Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bird Logic

Cottonwood Tree in Bluff, Utah.
Cottonwood Tree in Bluff, Utah.

I silently stood at the base of the age old tree, trying to blend into the natural camouflage provided by the green, leafy canopy and filtered sunlight. Through the foliage and gnarled branches, the sky was a magnificent blue/white, with nary a cloud in sight. Where heaven and earth meet, the dramatic reddish orange, white capped cliffs that surround our small settlement stood out in sharp contrast. The image laid before me provided a visual feast for the eyes.

Leaving Steve and Priscilla to polish the glass and vacuum the red dust that had crept in during the wind gusts and brief but welcome rain shower the previous night, I had paused in my midmorning trading post duties to slip away for a moment and reacquaint myself with a treasured friend. Laying my hands on the interwoven and heavily textured bark and gazing skyward through her branches has always been a non-pharmaceutical form of stress relief therapy for me. Only a few minutes drive from our front doors stands this highly effective therapist that costs me only my time.

As I stood beside the tree, a dark cloud of small birds emerged from the riverbank. The sizable mass of feathered mayhem erratically darted in one direction and then another, as if guided by an unseen, drunken hand. A high pitched, chaotic blend of bird verbiage emanated from the fowl storm and wrecked the calm and peaceful atmosphere I was hoping to find. I thought for a moment the assemblage would pass me and my therapist by, but at the last minute the birds looped back and alighted, in mass, in my tree.

European Starling

Looking up into the black canopy forming in the cottonwood, I witnessed what I assumed to be an overwhelmingly large flock of Starlings. Those birds covered the tree thicker than hair on a bear, and the din they made was unbearable. Frowning up at the interlopers, I was about to let them know they were most unwelcome when, from the upper reaches of the tree, came a large, ominous drop of white rain. Sidestepping the assault, I realized I stood in harm's way when it came to being fertilized from above. It seemed the birds had something to say about me being there as well.

Feeling trapped and highly offended at the same time, I hugged the trunk of the tree and quickly relocated under one of its main branches. I should have simply walked away, but I was angry now; mad at these nasty natured neighbors and frustrated that my moment of solace had been snatched away by their intrusion. I cupped my hands and quickly clapped them together three times. The entire flock exploded into the air, as if triggered by a shotgun blast. At that exact moment, I learned a terrible lesson. It seems that frightened birds commonly "let loose" upon take off.

Cottonwood Tree in Bluff, Utah.
Cottonwood Tree in Bluff, Utah by Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The entire open space under that tree was whitewashed in a matter of moments. If I had not taken refuge below my protective branch, I too would have found myself turd and feathered. As it was, I stood mostly untouched. Counting myself extremely lucky, I decided it was time to return to work. Beating a hasty retreat away from my Cottonwood tree, I realized that nature really does not care much about human beings.

On my way back to the trading post, I had a few moments to ponder what had occurred and develop a few thoughts: first; the animal world probably figures they have been forced out of prime natural habitat far too often to feel sorry for their greedy, upright neighbors and will take a cheap shot if given the opportunity; secondly, it seems reasonable that if given the forum to vent their frustration they will do so without hesitation; and thirdly, there is no better way to make a point than to cause a stink about it. Lastly, and probably the most important point of all, as dear old Uncle Willy would say, "piss on 'em if they can't take a joke!"

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Slice of Santa Fe

The $12 drawing from Santa Fe
The $12 Santa Fe drawing

With the cooler weather and shorter days that edge us towards winter, it is now dark as I leave the house above the trading post to begin my morning cycling tours. If I am able to wake on time and if I ride hard to the top of White Mesa Hill, I crest the steep incline just as the sun breaks over the horizon between Sleeping Ute Mountain and Lone Cone. The expanding glow and receding shadows creeping across this broken, wild landscape make my heart pound faster than it otherwise might. In spite of my realization that I am completely inconsequential in comparison to the sunrise, the glistening light of a new day always makes me feel like a king.

As I spin north towards my turnaround point at the Mobil convenience store, the gears of the bicycle click up and down in a tightly synchronized choreography. Like the brain asking an arm or leg to respond, there is virtually no lag between request and response. Once in awhile, however, the bike stumbles into what can only be described as a time warp.

This wrinkle in time manifests itself in a momentary lapse between the instant my finger clicks the shifter and the derailleur moves the chain up or down the cluster to the appropriate gear, which causes my legs to spin without resistance. It is as though gravity has been suspended and there is no friction between the bicycle tire and the pavement. Temporarily, I float down the blacktop unhindered. The world stops and the bike is propelled forward as though sliding on a lubricated surface. Then the gears reengage, and I am left to wonder what it all means.

In vain I have searched the natural world for a similar experience. Then, a few weekends ago, I attended Indian Market in Santa Fe and found my comparable. As I wandered the streets of Old Town at 7:30 a.m., it struck me that I was feeling the same emotion I have when the bicycle gears disengage; a sense of floating, of being unencumbered.

