Thursday, June 29, 2006


The overloaded tour bus rolled into the parking lot and came to a noisy stop alongside a fully loaded cattle truck. The forty-some odd head of cattle trapped inside the semi trailer must have been frightened by the air brake discharge, because, in unison, they let loose a mournful lowing that echoed off the rocks surrounding our usually peaceful establishment. Accompanied by this bovine barrage, the bus spilled forth a stampeding herd of, presumably, geriatricly inclined individuals that headed towards the trading post. On they came, sprinting up the steps, pushing and shoving, determined to be first in the bathrooms. At this point, there were no outward signs of arthritis, rheumatism, gout or immobility of any sort with this highly motivated mob.

The Bus & Cattle Truck in Bluff, Utah at Twin Rocks Trading Post

As I witnessed their uninhibited advance, I experienced an epiphany. I deduced that there may be an opportunity for a government research grant. Endorphins produced by exaggerated bladders block pain receptors to the brain which, in turn, cause excitement to the extremities and unhindered free-flow of motion. All we need do is discover the means to artificially recreate that level of stimulated urgency and "Voila!"; a discovery of the fountain of youth as it were!

The flood tide slowly receded as our visitors reemerged from the facilities. The bus driver came struggling up the steps, loaded to the gunwales with canes and walkers. He dumped them in the middle of the large Navajo rug just inside the Kokopelli doors and grumpily departed the scene. My hypothesis was reaffirmed by the fact that, immediately after finishing their business, our visitors regressed to their former fragile condition. They gathered up their stabilization equipment and slowly began to filter through the store in search of trinkets to remind them of their trip.

The group mingled about the trading post, asking prices and feigning heart attacks. I decided I had had enough when one old codger asked me if, at these prices, I ever made a sale. Raising one eyebrow, and looking down my nose at him, I replied, "No, I make all my money on what I charge for the restrooms!" I decided it was time to go on the offensive, and asked the lady loading all the free samples of Nellie's Everything Cream into her purse if anyone had been voted off the bus yet.

The woman "humphed" at me and said, "You have been watching far too much reality TV young man!" I replied that this was possibly true, but I was certain that a group of this size and maturity would produce someone causing dissension and deserving of being left on the roadside. As I quizzed the group, no one would surrender the culprit, but everyone subtly looked in the direction of one crusty looking fellow dressed in green polyester pants and a pink Polo shirt. He was the selfsame man who had out sprinted everyone to the commode and was now using a walker to get around.

Another epiphany! Two in the same day mind you. I could see it clearly, a TV series centered around a motor coach traveling cross-country, stopping at such things as amusement parks, professional wrestling venues and county fairs. The idea, of course, would be to cause as much mayhem and confusion as humanly possible. Those who could not keep pace would be left on the roadside in all manner of dastardly situations with $2.00 in their pocket and a challenge to join the party with Dick Clark in New York City where the winner would ride the ball on New Year's Rockin' Eve. Remember you heard it here first!

My wife has recently informed me that I may need to tread lightly when it comes to sarcastic remarks and publicly expressing my "twisted sense of humor". Spenser, Alyssa and McKale wholeheartedly agree with their mother, openly referring to my wit as humorless. They say that I am much more suited to the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Internal Revenue Service. No matter, I will have the last Snidely Whiplash laugh, because I am about to become rich and famous by landing a lucrative government contract and producing a smash hit television series. Laurie says that this prophecy better come true, since I have so recently limited my options by insulting such a large body of the population, including the AARP, the DMV and the IRS.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, June 22, 2006


It was a mid-May Sunday afternoon, and the summer heat had already arrived. Outside on the porch, Buffy the Wonder Dog panted as she worked at perfecting her greeting skills. Although I have considered sending her to Wal-Mart University to become a master greeter, at only two years, she is still a little young to be away for extended periods. I am also concerned she will not give up the blue vest, yellow smiley face and low price philosophy once she has completed the curriculum.

Buffy @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

After a decade and a half of swamp coolers and wide open doors, last year we finally installed refrigerated air at the trading post. I am, however, a fan of keeping the front entrance open, so on this particular day I had delayed turning on the cooler. I like looking out across the porch and seeing the world cascade past. People confound me, and I love it; their simplest eccentricities light me up and make me radiate with delight. So, in an effort to capture as much of life as possible, I leave the trading post wide open whenever I can.

