Thursday, December 21, 2006

Self Help

I was having a bad day! It was getting on towards evening and I had not gotten much of anything done at the Twin Rocks trading post. I think it was the first telephone call of the morning that got things started off wrong. I received a page from Kathy saying there was an irate customer on the line seeking someone to take her frustration out on. I hesitantly picked up the phone and said, "Hi this is Steve how may I help you?". I sometimes use Steve's name when I need a scapegoat.

The top of the Bluffs in Bluff, Utah
Bluff, Utah from above.

The woman on the other end of the line wasted no time letting me know she was angry because she was getting a first class runaround. She jumped right on me, saying, in an aggravated tone of voice, that her ring needed repair and I should take care of the unhappy situation, "post haste". "Okay", I said, "everything we sell is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Simply send me the ring and we will repair it, right away." There was silent hesitation at the other end of the line, then a sigh of resignation. I said, "You did buy the ring from us, didn't you?" The woman said, "Sadly no, I bought it directly from the artist."

A few minutes later the entire story was related to me. It seems a couple years ago this now unhappy collector bought a very expensive coral ring from Hasteen Begay on the Portal in Santa Fe. Recently the coral had dislodged and escaped somewhere into the wild grasslands of northern Vermont. The woman had wisely charged the transaction on her credit card, so she called VISA to solicit their powerful aid in resolving her dilemma. VISA, with their supercomputer and know-it-all data base of information, gave her our 800 number and said, "Go forth and seek satisfaction". So, I found myself attempting to arbitrate a situation that had absolutely no relationship to our business, and on our dime.

How the credit card company connected this poor woman's complaint with us will surely be one of those forever unsolved, troublesome mysteries. Now that I knew the woman's problem, I began searching for a solution. Finding one, I rolled out the Rolodex and extracted Hasteen's phone number and address then gave him up! The poor woman was no better served, but at least she had a bead on someone other than me. She thanked me for my somewhat selfless help. I told her it was not a problem and that if she had further troubles to call our complaint department at 1-800-Steve's your man.

Next I got a call from one of the turquoise miners we work with. I won't mention his name for fear of retribution, but this guy is, as dear old dad often says, "rough as a cob!" For years I took this saying for granted, not really understanding its actual significance. One day I couldn't take the lack of knowledge any longer and risked asking my father exactly what it meant and where the saying originated. He explained that the term sprang to life in the days of outdoor facilities. Paper products were a rare and valued commodity, not often afforded and certainly never wasted. Every little thing was used and used again if an additional, beneficial purpose could be found. It seems a feast of roasted corn was not only a treat for the palate, but afterwards the dried cob provided a cleansing tool for the derriere. The fruit of the corn served a higher purpose, providing sustenance and the cob was brought back into service to serve a lower purpose; cleaning up. Thus the saying, "rough as a cob!" I had to ask.

As I spoke with my turquoise supplying associate, I felt I was being formally abused, much like the sensation the cob might have provided one's backside. After having my personal safety and my life threatened several times, we came to somewhat agreeable terms on the purchase of his highly desirable blue and green gems. Just before he hung up, Mr. Turquoise laughed and told me that just because he threatened to break my knees and stuff me in a mine shaft didn't mean we weren't friends; it was simply his way of showing affection. I love that guy!

So it went the rest of the day, until it came to a point where I was feeling chaffed and raw about the coarseness of the situation. I felt as if I needed to get out of the shop and reconnect with the natural world. I hoped Mother Earth would treat me with more respect. I found my coat and grabbed the digital camera; I had lately been noticing the beauty of the cap-rock on the cliff tops above town. As I drive home each evening, the play of evening light and shadow on the roiled and domed surfaces had captured my imagination and was now drawing me in. Leaving work an hour early would give me enough time to witness a sunset "on the rocks!"

I told Steve where I was going and that if a Mrs. Norton from New England called to act like they were old friends. I was out the door before he could ask any questions, jumped into the Toyota and headed north. I drove up Cow Canyon, took a hard right on the belt loop and another onto the first dirt road that ran parallel to the canyon. Five minutes from the front door of the trading post put me within a short walk of my goal.

Stepping out of the car forced me to contend with a brisk and bitter breeze, my ears felt the nip of low temperatures and my eyes immediately teared up. It seemed nature was not going to allow me a reprieve from a less than perfect day. I had only a light coat and no hat, but I was determined to get to the slick rock and see the sunset no matter what. Trudging across the desert caused my toes to numb, but I made it to where the desert met the rock. Looking up through misty eyes, I recognized the bold, bubbly formation setting before me. I reached down and felt the sand paper texture of the rock and was immediately calmed.

I scrambled up the slick rock slope looking for a southwesterly exposed stadium seat to witness the end of day. Having grown up in this area, I knew that somewhere in this twisted cauliflower formation there would be a small, out-of-the-way alcove protected from the cold wind and warmed by the evening sunlight. I topped the crest of stone and moved down the other side, soon finding just such a location. It was actually quite cozy and the sun was resting right on the horizon, waiting for me to settle in and enjoy the show.

