Thursday, July 26, 2007

Birds of a Trader

A week ago, Barry, Priscilla and I were cleaning up when a man of about 60 years drifted in through the Kokopelli doors. As is our habit, we stopped what we were doing and welcomed him into the store. Under his arm, the man carried a soft cover text that seemed to be of great importance. My interest was aroused when I noticed the cover contained an image by E. A. Burbank that I knew well.

Old Trading Posts of the Four Corners
Old Trading Posts of the Four Corners

The man introduced himself as Richard C. Berkholz. Handing us the book, he said it was his recently completed work entitled, Old Trading Posts of the Four Corners: A Guide to Early-Day Trading Posts Established On or Around the Navajo, Hopi and Ute Mountain Ute Reservations. I was immediately interested, because it was similar to a project Jana and I had outlined for Kira and Grange. Before she and the kids began their big adventure, Jana and I had discussed taking Kira and Grange to one trading post a week, and having them compare the old with the new. Mr. Berkholz was way ahead of us.

As usual, my executioner did not execute in a timely fashion. Almost everyone at the Twin Rocks trading post will confirm that I am chronically late implementing my ideas. In any case, Mr. Berkholz had pulled together an interesting book. As I scanned the entries, I noticed the listing for Hatch Trading Post. Hatch was one of the few posts listed as original; rather than abandoned, converted or renovated. I had not been to Hatch since I was a school boy, so I decided to make the journey on my next day off.

When Saturday rolled around, I packed two peanut butter sandwiches, asked Priscilla to care for Buffy if I did not promptly return, jumped into the car and headed out. As I snaked my way around the twisty back roads leading to the post, I often wondered whether I had taken a wrong turn. Eventually, however, I noticed a native stone building hiding behind a jumble of greenery as I sped past. Quickly turning the car around, I saw the wooden “Hatch Trading Post” sign hanging on the facade; notifying me I had arrived at my intended destination.

As I strolled into the extremely small display area of the post, which was stocked with soda, beer, candy, chips and a few art items, a pleasant woman asked me if I needed any assistance. I purchased a Gatorade to go with my peanut butter sandwiches, exited the store and wandered around outside, admiring the inviting profusion of trees and plants.

Climbing back into the Subaru, I felt a little hollow, like something had died. Many people agree that the modern derivation of the historic trading post is the reservation convenience store. Hatch’s, located in a very isolated area, seemed most like an inconvenience store, rather than the classic post I had unrealistically hoped for.

As I drove off, I could not help thinking about a dinosaur video I had recently watched with Grange. The documentary argued that birds are actually avian dinosaurs. It indicated that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of birds being the descendants of a maniraptorian dinosaur.

An article I later read indicated this theory arose from a discovery made by a German quarryman in the 1860s. In the limestone deposits the man had been quarrying, he discovered the now famous “London specimen” of Archaeopteryx lithographica, which is widely held to be the ancestor of all living birds. As I stood outside Hatch’s, I felt I had made a similar find. Hatch’s was the remains of a classic trading post which had become frozen in the evolutionary process.

Automobiles and developing roads doomed the original trading post business model, and virtually none of them survive as originally conceived. Those that have endured generally evolved into small markets or arts and crafts outlets, like Hatch’s. At Twin Rocks, we realized long ago that our business would be notoriously difficult to maintain in the long term. Outside influences have come to the Reservation, and the impact has been huge. Survival in such a rapidly changing environment can be difficult.

Until recently, our greatest asset was also our greatest challenge. Being located in this lonely outpost on the northern boarder of the Navajo Reservation allowed us immediate access to the art of the Navajo; tourist traffic however was, at best, sparse. The internet has begun to change all that. As we attempt to survive our Archaeopteryx phase, we have discovered tools like high speed internet, the talking metal and video to help us bring the beauty of our local art and culture to those living outside this isolated red rock sanctuary.

Recently Barry discovered the Flip, a compact device which allows us to easily take video of the artists with their work. In the past, we often stood back in amazement as the artists described the techniques used to create their work and the meaning woven into their creations. We mourned the loss of that important cultural information which we had not captured. Because of the work done by Rosita, Tarrel and Tina, we can now grab and hold those stories. We may yet become a falcon.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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