Thursday, May 31, 2007

Free Fallin'

There are times in my life when I feel like the man who has fallen from his raft and is swept along by the raging current, with little control over where he is going or what his destiny will be. The analogy is certainly appropriate to several aspects of my experience at the Twin Rocks trading post, and my residence in southern San Juan County.

In this geographic area we have both the mighty Colorado and the meandering San Juan, so many of our friends are avid river runners. As a result, Barry and I have often been instructed what to do when one finds himself in deep, swift water. The reality, however, is that no matter what you do under those circumstances, the river is in control, and you are at its mercy. Whether you live or die is generally in the hands of the water gods, and they can, at turns, be merciful or malignant.

Initially, I found these situations extremely uncomfortable, and difficult to rationalize. I have, however, learned from my river friends that in dangerous situations I must try to relax and:

1. always wear a life preserver;
2. keep my extremities close to my body; and
3. use whatever resources I have available to help me bounce from obstacle to obstacle until the odyssey is concluded.

This fairly simple advice applies to many conditions, both on and off the river, and has saved me from numerous potentially disastrous situations. It does not, however, address all issues, and there are occasions when the current is so swift you have to put your faith in a higher power and just let go.

So it was two weeks ago when I received an e-mail from my friend Sam. She owed me a favor and felt it was time to even up. “Don’t worry,” I replied, “everything is okay.” She persisted, “We need to square up and I am determined to do so, now.” Little did I know what that would entail. Being the adventurous type, Sam suggested rafting, motocross, mountain biking and any number of other experiences. “Not now,” I said, “no time; too busy.” “What about skydiving,” she continued.

“Skydiving,” I said, “now that’s something I’ve considered.” So that was it, she signed me up. “No,” I protested, “motion sickness!” “Too late,” she said, “you’re already registered, and besides, the free fall doesn’t cause motion sickness, just tell your tandem jumper you don’t want to spin and you will be fine. See you Saturday, 10:00 a.m. at the Moab airport.” I had lost control of my life, and all because I had tried to do someone a good turn. I made a mental note to never make that mistake again. If I lived through this ordeal, there would be no more favors, ever.

Skydive Moab

Taking a little comfort from a story Duke had once told me, I held in my stomach, puffed out my chest and soldiered forward. During his youth, Duke had gotten caught in a whirlpool while swimming in the San Juan River, just west of Bluff. He said that although he was extremely frightened, he was able to remain calm as he spun deeper and deeper toward the bottom of the river. Because he had not fought the power of the current, once the whirlpool was done with him, it cast him out in a perfectly safe manner. I realized I was now in a similar vortex and must ride it out.

The first problem was letting Jana and the kids know I intended to jump from an airplane at 14,000 feet. Jana and I have arrived at a station in our lives where we realize that each of us going to do what we feel we have to do, so there is no need for argument. Consequently, she said, “Oh, okay. Call us when you hit the ground; if you can.”

As I pointed my car north on that fateful Saturday morning, Tom Petty’s song Free Fallin’ kept going through my mind. I was more than a little worried I would not actually have the courage to jump when the time came, and that if I did, I might be free fallin’ all the way to the surface.

When I arrived at the airport, I was subjected to a barrage of videos illustrating the dangers associated with skydiving and requested to sign a sheaf of documents acknowledging that I was mentally stable and had been fully informed that my safety could not be guaranteed. I wondered whether signing the forms meant I was inherently crazy, but quickly scrawled my signature on them anyway. Thinking I could always ride the plane back to the ground if I was unable to screw up my courage, I pulled on a jumpsuit and harness and quickly climbed into the plane.

When the small Cessna 182, packed with a pilot and two tandem jumpers, reached the desired altitude, my companion diver asked if I was ready to go. I remember thinking I had my own personal god strapped to my back, and that if he let me down we would both be goners. I felt a tap on my shoulder. Nodding, and thinking how useless the advice from my river friends was under these circumstances, I stepped out onto the wheel platform.

SkyDive Moab

The wind blasted the back of my head, and before I knew it we were rolling backwards out of the cockpit and racing face down toward the desert floor. Instead of seeing my life flash before me, I imagined a life full of new adventure and possibility. An altogether new feeling of freedom washed over me. I have never felt more exhilarated or more certain that I wanted to prolong an emotion. Then I realized that extending the feeling would result in a severely circumscribed existence. I did not have long to ponder the issue, because about that time my personal savior released the parachute and we were jerked upright.

