Thursday, May 25, 2006

Our Pothole

The week before Easter is always a busy time in Moab, so I was anxious when Jana suggested we take the kids and head for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Although I love the parks, I was not enthusiastic about dealing with all the four wheelers who flood into Moab during that time. Thinking I had a surefire way to avoid the commotion of our sister city during the buildup to Jeep Safari, I told Jana I would be happy to go for the weekend, but was sure she could not find a motel room.

Pothole Point

As is generally the case when I have cooked up a scheme to avoid doing something I believe will be unpleasant, it took Jana only moments to shatter my arguments. Googling lodging in Moab, she turned up a comfortable motel room, and all my rationalizations were demolished.

As it turned out, Moab was beautiful and the Jeeps had yet to arrive en masse. Although we had a slightly blustery day in Arches on Saturday, Sunday morning broke with skies bluer than Billie Holiday. After a smooth, sun drenched run along the Colorado River and a late breakfast at the funky Eklecticafe, we were off to Canyonlands. Stopping briefly at the visitors center, we decided on Pothole Point as one of our destinations. The Pothole Point hike is a short six-tenth of a mile walk over undulating sandstone surfaces which contain small indentations scoured out by centuries of wind and water erosion.

During the rainy season, the depressions fill with water and the life which has remained dormant for long periods emerges from the soils collected in the bottom of the depressions. While the kids scampered from pothole to pothole; scanning the pools for the fairy shrimp, tadpoles, tadpole shrimp, mosquito larvae, snails, beetle larva and clam shrimp the brochure assured us live in the small, self-contained environments, Jana and I kept a close eye on them lest they wade through the pools.

As we inspected the water holes, the minute creatures came to life. The kids began to shout, "There's a snail.", and "There's beetle larvae." Becoming a little overzealous, at one point, Grange threatened to dip his finger into the water to point out a tadpole. Jana quickly advised him the brochure cautioned that oils from human skin, lotions or sunscreen pollute the water, making it uninhabitable.

Thinking of our own small community, I realized that Bluff and the Navajo Reservation to the south, are very much like the potholes we had been scrutinizing. Like the potholes, this region is a small, sometimes harsh environment with many interesting and unusual creatures. I could not help thinking of several locals as we watched the snails, shrimp and tadpoles shifting lazily in the shallow depressions. Over the years this area has attracted an odd collection of inhabitants, many of them with highly developed techniques for surviving under difficult conditions.

As I drive through Monument Valley, Chinle, Ganado and various other parts of the Reservation, seeing scattered bands of livestock with protruding ribs, I am often amazed that anything can actually survive in this broken, pushed up, worn down, dry, and wind blown environment. But survive they and we somehow do. It is the Navajo people who confound me most. Clustered in scattered camps, far from water, power and telephone lines, they manage to create comfortable, sustainable situations.

Basket weavers create intriguing textiles using not much more than a bundle of twigs gathered from the washes and riverbanks; rug weavers, collecting wool from their sheep flocks and goat herds, invent intricate designs on looms made from juniper; and entrepreneurs sell their goods in plywood and tarpaper shacks along the road during the tourist monsoon season.

From time to time something threatens to penetrate the membrane of our pool and disturb its delicate balance. Somehow, however, like the creatures of the potholes, we manage to survive year after year. Forget the television show, this is where the real survivors live.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 18, 2006

West Southwest

As a family, my wife, children and I rarely take true vacations. We attend Laurie's family reunion every summer, and, when possible, I take them along on trading post business trips. Working in a family business consumes a great deal of personal time, so, when either Steve or I leave, the remaining partner is easily overwhelmed by the details of day-to-day operation. When it comes to family relations, I have learned a lot from my Navajo neighbors. The joining of blood; marriage, children and kinship, is one of the cornerstones of Navajo culture, and it is nurtured and protected. I find these ideals true and meaningful as well, and factor them into my daily routine.

The Family @ Disneyland

So, when my wife and kids presented me with the idea of vacationing at, "The happiest place on earth," I conceded, albeit reluctantly. I had heard of the merchandising genius of Uncle Walt's progeny, and was uncertain about the cost of discovering this true happiness. I was also troubled by the prospect of being "moooved" about by the Disney cast through endless chutes and pressing gates, much like Grandpa Washburn's steers at branding time. My personal outcome might not be quite as drastic as that of the steers, but I was certain my equilibrium would suffer the effects of motionally disturbing mechanics.

I admit that I tried to redirect my family by enticing them with Tasmanian Devils or floating down the Amazon River from Pongo de Manseriche to Belem in Brazil. Not interested! Laurie and the kids immediately formed a united front. The decision was to drive to Salt Lake City, pick up our niece Kelsi Jean, fly into Long Beach and begin the adventure. Renting a car, we drove down the coast to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, then we headed back north to Disneyland and California Adventures Theme Parks in Anaheim.

