Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Faithful Dogs, Young Children and Old Men

What is it that defines an individual? The question has intrigued me for years. Naturally, there are many things that go into the making of a person, but it seems an essential ingredient is the community one surround himself with. The friends, family, coworkers and professionals we associate with have a lot to do with who we become.

The other day a customer came ambling into the store and, referring to Buffy the Wonder Dog, who, for maximum attention, generally resides on the mat just outside the Kokopelli doors, asked, “Who’s dog is that?” “She belongs to me, although she thinks I belong to her,” I replied. “Good, very commendable,” the woman said, “You know it’s an honest establishment when there is a dog involved.”

Lalana with Navajo Folk Art

As Priscilla, my trusty sidekick, moved about the store, straightening Navajo rugs and baskets; polishing turquoise bracelets, buckles and bolos; and dusting folk art carvings, Barry pecked out his latest Tied to the Post story in his nearby office. Surveying the scene, I counted myself among the fortunate few. Surely I am extremely lucky to have so many enjoyable people to work with.

Almost three years ago, Tina, our internet manager, announced she was pregnant. “What will we do now?” Barry and I wondered aloud. Tina had become an indispensable part of our organization, and we worried we might lose her once the baby arrived.

Like Dacia, Kira and Grange before her, however, when Lalana arrived she was simply incorporated into the overall trading post package. Now, having been raised in the store since birth, she totters about like it is her own private domain; and of course it is. As Lalana follows Priscilla to the cafe for a cup of coffee, stopping to pat Buffy on the way, we watch in delight, wondering how we ever got along without her and question what we will do when she grows up and leaves. She has become our latest trading post baby, an indispensable part of our identity.

As the day wore on, the sun began to sink in the west and a soft golden light filtered in through the windows, illuminating everything in honey-colored hues. The turquoise in the cases literally glowed. Barry, having finished his writing for the day, had become drowsy and decided to sit on the porch to enjoy the last warmth of autumn. Priscilla and I chuckled as his head bobbed up and down in a continuous cycle.

The incident reminded me of the early days of the trading post. Duke, who was approximately the same age Barry is now, would arrive at the store every day and he, Priscilla and I would manage what little business we had. Dacia was often reclining on the counter in a baby bassinet or strapped to my chest in an infant carrier.

Having gone to the Phoenix flea market to secure an abundance of Southwest patterned futons, Duke insisted I carry the prized merchandise out to the porch every morning and retrieve it every night. In the afternoons Duke would wander off and, although I began to wonder where he was going, I did not pursue him. One day an alarmed customer came into the store and announced, “There’s someone lying on your futons!” When we went outside to investigate, it was Duke, sleeping peacefully.

Barry & Buffy asleep on Twin Rocks Porch

With history repeating itself, Rose sneaked out the back door to capture Barry snoozing as the shadows crept ever closer. Unfortunately Barry roused himself one last time and spotted her lens peeking out from around the corner.

The warmth of autumn is gone, the chill of winter is upon us and Santa is preparing for his annual trip. In this season of giving, I have developed a feeling of complete satisfaction. What more can one ask than to be surrounded by so many happy, healthy individuals. In many ways, I feel that is what most accurately identifies both me and Twin Rocks Trading Post. Such is the family of this man.

Merry Christmas, and may the New Year bring you all the warmth and happiness of a late fall day in our beautiful red rock sanctuary.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Holiday Happening

The coyote and geese all stopped short, motionless, as if stunned by the shattered silence. Had I been relying exclusively on my visual perception, I would have guessed I was viewing an image frozen in time. The river, however, continued onward, and the sounds, smells and even the tastes of my surroundings indicated otherwise. The creatures seemed to draw into themselves for a fraction of a second, and then explode as if blasted from a blunderbuss.

Navajo Christmas Pictorial
Navajo Christmas Pictorial Rug

It was Wednesday, mid-afternoon, and the daylight streaming through the picture windows at Twin Rocks Trading Post was simply spectacular. Steve, Priscilla and I were all at the store waiting for, not on, customers. This time of year we rely heavily on our Internet business to keep us busy. We can usually take care of processing orders and shipments in the mornings, which allows us the afternoons to wait on the occasional customer, clean the store and try to maintain forward motion.