Sailing above the earth after the chute deployed, I felt completely at ease as the earth swirled below like red rock taffy and knew how proud God must be with his creation. Nothing I had previously been taught or told seemed to apply to this situation. Realizing this was living, and that you have to live before you die, I tried to take in as much as possible. Until that moment, I had not understood that letting go can be so liberating. All too soon we were on the ground, and I was left to ponder the deeper issues of life, like, “What’s next?”

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright Twin Rocks Trading Post 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Aging Gracefully or Not!

Southwestern Turquoise Jewelry from Twin Rocks Trading Post

Turquoise Jewelry from Twin Rocks Trading Post

Recently I had an interesting telephone conversation with a perspective customer concerning a couple of large, eye-catching turquoise necklaces by Kai Gallagher and Bruce Eckhardt. Ann told me she had previously worn fairly subtle jewelry, but was now ready to expand her collection into larger, more spectacular pieces.

Something about the way Ann made the statement prompted me to ask why she had come to such a decision. I could almost see her blush with modest embarrassment as she said, “ Well, I recently turned 50, and my skin is not as attractive as it once was. I figure such a large, outwardly gorgeous necklace will draw people’s attention and cause them to overlook the wrinkles on my neck!”

Laughing out loud, and realizing my indiscretion too late, I quickly apologized. I attempted to regain my composure and semiprofessional balance by explaining the reason for my disturbing reaction. I told Ann that my precious spouse was of the same stage of life and state of mind. I had recently been informed, by Laurie, that she was falling apart.

My wonderful wife, who I find intoxicatingly attractive and mentally stimulating has somehow decided she is no longer suitable to be seen in public. Go figure! With Laurie, I know for a fact that I am personally responsible for any outward, and/or inward, wear and tear she may be struggling with. I publicly apologize and accept total responsibility, but I must also disagree with her assumption.

Bluff Sunset
Bluff, Utah Sunset

Visiting with Ann was a real pleasure. By her voice and mannerisms, I could tell I was speaking with a well educated, thoughtful and sophisticated woman. I thought to myself, “What difference does a few wrinkles make?” I suspect they only add character. But who am I to talk? I have my own aged demons to emotionally deal with which are too ugly to expose publicly.

Our Navajo neighbors tell us that the Sun symbolizes male youth, strength, vigor and virility. The Moon, on the other hand, represents male maturity, a graceful decline in years, compassion, understanding, and eventual death. As men, we naturally desire to be associated with the Sun. No man in his right mind would want to be recognized as being in the lunar stage of life. The only time I want to participate in a full Moon experience would be while wasting away in Margaritaville.

These issues have become so imbedded in my psyche that whenever I witness a spectacular sunset, I view the event as a gargantuan battle of will by the Sun to remain in a position of strength and enduring longevity; a last ditch effort on behalf of maledom to maintain a grasp on the beauty of youth. I see a glorious sunrise as a statement of rebirth and regeneration, hope and determination personified, the Viagra effect of the natural world as it were.

Bluff, Utah Sunrise

I find myself hiding out at night, evading the harmful rays of soft light. I quietly rest myself in order to spring forth and embrace the empowering light of first light. The other day while driving to Bluff just as dawn found the horizon. I was startled by a vibrant red fox sprinting across the road in an easterly direction. I looked upon the fox, saw the flame in his glistening coat and the shadow of darkness at the tip of his tail.

It seemed to me the fox was the embodiment of man’s struggle with degeneration; racing valiantly towards the everlasting Sun with doom and destruction hot on its trail. My heart skipped a beat as it kicked into overdrive and a wild cheer erupted from my throat.

“You go brother!” I screamed passionately. In my troubled mind, I witnessed the eternal struggle to maintain youth, strength, endurance and virility while being only slightly touched by the overwhelming dark side.

I guess each of us deals with reaching maturity differently, some gracefully with the aid of humor and turquoise beads, others with fear in our hearts and a passionate fire in our eyes.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright Twin Rocks Trading Post 2007

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is It a Good Investment?

As I sat in Barry’s office editing his latest story on a recent weekday morning, a middle aged couple entered the store. They had apparently been in the Twin Rocks trading post earlier in the week, because they greeted Barry by name, and, pointing to a beautiful and expensive Ganado weaving, asked,“Is buying this type of art a good investment?”

