Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Trace of Truth

"Am I not crazy," the woman said as we strolled about the Twin Rocks trading post perusing the displays. "I shouldn't love this stuff, but I can't not!" Each time I showed and described another piece of art to my enthusiastic patron, I was graced with another creative example of negative/positive expression; "Is that not terrific," and "I can't hardly imagine the time and effort that didn't take to create."

Simpson Family
The Simpson Clan in Bluff, Utah by Twin Rocks Trading Post

The woman had a sweet personality, and I couldn't not like her, even though I figured she was not unimpaired. After about two hours of reviewing nearly our entire inventory, I was beginning to seriously question my own grasp on reality. There was a knot of pain growing between my eyes, and I struggled to comprehend the twists and turns of this woman's roundabout communication. So when I heard her say, "I hardly have any resistance for this necklace, I can't not have it," my brain failed to properly interpret the comment.

The woman stood there, holding the jewelry out to me, with a submissive smile on her lips and, ever so slowly . . . I got it! Was I not amazed. I had nearly missed a sale because my primitive brain was struggling to discipher the code and understand, "not the nothing." I soon wrapped up the sale and the nice lady left me saying, "This is not good-bye, but hello!" Not to be reductive, but I hope her return visit is not hardly soon.

During my stint with the "Roundabout woman," Steve had taken a telephone message. As he handed me the note, he said, "I couldn't not begin to understand what the heck that woman wasn't talking about!" "Very funny," said I, rubbing my temples and rummaging through the desk drawer for Ibuprofen. Our cohort, Priscilla, walked up, handed me the pain relievers and said, "Was she not sweet?" I groaned loudly and stumbled towards my office, looking for peace and quiet.

I can't not begin to understand why, but from that point on life at the Twin Rocks trading post began to tragically digress. It seems word had spread, and everyone in the building was trying their hands (or mouths) at double negatives. Like a food fight at a verbiage smorgasbord, tasteless tidbits of vernacular began to fly, unabated, about the room. I pushed the office door closed, and did my best to ignore the nonsense.

I hardly had no patience for quitting time to arrive, and headed out the door as disagreeable salutations nipped at my heels. Driving home helped me regain a sense of right and become not twisted. By the time I arrived home, I was feeling much better. As I exited the car, tempting aromas drifting on the breeze. I could tell Laurie had laid on a fine evening meal, and I was looking forward to sampling her fare.

As I sat down to dinner with my family, I was doing my best to forget the distasteful occurrences of the day. Laurie had cooked an amazing meal for us, tender, juicy fillets; steaming baked potatoes; crisp green salad with fresh peas and carrots; and hot dinner rolls. I settled in, prepared to truly enjoy the banquet.

"Is this not an amazing meal," chirped Alyssa. I snapped to attention and looked harshly upon my middle child. "What did you say," I demanded. "She was simply commenting on how nothing hardly could look and smell better," chimed in Spenser. The headache I had suffered earlier returned with a vengeance. I suspected a saboteur from the south had infiltrated my home by telephone and turned my family into antagonists.

"Not to be less than subtle," said Laurie, "but are you not all right?" I pushed back from the table and found myself walking, slightly off-kilter, towards the bedroom. My appetite had abated; all I could think of was retreating from such disruptive language management as soon as possible. "Can't I not have your dessert," called McKale as I slipped a pillow over my throbbing head.

Not to be overly critical, but I have always assumed it was my responsibility, as a parent, to help my children achieve a higher standard. They can't not accomplish this if they have an uncle, who shall remain nameless, that will sacrifice everything for the sake of a joke. A well-refined sense of humor is one thing, but to fall back on slapstick is an altogether different matter. I hardly don't have any words to describe such a contemptuous act. This is one good reason why family business isn't not hardly such a bad idea.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Get Your Ark Together

Not long ago, I received a telephone call from a man who said he had an arts and crafts business in the east and wanted to learn more about the Twin Rocks trading post. The gentleman asked about Twin Rocks; what we do, who we are and what was our connection to the local Native American tribes. As we talked, I realized his questions were related to an interest in preserving Native American culture. He said his name was Leon, that he was from the Micmac and Penacook tribes, and that he had become seriously concerned that the history of his people, and of Native America in general, was all too quickly being lost.

Alicia Nelson Basket
Navajo Basket Weaver Alicia Nelson

Over the years, many legends had come to him, and he accumulated them for transmission to the members of his tribe and any other interested party. Leon counseled me that we must collect the thoughts of our grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters, nephews, nieces and children, whether or not they are Native American. He told me that of all the stories he had heard, there was one in particular that was most meaningful to him. The story was about a young man and his journey on the road home.

