Thursday, February 23, 2006

Of Balloons and Dragons

During their annual midwinter migration, the nylon dragons returned to Bluff last week. As usual, these outrageously colorful beasts, and their equally colorful handlers, brought a sense of wonder to our tiny, high desert community. Every year during this event, "Puff the Magic Dragon," the Peter, Paul and Mary song from the 1960s, finds its way into my head and cannot be dislodged. When the beasts and their caregivers arrive, I feel a sense of youthful wonder descend upon me, taking me back to a simpler time.

Balloons flying over Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe.

Arguably, Puff is associated with the loss of childhood innocence. It is often said by those close to me that my innocence has slipped away; leaving only a childlike mentality. I hope that is not an altogether bad thing. With that thought and the words of the song in my mind, I watched the dragons ascend and descend among the red rocks. Predawn would find those managing the fire breathers huddled in the Bluff community center telling bad jokes and discussing wind speed, manageable loads, unmanageable loads and escaping gases. The atmosphere was always jovial; packed with excitement and expectation. There is nothing more fun than riding one of these dragons.

As daylight broke across the eastern horizon, the beasts were released from their containers and reanimated. They flexed their cramped muscles and puffed up in anticipation of flight. Fire erupted across the valley as throats coughed and stuffy passages cleared. Willing the gargantuan, billowing creatures to remain earthbound long enough to be harnessed, the handlers strained at the restraints. Small, carefully selected groups were allowed onboard to witness a sky view of our tiny village and surrounding areas. With mighty roars, the fire breathers belched flame and gracefully ascended, like miniature sunrises soaring into the heavens. As a new day reflected off their magnificent scales, the dragons painted the morning with glorious color.

The community of dragon masters bring to Bluff a spontaneous and fun-loving outlook on life. Their attitude is contagious, and it spreads among the local inhabitants in a plume of healing emotion. Like the visit of a carefree and uninhibited group of relatives, the balloon pilots and crew bring with them a freshness and stress-relieving presence that uplifts our spirits and allows us to soar. The dragons bring magic and a sense of wider perspectives.

Flying high above the space we regularly inhabit provides a vantage point that is totally distinct from our general outlook. Like the raucous ravens that soar on the thermals over our traditionally hard heads, from the belly of the beasts, we have an outlook much different from our usual ground level view. The dragons lift us to new heights, and give us fresh outlooks that help expand our understanding of who we are and where we originated. Bluff is a special place. When you live here, however, you must get out of town from time to time to understand the wider world. During the Balloon Festival, the outside world comes to us. What a deal!

To me, relationships are one of the most treasured aspects of life. These hot air dragons and their handlers have a magical way of bringing people together. When Dragon Masters, Bluffoons and visitors gather, strong bonds are formed. I realize dragons have their place, and cannot be a part of our everyday life. When those rascals break free of their dens and visit us on Mulberry Lane, however, everyone has an opportunity to frolic in Bluff's winter mist and revisit the days of innocence and magic.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, February 16, 2006


As I stood at the trading post railings, preparing to leave for my morning jog and admiring the opaline stars shinning through the inky blackness, the call of an owl penetrated my consciousness. The owl's "hoo, hoo, hoo," floated across the Jones hay farm, drifted past the Twin Rocks and cascaded westward towards Bluff's hilltop necropolis; ultimately expiring in the night before the dawn.

Bluff, Utah's Cemetary Hill

In many Native American cultures owls are seen as harbingers of death and bad luck. Extreme caution is required when they are in the neighborhood. So, as I started across the intersection of Highways 191 and 162, I was doubly careful; looking both ways several times, lest an unseen semi tractor-trailer swoop in and carry me off to the promised land. At that moment, I had two primary concerns; the first was that, if I were run down by a truck, I may actually wind up in the not-so-promised land, and the second was my fear of dying cold.

Dying has never troubled me, but dying cold is my worst nightmare. I have even thought of taking one of those lightweight space technology blankets with me on my morning runs. That way, if I am accidentally, or intentionally, broad sided out on that lonely stretch of pavement, whoever finds me can throw the cover over me and I will at least cross the Styx warm and snug. Since I am a procrastinator by nature, I have acquired no such blanket, and an icicle may be my fate. Saint Peter, knowing how I dread the cold, and having properly reviewed my worldly record, will probably consign me to the warmer, southerly reaches.

So, there I was, listening carefully for the sounds of my brother the owl, keeping an eye out for meandering vehicles and quietly humming "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," when I heard it. It was the sound of a vehicle, which seemed to be about a hundred yards behind me, beginning to slow. At that moment, I realized a wayward car or truck was not my destiny; I was going to be kidnapped and held for ransom. I have read enough history to know that, in the old days before the Long Walk, the Navajo people frequently engaged in this outlaw activity. Aside from Barry's brief encounter with some angry Navajo people when he and I were young, I had not heard of anyone being taken captive for many, many decades. I knew instinctively, however, that I was doomed.

One day when Barry and I were about seven and eight years old respectively, we had made the mistake of taunting a few Navajo people who had had a few too many beers at the Twin Rocks Bar. After becoming fed up with our bad behavior, the intoxicants snatched up Barry and put him in the back of their pickup truck with several of their buddies. Barry's captors must have mistaken my celebratory mood for separation anxiety. Much to my dismay, they pulled over and released him after only a few blocks. My sole consolation was that I did not have to invent a story to explain to Rose how I had lost Barry.