I have read that the ultimate female deity in Navajo culture, Changing Woman, dwells off of the Southern California coast. There, she maintains a magnificent floating island home where she receives her mate, Johonaa'ei, the Sun Bearer, at the end of each glorious day. What the heck, if these two Navajo supernaturals can tolerate the frantic freeway systems and crushing crowds of greater Los Angeles, then so might I. There was even a chance that I would spot the passionate pair at Disneyland. What better place for a couple of mythical figures to take time off and go unrecognized.

We actually had a really good vacation; it was nice spending uninterrupted time with my family. Our nephew Eric, who is attending graduate school at UCLA, came by and thankfully helped us "Fast Pass" our way through the theme parks. The kids were captivated by the sights and sounds of big city life, and effused with excitement. Personally, I think Spenser was charmed by the quantity, and quality, of young ladies spinning in and out of his field of vision. He was totally unintimidated by his new surroundings, and seemed to find them fascinating. In his mind, California was a new world to experience and explore. I believe Spenser is going to prove hard to hold back, and will hit the ground running when it is time to escape our custody.

Alyssa kept us digitally connected to our homeland through text messaging and on-the-spot transfers of updated images to friends and family. She is a skilled reporter, and has the uncanny ability to walk, talk, eat, absorb and relate her surroundings while accurately manipulating a keypad at high speed. McKale proved to be our most accomplished shopper, willing to "share the wealth" at selected opportunities. Unlike the rest of her frugal family, she willingly provided those close to her with treasures of baubles and beads to remember the trip. She is a true and unselfish gift-giver.

Laurie kept us all going in the proper direction, made sure we were presentable to the public and oversaw our overall health and well being. She is steady and strong, much like her pioneer ancestors. I bossed everyone around; made snide, cynical remarks; grumped; caused dissension among the ranks; and generally had a grand old time. It was fun!

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Myth than Legend

The other day Jana, Kira and I journeyed to Cortez, Colorado to support Grange in his fledgling wrestling adventures. As a kindergartner participating in his first season, Grange has struggled to find a way out of the fog and into the win column. Jana and I have labored to ensure his experience is enjoyable and have also continuously assured him he is making good progress, although it may not be readily apparent to him.

Grange & his medal @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

After the tournament, I wandered aimlessly in the never ending aisles of the local Super Wal-Mart while Jana shopped and the kids petitioned for every plaything they spied. As I stumbled about in the frozen food section, pinballing from one freezer to the next, I noticed an old friend from high school. Taylor asked what we were doing in Cortez, and I explained that we had been watching Grange's matches. When Taylor asked how things were developing, I said, "Well, we are learning." With a quizzical look on his face, he said, "As a Simpson, he must have inherited the wrestling gene."

While Craig had immense success in the sport, Barry and I were less notable. In spite of that, our reputation as a wrestling family has grown. Thinking about Taylor's comment for the past several days has made me question whether our renown as accomplished wrestlers is more myth than legend.

Since he is careful not to offend anyone but me, Barry always refers to the traditional Navajo stories as legend rather than myth. To Barry, legends are more tangible and concrete; myths, on the other hand, seem somewhat amorphous. He also believes that calling the stories legends is more respectful.

Wondering whether Barry's conclusions were based in sound logic or simple mysticism, I began searching for the trading post dictionary. After several days of rummaging about in cabinets which are proof that nature abhors a void, I found the book buried under several layers of dust. Spell check has obviously made us less diligent in our word quests.

Flipping through the pages of our long neglected lexicon, I discovered that Webster's defines a legend as, A story coming down from the past: [especially]: one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable. Myth, however, is described as, A [usually] traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.

It seems my esteemed partner had been mistaken, and, because they represent views of the Navajo people trying to explain their natural world, the stories we have heard over the years are more appropriately referred to as myth, rather than legend. Having made this groundbreaking discovery, I could not wait to inform Barry of his mistake. When I finally reached him on his cell phone, he was at Disneyland having his photograph made with Mickey Mouse."What?" he shouted, not grasping the full extent of what I had so carefully explained. Obviously concerned about the chocolate eggs he had been anxiously anticipating, and completely missing my point, his voice cracked as he croaked,"But what about the Easter Bunny?"

Taking a deep breath, and wondering whether I had been too hasty in pointing out Barry's legendary shortcoming, I explained even more slowly than before that Mr. Webster had not informed me that myths were necessarily untrue, just that they were based upon ostensibly historical events. Although Barry tried to hide the conversation by placing his hand over the receiver of his telephone, I heard him ask Goofy what "ostensibly" means. Goofy, innately comprehending that his standing with this extremely unsettled tourist wearing mouse ears perched atop his slightly graying head was in jeopardy, patiently explained that it means, "plausible, rather than demonstrably true or real." "You mean it really is real; just can't be proven," Barry burbled."Yes," said Mickey and Goofy in unison."Whew," Barry gasped.