The legend tells of a group of Native people who lived in an expansive wood. One by one, the people passed on, until only the youngest was left. One evening the youth fell asleep and dreamed of traveling a road populated by his relatives. As the boy greeted each one in turn, the elders related their personal stories.

Eventually, the young man came to a rainbow with a longhouse on the opposite side. In the longhouse were people of all nations speaking openly about their traditions and living in harmony. Beyond the greathouse stood the Creator, with his arms open; welcoming the young man home and telling the boy that he had learned much and been given a great gift.

As the story unfolded, I began to think of the youth as an ark in which the stories of his people were being invested; a vessel to carry the traditions across the waters of time to succeeding generations. I could hear my grandfather Woody Simpson singing his Biblical chronology, “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I saw the apple they was eatin’. I’m the man who swore, cause I’m the one who ate the core. Then came Noah stumblin’ in the dark, tryin’ to find a hammer just to build himself an ark. Then came the animals two by two, the hippopotamus, the kick kangaroo, then came the lion, then came the bar, then came the elephant without any har.” I could see Woody bouncing my brothers and sisters on his knee as his tune spilled out into the living room of the small white house in great clumps of irregular harmony.

I distinctly remembered Woody sitting next to me in Blue Mountain Trading Post, on an old blue sofa purchased at the flea market in Phoenix, telling me of his experiences as a Marine in the Pacific Theater during World War II. I have since discovered that some of his stories were fiction, but I still love having them. Although I remember him well, I have virtually no stories from my Grandfather Correia; a quiet, gentle man who worked hard and said little.

As these memories eddied through my mind, I suddenly realized the young man of Leon’s story had died, and with him the stories of his tribe; the ark had sunk, and the legends of his people had been lost. My grandfathers had both died many years ago, and with them the stories of their families. There is much I would now like to know about these two men and their lives, but it is too late, that boat sailed without me.

Leon cautioned me that we must preserve the old stories, and practice the old ways when we can. He said that most of us are not sharing the legends the way our forebears intended. At 56 years of age, he had made a commitment to spread the word, so he can stop the hemorrhage and keep this body of knowledge alive.

For much of Native America, and the rest of us as well, the rain has been falling for some time; the ongoing loss of culture and tradition is dramatic. Many of the narratives have either not made it onto the ark or have fallen overboard and are lost forever. We must build ourselves a solid vessel and begin filling it with the stories of our ancestors, our own stories and the stories of our children. If we don’t, the unicorn will be lost.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I have an affinity for canyons. Not necessarily those of a grand scale, but the smaller, more intimate clefts so prevalent in our corner of the world. Just such a canyon exists a little south and west of Blanding, and, as a twenty-something, I often visited it to be with myself and center, find clarity, peace, serenity. Exiting the back door of the Blue Mountain Trading Post and hiking a mile or so across the fields of barking prairie dogs and half-wild cattle belonging to the Ute tribe brought me to this sanctuary.

A few hundred yards north of the dangerous "S" curves of U.S. Highway 95, this offshoot of Westwater Canyon rests just out of visual range and earshot of what little commotion and congestion southeastern Utah produces. The encapsulated island of natural reality lies just south of an Anasazi ruin which is frequented by meandering tourists during the day and illicit teenage keggers by night.

Red Tail Hawk Carving
Navajo Folk Art

I loved to go there early in the morning, to just sit and watch as the sun rose over my shoulder. I would search out a suitable seat on the canyon rim, one that embraced me with rock, wood or earth, and settle in for the awakening. Camouflaged by shadow, and content to motionlessly witness nature's offerings, I was often graced with small, intimate glimpses of wild creatures and the progressive, uninterrupted passage of time.

A small seep shaded by three small cottonwood trees ensured that wildlife were often present in the canyon, and my secluded perch upon the rim allowed a prosperous view of these animals and my surroundings. Small birds, mice, pack rats and rabbits were fairly common. An occasional coyote or fox would wander by, as would the graceful mule deer. On rare occasions, a raptor would glide out of the stunted junipers and hang effortlessly over the canyon floor, eying the tangle of oversize sagebrush and harshly cut arroyos below.

I became familiar with a pair of red-tailed hawks that lived somewhere across the canyon in the juniper forest. Every year these beautiful birds would throw off a few fledglings and teach them the ways of the world, with the skies over the benevolent canyon as their training ground. I often witnessed young red-tails drifting on the air currents, learning to fly and searching for easy sustenance. It is truly a special treat to witness such wondrous creatures at close quarters in their natural environment.

Horned Owl Wood Carving
Navajo Folk Art

On one of my outings, while walking near the edge of the canyon, I flushed a great horned owl from just below the rim. Being young, limber and foolish, I scrambled over the side of the cliff to see if a nest could be discovered. Sure enough, three small, bright-eyed and frightened young owls were hunkered down in the brambles and branches. I was drawn to a closer, more precarious vantage point in hopes of a better view.