Steve saw me gazing out the window at the beauty of our little patch of heaven, and must have recognized a cabin fever look in my eyes. He said that he had some legal affairs to deal with, so he would be around to back-up Priscilla. Priscilla waved me off with a smile, as if to say, "Go away kid, yah bother me!" They suggested I take a late lunch and, "Get out of Dodge" while there was still time. I did not hesitate, because the natural world is where I best experience divinity. This time of year makes that connection even more essential to my emotional psyche.

Paging the cafe, I ordered a sheepherder sandwich to go. On the way out, I grabbed a pint of milk from my office mini bar and hit the door running. Picking up lunch, I jumped into the Toyota and spun the wheel left towards the intersection of Highways 191 and 162. Driving east towards Saint Christopher's Mission, I turned south on the gravel road through the Gaines property and parked between the San Juan River and the settling ponds that nourish the Jones Farm. I jumped out of the car and deeply inhaled the smell of red sand, brown water and blue sky.

Gazing across the river, I realized the beauty and majesty of the towering, burnt red bluffs which were highlighted by the slanting rays of pure, golden winter sunlight. It was 3:00 in the afternoon, and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Canada Geese on the elbow of the river, just downstream from where I now stood. I hopped the barbed-wire fence, cussing out loud as I left a patch of denim hanging there as a reminder of my passing.

Heading south by south-west, I cut through the tamarisk, Russian olive and cottonwood trees to intersect the river downstream from where I expected the geese to be frolicking. It would have been easier to follow the river bank, but I knew the sharp-eyed geese would glimpse my approach and exit the scene post-haste. I could hear the geese honking back and forth, so I knew their position and came to the bank about 25 yards above where they floated.

Screened by the willows, I crept down and took in the view. Because there was an alcove in the cliffs which allowed the current to impress itself deeper into a wash created by occasional outbursts of water and wind pouring down from above, the river made a sharp jog to the south. The intrusive stream was then turned back to the west by a solid wall of sandstone. This made a protective eddy in which the geese could easily swim and a small sunny beach caused by the backwater where they could rest and relax in the afternoon light.

The song of the river and the raucous remarks of the birds, along with the natural beauty of the setting, was breathtaking and peaceful to say the least. I watched as a family of Canadians played in the eddy and on the sand. There was one bird that kept wandering up the beach towards a smattering of medium to monster sized shards of sandstone. It appeared to be limping a bit, and its left wing dragged the earth slightly. The older birds seemed to call him back every time he wandered off. At one point, the wayward goose ventured right up next to the rock pile, and that's when I noticed movement.

What I saw appeared to be a coyote slinking in the brush near the jumble of rocks. My heart jumped to my throat. Without thinking, my fingers dug into the sandy soil and struck something hard. I felt around the object and found its edge as I watched the scene across the river unfold. The gray, shadowy figure inched closer to the injured goose. I knew without intervention the goose was cooked. My mind worked furiously, should I intercede or let nature take its natural course? The fact that the bird had already encountered something traumatic and survived touched my heart, and forced me to take action.

Looking down, I realized that I had nearly unearthed a donie, a well worn and rounded river rock, the size of a squashed cantaloupe from the sandy soil. I grasped it firmly and hurled it like a discus at a grouping of similar rocks about ten feet away. As the meteor struck and skipped across the other donies and plunked into the river, it made several thwacking sounds that reminded me of a set of "Klackers", those acrylic balls attached to either end of a stout string we used to play with as kids. The echo reverberated through the alcove and along the face of the cliff, like rolling thunder.

That's when the mayhem kicked in. The geese burst into the air and the coyote made a desperate leap at the limping gosling, missing by only inches. I tried to keep track of when and where all the players went, but lost sight of them in the explosion of feathers and fur. I stood up to get a better view, but Elvis had left the building; there was nothing left to see but the flowing river, red rocks and evening light.