I have to say that I have witnessed much more grand and spectacular sunsets, but never one so calming. The sound of complete silence surrounded me as did the coarse yet nurturing stone. It seemed my self-perceived troubles dissipated into the rock as the sun descended behind the horizon. It felt good to join with nature and ignore the complications of the real world. As all traces of the sun and my bad humor withdrew, and twilight came forth, I raised up and breathed deeply the cleansing air. Turning towards the west, I was greeted by a nearly full rising moon. I said a prayer of thanks for being able to live in such a strikingly beautiful and unique area and to so quickly and easily commune with nature.

The Beauty of Bluff, Utah
The Sunset from Bluff, Utah.

Walking back across the short strip of under-vegetated sand, icy white moonlight and enveloping purple twilight put me at complete ease. I thought of my family waiting at home and felt warm and comfortable in spite of the nip in the air and frostbite on my ears. I was hoping my wife and children would forgive me for being late for dinner, but was certain I would be easier to get along with when I arrived. I also thought I might have to send Steve out here tomorrow night to enjoy a similar experience. When he finds out I have sacrificed him in the effort to save my own sanity he may be a tad aggravated in his own right. In the meantime, where was an outhouse when you needed one?
(Click here to see additional images of Bluff, Utah's beauty!)

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Off Center

The other day I telephoned John Huling to catch up on a few things. John and his wife Joni live in Vermont, so we don’t get to see each other much. I first met John maybe 15 years ago, when he and Joni were traveling through the Southwest and happened into the trading post. As I often do with our first-time customers, I asked where they were from and what they did for a living. John said he had composed music for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is one of my favorite places in all the world, so we immediately formed a bond. When he gave me copies of his albums we became fast friends.

Kay Harris Flutes
Flute Maker - Kay Harris

A few years after our initial meeting, John offered to play a flute concert at the trading post. The event was a great success, and many people later told me the evening was one of the most enjoyable concerts they had ever attended. During the early stages of our friendship, John determined to teach me the Native American flute. “It’s easy; anyone can do it,” he assured me. I figured if the whales can make music, I probably could too. After an hour of instruction, however, John and I both realized that I had no affinity for it, and that I was both tone deaf and musically dumb. Since that time, John has studiously avoided trying to expand my harmonic horizons.

During our telephone conversation, I mentioned that I had recently spoken with Kay Harris. Kay makes exceptionally well-crafted flutes in the Native American style, and it was John who brought us together. I had been wanting to carry flutes in the trading post for some time, but could not find the quality I desired. John used Kay’s flutes in many of his recordings, so he gave me Kay’s telephone number and I made the call.

Once we met, I quickly realized that Kay is the kind of individual you grow immediately fond of. Having spent the majority of his life outdoors in the great Southwest, the environment has worn away all of his rough edges. What remains in a gentle man who is as comfortable as an old saddle. Kay and I often talk about the troubled kids he takes on river expeditions, cattle drives, the simple and elegant pine caskets he builds and his flutes.

Kay Harris Flutes
Kay's Trademark

Kay’s trademark, which is on all his instruments, is an offset circle within a circle. He says the wood of the instrument represents our world; the solid silver disk symbolizes the individual flute player and his journey from earth to sky. The metallic disk also represents Kay’s hope that before we reach the heavens we will find some harmony that moves us closer to the center.

John told me that he once asked Kay to make a flute with a perfectly centered circle. Kay declined the offer, however, stating that he could not, because he had personally known only two cases where that type of perfection had been attained. Each instance involved great and painful loss.

After Kay left the store, I thought about my own life and how Kay’s offset circle metaphor fit my circumstances. My journey toward the center has consistently and frustratingly followed an erratic, squiggly and generally unpredictable path. Quite often I feel I am not only uncentered, but mostly unhinged; that, rather than moving closer to the hub, I am actually gravitating farther away.

There are times, however, when Jana and the kids are in my heart; when I am running in the early morning with everything quiet, fresh and new; when the evening light streams through golden cottonwood trees; or when I am cycling on a lonely back road that I feel the center may be near.

Often I remember an interview I saw many years ago. During that segment, Rob Reiner said, “In my life I have had about 10 minutes of happiness; not all at once of course, but one minute here, 30 seconds there . . . .” At the time, I thought Reiner was merely being sarcastic; I later came to believe he was talking about the complete contentment Kay relates to his fully centered circles.

