Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sheri's Little Adventure or Little Things Mean A Lot!

Recently I was speaking with a friend who related the story of her interaction with a small, but alluring lizard. It seems Sheri was taking a reflective walk along the San Juan River, near Mexican Hat, while on a quest for a white feather. The feather was needed for a healing ceremony she was looking forward to participating in.

Lizard Art
Metal Art Lizard

While cautiously making her way along the rocky and log littered riverbank, she came across a blue-bellied lizard lazily lounging on a water worn and sun baked tree limb. Sheri stopped instantly when she recognized the resting reptile. The, long-anticipated, early spring sunlight, and the warmth it provided, had caused the lizard to be less than wary of interlopers.

As soon as the creature realized its space had been invaded, it beat a hasty retreat to the dark side of the log. Sheri is not one to intentionally disrupt the harmony of anyone or anything, so she backed off a step to give the lizard time to calm its nerves and reassess the situation.

The now souped up and highly aware reptile must have been surprised that there was no aggression directed at him, so he peeked out from under the branch to reconnoiter an escape. In the meantime, Sheri had knelt down to the lizard’s level to gain a better perspective. Before they knew it, Sheri and the lizard were in close proximity.

Looking her over carefully, the seemingly unperturbed lizard must have found her rather agreeable, because it moved toward her and began eyeing her affectionately. Our now bold “Blue Boy” stayed awhile and silently communed with Sheri in a very simple, basic manner; they admired one another.

Unfortunately Sheri could not hold her position indefinitely and eventually had to shift her weight to relieve the pressure on her knees. This caused her to brush a small pile of dry, brittle leaves with her foot. The slight movement and accompanying noise caused the spell to be broken. Sheri’s new friend sprang from the limb and sprinted out of sight amongst the myriad rocks and tangled litter of washed-up flotsam.

When Sheri spoke with me about the blue-bellied lizard, she was a bit embarrassed to have been emotionally touched by such a simple encounter. I, on the other hand, was impressed that she was so in tune with her environment as to feel the strings that connected her to one of nature’s tiny creatures. The force is strong in this one!

After Sheri shared her lizard experiences with me, she asked what connection the Navajo people have with these creatures. I am always a bit embarrassed when someone asks me to interpret Navajo culture, so I tend to preface my answers with something like, “Well as I understand it”.

Navajo Folk Art by Grace and Marvin Jim
Navajo Folk Art by Artists
Marvin Jim & Grace Begay

In any case, what came to mind is derived from the old herky, jerky Coyote story film strips we saw in grade school. The films were produced at the Blanding Media Center with the aid of local Navajo people. I specifically recall the story of the lizards having a grand old time while sliding down a sand hill on flat rocks.

Coyote tried to join in on the fun, but was told he did not have the skills and would most likely break his head if he tried. Of course Coyote had to try his hand, or foot as it were, at “sand surfing,” and did in fact break his head. Coyote was then chastised by an old, bent and wizened lizard with much knowledge, understanding and respect for Navajo culture, and life in general.

The lizard lectured Coyote about his limitations, intruding in on others’ affairs and the consequences associated with such intrusion. Because of this, I have always viewed lizards as educators wise in the ways of tradition, ceremony and life ways; a thoughtful and considerate teacher willing to share their experiences with those seeking answers. Maybe Sheri’s lizard recognized a compassionate, kindred soul with open heart and mind.

Certainly I am not a “monk on a mountain,” and I clearly do not have the answers to life’s most pressing questions. In my humble opinion, however, it is the simple occurrences we often overlook that have the ability to touch us most. Sheri had shared time, and the most basic form of communication, with one of God’s smallest creatures. She did not find the white feather she sought; she did however carry away the music of the river and the joy of nature’s encounter. Little things really do mean a lot!

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Are You Your Sister's Brother?

The young man of about seven years stood in the doorway of the Twin Rocks trading post with his hands in his pockets, staring at me and contemplating an obviously significant question.