For me, Santa Fe is unknowable. My internal compass cannot find any distinct magnetism to guide it. Although I have visited the city several times, it always confounds me. If I park my car in one location and conscientiously backtrack to that exact spot, I find the street where I left the vehicle has moved; generally south and west. My friends Carl and Leah discovered this unusual phenomenon when they trusted me to lead them from the Plaza back to my Subaru.

Thinking I could outsmart whomever was moving the streets, I had arrived early and selected a large parking lot that would not be difficult to relocate. I was, however, fooled once again. Carl and Leah patiently followed me round and round; their sense of hopelessness growing by the minute. Fortunately we ran across a seasoned Santa Fe traveler who had recently spotted the lot and was able to give us accurate directions.

Once my charges departed, thinking it may be wise to mark my path, I unsuccessfully searched the car for twine or bread. After a while, however, I convinced myself string and crumbs would make no difference. Due to the shifting nature of that land, and the inability of my biological compass to locate traditional markers, any signs I might leave would certainly lead me to yet another dead end.

My head began to spin as I wandered the streets of Santa Fe looking at all the newly created art. Trying to ground myself, I stopped by a few booths to speak with the artists about their work; it only made things worse. I began to feel slightly more settled when I located an emerging master who sold me her enchanting drawing for $12.00.

As I approached the table of Hopi potter Rondina Huma, however, an attractive couple dragging a handsome young lad stepped in front of me, throwing me off balance. “How much is that,” they quickly asked, indicating one of two small disk-shaped pots. “Eighteen Thousand Dollars,” came the direct, unemotional response. At that point, I am sure all of us felt the earth move, and I knew my car would once again prove impossible to find.

Back on the bicycle a few days later, I once again ran headlong into the Highway 191 time warp. This time, however, I had an explanation; a slice of Santa Fe had found its way to Bluff.

With warm regards,

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Inner Perceptions, Outer Reflections

The beauty, diversity and scenic elegance of the area surrounding our high desert home has, somehow, ingrained itself into my psyche. It seems that whenever I seek peace and quiet, and look for inner solace, I find myself lost in the landscape. I often envision myself sitting contentedly on a high mesa in the shadow of a slight, malformed juniper tree with just enough foliage to shade me from whatever the sky world might send my way.

Twin Rocks Modern Design Navajo Rug

I imagine myself reclining against a pockmarked, lichen-encrusted face of sandstone, deeply inhaling the aroma of the good earth and looking out across the landscape. In my mind, I witness a slightly out of focus watercolor world of flat topped mesas graduating in hue from rosy pink to deep purple, depending upon the distance they stand from my vantage point. Red rock canyons raggedly cut into the earth by eons of harsh red, scouring winds and scant but out of control bursts of rain water; stunted mountain ranges peppered with blue green smudges of juniper and pine on their flanks; and all sorts of oddly shaped bugaboos of sculpted rock are scattered about to add character and inanimate spice to the scenic menagerie.

I find parallels between the desert decor and the manner in which my brain interprets input. Whether it is unity I seek with the natural world, or simply a way to explain thought patterns which are otherwise indecipherable, as I gaze down into the maze of rock, sand and stunted vegetation, I realize a metamorphosis. The landscape helps me interpret my life and the myriad of emotion contained therein.

As with my Navajo neighbors, I see the world as directional, and associated with the color of the natural world. To the east, for example, I visualize purity and light, new beginnings, the birth of my children and the promise of a good, bountiful and productive life spread out before them. I also realize duty, because I am responsible for their presence here, I am honor-bound to prepare them to face that life with dignity, harmony and balance. With the glorious dawn and emergence of the Sun over this stark but multi-dimensional land, I see a promise for a brilliant future.

To the south, I see the depth of emotion surrounding my world. A deep blue warmth spreads through my being as I recognize the female form in the southern mountains and valleys. A productive area of artesian springs and fruitful lowlands spreading forth and holding at bay the harsh and rugged aspects of maleness pressing in from all sides. I visualize my wife working diligently at providing sustenance and comfort to her family, with very little thought of her own wants and needs. An opposite resides there that equalizes and combines to bring forth moderation and equality.

Through the valley, flanked by all manner of growth and energy, runs a red river symbolizing a life force greater than our own. It is a reminder of things we cannot explain or control, but must learn to accept and deal with on intangible terms. The river ebbs and flows, forever altering itself, showcasing different views to a wide and varied variety of humanity. Many interpret the flow to their own satisfaction, try to harness and tame it, claiming understanding. I see not one but many aspects of the river from my vantage point, and do not claim to totally understand any, but attempt to recognize all.

The west is a brilliant place with golden light, thoughtful meditation and hope. This landscape is older, more subtle and rounded, worn down by the ages but still full of wonder and promise. A comfortable region where the Sun rests at the end of each day, and where I must one day travel to find my own peace and answers to that which I struggle to understand in this earthly existence.

