realization that I am completely inconsequential in comparison to the sunrise, the glistening light of a new day always makes me feel like a king.

As I spin north towards my turnaround point at the Mobil convenience store, the gears of the bicycle click up and down in a tightly synchronized choreography. Like the brain asking an arm or leg to respond, there is virtually no lag between request and response. Once in awhile, however, the bike stumbles into what can only be described as a time warp.

This wrinkle in time manifests itself in a momentary lapse between the instant my finger clicks the shifter and the derailleur moves the chain up or down the cluster to the appropriate gear, which causes my legs to spin without resistance. It is as though gravity has been suspended and there is no friction between the bicycle tire and the pavement. Temporarily, I float down the blacktop unhindered. The world stops and the bike is propelled forward as though sliding on a lubricated surface. Then the gears reengage, and I am left to wonder what it all means.

In vain I have searched the natural world for a similar experience. Then, a few weekends ago, I attended Indian Market in Santa Fe and found my comparable. As I wandered the streets of Old Town at 7:30 a.m., it struck me that I was feeling the same emotion I have when the bicycle gears disengage; a sense of floating, of being unencumbered.

For me, Santa Fe is unknowable. My internal compass cannot find any distinct magnetism to guide it. Although I have visited the city several times, it always confounds me. If I park my car in one location and conscientiously backtrack to that exact spot, I find the street where I left the vehicle has moved; generally south and west. My friends Carl and Leah discovered this unusual phenomenon when they trusted me to lead them from the Plaza back to my Subaru.

Thinking I could outsmart whomever was moving the streets, I had arrived early and selected a large parking lot that would not be difficult to relocate. I was, however, fooled once again. Carl and Leah patiently followed me round and round; their sense of hopelessness growing by the minute. Fortunately we ran across a seasoned Santa Fe traveler who had recently spotted the lot and was able to give us accurate directions.

Once my charges departed, thinking it may be wise to mark my path, I unsuccessfully searched the car for twine or bread. After a while, however, I convinced myself string and crumbs would make no difference. Due to the shifting nature of that land, and the inability of my biological compass to locate traditional markers, any signs I might leave would certainly lead me to yet another dead end.

My head began to spin as I wandered the streets of Santa Fe looking at all the newly created art. Trying to ground myself, I stopped by a few booths to speak with the artists about their work; it only made things worse. I began to feel slightly more settled when I located an emerging master who sold me her enchanting drawing for $12.00.

As I approached the table of Hopi potter Rondina Huma, however, an attractive couple dragging a handsome young lad stepped in front of me, throwing me off balance. “How much is that,” they quickly asked, indicating one of two small disk-shaped pots. “Eighteen Thousand Dollars,” came the direct, unemotional response. At that point, I am sure all of us felt the earth move, and I knew my car would once again prove impossible to find.

Back on the bicycle a few days later, I once again ran headlong into the Highway 191 time warp. This time, however, I had an explanation; a slice of Santa Fe had found its way to Bluff.

With warm regards,

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Inner Perceptions, Outer Reflections

The beauty, diversity and scenic elegance of the area surrounding our high desert home has, somehow, ingrained itself into my psyche. It seems that whenever I seek peace and quiet, and look for inner solace, I find myself lost in the landscape. I often envision myself sitting contentedly on a high mesa in the shadow of a slight, malformed juniper tree with just enough foliage to shade me from whatever the sky world might send my way.

Twin Rocks Modern Design Navajo Rug

I imagine myself reclining against a pockmarked, lichen-encrusted face of sandstone, deeply inhaling the aroma of the good earth and looking out across the landscape. In my mind, I witness a slightly out of focus watercolor world of flat topped mesas graduating in hue from rosy pink to deep purple, depending upon the distance they stand from my vantage point. Red rock canyons raggedly cut into the earth by eons of harsh red, scouring winds and scant but out of control bursts of rain water; stunted mountain ranges peppered with blue green smudges of juniper and pine on their flanks; and all sorts of oddly shaped bugaboos of sculpted rock are scattered about to add character and inanimate spice to the scenic menagerie.

I find parallels between the desert decor and the manner in which my brain interprets input. Whether it is unity I seek with the natural world, or simply a way to explain thought patterns which are otherwise indecipherable, as I gaze down into the maze of rock, sand and stunted vegetation, I realize a metamorphosis. The landscape helps me interpret my life and the myriad of emotion contained therein.

As with my Navajo neighbors, I see the world as directional, and associated with the color of the natural world. To the east, for example, I visualize purity and light, new beginnings, the birth of my children and the promise of a good, bountiful and productive life spread out before them. I also realize duty, because I am responsible for their presence here, I am honor-bound to prepare them to face that life with dignity, harmony and balance. With the glorious dawn and emergence of the Sun over this stark but multi-dimensional land, I see a promise for a brilliant future.

To the south, I see the depth of emotion surrounding my world. A deep blue warmth spreads through my being as I recognize the female form in the southern mountains and valleys. A productive area of artesian springs and fruitful lowlands spreading forth and holding at bay the harsh and rugged aspects of maleness pressing in from all sides. I visualize my wife working diligently at providing sustenance and comfort to her family, with very little thought of her own wants and needs. An opposite resides there that equalizes and combines to bring forth moderation and equality.

Through the valley, flanked by all manner of growth and energy, runs a red river symbolizing a life force greater than our own. It is a reminder of things we cannot explain or control, but must learn to accept and deal with on intangible terms. The river ebbs and flows, forever altering itself, showcasing different views to a wide and varied variety of humanity. Many interpret the flow to their own satisfaction, try to harness and tame it, claiming understanding. I see not one but many aspects of the river from my vantage point, and do not claim to totally understand any, but attempt to recognize all.