Crossing Coyotes Path Carving
Crossing Coyote's Path Carving

I sighed, and wondered if I had done the right thing by saving the gimpy goose from certain death. The poor creature had touched a tender place in my soul, and caused me to act purely on emotion. I turned on my heel to return to the car and the trading post. There, not 30 feet away, stood a raggedy, poor specimen of a coyote. It was dripping water from the lower portion of its gray, matted pelt, and had a desperate, almost disgusted, look on its beleaguered face.

The coyote must have landed in the river after jumping at the goose and then waded across to my side. He probably did not even realize I was the one who had disrupted his dinner reservation; until now that is! I looked upon the creature and realized, by his white muzzle, that he was terribly old. I said out loud, "You are a mangy mutt aren't you!" I thought the poor fellow would have departed at that, but he just sat back on his haunches and smiled at me as if saying, "Yeah, look who's talking pal!" I began to feel terribly guilty. If anyone needed a meal this wretchedly thin fellow did.

We stood, and sat, there looking at each other for two or three minutes before I just could not stand it any longer. I reached inside my jacket and took out the sheepherder sandwich. Unwrapping the hefty fry bread laden with beef from its protective tin foil, I remorsefully set it on the ground. The coyote watched me with much more interest now. I used the tinfoil to line the impression left by the rock I had tossed, removed the milk container from my pocket and poured it into the make-shift bowl.

Standing upright, I faced the coyote and said, "Consider this your Christmas dinner." Turning to my left, I walked away. At about 50 feet, I stole a look over my shoulder, the coyote was standing now, looking speculatively from me to the offering. I kept walking until I figured to be about 50 yards away. Because of the tamerisk, I barely recognized the spot from where I had tossed the donie and could just make out the poor fellow gobbling his holiday meal. I smiled to myself, hoping inwardly that I had not adversely effected nature's harmonious balance. Happy Holidays to you, yours, and to all God's creatures.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hozho; Finding Balance

Not long ago, the Brigham Young University Museum of Art mounted an exhibit of Navajo basketry woven by the Douglas Mesa weavers. In conjunction with the display, the concept of hozho was highlighted. According to the information accompanying the weavings, hozho is an ideal which, “encompasses beauty, order, harmony, and expresses the idea of striving for balance” in one’s everyday life. Looking for further clarification, I recently consulted The Navajo Language; A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary, which defines hozho as, “becoming peaceful, harmonious.”

Navajo Basket Weaver Mary Holiday Black
Navajo Basket Weaver Mary Holiday Black

Having gone through many phases in my life, I have finally come to the conclusion that hozho is an idea that deserves a larger role in my day-to-day activities. Unfortunately, this realization did not came quickly or easily. Although Barry has been discoursing on this subject for years, until lately I had not paid sufficient attention.

A few months ago, Jana came home with a copy of Amy Irvine’s latest book, Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land. I had been told that Ms. Irvine’s autobiography described her struggle to find balance in this rugged red rock desert populated with equally rugged individuals. Since the story is based on contemporary events, involves many characters I know from my youth and reportedly had a connection with my recent commitment to introduce hozho more prominently into my life, I was extremely interested in the narrative.

The memoir describes the author’s attempt to establish herself in the small southeastern Utah town of Monticello; a community where my ties run strong and deep. I had hoped to find some insight that might help me address numerous environmental, cultural, political and religious questions that have confounded me over the years. Despite what I had been led to believe, I did not discover much balance in the writer’s description of the people of southeastern Utah. Neither did I find a way to begin addressing any of the issues that have been pressing in on me for some time. The book did, however, lead me to look more profoundly into hozho.

Having finished what for me was a divisive manuscript, I better understood the ideal that there cannot be real, long-term progress without compromise; not the kind that involves caving in and abandoning your principles, but the type that requires finding a middle road that all parties can safely, if not fully comfortably, travel.

Although I know it is all too common, as a young man, I could see the world only as black or white, right or wrong. As I have grown older, however, I have more and more trouble distinguishing between the two extremes. I often find myself trying to justify both sides of the argument, searching for common ground.

Navajo Hozho Basket by Peggy Black
Navajo Hozho Basket by Peggy Black

Those who know my background, contend my formal training is the reason I see the world as polychrome. I, however, believe it is Twin Rocks that has caused the philosophical shift. The trading post has taught me that the polar extremes are inconvenient and uncomfortable places to reside, and that the, “It’s my way or the highway” philosophy only leads to additional conflict.

