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

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