Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Last Generation?

At the Twin Rocks trading post, I often speak fondly of the Indian traders of my youth. At one time or another, many of those old mossbacks patted me on the head and said things like, "Son, by the time you are my age, there won't be any rug or basket weaving. These are dying arts!" At that time, their comments meant little to me, since I did not realize how important these skills are to the maintenance of traditional culture and values.

Navajo Basket Weaver Mary Holiday Black

Since then, however, I have become more attuned to the significance of weaving in Native American cultures. In this region, rug and basket making are both an economic engine and a tool for transmitting traditions from one generation to the next. Our Navajo weavers have often mentioned how they sat beside their grandmothers and watched as nimble fingers created exquisite patterns with wool or sumac. During these sessions, it was not only weaving techniques that grandma was teaching; stories of the family, clan and tribe were simultaneously being threaded into the consciousness of the pupils, giving the children a sense of who they are, where they originated and what is important to their people.

It is not uncommon for the weavers to proudly proclaim that their family members have been weaving many generations. From the other side of the counter, I also hear my trader friends brag that their families have been buying and selling Navajo weavings for several generations. With the Foutz, Tanner and Richardson families, the generational involvement in trading goes back three, four and even five layers. Closer to home, Jana claims three generations, making Kira and Grange the potential fourth. Barry and I can only claim about one and a half.

Lately, I have been hearing the echoes of the old traders. The latest comments are, however, coming from my contemporaries, not my favorite fossils. Jana and I were recently in Tucson for a Navajo weaving show at Bahti Indian Arts Gallery. We were invited to take our best Navajo basketry to the exhibition, and Steve Getzweiller was asked to bring his extraordinary rugs and blankets. During one of our conversations, without any prompting from me, Steve mentioned that he felt his weavers may well be the last generation to create such beauty. I reiterated that I felt the same about the Navajo basket makers in our area.

Santo Domingo Jeweler Ray Lovato

As Kira and Grange skittered about outside, shouting, laughing and playing shadow tag on the grass, I asked about Steve's children; inquiring whether they worked in the business with him. "No," he replied, and went on to explain that his sons have their own lives which have precious little to do with Native American art. As I watched Kira and Grange entertaining themselves in the courtyard, I realized that, as with Steve's kids, my children are unlikely to follow Jana and me into the trading business.

It is curious how we often fail to appreciate that our circumstances are similar to those of the people around us, and how we allow ourselves to become isolated from the reality of our situation. For years, I have been concerned about the loss of traditional Navajo values, while failing to realize that my own traditions may abruptly end when my curtain falls.

Jana and I are determined to provide our children with a good education and opportunities outside the trading post. Duke and Rose worked hard to guarantee us more expansive possibilities than they had, and I have clearly benefited from the foundation they laid. So, Jana and I have begun to prepare Kira, Grange and Dacia for lives that will surely take them far from the starlit skies and red sand of Southern Utah. We have told the kids they can become anything they desire; doctors, lawyers or Indian chiefs. Well, they may not have the ideal qualifications for the job of Indian chief, but it doesn't hurt to dream big. This is America after all, and if Chief Yellowhorse can do it, why can't they?

For years I questioned whether my destiny was here at the trading post or in some larger community. Then, one day I was driving along a recently paved back road which I had driven a few years earlier in its unimproved state. I remembered my initial trip, with the dust and dirt boiling out the back of the car. I vividly recalled looking up at the sky and marveling at how large and beautiful it was, how vast the land seemed and how free I felt.

Navajo Rug Weaver Julia Deswood

As I retraced my path on the newly improved road, I felt constricted, as if the improvements had somehow diminished my freedom and shrunk the sky. I wondered if this was a sign that the wide open spaces and small communities of Southern Utah were my true destiny, and that my fate was clearly outside the concrete and paved surfaces of the big cities.

Directing my children toward true happiness is one of my greatest desires, but I know they will have to determine their own paths. Doing so will undoubtedly lead them far from the safe eddy of Bluff and Twin Rocks Trading Post. I may wind up in a fossil museum as the last Navajonius Tradoria Simpsonia. What a curiosity that will be.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Loads of Intent

Recently I watched a Discovery channel documentary on the development of mechanical cranes throughout history. As fascinating as it was, my adorable children could see nothing entertaining in the subject matter what - so - ever! Brushing aside their complaints, I fell back on a popular utterance from an earlier era, "When you begin paying the bills around here, you can choose what we watch." I am usually more fair minded than that, but I really wanted to see and hear this program. There are certain times when a "parental privilege statement" comes in handy.