Steve and Rose Simpson
Steve & Rose Simpson

Spring had arrived, and after a long, cold winter, Barry and I had flung open the Kokopelli doors to let in the vernal warmth. The boy, dressed in a brightly colored pullover shirt and short pants, wandered thoughtfully through the entry and stopped just inside the threshold. After scrutinizing him for a few moments from my perch behind the counter, I asked, “May I help you young man?” Stepping forward a few feet and screwing up his courage, he inquired, with an air of extreme seriousness, “Are you your sister’s brother?”

Carefully considering the gravity of this inquiry, and hoping the ambivalence in my reply would not be overtly apparent, I said, “Yes sir, I believe I am.” To my great relief, his parents chuckled, thereby deflecting the uncertainty I was attempting to mask by my answer. Clearly they did not grasp the complexity of their son’s question.

Now, I have universally maintained that I have two sisters and two brothers; Susan, Craig, Barry and Cindy, in that chronological order. There has, however, always been a lingering doubt as to my origin. Duke has never indicated any uneasiness regarding my genealogy, so I believe my patrimony is clear. Rose, however, is an altogether different matter.

When we were very young, Rose often hinted that I was found under a rock, leaving open the issue of my maternal ancestry. I did not know, and never had the courage to ask, whether that meant she brought me into this world naturally, misplaced me and later rediscovered her latest sapling under that rock, or whether I was abandoned at a young age to shift for myself.

The youngster’s question weighed heavily on my mind as I peddled my bicycle towards Mexican Hat a few days later. Usually I am up before the stars go down to begin my exercise routine, but it was my day off and I had gotten up late. The beautiful weather motivated me to dust off the bike that had been dormant all winter, pull on my cycling gear and strike out in the direction of Monument Valley.

Everyone on the road was in a great mood, waiving and giving me the thumbs up. In one case, on a particularly narrow stretch of road, a guy even called me “Buddy” and anointed me with an unusual one finger greeting. The sun had warmed me to the core, and I was happy to be back in the saddle, happy the travelers were in such a good spirit and happy to be alive.

Back in the old days, when kids were still allowed to ride in the back of pickups, the Simpson family owned a beat-up Dodge truck with only one door handle and a camper shell. The shell was basically corrugated aluminum stretched over metal ribs. In good weather, Rose would ride in the bed of the truck with us, probably to ensure we did not fall out as the vehicle sped down the highway, since there was no door in the back.

As I cycled along, I noticed a large, squarish block of stone located on the westerly side of the road, about seven miles from Mexican Hat, which reminded me of a long ago journey. During that particular trip, Rose was in the back of the pickup with us, and, as we passed that same rock, she pointed and said, “There, that is were I found you.” I remember wondering how she might have discovered me on such a lonely, desolate stretch of road, but satisfied myself she was a sincere, honest women. Accordingly, I figured the story must be true. “What a fortunate child I am,” I remember thinking.

Not long after that, K-Mart came to the Desert Southwest, and Rose’s story changed. She began to explain to those who would listen that I had not actually been found under a rock, as had been previously indicated, she had really gotten me as a Blue Light Special. God, she assured those who asked, would never have been so unkind as to deliver a child like me to such an otherwise well-meaning family. Speaking of that same God, Rose, who had attended Catholic school and considered a career in the convent, would say, “He is after all, a kind, loving and gentle being.” On those occasions, I would remind Rose of the Book of Job, and caution that her trial might have been much more difficult.

Recently I took the time to research my ancestry, and what I found set my soul at ease. Rose had not been completely honest with me all these years. I had not after all been found under a rock, nor was I a Blue Light Special; we had actually gotten her from K-Mart. As it turns out, I am my sister’s brother; but not my mother’s son.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Anger Management and Plural Marriage

This recent time change has really thrown me out of whack. I am an early riser; shaking loose the covers and dragging myself out of bed before dawn just feels right to me. I once read that the Navajo people used to get up before daylight and race towards the east to begin each day. Before the sun found them, they would stop, sprinkle corn pollen about for purification and say a prayer. I have always admired that tradition, so I try to get up early, exercise and meditate on things like love, hope, serenity, humility, compassion, truth and faith. A long list I know, but as a maladjusted individual these are the issues I struggle with.