The west is a brilliant place with golden light, thoughtful meditation and hope. This landscape is older, more subtle and rounded, worn down by the ages but still full of wonder and promise. A comfortable region where the Sun rests at the end of each day, and where I must one day travel to find my own peace and answers to that which I struggle to understand in this earthly existence.

Behind me and to the north is a powerful place full of towering, desolate and frigid peaks accompanied by deep, dark, ominous valleys. I seldom gaze in this direction, because I fear it. Here is where I hold my aggression, the warrior in me dwells within this domain and is held at bay until needed. I realize that much caution and deliberation must be brought to bear before loosing one's personal beast. At times, this being can be extremely useful, but most often should be caged to prevent harm to oneself and others.

Twin Rocks Modern Design Rug

Also within this northerly fortress is contained overbearing emotion. Pain dwells here, also grief, sorrow and guilt; those feelings, which effect me most deeply, those which I recognize can destroy me from within. If left unfettered to ravage my psychological well-being, they render me useless; a negative influence on society instead of a positive force. I have noticed that I can never fully banish these emotions, but can learn from them and, hopefully, become a better human being from contemplating and recognizing their existence.

Overall the vantage point I mentally place myself on provides me with a more thoughtful perspective than simply wandering around aimlessly among the monuments. My high desert surroundings seem to absorb the negativity I naturally possess, and help me to focus positive energy. I realize there is much to know, but with the help of many diverse cultures and viewpoints I at least have a fighting chance at beginning to understand.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 7, 2006

You're Fired!

You are fired! With those words, my trading post career came to an abrupt and terrible end. The day began so promisingly; the sun was shining, birds were singing, Priscilla had come to work early and even grumpy old Barry was in a good mood. With all those indicators pointing in the right direction, I was sure things were going my way.

Steve Simpson @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

Recently I had been reading several self-help books, like How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to be a Big Daddy in Your Little Paddy. All my hard work was finally paying off; customers were smiling more, once in a while I got a friendly hug and I had even been mentioned as a candidate for Trader of the Year. Never mind that I was the only person promoting the nomination.

How could I have anticipated that before noon my life would be in ruins, I would have no visible means of purchasing milk for the children, my wife would be contemplating divorce and, worst of all, I could no longer call myself an Indian trader.

Now, to be perfectly honest, there have been times when I have questioned whether fate dealt me a bad hand by delivering me into this frontier town where most residents live for a good scuffle. Having put up with their bad moods for so long, however, I have become somewhat immune to the more temperamental inhabitants of this scruffy outpost.

Recently a friend described the people of Bluff as “survivors.” Scrappers and fighters were probably more appropriate terms. In spite of all that, day after day, I had come to the trading post with a smile on my face and a song in my heart; usually John Denver’s Sunshine on My Shoulder.

Tourists who asked questions that scrambled my brain and frazzled my senses, and neighbors who questioned my every action, were heartily embraced, or at least tolerated. I had worked hard to be patient with community members who threw ill-tempered fits when they disapproved of my projects. Had I been an oyster, I would have turned out strands of pearls by now. I am not, however, a shellfish. I was an Indian trader, and nothing else mattered.

Yes, I could buy baskets, rugs and folk art. Yes, I had been tempered by the fire of aggressive artists with ingenious schemes. Yes, I was beginning to understand the difference between Morenci, Blue Gem, Royston and Bisbee turquoise. And, most importantly, I had learned to spend more than I take in. Using a famous Winston Churchill quote as the basis for my fundamental philosophy, I had adopted the motto, “Never, Never, Never stay within your budget.” That, I had discovered, was the hallmark of a real trader.

It has been about 15 years since I have watched television at home. Because TV permeates society at every level, however, I have often heard about the series The Apprentice and Donald Trump’s legendary, “You’re fired.” You’re fired, humph, I had only been fired once. Well, technically twice, but I do not care to talk about that. With my new sensitivity training, I was convinced nobody would ever dismiss me again. No sir, not Donald Trump, not anybody.

Then destiny arrived in an unexpectedly small package. I was packaging a Ruby Growler sheep for my buddy Bevan and the first container I tried was too small. Priscilla graciously offered to go upstairs and get me a larger box. I smiled broadly, and, in my best Opie Griffith voice, said, “Yes, thank you, that would be swell.”

Fate walked into the trading post at 10:49 a.m., with an unassuming air. Clad in green camouflage capri fatigues and an Australian accent, she was a slightly disheveled woman with a disarming grin. “Good morning,” I said, with a smile I thought would charm even the most seasoned tourist. “Hello,” she pleasantly responded.

Her next comment sealed my doom. Looking straight at me with laser like precision, she asked, “Do the Indians who make this actually get any of the money.” In a flash I realized that my hard labor had accounted for nothing. Although I tried to hold back the comment, I blurted out, “No, we never give the poor devils anything, and still they keep bringing all this stuff.” With a wink of her eye, my tormentor turned and walked out of the trading post into the bright sunlight; her disarming grin morphing into a sly smirk.

Shortly thereafter, at 10:52 a.m., the dream ended, with Barry’s impression of Donald Trump dismissing yet another unhappy apprentice. As he began to regain his composure, he gasped, “Do you think this is Santa Fe?”

Falling on the floor, I began to cry. After about an hour Barry could take it no longer and, in the interest of avoiding additional embarrassment to the customers, finally gave in. I was reinstated, but only after executing a written covenant promising that I will henceforth be on my best behavior with townspeople and tourists.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post