Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tapestry of a Trader

Navajo Basket by Fannie King
Fannie King Basket

After watching Dr. Zhivago for the second time this month, I have become extremely contemplative. I cannot get Lara’s Theme out of my mind; it seems to be running in a never ending loop. As a result, I see the spring trying to break through at every turn. Earlier today, as I drove back from Blanding after dropping Kira and Tarrik off at school, the morning sun beamed through the side window, warming me against the outside chill, making me drowsy and causing me to wonder how it is that I arrived at this stage of life, in this isolated land, doing this same job for over 17 years.

Traditional Indian trading as we knew it is dead. There are, however, remnants of it surviving in out of the way places like Bluff, Ismay, Shonto and Sanders, and I have become part of those leftovers. How that happened, I do not really understand. All I know is that my journey has been like that of a leaf cast upon a stream. When I begin to believe I have some measure of control over my destiny, I am dragged up by the shirt collar and quickly realize that I have none. So it is with my life as an Indian trader.

After all this time running the Twin Rocks trading post, I am often amazed at the way things have changed. The old traders often speak with fondness of the people they traded with through the years. It took awhile, but eventually I fully understood the emotion. I too have become attached to the people, both Native American and otherwise, who rely on the trading post for monetary support, artistic beauty and any number of other needs and desires. The relationship is symbiotic, not symbolic, and we have all become interwoven.

Recently, after an accounting snafu that I failed to notice before it reached a critical stage, Barry and I agreed we would suspend buying inventory for the store. That may seem like a small thing, but many of the local artists view the Twin Rocks trading post as an important source of financial security. So, when Elsie Holiday came in with her latest creation, which was a beauty, Barry and I looked at each other and shook our heads sideways. Although it was going to be difficult, we had to tell her we could not buy the basket until we worked out things with our banker.

Navajo Basket by Elsie Holiday
Elsie Holiday Basket

The look on her face sent me into a deep, dark funk. I knew she needed the money to pay the house payment and feed the family, but this time we were unable to help. As she walked out the door, I thought my heart would break. I knew at this time of the year she would find it difficult to locate an alternative outlet. After she left, I realized there was another avenue; Kira and Grange had money in their Traders in Training savings account, so they could buy her basket.

For the next week, I waited anxiously for Elsie to return so I could give her the good news. When she finally did, I was stunned by her comments. She said she had been praying for us because she felt things must be really bad if we were not buying her baskets. She told me she had heard I had been killed and that the Twin Rocks trading post was closing. She went on to lay out a variety of other horribles. I assured her the accounts of my demise were greatly exaggerated, that I was currently more alive than dead and that the Twin Rocks trading post was still viable. I persuaded her this was only a small wrinkle in the overall fabric of the enterprise.

This episode made me realize just how much all this means to me and how intertwined our individual lives have become. Once in awhile I wonder what I would be doing if I were not an Indian trader in a small reservation border town. In truth, I can imagine a few things I would enjoy, but nothing I would like more.

A few years ago, Paul Zolbrod conceived an interesting publication idea. He brought together a group of weavers and had them examine old Navajo textiles. As the ladies inspected the blankets and rugs, they began to point out things that were incorporated into the warp and weft; a piece of horse sinew that may have been from a favorite horse; a color change that may have indicated an especially wet winter.

At this point I know I am like those tapestries, much of this land and its people have indelibly marked me. If you scratch my surface, you will surely find sumac slivers and wool fibers.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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