A few days earlier, a young woman had wandered into the store to inspect our Navajo rugs. Picking up one of the weavings, she noticed a thin line of contrasting color extending from the center design field of the rug across its border to the outside edge. The woman gave me a questioning look and asked, "What is it?" Remembering the legend of Spider Woman, a spirit being who taught that every Navajo weaving must be woven with a pathway in the border to keep the weaver's spirit from being imprisoned, I said "It's the weaver's pathway."

Navajo Rug Weaver Nancy Benally

Noting the continuing confusion on her face, I explained that a weaver's pathway, or spirit line as it is often called, is associated with the Navajo belief that weavers should allow the energy and spirit woven into their textiles to be released. This allows weavers to ensure the strength and imagination necessary to create additional rugs. The spirit line is in essence a safety valve which releases the pent up energy of the weaving, allowing the artist to rejuvenate.

As the young woman and I inspected the inventory, we noticed that approximately half the bordered rugs had a spirit line. I had realized long ago that many of the weavers were no longer including this customary element in their work. As is the case with many Navajo traditions, this one seems to be on the wane.

For me, tradition is a slippery concept, so rugs without spirit lines do not necessarily bother me. Additionally, when dealing with Navajo culture, one has to keep in mind that traditions are constantly evolving. In her book, The Weaver's Pathway, Noel Bennett concluded that most Navajo weavers associate the line with a desire to avoid being trapped in your creations. Some weavers, however, admitted that they include the pathway primarily because their mothers or grandmothers advised them to add it because rug buyers expect to find the line in Navajo weavings and its addition makes their rugs more salable.

In 2003, Jana was beginning to wind up the research on her book Navajo Ceremonial Baskets. It seemed, however, that every time she answered one question, two new ones arose. It was a bit like a research Hydra, which prevented her from completing the book. About that same time I stumbled across an article by Rick Brenner from Chaco Canyon Consulting regarding project management.

Mr. Brenner argued that the Anglo culture could put the concept of a weaver's pathway to good use. He stated, "We put much of ourselves into our projects, but we must remember to leave ourselves a way out, lest we become entangled in the work. That way out must violate the pattern of the work. An inelegance, asymmetry, or incompleteness, rather than being a sign of our incompetence, actually gives us a way to move to the next project."

Frustrating though it was, after a time Jana realized that the open issues were actually a means of encouraging further exploration. She felt that her book was really just the beginning of a dialogue. Released from her dilemma, she set about completing her project.

There seem to be certain universal principals that migrate across cultural boundaries; it just takes a little imagination to see them. I have begun to build pathways into my life, and find them extremely useful. One of my personal pathways manifests itself in open doors, which allow me to experience the world more fully and freely.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hawg Wild

As I stood across the counter from the tall, gray-headed, leather-encased man, I became immediately perplexed. This obviously well educated individual was attempting to explain an impromptu cleansing ceremony he and his amigos had recently experienced. Due to his rumbling, rambunctious arrival and unusual appearance, I was, however, having difficulty focusing on what he was saying. His narrative involved the discovery of a hard rock jacuzzi cooled by a westerly breeze and filled with drifted sand. It seems he and his buddies had lounged around this dry pool, toasting each other with bottled water and letting their troubles dissolve into the good earth.

Tsegi Canyon

Steve and I actually heard the group coming before we saw them. The sounds of a gaggle of motorcyclists spinning into the parking lot reverberated from our sandstone backdrop with the rolling thunder associated only with Harley Davidson motorcycles. As the group dismounted, I could tell they were all in a fine mood by the laughing, joking and boyish punching that was going on. My old friend and retired Hells Angel, Crash McQueen, would have never accepted this group of characters. Their equipment was far too new and polished, as were their manners.

The glare of Southeastern Utah sunlight on highly polished chrome reflected through the plate glass windows and drew our attention to their motorized symbols of rebellion and freedom. As the men strolled up the steps and into the trading post, I could hear the squeak and groan of new boots, leather outerwear and the accompanying smell of saddle soap. As I spoke with the tall gray-haired man, I found that he and his friends were all professionals; doctors, lawyers and dentists. They were old college classmates who got together every few years, toured the country and attempted to reconnect.