Grange and Dennis Ross
Grange Simpson and Navajo/Hopi Artist Dennis Ross

The couple went on to explain that during their travels they had seen a large Teec Nos Pos rug from the 1930s, which was priced at $25,000.00. They said their investment portfolio needed a little diversification and felt the weaving might be just the ticket. They wanted Barry’s opinion.

Over the years Barry and I have tended store at Twin Rocks, we have been asked similar questions many times. As a result, we have developed the, “If you love it, take it home; if you don’t, leave it alone” philosophy of investing in Southwest art. The expanded version goes something like this: If you buy the rug, basket or other work of art, put it in your house and every day tell yourself, “I really enjoy having that in my home, it makes me feel good,” you have made a good investment. If you intend to put the piece under your bed or in the closet in hopes it will increase in value, you should probably just call your stockbroker.

In our opinion, buying art is a matter of the heart; not the head. Need, as we frequently remind our customers, is a four letter word. After food and shelter comes art, that all important concept that expands your mind, not your belly.

Listening to Barry explain this theory to the visiting couple made me think of the investment he and I have made in the local art and artists, and in this small community on the banks of the San Juan. Not just financially, but, more importantly, emotionally. There certainly have been times when we both felt our portfolios needed to be reshuffled, but year after year we recommit to the project.

Recently I returned from meeting Jana and the kids in Orlando, Florida, where we had the all-important Disney World experience. While I enjoyed seeing the kids thrill at the magic of Disney, I began to consider how I have invested the last 17 years of my life. Because of my desire to help the kids make good decisions regarding what they do with the rest of their lives, Dacia, Kira and Grange quite often make me think in those terms.

Jana, Barry and I frequently discuss how much we enjoy the people of this area, how much we appreciate working together and how we wish we could better share with others the adventures we have at the Twin Rocks trading post. For us, the investment of blood, sweat and tears has paid off handsomely. We are generously enriched by the cultures we experience on a daily basis, and believe we are fortunate to find ourselves in this place, at this time, doing this work.

Oddly enough, in spite of our love for these people and this land, we are leading our children away from the career and lifestyle we have chosen. Once they are properly educated, it is unlikely our children will find their way back to this location or this enterprise. In one way it seems a pity, in another, it seems clear they must experience and conquer the world on their own terms.

Kira and John Yazzie
Kira Simpson & Navajo Jeweler
John Yazzie @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

During my trip to Orlando, we took a day to visit Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. As I walked beneath a massive Saturn V rocket, the type that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon, I was overwhelmed with the size and complexity of the vehicle. I vividly remembered the television broadcasts that captivated me during that period, and the pride I felt seeing our country dreaming and achieving such monumental goals.

When we finally sat down to lunch, I said to Kira and Grange, “Isn’t this amazing? Did you see how large that rocket is? Did you see the Lunar Rover? Did you touch the moon rock?” They shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, this place is okay, but it isn’t as nice as the Johnson Space Center in Houston. We have already seen a moon rock, but we’ll go look if you want.”

At ten and seven years of age respectively, Kira and Grange have already explored frontiers I only dreamed of at their age. It will be fascinating to see how they choose to invest their lives.

Is it a good investment? Only if it fills your heart and makes you smile.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 10, 2007

River of Malcontent

Standing next to the Sunbonnet Rock, on the eastern end of the Twin Rocks trading post's wide red porch, I watched as signs of the new season emerged. New leaves on twisted cottonwood trees, a rich green carpet of grass and weeds poking through the sandy soil and the luxurious warmth of spring sunlight warmed my body and rejuvenated my soul. Bluff is truly a special place; it has a natural aura of peace and serenity permeating it. As human beings, we do our best to add a chaotic spice to the mix, but the earth patiently absorbs and dissipates our negativity, as a good, loving mother should.

My youngest daughter McKale joined me at the rail, and together we looked out over the managed mayhem of the Headstart Days parade. In anticipation of the main event, the large group of people gathered in the parking lot were busy adding glitz and glamour to themselves and their floats; another sure sign of rebirth. As McKale and I watched and wondered, a pick-up truck piled high with rafting gear pulled into the cafe. The crew cab doors sprang open and out stepped two young couples, glowing with anticipation of the adventure they were about to embark upon.

San Juan River
San Juan River in Bluff, Utah.