For many of our artists, crisis is a way of life. Consequently, things at Twin Rocks are in a constant state of flux. So, it seems that flexibility; a focus on compromise, balance, peace and harmony, hozho, are inherent in the trading post model. Living the trading post life often requires an earnest attempt to understand the maker’s needs when negotiating the value of a Navajo rug, patience when settling the selling price for a turquoise bracelet and empathy when determining just how much to help an artist out of a difficult situation when it threatens to upset the delicate state of our own circumstances.

In attempting to comprehend both sides of the issues, I am often reminded of the Lone Ranger and his trusty sidekick Tonto, who one evening were lying in their bedrolls not far from the fading fire, staring into the night sky. After a while Tonto asked his friend, “Kimosabe, what you see?” Taking a long time to consider his response, the Lone Ranger finally said, “I see numerous constellations, the Milky Way and . . ., well . . . eternity. In those stars I see the hand of God, His divine plan and tremendous beauty. What do you see Tonto?” Also carefully considering his reply, Tonto said, “Kimosabe, me see someone stole tent.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Passion and Prejudice

From across the counter, I faced the woman and pondered the question she posed. Shifting from one foot to the other, I attempted to formulate a response that would adequately describe how I feel. The problem was the question was far too broad to answer simply, and the emotional stake I have developed on the subject matter was too, well . . . emotional!

Multi-Stone Bisbee Turquoise Bracelet
Multi-Stone Bisbee Turquoise Bracelet

The question was not all that complicated, "What is your favorite turquoise?" There I stood, however, confounded by a vast array of choices. I looked into the lady's big brown, inquisitive eyes and felt overwhelmed by the possibilities. I considered opting out of the discussion by claiming a disabilitating paralysis when it comes to such matters. I looked to Steve for help, but he quickly defaulted, as if he too were curious about my reply. I looked back to the attractive, fifty-something woman and came to the realization that I had choice angst!

The woman had entered the trading post an hour or so earlier and proceeded to put me through my paces. She wanted to know everything I knew about rugs, baskets, jewelry, folk art, Navajo moccasins and turquoise. The turquoise portion of my litany must have attracted her attention, because her eyes lit up and she grilled me on the subject until I simply ran out of information. She must have recognized my passion, because she honed right in on my weakness; ultimately asking the doom's day question.

I felt like the poor guy I had heard about while listening to NPR's Radio Lab. The man was an accountant for a large corporation; a smart, successful man living the American dream. It seems doctors found and successfully removed a tumor planted in the orbital frontal cortex, just behind his eyes. After the operation the guy seemed fine; no problems, he still scored in the 97th percentile on intelligence tests. Very smart!

Shorty after the surgery trouble surfaced when decisions needed to be made; he could not make them, not even to save himself. Eventually his life fell apart; his wife and children could not tolerate his new, indecisive nature, neither could his associates. Everything unraveled because the man became overly analytical. By removing the tumor, the doctors had cut him off from his emotional mind. The guy became Spock, a Vulcan; a man without emotion. It seems you gotta have "feelings" to balance rational and emotional thought and to enjoy a fully functional, balanced life. Emotion and logic working together, who knew?!

The difference between that guy and me is that I am often ruled solely by emotion. I struggle with exaggerated "feelings", especially when it comes to turquoise. Oh, all right! There are a few other things I am passionate about, but we will focus on turquoise for the time being. I wonder from what planet those of us with disproportionate emotional issues derive. I suspect even Mars might not claim me as a citizen.

Carico Lake Turquoise Cluster Bracelet
Carico Lake Turquoise Cluster Bracelet

Never did I give the woman a definite answer. Instead, I spoke of marveling at the hardest and most matrix-free Sleeping Beauty and fawning over the electric color in classic Blue Gem turquoise. I discussed the spider web patterns of black matrix surrounding islands of deep blue color zones and the unusual purple cast of Lander Blue. I explained the difference between the soft gentle pastels associated with yellow limonite and the rare, deep-water blue and almost imperceptible black spider web patterns in old #8 turquoise.