Although those moments of absolute centering may not last long, they are unforgettable. They are love in its most basic element; love of self, love of others and love of one’s environment. It is only love that truly centers us. Kay’s visit reminded me how far I must travel to locate the center, but also how far I have already journeyed. Kay might agree that the adventure is in the undertaking, that we must keep striving and keep loving; the center may be closer than we think.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Pauletta's Rug

"I need $2,000.00 for my rug," Pauletta stated with a look of quiet determination on her face and a trace of a smile on her lips. "Here we go again," I mumbled to myself. Standing before me, backlit by slanting shafts of autumn sunlight streaming in through the open Kokopelli doors, stood the three Ps; Pauline, Pauletta and four year old Paulina. The golden aura surrounding the threesome caused me to recall the last time I encountered Pauline, and how she had attempted to use divine intervention to negotiate an exaggerated price for her weaving.

Navajo Rug by Pauletta Deswudt
Pauline & Pauletta Deswudt @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

Worriedly, and carefully, I scanned the hidden recesses of the trading post, sighing with genuine relief when I discovered we were alone, Focusing on Pauletta, with her adorably crooked smile and her mother's wickedly devious earthy brown eyes, I took the bait. "Why do you need $2,000.00 for your rug? Although I would like to buy it. I am pretty sure it is beyond my budget!" I said. Smiling openly now, and giving me the "DUH" look, this 17 year old, expertly tutored, maiden of the high desert delivered her answer. "My senior class is planning a trip to Miami in the spring, and my cost for the adventure is $2,000.00."

The day before I had received a telephone call from Pauline informing me that her daughter was nearly finished with her first ever weaving, and she wanted me to buy it. I was intrigued, because Pauline weaves extremely interesting old style, hand-spun rugs and I was hoping Pauline had taught her daughter well. Hand-spun rugs are rapidly declining in availability, because the weavers must spend huge amounts of time and effort weaving them. The collecting public has been reluctant to pay for rugs that are not of a refined nature, and hand-spun weavings are generally more "folk art" than fine. They are normally not as finished or symmetrical as rugs woven with the carefully graded and evenly spun commercial wools. Because weavers of hand-spun rugs shear the sheep, clean the wool, card it, spin it and only then begin to weave the rug, there is a great deal of extra labor involved.

There are certain definite indicators of this process. Because of the methods involved, hand-spun rugs are "of and near the earth" and they retain many vestiges of their origin. Strong soaps are not used to clean the fibers because detergent strips out the wool's lanolin; the secret to their durability and stain resistance. Because softer soaps are weak at best, the "ode de sheep" remains. In layman's terms, they smell like sheep and stuff. The smell of juniper smoke, red earth and local vegetation are often prevalent and noticeable. Running one's hands over such weavings with too much enthusiasm can provide a deeply embedded sliver to worry over.

Don't get me wrong, these additions to the finished product are not necessarily detrimental; to me they add to the character of the rug and flavor to the trading post. The warm rich smell and texture are reminiscent of my past. These are the rugs my brothers, sisters and I grew up on. Stimulated by sight, smell and feel, these weavings bring back fond memories of growing up in Bluff in such close and significant proximity to our Native neighbors.

It is not unusual for me to hold a new rug woven in this manner close and breath in its fragrance to relive my memorable and treasured youth. I must caution those new to this endeavor to proceed cautiously, however, while sampling the flavor of the Rez. The other day I spied a hand-spun rug Steve had purchased from Tuley Begay setting unattended on the counter. Striding eagerly towards the weaving, I whisked it up, covered my face with it and breathed in deeply.

Instantly I was struck by the overwhelming fragrance of sheep, flora, fauna and smoke. Stumbling backward, and falling to my knees, I flung the overpowering, aromatic rug away and gasped for unspoiled air. Hacking and spitting in an attempt to clear my airways, I slowly regained my composure and my footing. Priscilla was the only one to witness my self-induced asthma attack, and was kind enough to withhold her laughter. Picking up the rug, she took it outside, shook it briskly and hung it in the crisp fall air for the rest of the day.

Navajo Rug by Pauline Deswudt
Paulina, Pauline & Pauletta @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

As my thoughts wondered, Pauletta and Pauline gazed at me with a questioning air while Paulina played lovingly with the stuffed sheep. As these thoughts coursed through my brain, I smiled inwardly at the bold audacity of this young weaver. I thought for a moment, then calmly spoke to Pauletta, telling her that I too thought she should have the opportunity to travel to Miami. Unfortunately, I explained, I was not in a position to pay for the entire trip in one fell swoop. I told her I was willing to buy her rugs throughout the winter, at a fair price, and together we would accomplish her worthy goals.

Pauletta, Pauline, and even young Paulina seemed satisfied with the arrangement, so it did not take long to finalize agreeable terms for her weaving. Looking down at the wide eyed innocence of Paulina, I took a dollar from the cash register and gave it to her. I advised Paulina to start saving now for her senior trip, which would make it easier on both of us. From that day forth, in an attempt to get her to Miami, we have purchased Pauletta's weavings for slightly more than they might otherwise bring. Every time she walks in the door with her agreeably fragrant rugs, she smiles her mischievous, crooked smile and says; "I'm going to Miami, I need $2.000.00 for my rug! And Paulina is looking for another dollar.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post