Behind me and to the north is a powerful place full of towering, desolate and frigid peaks accompanied by deep, dark, ominous valleys. I seldom gaze in this direction, because I fear it. Here is where I hold my aggression, the warrior in me dwells within this domain and is held at bay until needed. I realize that much caution and deliberation must be brought to bear before loosing one's personal beast. At times, this being can be extremely useful, but most often should be caged to prevent harm to oneself and others.

Twin Rocks Modern Design Rug

Also within this northerly fortress is contained overbearing emotion. Pain dwells here, also grief, sorrow and guilt; those feelings, which effect me most deeply, those which I recognize can destroy me from within. If left unfettered to ravage my psychological well-being, they render me useless; a negative influence on society instead of a positive force. I have noticed that I can never fully banish these emotions, but can learn from them and, hopefully, become a better human being from contemplating and recognizing their existence.

Overall the vantage point I mentally place myself on provides me with a more thoughtful perspective than simply wandering around aimlessly among the monuments. My high desert surroundings seem to absorb the negativity I naturally possess, and help me to focus positive energy. I realize there is much to know, but with the help of many diverse cultures and viewpoints I at least have a fighting chance at beginning to understand.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 7, 2006

You're Fired!

You are fired! With those words, my trading post career came to an abrupt and terrible end. The day began so promisingly; the sun was shining, birds were singing, Priscilla had come to work early and even grumpy old Barry was in a good mood. With all those indicators pointing in the right direction, I was sure things were going my way.

Steve Simpson @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

Recently I had been reading several self-help books, like How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to be a Big Daddy in Your Little Paddy. All my hard work was finally paying off; customers were smiling more, once in a while I got a friendly hug and I had even been mentioned as a candidate for Trader of the Year. Never mind that I was the only person promoting the nomination.

How could I have anticipated that before noon my life would be in ruins, I would have no visible means of purchasing milk for the children, my wife would be contemplating divorce and, worst of all, I could no longer call myself an Indian trader.

Now, to be perfectly honest, there have been times when I have questioned whether fate dealt me a bad hand by delivering me into this frontier town where most residents live for a good scuffle. Having put up with their bad moods for so long, however, I have become somewhat immune to the more temperamental inhabitants of this scruffy outpost.

Recently a friend described the people of Bluff as “survivors.” Scrappers and fighters were probably more appropriate terms. In spite of all that, day after day, I had come to the trading post with a smile on my face and a song in my heart; usually John Denver’s Sunshine on My Shoulder.

Tourists who asked questions that scrambled my brain and frazzled my senses, and neighbors who questioned my every action, were heartily embraced, or at least tolerated. I had worked hard to be patient with community members who threw ill-tempered fits when they disapproved of my projects. Had I been an oyster, I would have turned out strands of pearls by now. I am not, however, a shellfish. I was an Indian trader, and nothing else mattered.

Yes, I could buy baskets, rugs and folk art. Yes, I had been tempered by the fire of aggressive artists with ingenious schemes. Yes, I was beginning to understand the difference between Morenci, Blue Gem, Royston and Bisbee turquoise. And, most importantly, I had learned to spend more than I take in. Using a famous Winston Churchill quote as the basis for my fundamental philosophy, I had adopted the motto, “Never, Never, Never stay within your budget.” That, I had discovered, was the hallmark of a real trader.

It has been about 15 years since I have watched television at home. Because TV permeates society at every level, however, I have often heard about the series The Apprentice and Donald Trump’s legendary, “You’re fired.” You’re fired, humph, I had only been fired once. Well, technically twice, but I do not care to talk about that. With my new sensitivity training, I was convinced nobody would ever dismiss me again. No sir, not Donald Trump, not anybody.

Then destiny arrived in an unexpectedly small package. I was packaging a Ruby Growler sheep for my buddy Bevan and the first container I tried was too small. Priscilla graciously offered to go upstairs and get me a larger box. I smiled broadly, and, in my best Opie Griffith voice, said, “Yes, thank you, that would be swell.”

Fate walked into the trading post at 10:49 a.m., with an unassuming air. Clad in green camouflage capri fatigues and an Australian accent, she was a slightly disheveled woman with a disarming grin. “Good morning,” I said, with a smile I thought would charm even the most seasoned tourist. “Hello,” she pleasantly responded.

Her next comment sealed my doom. Looking straight at me with laser like precision, she asked, “Do the Indians who make this actually get any of the money.” In a flash I realized that my hard labor had accounted for nothing. Although I tried to hold back the comment, I blurted out, “No, we never give the poor devils anything, and still they keep bringing all this stuff.” With a wink of her eye, my tormentor turned and walked out of the trading post into the bright sunlight; her disarming grin morphing into a sly smirk.

Shortly thereafter, at 10:52 a.m., the dream ended, with Barry’s impression of Donald Trump dismissing yet another unhappy apprentice. As he began to regain his composure, he gasped, “Do you think this is Santa Fe?”

Falling on the floor, I began to cry. After about an hour Barry could take it no longer and, in the interest of avoiding additional embarrassment to the customers, finally gave in. I was reinstated, but only after executing a written covenant promising that I will henceforth be on my best behavior with townspeople and tourists.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post