Having been at the trading post for almost 16 years, and in the Indian trading business since I was about nine, I have come to realize that real is a state of mind, not an actual fact. I have frequently heard visitors to the store chuckle about the traditional Navajo stories we relate while discussing a rug, basket, ring, bracelet or other artistic creation. At times like that, I remember when Barry and I were young and one of our Navajo friends was badly burned while pouring gasoline into an open carburetor; trying to inspire his uncooperative pickup truck. When the petroleum flared, our friend's face and upper body were badly burned. The doctors trained in western medicine told our friend he would be badly scarred, so he requested the opinion of a Navajo medicine man.

The medicine man subsequently took over, and within months our friend was handsome once again. Amazingly, there were no visible scares remaining after the treatment. Surely, psychology plays a major role in our belief systems and how we view ourselves and our world. That psychology, whether based in myth or legend, is extremely powerful.

So, yes Barry, there is an Easter Bunny. It may, however, take a while to determine whether Grange has inherited the wrestling gene. In the meantime, we will propagate the legend and see if it takes root.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Skystone and Silver

Throughout my life I have found silver and turquoise an altogether irresistible temptation. I have often considered how I acquired this addiction and, after careful consideration, have come to place the blame squarely upon my upbringing. I know many psychologists will scoff at my weak-minded, emotionally encumbered psyche for faulting my early childhood experiences. No matter. I am certain I have chosen the correct source of my infatuation and accept the consequences.

Turquoise from Twin Rocks Trading Post

As a barefoot and fairly innocent youth, I recall stumbling through the sagebrush, goatheads and tumbleweeds of Bluff on my way to, "Payday at the post office". As children, my siblings and I eagerly awaited the monthly parade of Navajo and Ute people collecting their cash allotments, and reveled in the festive mood associated with it. Back then, on the first of each month our small town would swell in population and the local merchants enjoyed a brisk, but short lived increase in trade. Checks were cashed, and the trickle down effect would, well . . . trickle down.

Darkened pawn vaults were flung open and the treasures within spilled forth into the bright, reflective light of day. Striking beads of skystone were returned to their rightful place on velveteen blouses. Bracelets of turquoise stones clustered in teardrop shapes were once again proudly displayed on copper colored wrists aged by weather and time. Large, hand-stamped, conch shaped medallions worn to a soft, satiny luster on antique leather belts adorned Wrangler jeans. Also displayed on the traditional clothing of the Navajo people were silver dollars and coins of lesser denomination surrounded by droplets of intense blue turquoise. Hand fabricated jewelry dapped, domed and soldered represented the short lived wealth and day to day lifestyle of "The People". Their brilliant white smiles, flashing black eyes, and textured brown skin deeply affected by the elements and skystone and silver captivated me. It is no wonder I became enamored with the precious stones and hammered metal decorating these native people.

As time went on, my interests became more cosmopolitan; I was dazzled by the scintillating brilliance of diamonds and the wide range of magnificently colored gemstones. I studied with the Gemological Institute of America and became familiar with color, cut and carat weight. The subtleties of gemstone identification fascinated me, and before long I became a Graduate Gemologist. In spite of my love for the Southwest, there was a time when I nearly left it and headed for the bright lights of the city to practice my new vocation. The more I came to know diamonds and precious stones, the less interest I had in them. For me, they just did not have the earthy character of turquoise. I quickly realized I did not conform to the restrictive nature of the fine jewelry world. My mineralogical first love inevitably overwhelmed me, and turquoise returned to the top of my list of precious stone preferences.

The lessons I learned in gemology have, however, proven beneficial in the Indian arts and crafts business. When I finally realized I truly belong among the red rock cliffs and yucca plants, I put what I had learned in the gemological world to use judging the authenticity of gem grade turquoise. There is nothing more exciting, (Remember we are talking about gems here, so lets keep things in perspective), than a stone with a pure black, spider web matrix pattern surrounding islands of intense blue color, or a lime green patchwork quilt pattern with reddish brown webbing.

People often ask me what type of turquoise I love the most; I find it difficult to say. It is like choosing my favorite child, they all have their unique and varied appeal, and I love them equally. Steve, on the other hand, has determined that I am, "A turquoise snob," and claims there is no one more particular, peculiar and opinionated about fine quality turquoise than I. All I will say is that Steve has a plateful of his own twisted idiosyncrasies which we will refrain from discussing. Turquoise snob, my bucket!

The Navajo people believe turquoise is a gift from the Gods; pieces of the sky sent down to remind earthlings that there are more dimensions to this world than we might imagine, and higher levels of consciousness to achieve. I find that a nice thought to contemplate, and love turquoise as a true treasure to wear and appreciate. As for me, I accept my place and preferences in life, and count myself blessed with the choices I have made.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post