Anyway the show outlined an early crane that used an old mill wheel as a crank. Protruding from the wheel, twenty feet or so, was a fortified arm endowed with multiple pulleys and ropes, which was engineered to lift heavy objects. A weighted container of stones was attached to the back of the contraption for counter-balance. The ropes encircled the mill wheel, fed through the pulleys and out the end of the arm. The interesting thing about the contraption was that two men climbed inside the enclosed rotation device, and, like hamsters on an exercise wheel, turned the crank. As though they were climbing a ladder, the men, in unison, would place their hands and feet through the openings between the planks in front of them and use the leverage they gained to lift ponderous poundage high in the air. They simply reversed their action to lower the load.

Ingenious? Yes. That is what I thought, until the narrator explained that everything worked well until someone lost concentration and slipped or fell, causing leverage to be lost. The resulting cause and effect allowed the load at the end of the arm to plunge downward at an accelerated rate. The wheel in turn would be sent into a reverse sling-shot spin at hyper speed. It does not take much of an imagination to guess what became of the boys in the blender. Before long "guinea pigs" became scarce and modifications necessary.

The next scene to flash on the screen was of a crane being built in the rain-forests of the Amazon jungle to study the wonders of the canopy. It seems that 90% of the wildlife found there dwell in the upper reaches of the trees. A crane standing at tree top level with a long arm extension capable of a 360 degree radius and an accompanying gondola provide an excellent opportunity to become intimate with the local flora and fauna; an instrument to gain a better understanding of the world we live in.

Much to the delight of my children, the program ended and I forfeited my rights to the remote and they immediately settled in on the Disney Channel. I have little tolerance for the slapstick manner Disney deals with object lessons but I have to concede that they are effective to a certain audience and set a higher standard than much of their competition. I passed on the opportunity to sit in and instead sat out to read a book a friend recommended. The Field by Lynne McTaggert is a fascinating read dealing with scientific evidence of a life force flowing through the universe and thus each and every one of us. I know this is not a new idea because I have read and heard of different interpretations on this theme through practically every culture in existence, The difference here was that the idea was based on scientific study and experiment. As with any variations on scientific or religious thought I am introduced to, I place it in two basic categories I am willing to accept; that which I want to accept and that which I cannot force myself to digest due to lack of formal education or pure stubbornness.

At any rate, there was a section in the book that spoke of support groups and community that sparked my imagination. "Deep in the rain-forests of the Amazon, the Achuar and the Huaorani Indians are assembled for their daily ritual. Every morning, each member of the tribe awakens before dawn, and once gathered together in the twilight hour, as the world explodes into light, they share their dreams. This is not simply an interesting past time, an opportunity for storytelling to the Achuar and Huaorani, rather the dream is owned not by the dreamer alone, but collectively by the group, and the individual dreamer is simply the vessel the dream decided to borrow to have a conversation with the whole tribe. The tribes view the dream as a map for their waking hours. It is a forecaster of what is to come. In dreams they connect with their ancestors and the rest of the universe."

Don't get me wrong, I am not promoting a new wave, total sharing of each and every dream that emerges from the recesses of our gray matter. I am not into self-incrimination; some hallucinations are best left unevaluated. But if all of us were more forthcoming concerning our hopes, dreams and righteous desires maybe those in our support group would understand us better and be more willing to aid in the successful outcome of our wants and needs. As family, friends and human beings, it seems highly probable to positively effect each other and hopefully avoid bad decisions causing a lesser chance of becoming caught up in life's Cuisinart and becoming sliced and diced by some ill-conceived thought or invention.

My wife, Laurie, is forever warning me, "What goes in eventually comes out." I assume she is referring to my addiction to variations on cultural themes and overanalyzing the issues. Art Moore tells me there is a hole in my "belief bucket." The Navajo people assure us that life is a study in 'Hozho," a never ending attempt at harmony and balance. I greatly appreciate those individuals who build cranes to raise themselves up to higher levels of consciousness and attempt to decipher the hard questions. Their sharing of that information is invaluable to me. It seems a worthy goal to develop loftier communication skills and more personal, supportive relationships. I am assuming it is necessary for some of us to spend time roaming around on the jungle floor with the lower life forms looking up and wondering in order to lay a strong foundation. I am sure more study is required.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Let it Live!