With that in mind, I tried to speed up to avoid a confrontation. Since I have determined that I am now a "half-lifer," having consumed what must be at least half of my life, speed does not come easily. In fact, it never did; a more feasible alternative was needed. As the vehicle eased up behind me, I thought of taking a quick left-hand turn into the thick underbrush, but noticed the scrubby trees had long, sharp thorns. While I was deciding whether to brave the kidnapping or the thorns, my mind became extremely lucid, and I realized Barry could probably redeem me for a few bucks; anybody who was foolish enough to take me captive would not be looking for a big haul. Barry might even be able to buy them off for a couple old sheep. Anything over that, Barry would balk and my lifeless body would be consigned to the silent tomb.

The thought that my captors would not want much comforted me, and I sneaked a quick glance to my right. The judicial star of the San Juan County deputy sheriff's department, plastered on the side of a Dodge Durango, caught my eye and I breathed a sigh of relief. Once again, my imagination had gotten the best of me. Barry has often said to the Navajo people who warn us against witches, sorcerers and skinwalkers that such things cannot hurt you if you don't follow the traditional ways, but I had forgotten Barry's sage advice and worked myself into a lather over that owl.

"Do you know Hanley and Manley Begay" the officer asked. "I knew Hanley, Manley and Stanley when we were in school together, but I haven't seen them in donkey years," I replied. "Know where they live," he probed. "No sir," I confessed. "All right" he said and began to drive off. "That's dedication," he shouted over his shoulder, apparently referring to what he must have interpreted as an attempt at interval speed training. "Not dedication, fear," I thought to myself.

"Hoo, hoo, hoo," taunted me as I approached the hay field on my way back to the trading post. I clicked the heals of my sneakers together three times and said, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home!" Realizing that three is a magic number, I said to myself, "I will never be superstitious again. I will never be superstitious again. I will never be superstitious again."

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Dawn's Early Light

Serena Supplee Watercolor

The upper atmosphere was just coming alive as Laurie smoothly guided our mini van down Peter's Hill into Dry Valley; just a little south of Moab. In anticipation of the trip through this beautiful valley, and so that I could better focus on the majesty of this magnificent realm, I had agreed to relinquish control of the vehicle and let my wife drive. We were on our way "Up North" the day after Christmas to enjoy our extended family and take advantage of the bargains offered by retailers attempting to divest their remaining clothing inventory before the end of the year. Because of their failure to prepare a wish list, Santa lost patience with my family and had left cash and a few self-help books, instead of toys and games, in his red velvet wake.

Spenser and Alyssa were snoozing in the back of the van, experiencing the lingering effects of excessive holiday participation. McKale was relaxed and drowsy, but slept fitfully because her brother was overlapping her space and cramping her style. Laurie and I carried on a whispered conversation to the turned down back beat of the radio spilling out easy listening hits. Our conversation, the air, the sky, the light and the scenery were spectacular. It seemed that we were in a warm, fuzzy bubble, traveling through an alternate universe of beauty and radiant energy.

As we cruised along the relatively vacant blacktop, I kept an eye on the landscape and began to gain a new appreciation for the charm of this lonely valley. The precious morning light was beginning to illuminate our surroundings with an effeminate apricot glow. The curvaceous valley floor entranced my senses as it seemed to ebb and flow like gentle waves on a body of water. Rare clumps of stunted vegetation were but brief glimpses of smudged rouge with sage green highlights The usually coarse cliff faces and jumble of broken boulders at their base were softened and smoothed by shadow and refracted early morning light. Undulating lines of sediment, frozen in time, flowed delicately across their surfaces like sheets of ruffled silk.

Serena Supplee Watercolor

Just before the sun broke over the horizon, Laurie and I were graced with a vision of the snow covered flanks of the La Sal mountains, situated behind, and rising abruptly above, the now lighter and passionately pink valley. The contrast between the brilliant uprising and the subtly demure valley easily took our breath away. The mountain peaks shown with a blue-white neon glow that was frosty and inviting at the same time. A faint peach aura enveloped the mountain and rose to a swirling, twisting crown surrounding the highest peak. A small number of twinkling morning stars were still visible like droplets of dew clinging to the heavens.

It did not take long before the sun exploded onto the scene and the visage began to dissipate into the bright winter sunlight. The gentle spell of dawn was broken, only to be replaced by a more realistic interpretation of the countryside through less romantic eyes. Dawn and dusk seem to me to belong to the more feminine aspects of our world, while day and night more masculine. The ever changing face of nature never ceases to inspire my mind and imagination.

Serena Supplee Watercolor

Before long the kids began to restlessly move about, and the familiar sounds of sibling rivalries echoed to the front of the van. The prospect of spending Christmas cash and the certain knowledge that their aunts, uncles and cousins would spoil them beyond belief raised the level of excitement to unmanageable volumes. I looked into Laurie's smiling wintergreen eyes and remembered what life was like before parenthood. It is a place I would like to revisit from time to time, but I would no longer wish to live.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post