Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bridge Beads

“How long are you going to wear those,” Jana asked when she noticed I had recently begun wearing two strands of cedar berry beads around my neck. “I’m not sure,” I responded, knowing full well that the look in her eye was one of uncertainty, and possible fear. It was obvious she was concerned that this seemingly slight change in apparel might signal a much larger problem. A reversion to the freewheeling 1960s was clearly weighing heavy on her mind. Barry readily acknowledged that he also had serious concerns. As for me, I was thinking on a more personal level.

Cedar Berry Bead Maker Alfonzo James

Jana and Barry were wondering whether the necklaces indicated some kind of sea change, and hoping it was just another attempt to get their attention. The 60s be damned, psychedelic posters, love beads and lava lamps had no place in the trading post as far as they were concerned; that was too far from traditional trading for them to accept.

Now, in all fairness, I was a little too young to have felt the full impact of the 60s. When the Simpson family moved to the Bay Area of California in 1967, I learned of San Francisco, Height-Ashbury and wearing flowers in your hair. For the most part, however, that decade passed me by without so much as a ripple. To me, free love meant getting a kiss from mom, and getting high involved climbing tall trees or scampering up the steep sandstone cliffs embracing Bluff.

The cedar berry necklaces I had recently acquired are variously known as ghost beads, sweet dream beads or, as I recently learned, balance beads. The traditional thought is that they chase away bad dreams and let you sleep in peace. One newly developed theory is that they lend a certain equilibrium to your life. As with many Navajo beliefs, this one is constantly evolving.

Although they do, in some ways, resemble the love beads of the 60s, cedar berry beads have a deeper heritage. Older Navajos would often put cedar berries in their mouths while walking at night. The berries were believed to ward off the bad spirits that skulk about in the darkness. Today, a few local Navajo people make their living stringing and selling the beads to tourists. The necklaces are extremely simple in construction; just strands of colored seed beads interspersed with cedar berries. Barry and I have been buying the necklaces for years to give as gifts to little girls who wander through the store.

Recently a progressive young Navajo man named Alfonzo James strode into the trading post with a slightly different, more simple design. Instead of the standard double strand with a tassel on the bottom, Alfonzo and his mother decided a single strand of beads was more aesthetically pleasing, cut production and labor costs in half and garnered the same revenue stream. Their simplified design is a testament to Navajo ingenuity and confirmation of the concept that simple is best.

Being a very broad-minded and driven young man, Alfonzo, while trying to convince me to purchase his entire inventory of about 400 sets, explained that his mother, with his assistance, made the beads to support his desire to obtain a degree in international business. He had recently returned from an educational trip to China, and was eager to generate the cash flow necessary to finance his next trip to Egypt.

Alfonzo expressed a desire to expand his travel plans and eventually transfer to a larger university where he can finalize his degree. Selling the beads is an integral part of his overall business plan. As we talked about his latest trip, Rose walked into the store, overheard the conversation and began sharing her China experiences with Alfonzo. “Did you go to Tiananmen Square? Did you see the terra cotta soldiers in Shaanxi province? Did you eat Peking duck? Did you visit the Forbidden City?” For the next half hour Rose and Alfonzo stood toe to toe, excitedly firing questions at each other. Having discovered a fellow traveler, both were in a heightened state of adventure; reliving their similar exploits.

It was then that I realized Alfonzo’s beads represent a powerful connection between our Anglo and Navajo cultures, a bridge allowing Alfonzo to experience the world on his own terms and a means for Barry and me to help Alfonzo realize his dreams. It was also then that we began referring to the necklaces as bridge beads; a vehicle for change.

In spite of Barry and Jana’s concerns about my new attire, and its potential effects on the trading post, there is no immediate crisis on the horizon. The psychedelic 60s are safely stowed in the past, although, from time to time, mom still gives me a little free love, Grange is now getting high on the cliffs and Kira has a new lava lamp.

To learn more about how you can help save the Bluff Swinging Bridge click here!

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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