One of the best things about living and working in this small Southeastern Utah village is walking Grange to school every weekday. During this time of year, the mornings are crisp and stunningly, arrestingly sensory. The natural light comes sneaking in from the east; skips across the frost covered, crystalline grasses which lay dormant along the rough, broken streets leading to Bluff Elementary School; and illuminates the red rock walls that embrace the town. The air is crystal clear, and carries sound at an amplified frequency. Trying to absorb all the natural beauty often overwhelms my senses.

The walk to school from Twin Rocks Trading Post in Bluff, Utah

I have used our morning walks to convince Grange that running is actually fun. Almost every day we have foot races from the Far Out Expeditions sign to the "All Year;" a distance of about half a block. The All Year is a yellow sign at the intersection of Black Locust and 7th East, which cautions motorists that school is in session year round. If Grange wins the race, he gets a quarter. And if he loses? Well, somehow that hasn't happened; I am always the payor, never the payee.

Most often I stop at the corner where the old Twin Rocks Store and Bar used to stand and let Grange proceed the last half block by himself. I am not as necessary as I once was, and walking the distance himself seems to give Grange a sense of universal autonomy. Once in a while, however, I go visit his teacher, Kathy Carson, who is generally acknowledged to be the best kindergarten teacher in the world, to ensure Grange is properly progressing.

When I walk into Ms. Carson's room, all those tan faces, interspersed with a pink one now and again, remind me of 40 years ago, when I learned reading, writing and 'rithmetic in that very same school. As I look into the faces of those eager children, I see my own classmates; a generation or two removed. The shaved heads, jeans and plump cheeks of the little boys are much the same as they were when I was young.

During our walks to school, I frequently think of Penny Grange and the old saying, "See a penny, pick it up, all day long you¹ll have good luck." Penny, who passed away recently, is one of the people who lent Grange his name, so I am constantly reminded of her as he skips his way south to school. Realizing that I was exceptionally fortunate to have had a friend like Penny, I have considered salting Bluff with hundreds of pennies. That way everyone who knows the secret about picking up lost pennies can be as fortunate as I have been. The only thing that holds me back is that I do not know if the magic works when the coins are intentionally planted, rather than being carelessly misplaced.

On Tuesday, when I went to Kathy Carson's class to retrieve Grange, he was working on his Lego masterwork, so I had to wait several minutes while he finished. It must have been my afternoon for a little humanization, because, as my eyes wandered about the room, I noticed a copy of the Robert Fulgham credo, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, hanging in the corner of the classroom. In a masterstroke of simplicity and wisdom, the credo advises:

•Share everything.
•Play fair.
•Don't hit people.
•Put things back where you found them.
•Clean up your own mess.
•Don't take things that aren't yours.
•Say you are sorry when you hurt someone.
•Wash your hands before you eat.
•Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
•Live a balanced life-learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
•Take a nap every afternoon.
•When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
•Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows why, but we are all like that.
•Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup-they all die. So do we.

•And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned-the biggest word of all-LOOK.

Having read Mr. Fulgham's advice, I realized how much I had forgotten about how to live a balanced life, but also how much I still knew. I walked away reminded of life's basic principles, and pleased that Grange had taken extra time to finish his project. As we crashed through the front doors and tumbled out onto the sidewalk, one of Grange's buddies stood on the walkway, talking with his mother. A honey bee which had been fooled into thinking it was surely spring buzzed around the woman. When the bee fell to the ground, the boy asked, "Should I squash it?" Possibly hitting on one bit of wisdom Robert Fulgham had not included in his message, the woman said, "Let it live."