Jens Nielson

Bluff Settlers:
Morman Pioneer Jens Nielson and his three wives below

On the other hand, I need my sleep. If I do not get a good seven or eight hours rest each night, I get cranky. So you can see how, for me, "springing forward" can cause legitimate concern and chaos. The problem is that I have not been getting up early. I have been trying to work out at night and, because I am so time disoriented, I do not think clearly or feel up to snuff during the day. In my case, lack of adequate sleep, exercise and meditation are a prescription for personal, natural disaster.

So when Steve called an Internet team meeting early Friday morning before we opened the store, I found myself in a hostile frame of mind. I woke up at 6:00 am, which felt exactly like 5:00 am, left the house in Blanding at 7:15 am and started the 26-mile drive to Bluff. It was just getting light, and I had not slept well the night before. I was cussing Steve for his insensitivity to my predicament, and suspected his meeting would not go well because of my foul mood.

Elsie Rasmussen Nielson
Elsie Rasmussen Nielson

As I drove south, however, the beauty of the drastically slanted and dispersed sunlight and graphic landscape began to calm my nerves and revive my senses. I turned off the radio with its dire dissertation of bad news and focused on the magnificence of the natural world surrounding me. One of the wonders of southeastern Utah is that you can drive for miles without seeing anyone or anything other than what nature presents. By the time I pulled into the parking lot of the Twin Rocks trading post, I was in a slightly improved state of mind.

I was a little early, so I went to the cafe and made myself a breakfast beverage braced with caffeine to help solidify my still shaky psyche. Leaving the restaurant, I crossed the porch, rounded Sunbonnet Rock and strode up to the Kokopelli doors. Stopping briefly to sip my bitter brew, I looked south towards the Reservation and noticed the play of light and shadow slowly unfolding along the face of the cliff. I was immediately captivated.

Kirsten Jensen Nielson
Kirsten Jensen Nielson

Realizing I was standing in front of the sun bleached chairs we leave on the porch for restless husbands, and not wanting to take my eyes off the spectacle revealing itself across the valley, I decided to sit. I blindly reached behind me and found the chair crafted of heavy, weather textured lumber. Sitting back into its coarse embrace, I relaxed to witness the slow, yet relentless unveiling of mineral stained red rock.

While admiring the cliffs, the strata overhead also caught my attention. The clouds appeared frayed, like the heel worn cuffs of a sturdy pair of overlong Levi's. I assumed the winds aloft were crosscurrents of extreme velocity rifts, ripping and tearing the high altitude mist into visually appealing shreds. Not so here in our little Valhalla, the breeze was gentle; the atmosphere calm and peaceful. My eyes were drawn to the strikingly twisted and bent, still barren branches of the Cottonwood trees. The healing effects of the bluffs, clouds and trees brought me back to earth in short order. I felt refreshed and regenerated.

A knocking on the glass brought me back to reality. Looking behind, I recognized Steve's face in the window; he was motioning me inside; the meeting awaited my presence. I was no longer angry, hostile or tired; Bluff's soothing surroundings had dissipated my aggression and aroused my sedated mind . I could now, hopefully, benefit the meeting instead of hindering it; I was ready.

Katrine Jorgensen Nielson
Katrine Jorgensen Nielson

Later that day I was still feeling the ease of the morning. As I sat in my office trying to focus my thoughts long enough to write something legible, the front door chimes went off. I was in the middle of expressing a thought, so I kept typing. From inside the shop I heard a woman's voice call out, "I'm looking for a husband." It is not unusual for spouses to become separated between the cafe and Twin Rocks trading post, so I have heard the inquiry before; just not in that way.