This time, they had met in Los Angeles, rented Harleys, bought out the motorcycle shop's wardrobe department, mounted up and headed east, towards the real west. I learned that as they exited the city and found the wide open spaces, the boy that dwells just under the surface of every man began to reemerge. The further east they traveled, the lighter the load of responsibility became, and the group's decorum began to disintegrate. After nearly being arrested in Flagstaff for disorderly conduct, the group was escorted out of town by the local gendarmes and set loose on the Rez.

At this point, my new friend explained how the journey became more spiritual; the group had spent their recklessness and now began to open their minds to the natural beauty of the physical world. As they rumbled down from the midst of the sacred San Francisco Peaks, they reveled in the golden grasslands and dusty, stunted, emerald-green Junipers near Gray Mountain. The land of the Navajo was working its way into their imaginations and Mother Earth was assaulting their senses. Entering Long Squaw Valley, the group was captivated by Black Mesa, with its mangled slick rock drop-offs and myriad of hidden folds, rising majestically on their right.

They were awestruck at Tsegi Canyon, with its immense flows of red, yellow and white sandstone split into uncharted depths by ancient waters and buffed by the scouring sands of time. When the group came to Kayenta, they were overwhelmed by the allure of Northern Arizona. They stopped in at Basha's Shopping Center for water and snacks and were fascinated by the Navajo people in traditional satin, velveteen, silver and turquoise. Since everyone in the group had been through Monument Valley before, they decided to continue their easterly journey past the volcanic core called Rabbits Ears and towards the southeast corner of Utah.

Just past Dennehotso, there is a land mass of roiled sandstone on the south side of the highway. Upon seeing the unusual formation, one can imagine a mighty and majestic monument buried deep beneath the migrating sands. As the bikers came to this highly unusual scene, they were attracted to it and drawn to the side of the road. One of them made it over the range fence without becoming high-centered, and the others were inspired to do the same. They wandered the lunar-like landscape until one of them discovered a large sandstone pit resembling an oversized jacuzzi, which was nearly filled with blow sand.

The men settled into the depression and began to laugh and joke among themselves. Before long the conversations became serious. Everyone began to divulge his personal problems and fears. Because they were the best of friends, the group was totally supportive and willing to listen intently and share in the moment. It was as if the pit absorbed their anxiety and healed their inner beings. By the time they exited the pit, the group was better acquainted and more together than they had ever been. At that point a more emotionally invested group could not have been found.

After the men purchased gifts to appease their significant others, they mounted their mechanical beasts and roared off into a magnificent southwestern sunset. At the trading post it is common for people to share stories like this with us. This outrageous landscape and its Native people have a calming, settling effect on those from the outside world. The harshly exposed layers of rock, talus slopes, stunted brush and red earth formed through eons of time seem to have a way of stripping the detrimentally emotional shroud and scouring away the nonsense we saddle ourselves with in a matter of moments.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Positive or Negative

As Barry and I accelerated across the Navajo Reservation in the green and silver comet known as Subaru, I gazed in my customary amazement at the vast, open distances spreading out in all directions. Straight ahead lay Kayenta, Arizona, the windy, dusty town on the southern border of Monument Valley. On my right, the twisting sandstone spine christened Comb Ridge snaked its way northeasterly towards the Abajo mountains. In front, on all sides and in the rear view mirror, the broken landscape flowed up and down in an unending belch of striated red earth.

Monument Valley, Utah

Approximately 35 years ago, Duke and I had traveled this same road. As his eyes began to droop, he asked if I wanted to drive. "Yes," I answered tentatively, wondering whether he knew my secret. Since I had never driven on the pavement, and since I was more than a little worried what might happen if we passed a police officer, I was anxious. There was, however, virtually no traffic, and, unbeknownst to my father, I had already gained a significant amount of driving experience on the back roads of Southern Utah in Pinky's '55 Ford pickup, which sported a high-speed transmission and an Oldsmobile Rocket engine.