The End of the Race

Living among the sandstone skyscrapers of Southeastern Utah has allowed Grange to be as wild and free as the honey bee. I hope I can raise him to be independent and free enough to live, laugh and love in his own special way.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Huntin' and Thinkin'

Navajo Folk Art Carving

The tracks were clear, and it looked as if the small group of deer I was tracking was heading in the proper direction. After he had finished work, my brother-in-law, Renis, and I hurried out of town to hunt the last evening of the 1979 deer season. We drove southwest from Blanding, crossed Westwater Canyon and drove south a mile or so on a dirt track, stopping just off U.S. Highway 95. We parked the truck on the knuckle end of a finger-like mesa that pointed off onto a half mile wide, juniper encrusted shelf which dropped into the canyon below. I had hunted here before, and knew deer found the bench area inviting. The stunted trees and house-sized sandstone castoffs from the surrounding cliffs offered excellent cover for the animals.

Renis and I decided to split up and slowly hunt down both sides of the finger. It seemed we would have an advantage over any unsuspecting venison if, like keen and watchful birds of prey, we skillfully hunted the cliff tops. The plan was to meet at the tip and circle back if we were unsuccessful. Renis headed west, so I quietly made my way to the eastern edge of the drop-off and carefully scanned the landscape below. I immediately saw movement and recognized three gray ghosts dissolving into a cluster of junipers a quarter mile ahead of me. I was sure I had seen horns, and my heart began to beat faster as I anticipated the thrill of the hunt.

Crouching down, I backed away from the rim, turned quickly and moved south in a half circle pattern. When I figured I was in position to overlook the cluster of trees, I cautiously made my way back to the edge; ready to craftily and skillfully "bring home the bacon". My positioning was excellent; I had an aerial view of the trees and could see brief glimpses of movement. From where I stood, there was open ground on three sides and a cliff on the fourth. I had those wily trophies boxed in; all I had to do was wait them out. And wait I did; I was the picture of patience, until I suddenly realized I was running out of daylight.

There was nowhere for the deer to go. They must have known it too, because they did not move. They stayed where they were, knowing full well, I am certain, that sunset would suspend the stand off. "Dang, outsmarted again," I thought. Well if the mountain wouldn't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed would go to the mountain. As I made my way to my present position I had crossed a small draw that emptied onto the bench below. Knowing the wind would be in my favor, and that I could keep to the high ground, I decided to back track, regain the offensive and flush the deer from their hideout.

It would have been a good plan if the deer had cooperated. Instead, they waited until I was at ground level and were shielded by the trees to exit stage left. Stupid human! My only hope might be that Renis was waiting on the point in prime position to bring down a trophy. The jury was still out on the quality of hunter my new brother-in-law was, but we were about to find out. I picked up the trail of the deer and started to follow their path in hopes of driving them towards their predestined encounter with a hot skillet.

As I neared the towering tip of the mesa, I kept looking up in anticipation of seeing Renis' orange camo coat or hearing a shot. I drew abreast of another drainage off the mesa and noticed a second set of deer tracks joining the one I had been following. On top of those was a set of Renis Hylton waffle stomper prints. Foiled again. It just was not meant to be! My dinner of choice dissipated on the spot, and I began to refocus on a Reuben sandwich at the Patio Drive-in.

As I stood there in frustration, looking ahead at Renis' footprints strolling off into the distance, I caught sight of an aberration. One of the footprints had a small, delicate tail. I moved forward and stood over the track, laughing out loud at what I saw. As Renis crept along after his quarry, he had stepped on an arrowhead. To be more accurate, he had stepped on the tip of an arrowhead with the heel of his boot. The ancient artifact stood at attention as if flagging Renis' passing.

Squatting on my haunches, I admired the treasure. A fraction of an inch back and the dainty projectile would have certainly been destroyed; a little forward and it would have remained just under the surface, undisturbed for a few more centuries. Yet here it stood, as if saying, "Take a look at this, mighty hunter!" I looked around at the jumble of boulders and sparse trees and, peering into the shadows, wondered where the ancient hunter had hidden to ambush his game. Had the arrow found its mark, or, more likely, flown wide and buried itself in the earth to remain unnoticed until this moment?

As twilight dropped its dark curtain, I imagined a gaunt, bent little man, colored as the earth, hunched over a piece of flint, fashioning it into a projectile point. I wondered what must have gone through his mind as he napped the stone. Had there been hunger and worry about the well being of his family? Would he have thought about those who had gone before him, his ancestors, or even future generations?. What about ceremony and tradition, had he considered those topics? Would he have found the stone, the animals, his life and world sacred, profane or mundane? On some spiritual or quantum level, was his energy, creativity, essence contained within the arrowhead?