The scene sparked a memory which instantly transported me back to a time when I was in my early twenties, and what seemed a similar outing. As I recall, our friends Lee and Bufaye Reynolds were being visited by two young, eligible ladies. I cannot remember their names, but I do recall that one was a peaches and cream, strawberry blond, and the other a slight brunette of fair complexion. Steve and I, realizing an opportunity for adventure and interaction with fair maidens, volunteered to escort these two delicate daisies on a river excursion; an ideal setting to show off our outdoor skills and more desirous traits of macho manhood.

At this point in the history of the San Juan River, permits were not required; at least not for those of us with local privileges. Whatever the case, it took only an evening to borrow a small raft, two life vests for the ladies, (real men cannot show off their pecks in a May West), and a cooler properly packed with a picnic lunch of fried chicken, potato salad and hard grape juice. A couple mismatched paddles and Ray Ban sunglasses, for added flair and mystery, almost completed the preparations. Steve and I shuttled a truck, which would double for extraction and romantic chariot, to Mexican Hat the same evening.

Early the next morning Steve and I picked up the girls, listened patiently to a warning concerning the protection of life, limb and chastity of their, now our, charges. We swore an oath to serve and protect the ladies at all costs, and happily headed for the river. We put in at 9:00 a.m., and the river flowed gently. The day proved bright and sunny, perfection of circumstance was in the making. Two studly guys and two lovely, seemingly interested babes; a recipe for successful courtship to be sure. Some things, however, are just not meant to be!

The first sign of trouble occurred when the girls asked for a dab of sun block to protect their delicate skin. Steve and I looked at each other dumbly. We had assured the girls that we would provide all necessary essentials for total comfort and safety; someone had failed. I beat my brother to the punch and blamed him for the debacle. He, in turn, assured me that it was my faux pas that had caused the mix-up. The girls, I am sure, recognized only outright ignorance. That was the beginning of the end for Steve and me.

As their flesh fried, their tempers flared; those perfect examples of beauty and grace began to get ugly. As we entered the narrow section of river, it became a rougher ride. The brunette developed motion sickness, while the strawberry blond started to chafe from the sand-laden water splashing into our craft; someone had forgotten to bring a pail to empty the boat of excess moisture. We could not keep up with the influx of water, and before long the raft was overflowing; we simply gave up trying.

At one point, because of our inexperience, our insufficient paddles could not move the weight of the flooded boat and we fell into a hole in the river. The boat became stuck between a large boulder and the downdraft of water the rock caused on its opposite side. Everyone and everything in the raft was flushed into the river. Luckily all human inhabitants were unceremoniously washed to the near shore while everything else sank or bobbed merrily down stream.

The lunch cooler popped open, sacrificing all contents to the river Gods. Everything else, including shoes, extra clothing and one paddle simply floated away. After a while, the river tired of its game with the raft and kicked it loose. We scrambled to retrieve our beast of burden and remounted to continue our ill-fated adventure. With only one paddle and two tired, hungry and angry young women. Steve and I did our best to hurry the trip along. One of us kneeled in the front of the raft to steer, while the other tried to make light of the situation and appease the girls. I preferred to steer.

The forces of nature, however, were not yet done with us. A stiff breeze began to blow up river, impeding our progress greatly. Steve and I took every opportunity to expedite our forward progress by getting out and pulling. By the time we reached Mexican Hat, we were all bright red, waterlogged, wind burned and highly agitated. Everyone involved knew for a fact that the hoped-for relationships were going nowhere but home. When we dropped the girls off they did not even acknowledge our valiant, albeit ineffectual, efforts at showing them a good time; they simply walked away, never to be seen or heard from again. It took Steve and me several weeks to recover from our sunburns and humiliation, but time and humor has a way of healing such wounds.

McKale Simpson
McKale Simpson

Watching those young people enter the cafe made me realize how destiny effects our lives. Not long after our river fiasco, I met a tall, thin, terribly attractive young woman from the north that captured my heart and imagination. When I first saw her, she was wearing a satin vest and tightly fitting Levi 501 jeans; which I later came to realize reflected her outer strength and endurance and her inner tender, compassionate, loving side. She had the most amazing, wintergreen eyes I had ever seen; the same eyes through which McKale now views life. It took seven years of romance, drama and tears to convince McKale's mother to take a chance on me; it has proved time well spent.