Hanging there on the side of the cliff and seeing such glorious creatures up close and personal was truly exhilarating. That excitement level was kicked up a few notches when I was surprised by a horrendous screech and hurricane-like roar of air from heavy wings. I winced in anticipation of being plucked from the rock face by razor sharp talons. Luckily, the attack either failed or, more likely, was a mere warning. Before I became lunch meat on the rocks below, I regrouped and beat a hasty retreat; counting myself lucky to have survived the whole debacle.

Hawk Wood Carving
Navajo Folk Art

The Navajo people believe large raptors are intermediaries between the real and spirit worlds. Eagles, hawks and owls are such powerful aviators that they can achieve the overwhelming altitude necessary to reach the sky world and lay important messages at the feet of the most powerful deities dwelling there. Even the feathers of these creatures have the ability to act as transmitters in moving thoughts and prayers to their intended receivers. These creatures are also considered skilled warriors of an extremely aggressive nature when pressed into battle. Gaining the aid of raptors ensures powerful allies in righteous wars against injustice and abuse.

I gained a great deal of understanding while perched on the rim of that small canyon, and found that by embracing the natural world, eliminating outside stimulation and meditating on my life that it was easier to focus on the positive and purge the negative. This experience has helped me realize the importance of family and the responsibility we have to the children we conceive.

I feel it is necessary to do everything in my power to protect and prepare the children, to face the world in a positive, productive manner, focused on benefiting mankind as a whole. Preparation is the key, love the uplifting current, and beauty, hopefully, is the end result. It sounds simplistic, and maybe it is; but I have faith that the eagles, hawks and owls will successfully carry my message and present it well.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

My Eyes Are Not Blue

I have often felt the Twin Rocks trading post would be greatly enhanced if Nellie Tsosie and Etta Rock were inclined to give Barry and me a few marketing tips. Nellie blends various ingredients to make Natural Pinon Cream, and Etta weaves sumac branches into traditional Navajo water jars sealed with pitch. Both women are accomplished marketers, and I run into them peddling their products in every nook and cranny of the Four Corners region. If I am in Kayenta, there they are; Cortez, there too; Moab, well, you get the picture. Their market penetration is staggering; virtually every home in four states boasts an Etta pitch pot and a jar of Nellie’s cream.

Nellie’s ointment is also referred to as Miracle Salve, primarily because Duke swears it will cure any ailment and make you younger, stronger, more attractive, wealthier, happier, sexier, more active and a variety of other things not generally discussed in polite company. On occasion, Duke has even suggested people put it between two slices of bread and make peanut butter and pinion cream sandwiches, proclaiming, “You won’t believe the results. It worked for me.” My love of peanut butter and desire to reclaim my youthful energy have made me seriously consider Duke’s advice. So far, however, I have resisted the temptation.

Etta Rock
Navajo Artist Etta Rock

Compared to Etta, Nellie is a relative newcomer. Nellie is, however, more sophisticated when it comes to getting her wears on the market. Etta and her husband Jackson take the more traditional approach, pile into the pickup truck with your goods in a plastic sack; drive about until you either run out of gas or find someone with a few extra bucks he or she is willing to part with; always wear a concerned, hungry look; and never, never, never give up. It is important to remember that if you happen to get stranded on the side of the road as you ramble round looking for an opportunity, you always have trade goods.

Barry and I tighten our belts and hide the checkbook whenever we see Jackson’s truck pull into the parking lot. “No thank you. Sorry Etta, we have plenty of pitch pots right now,” we say, knowing full well that response never works. That is partially because Etta speaks only Navajo, and specifically because she refuses to take no for an answer. In reply, Etta crinkles her face and gives us a melancholy look; something on the order of, “Hey guys, I haven’t eaten for a week and am fading fast. You don’t want that to happen in your store do’ya?” Since Etta is somewhat ample, that tactic is not as effective as it might otherwise be. At the Twin Rocks trading post, however, Etta’s year to year conversion rate is nearly 100%; Barry and I rarely hold up under the strain.

Lately, pinion cream is a little slow and Barry and I have once again renewed our pact to be more frugal, so Nellie has been struggling to siphon off a portion of our cash reserves. Undaunted, she marched into the Twin Rocks trading post last week and proceeded to give Barry and me bear hugs. Now, as a rule, Navajo people are not overtly affectionate, so Nellie’s enthusiasm caught us completely off guard.