Standing up, I grunted out loud and rubbed my aching head. I often get migraines when contemplating things like spirituality, insanity, quantum theory and or spontaneous human combustion. It was time to eat; my rumbling stomach told me so. I headed back to the truck, thinking to myself, "Thank goodness for fast food and cartoons". Life is easier and less painful when there is prepared food and a shortage of deep questions to ponder.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, March 3, 2006


Friday night it was late, I had made it to the end of another day and I was dreaming of a quiet evening. Friday is generally "havley movie night" at the house above the trading post, so I was anticipating a silly DVD and some prime time with the kids. Grange, at a time his young mind could not properly form the word "family," had given the weekly event that name and it has stuck with us.

Hillary Rodham Clinton & Navajo Basket Weaver Mary Holiday Black

After turning off the computer and straightening my desk, I spied a magazine article protruding from the stack of papers. I pulled it out and noticed the essay had been published in the September, 2000 issue of Native Peoples Magazine by a physician from Phoenix, Arizona. A friend had run across the article on the internet and sent me a copy. The story was in essence a travelogue about the writer's drive into Monument Valley to meet several of the local Navajo basket weavers.

The narrative made it abundantly clear that its author had found the art and the artists as interesting and exciting as Barry and I have over our many years in the trading business. As I read the article, the associated pictures made me a little nostalgic, so I pulled out the photograph albums we keep under the counter and began reminiscing about the time I have spent at Twin Rocks.

One of the first photographs I ran across was that of Mary Black shaking hands with First Lady Hillary Clinton. The legend on the back of the image reads "Official White House Photo 278EP95." Now, in all honesty, I have never been a fan of the Clintons. In spite of my personal bias, however, the photograph is beautiful, and took me back to a time before Mary Black had become well known as the "Maria Martinez of Monument Valley" and "The Matriarch of Navajo Baskets."

Another late afternoon, probably sometime during the winter of 1992, came to mind. It was shortly after I had first met Patrick Eddington, who, along with his sweetheart Susan Makov, later wrote The Trading Post Guidebook. Patrick, who was an experienced reservation explorer, had come into the trading post to see if we had anything new and exciting. After a while, we began discussing Mary's contribution to the revolution that was occurring in Navajo basket weaving.

During the conversation, I told Pat I felt Mary had not been given the recognition she deserved. It was Mary, after all, who had initiated and propagated the extremely innovative baskets produced by the Douglas Mesa weavers. In spite of that, she was relatively unknown. By 1992, Sally Black, Mary's daughter, had gained a certain celebrity status for her weavings. Mary's contribution, I argued, had been largely overlooked.

Pat began rubbing his chin and I could tell he had caught the fever. With a sparkle in his eyes, he said, "We should nominate Mary for the Utah Governor's Folk Art Award; she is perfect." The blank look on my face told him I had no idea what that meant. "Don't worry," he said. "I'll take care of everything. You just write a letter of support." Patrick put together the application, I provided the letter and it wasn't long before Mary was on her was to Salt Lake City to accept her award.

As a result of Pat's work, Mary was also nominated for and received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1995. After much excitement among the Black family and the folks at the trading post, Mary was off to Washington D.C. with a few members of her family.

At the trading post, we anxiously awaited their return and the story of their big adventure. At that time, Barry and I had not been to Washington D.C., so we were excited to learn about their travels. On their way back home from Albuquerque, Lorraine and Mary dropped by the trading post with tales of being entertained at the White House. Mary gave me the photograph, and, proudly displaying the plaque she had been given, asked me to take her picture.

As they discussed their experiences at the White House, Lorraine said, "The food was not very good." Scrunching her nose she almost shouted,"We couldn't wait to get back to Albuquerque to get some real food at Denny's." Even the excitement of Washington could not match the red dirt in her veins and the mutton stew and fry bread in her heart. The White House chef was no match for a Denny's fry cook.

As I browsed through the images, I saw Kira and Grange progress from babies held in Lorraine's arms to young people standing proudly next to her as she displayed her latest creation. "It's time for the havley movie," came the stereo call from the top of the stairs, and my walk down memory lane abruptly ended.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post