Steve has also found his soul mate, and has three wonderful children. I know he is content with the decisions he made. We have both been blessed by time and circumstance; they have treated us well. The Navajo people tell me that the San Juan River acts as a cleansing agent; she has the power to release bad spirits and memories from those that seek her help. By simply walking up river, against the current, and asking her to wash away the negativity, you will be cleansed.

Maybe the river has a way of guiding one's purpose and direction in life; allowing them to discover their true dreams and passions. If so, I am glad she was watching over me that fateful day. This may also explain why I am so adamant about swimming against the current of conformity. I guess I am still trying to scour away past indiscretions, outright mistakes and a total lack of understanding so I can, one day, take my place among the pure of heart and mind.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 3, 2007

My People Too

Tall Sheep

Since Jana and the kids left on the last leg of their big adventure I have had more time to read. As a result, I recently tackled Samuel Moon’s Tall Sheep; a book about Harry and Mike Goulding, and the founding of Goulding’s Monument Valley Trading Post and Lodge. The old time Indian traders fascinate me, and although Harry and Mike are not of the classic era, they did have an interesting adventure and a good story to tell.

When it comes to Indian trading, my primary interest is the relationship between the old timers and their Native American clientele. I find it distressing, however, that, for one reason or another, the traders usually seem somewhat patronizing; even when expressing affection for the people they served. Although I am generally careful not to engraft contemporary values on past circumstances, I often feel uneasy when reading about the early traders.

That discomfort may arise from the fact that I have, on occasion, been carelessly labeled a bigot. Not because I am mind you, but because I operate businesses in a reservation border town, and it is easier, or more expedient, to label people than to understand them.

For me, the reverse discrimination and reverse segregation I see on an ongoing basis is every bit as insidious as the traditional type. So, at Twin Rocks we are diligent to evaluate people on their personal character, not on the color of their skin. One of my all-time favorite advertising campaigns was the “United Colors of Benneton” promotion, so skin tone means little to me.

When I hear someone complaining about racial discrimination, I often think of Jamie Olson. Late one afternoon several years ago, Jamie, an Anglo artist, came walking up the steps of the Twin Rocks trading post. With a chip on his shoulder, he asked, “Do you buy from white people?” He had been in a number of galleries in Moab and Bluff, and had universally met with the, “We only buy from Native Americans,” response. His frustration was that the owners and operators of those shops did not even bother to look at his art.

Upon hearing Jamie’s question, I replied, “I don’t care whether you are purple, pink or aquamarine, let’s see what you have.” When I saw his work, I was absolutely knocked out. It was so extraordinary that I was certain we should have it in the Twin Rocks trading post. Over the years, Jamie and I have become friends, and his work continues to sell briskly. Fortunately, I was not concerned with his lineage.

In Tall Sheep, which is the name given to Harry by the Navajo people of Monument Valley, Harry and Mike often refer to their Navajo friends, acquaintances and patrons as “Navvies.” It was clear that both of them had a great love for the people of the valley, so I felt sure they were not using the term pejoratively. Knowing that Gerald LaFont, one of the current owners of Goulding’s, and Mike had been close friends during the latter part of her life, I mentioned my concern to him the next time he telephoned.

Gerald assured me that, although he would never use the phrase himself, Mike applied it to express her affection for the people she had lived and worked with so many years. Mike felt certain that the Navajo people of Monument Valley belonged to her and she belonged to them. Their kinship was genuine, complete and absolute.

Tohono O'odham Friendship Horsehair Basket
Tohono O' Odham Horsehair Basket

With all that banging around in my head, I recently found myself at a local healthcare board meeting with our county commissioners in attendance. On several occasions, our Navajo representative referred to the Navajo residents of San Juan County as, “my people.” As I sat listening to the commissioner’s comments, I remembered my conversation with Gerald and what he had said about Mike. Gerald’s statements made me think of Frank Douglas, a black man who worked at Goulding’s many years. In Tall Sheep, Mr. Douglas is quoted as saying:

"Well, honestly, you want the truth about it? I didn’t consider myself Negro either white or Indian, I was just one somebody. I didn’t even think about it. No one made me think about it. Didn’t anyone give me cause to think what nationality I was, I was just one of the group, and we all got along fine."

As I thought of Gerald, Mike and Frank Douglas, before I knew what was happening, I blurted out, “Commissioner, when you refer to ‘my people,’ please remember that those are my people too.” I was immensely pleased to receive a sincere, “Thank you” in response. As Frank Douglas said, we are all just part of the group.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post