Never one to miss an opportunity at humorous sarcasm, I quickly called back, "Well . . . I am married, but Bluff was founded by polygamists, so maybe we can work something out!' I then got up and went into the shop. There stood a woman of about 65 years, frozen in mid-step, turning three shades of red. She looked at me with surprised shock registering on her face and stammered, "No, not you . . . I mean . . . No!!! The poor woman turned quickly on her heel and departed, shaking her head in disturbed embarrassment. It seems the anger and aggression have left me but the chaos remains. I'll have to work on that.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Trading Post Love

It should have been readily apparent what was in store for me when Barry White’s Love Theme came cascading over the clock radio on a recent Saturday morning. Love was still on the move when I arrived at the Twin Rocks trading post an hour later. Not long after I opened the store, a small group of uncommonly loquacious women from Northern California pushed their way through the Kokopelli doors and overwhelmed my quiet, peaceful mood. They had just come from a week at Kelly Place, and brought greetings from Jim, a former Irish Catholic priest who, for countless reasons, occupies a special place in our hearts.

Navajo Basket by Elsie Holiday
Elsie Holiday "Sisters" Basket

Spying an Elsie Holiday basket entitled “Sisters,” the vocal group became immediately enamored with the piece. They had been instrumental in a modest weaving renaissance among the Mono people, and basketry was of great interest to them. The price of the weaving, however, made them a little uneasy. As we talked, I explained the origin of the design and how it had been spawned by a Serena Supplee watercolor painting of the same name. The California travelers were uniformly enthusiastic, so one finally broke ranks and said, “Well, I recently received a small inheritance and I love that basket, so I should have it.” The rest of the ladies unanimously approved, so love carried the day.

Although still considered a novice by those in the know, over the years I have gained a modest amount of insight into the inner workings of love. As such, I have decided it is much like riding a bicycle on a blustery day; although you may struggle with the wind on the way out, once you make the homeward turn it is clear sailing. The challenge is persevering long enough to reach the turnaround. On the other hand, if the breeze is light at the beginning of the journey, you are probably in for turbulence later on. Rarely have I experienced smooth sailing over an entire expedition. Joseph Campbell, the noted mythologist, often described love as an ordeal, and I have come to agree. As I see it, you can either fight it or deal with it. I have learned to deal.

The next group to tumble into the Twin Rocks trading post was from Northern Utah, and they were in town to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary. To say they were effusing emotion would be an understatement; they were gushing. Even though Barry recently observed his 20th year of marriage, double my best effort, I was glad he was off for the day. Too much love makes him squeamish, and with that much affection pulsating through the post, I could not help thinking he would have been unusually irritable.

Not that Barry’s romantic reticence is completely unmerited. For example, several years ago one of our close friends called to announce her upcoming marriage. After many years of searching for the ideal husband, she had finally found the right candidate. In fact, he was so right she insisted that a medicine man bless the ceremony, so the bond could never be broken. Barry secured the services of John Holiday, an old and well respected Navajo singer, to give the happy couple a nontraditional traditional ceremony.

Watercolor Paintings by Serena Supplee
Serena Supplee "Sisters" Watercolor

During the wedding, John informed the pair that his medicine was very powerful and that he traced its roots all the way back to the Long Walk. It must, therefor, be taken seriously he cautioned them. In fact, John informed both husband and wife that his ritual bound them together forever and that the medicine could not be undone without severe consequences.

After a few years of marital bliss, the matrimonial blanket became frayed and the couple decided to split. The divorce was consummated in the courts, and he and she went their separate ways. A year later we received a call from the former wife; she could not get John’s warning out of her mind, and his ceremony would not allow her to let go and move on. The matrimonial knot must be untied she said, and insisted John was the only one who could accomplish it.

Not long after John was requested to undo that union, I received a call from yet another friend who wanted her marriage consummated by a Navajo medicine man. Once I explained our prior experiences, and the associated complications, the presumptive bride opted for a visit to the justice of the peace. I guess Barry has been right all along; love is a dangerous experiment, especially when it comes with Reservations.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post