Nellie Tsosie
Nellie Tsosie at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Barry stammered out something about Austin Alice and her hillbilly hugs. I, being significantly more startled than Barry, mentioned that Navajo people just do not go about randomly hugging everybody, and inquired what she was up to. “Well,” Nellie said, “I hug people all the time. Sometimes they ask whether I am really Navajo, but I tell them, ‘My eyes are not blue.’”

As Barry and I fought to regain our composure and decipher the deeper meaning of her remark, Nellie, moving to hug Barry again, said, “Are you sure you don’t need any cream?” Barry, looking at me helplessly, said, “Well, we do need some of the small jars; let’s see what we have under the counter.” Before long, Nellie was walking out the door with a lot less cream and a lot more cash. As they say, “A hug a week ensures sales reach their peak.” I think there is also one that goes something like, “A hug a day and the trader will pay.”

After Nellie left, I rushed to the porch and scanned the highway; knowing full well it might precipitate a crisis if Etta and Jackson were anywhere in the vicinity.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Jackass Logic

Barry's Owl

A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why aren't we all like that wise old bird?

Although I cannot say for sure, memory tells me that when I first heard this nursery rhyme it immediately stuck with me. As a boy, I remember asking my father what it meant to him. Rolling it around in his head for a moment, Duke shrugged and said; "It means shut up and listen, you might learn something." Short, sweet and to the point; I could always count on dad to cut to the chase. Since that day, I have tried to make the lyric my motto. I have not always been successful, but I am sure it has saved me some grief and aided in the accumulation of a few tidbits of understanding.

Last Friday, Steve and I were discussing how troublesome it has become to find natural, gem grade, turquoise. This topic is a real concern for us, because high grade turquoise is what we do; who we are. As we talked, we speculated about the resources and future availability.

After visiting our Nevada mining buddy, Tuffy, I was wondering whether there was a larger supply of turquoise, "somewhere out there," just waiting to be found. Nevada has huge tracts of open space, and I figured there must be plenty more turquoise to be discovered. In the midst of our discussion, the telephone rang, rudely disturbing our thoughtful conversation. Kathy's voice came over the intercom, saying that Tuffy was on the line demanding to speak with me. Thinking a "bracer" would help knock the edge off of the abuse I was about to receive, I walked into my office, opened the mini-bar and took a stiff drink of hard cider. Tuffy informed me that he had turquoise to sell, and if I didn't want it someone else surely would. I assured Tuffy I most certainly did want the stones.

After finalizing the details of the sale, I recalled the conversation Steve and I just had and decided to set off a depth charge to see what shook loose. Knowing full well I would feel the repercussions of my actions, I steadied myself, hoping to discover a few nuggets of high grade information. I had to know, so I dropped the bomb, "After seeing your operation and the vast open spaces in Nevada, I am thinking there must be a great deal more turquoise to be found out there." The line went silent . . . tick tock, tick tock, then, the explosion. "What kind of Jackass logic is that?" growled Tuffy.

I am forever regretting remarks that are, upon further consideration, better left unsaid. I cannot count the number of times I have knowingly mouthed off and gotten my proverbial "*#* in a wringer". The loss of delicate tissue makes me cringe on numerous levels. Duke regularly reminds me of the age old adage about the owl and the consequences of impulsive action. For me, the many painful memories have become more profound through time, allowing for the accumulation of a derge of philosophical knowledge.

From that point on, I said nothing, and just listened to the tirade. Tuffy let loose a barrage of colorful exclamatory language, to let me know just where the burro left his burrito. He spoke of recognized turquoise districts, a "turquoise belt" through specific areas of Nevada that coincides with a zone of strong tectonics activity; host rocks of limestone, shale and chert; and intrusive bodies or metamorphosed volcanic and sedimentary rock. Tuffy spoke of percolating ground waters, critical combinations of minerals, temperature zones and crystallization; occurrences that are extremely uncommon. "Turquoise", he said, "does not just happen".

I learned that Tuffy was well educated when it came to the formation, mineralization and extraction of turquoise; not to mention his grasp of adaptive language skills. To drive the point home, Tuffy told me the gem material or "character stones", I was so fond of were rare indeed. He told me top grade, natural turquoise consisted of less than one percent of the total production from his and every other mine he had ever known. Only an additional nine percent was what he called "commercial grade", which was suitable for use in average quality jewelry. The remaining 90 percent had to be stabilized, treated, reconstituted or used as colorful gravel in the bottom of the fish tank.

When Tuffy finally wound down, he cursed and said, "I spend more time educating you than you are worth; don't you ever learn?" "I heard you @%#* it," I said, "I'm listening!" The one sure thing I know about Tuffy is that you might have to sacrifice an ounce of flesh to gain a pound of knowledge, but in the end it's worth it. Not only do I learn a great deal about turquoise, I also greatly expand my vocabulary.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.