When Duke and I exchanged positions in the cab of that old Dodge pick up, I placed the truck in gear and continued our westerly travels. Peering over the dashboard and out from behind the windshield, I could barely conceive how we would ever exhaust those extremely long stretches of highway, which seemed as big as any of my dreams. With Duke snoring, I crept cautiously across the Reservation at a modest speed, becoming more confident with each passing mile. I was extremely proud that Duke had the confidence to sleep so soundly while his young offspring piloted the vehicle, and wondered how he would respond if he awoke upside down. In later years, I would realize that Duke always slept soundly, and that my self-esteem may not have been fully merited.

The stark beauty of this land captivated me years ago, and I continue to be awed by its abstract nature. Travelers through this part of the country often stop by the trading post to express similar emotions. Others, however, say things like, "Well, I have been traveling several hours and have not seen anything!" Aside from wondering why those blind people are allowed to drive, I am struck by the extreme divergence of opinion regarding my native land. There does not seem to be much middle ground; either you understand the land's unusual character and love it, or you cannot begin to comprehend why anybody with a shred of sanity would live here.

As Barry and I sat in a Flagstaff, Arizona Red Lobster restaurant later that evening, eating fried shrimp and crab cakes, I was still thinking about how individuals respond to the Four Corners region in such disparate ways. Looking at the pictures of boats plastered on the walls, I remembered that Navajo people believe everything has both positive and negative aspects. My mind began running through a laundry list of opposing terms, good, bad; male,female; water people,desert people; north,south; east,west; Mogollon, Hohokam. On and on it went, until my brain disengaged and I remembered a Crow Canyon Archaeological Center trip a few years ago.

The group had come to the trading post so Barry and I could talk with them about contemporary Navajo baskets. During the discussion, Barry snatched up a weaving containing a positive-negative design and began talking about the Navajo belief that everything has both male and female, positive and negative characteristics to it. Harry Walters, a Navajo scholar traveling with the group, jumped in to clarify. Harry explained that the right side of an individual is believed to be the male or warrior side, and the left side is considered the female or compassionate side; each with both positive and negative facets.

Stating that this part of Navajo beliefs did not fit well into the traditional Judeo-Christian thinking of good or bad, right or wrong, he illustrated the point by saying that a snow storm can be an extremely positive thing in this desert environment, but things can quickly turn out badly if you go outside unprepared. In Harry's opinion, it was all a matter of how you manage the circumstances. Whether the outcome is positive or negative depends entirely on you.

Navajo Basket

So it is with this land in which we live; one person sees the positive beauty in the broken, jagged landscape, and another sees only a dry, windswept desert. It seems Harry was correct, it is all in the way you manage yourself under the circumstances. I am as stricken by the vast beauty of this land today and as overwhelmed by its vastness as I was on that day Duke gave me the wheel and allowed me to begin navigating it on my own terms.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Life Changing Lessons

The fox, jackrabbit and I stood rooted in place; each of us faced a myriad of emotions as we wondered who was going to make the next move. Fear, injustice, exhilaration and indecision whirled around us as if we were caught in a distorted emotional vortex. It was a time warp in which everyone involved would certainly be affected in one uncertain way or another. As we stood transfixed, the beer I grasped in my right hand was getting warmer by the moment.

Folk art & beer @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

Twenty some odd years ago I was living in Bluff, running the Bluff City Trading Post during the day and wandering this small river valley by evening's light. There is something truly inspiring about connecting with the land, experiencing the wonder of Nature and communicating with Her creatures.

I was learning that my perspective had changed about what I was witnessing as an adult and what I had experienced as a child being raised here. There were many lessons to be learned, and I had the time and interest to get out there and begin to understand them.

On one occasion, I left the house to wander up the road towards Saint Christopher's Mission in search of solace. I made it to the Gaines property line, where a gravel road swung south towards the river. The road led to a large diesel pump which diverted silt saturated river water into two parallel ponds used to settle the muddy water and irrigate alfalfa and watermelons on the Curtis Jones farm. The pump was silent that evening, and I could hear the song of the river growing louder as I drew near.

It was a gorgeous evening; the sun was just setting through a scattered cloud base, leaving a hot pink after-glow reflecting off the towering cliff faces on either side of the river. The jumbled slopes falling away from the vertical walls were a study in light and shadow. The air was cooler by the water and soothed my senses, as did the swath of tamarisk and russian olive grafted into the sandy banks. I climbed the fence, dropped onto the path running parallel to the river and meandered west along with the flow of water. Breathing deeply, I inhaled the musky smell of the muddy water, moist red earth and vegetation.

I made my way across a rocky inlet and entered the thick forest of willow and stubby brush growing along the river bank. I find it interesting that within the densest growth of vegetation there was a trail just off the river channel that acted as a super highway for local wildlife. I recognized deer tracks as well as those of raccoon, coyote, badger, beaver and all sorts of birds and waterfowl. One might hear the slap of a beaver's tail on the water or something slipping through the brush, but it is extremely rare to encounter an actual critter.

As I made my way along the trail, I came to a wide spot next to a small group of cottonwood trees. A frown crossed my brow and I muttered to myself as I recognized the tracks of human animals. There were beer cans spread about the clearing, and signs of recent occupation. Shaking my head in disgust and cussing under my breath, I took in the scene. I was out here to be alone, and did not like sharing the experience with those more interested in stepping out of reality than experiencing it. Sighing heavily, I remembered the training I had received in the Boy Scouts concerning leaving no trace, and began to gather the thoughtless leavings of the family of man.

As I picked up the drained, aluminum remains and placed them into the paper sack thoughtfully left behind for just such an occasion, I noticed another trail leading directly towards the main road; this must have been the entry and exit route of my now stumbling neighbors. Leaning down to snatch-up the twelve pack carton, I noticed it felt heavier than it should. Shaking the box produced an unopened can of still cool, really cheap beer. It was my lucky day! Unfortunately, no matter how hard I had tried, I never developed a taste for beer of any quality. Heading down the trail, I held the beer in my right hand, shaking it and wishing for the chance to bean one of the people who had left it.

Packing a bag of trash through the brush had not been on my agenda, and the added responsibility was not appreciated. This must have been the reason I did not see what was occurring between the fox and the rabbit until I was almost on top of them. As I recognized their movement, I pulled up short to let what was happening register on my sluggish brain. The two creatures involved were locked in an encounter of life and death that was shortly going to take an unexpected twist.

It seemed Brair Fox had caught Brair Rabbit out in the open and captured him. At this point, the strikingly handsome fox was playing with its dinner and enjoying his extremely good luck. The jackrabbit looked exhausted and nearly resigned to his fate of becoming a rabbit kabob. The fox would flip the rabbit in the air and let it begin to dash off before retrieving it as easily as you please. The fox seemed to have a big smile on its face and the poor disrupted rabbit seemed to be weeping.

For some reason, when I spotted the scene, I reflexively raised the can of beer to a throwing position; self defense I guess. Neither participant had seen that I had joined the party, and a smile found its way to my lips. I realized that I had the opportunity to alter the lives of these two creatures in unexpected ways. At this point, the rabbit and the fox were separated by about three feet, and the fox was getting cocky because the rabbit had given up . I let out a yell which would have scared me if I had not been expecting it. The fox and the rabbit froze in their tracks as I once had and slowly, frighteningly looked in my direction.

I was close enough to see the stream of emotion flash through each pair of eyes as they slowly grasped the reality of their situation. The rabbit seemed excited now as it realized new hope; the fox seemed angry and looked to the rabbit as if to grab it up and be off. I hurled the effervesced can of beer to a spot directly between the two creatures. As fate would have it, the can struck a sharp rock and exploded as if a pasteurized bomb had gone off. Everyone and everything within ten feet of the impact experienced a portion of the tall boy, and things began to redirect.

The fox spun on its heel and sprinted towards the trail. The dripping white tip of its tail was the last I saw of it as it disappeared down the track. The rabbit stood up and gazed at me in amazement. It then shakily hopped to the thicket it must have been trying to get to all along. I hoped that as it cleaned itself, the 3.2 alcohol content brew now saturating its hide would help ease its pain, and that the hops and barley might nourish it during its recovery. I was smiling broadly by now, even though I must have smelled like a micro-brewers bad dream. I had altered reality and was proud of it.

As I retrieved the aluminum can and proudly marched home, I contemplated what had occurred. I was sure each participant had learned a number of lessons that day; I know I did. The most obvious were: (1) Your perspective on reality can change in a split second. Never underestimate the Joker; (2) Never, ever play with your food; and (3) Cheap beer can bring you a great deal of satisfaction when disposed of properly and goes well with fresh fox and rabbit.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post