Becoming overly exuberant, I spoke of Pilot Mountain, water web Kingman, Indian Mountain and pyrite encrusted Morenci. She took a step back when my eyes glazed over while I attempted to describe the exotic allure of Chinese, Tibetan and Persian stones. When I got around to the striking beauty of Carico Lake turquoise, with its contrasting zones of blue and green, the woman headed for the Kokopelli doors. I did not even realize she was gone until I finished up with the wild and crazy greens of Fox and Royston.

When I emerged from my turquoise trance, I looked around for my now absent audience and found only Steve looking at me with an abnormal, almost frightened, look on his face. He edged by me, grabbed a couple strands of ghost beads as he went past the display rack and disappeared into his office. He was worrying the beads and mumbling something imperceptible, as if trying to cast off undesirable spirits. I shook my head in exasperation, wondering why other people could not become so intimately involved with the power of turquoise. If only they could walk a mile in my Navajo moccasins, they might see the truth.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thoughts on Physics, Zebras and the Recent Presidential Election

Several months ago, Barry became extremely interested in string theory; the idea that the foundational elements of nature are invisible strands of pulsating energy. Barry got our buddy Art Moore involved, and together they threatened to turn Twin Rocks into a scientific laboratory. As part of their probe, Barry purchased a copy of the PBS series, The Elegant Universe.

Needing something to do while I exercise inside on these cold November mornings, I snatched the DVDs from Barry’s office and began watching. The series discusses the search for a formula that unifies Einstein’s general theory of relativity with the properties of quantum mechanics. Having gone through the program a few times, I have recently begun to postulate how the diverse elements of physics, the recent presidential election and Twin Rocks Trading Post are related.

The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States has reminded me of the two zebras standing on the savanna discussing whether they are black on white or white on black. According to Wikipedia, president-elect Obama is the offspring of a Kenyan father and an American mother, and is therefore, essentially half black and half white, or conversely, half white and half black. He is, however, frequently billed as the, “first black president.”

Navajo Rug Weaver Ruby Coggeshell
Navajo Rug Weaver Ruby Coggeshell

This type of racial parsing has stumped me ever since I asked Native American flutist Douglas Spotted Eagle if he is Navajo. His somewhat anxious response was, “How much tribal blood do I need to be considered Navajo?” Holding up his pinky, he asked, “Is one drop enough?” Unfortunately, I did not have an response for him, since the answer seems to vary based upon the people and political interests involved. Neither did I mention to him the Kayenta tribal court decision my attorney friend Amy long ago directed me to. The judge in that case found an individual to be a tribal member based upon little more than his prior sexual relations with a Navajo woman. Since Douglas Spotted Eagle is married to a Navajo, presumably he would qualify under this legal reasoning.

In the almost 20 years I have been at the trading post, Mr. Spotted Eagle’s comments have frequently surfaced. This commonly occurs when I am talking with Navajo rug weavers like Ruby Coggeshell or basket weavers like Lorraine Black.

According to Ruby, her son Kevin, who travels the world in service of the U.S. Navy, is often asked whether he is Asian, Hispanic, Hawaiian or any number of other “tribes”. Ruby always chuckles when she tells the story, and I wonder whether it really matters. Kevin is a nice young man whom I have known since he was just a boy, and that is most important to me. For some reason, I have never considered the shape of his eyes, the tone of his hair and the color of his skin defining factors.

It was Lorraine Black, however, who finally allowed me to unify the seemingly irreconcilable elements of trading post, physics and the president-elect. Lorraine is the epitome of string theory; she is constantly jumping, pulsating and vibrating. Comprised of microscopic particles of energy that are completely unconfined and uncontrollable, Barry and I never know when she will arrive, or what will happen when she turns up.

Navajo Basket Weaver Lorraine Black
Navajo Basket Weaver Lorraine Black

We do not view Lorraine as just Navajo. At the trading post she is an immense bundle of unrestrained fragments of energy that can cause chaos in our order and every once in a while order in our chaos. Laughing, joking, sad, nervous, quiet, happy, unpredictable, that is the essence of Lorraine. To us, she is not just a racial identity, she is . . . Lorraine; the sum of her particles. Searching for the unifying equation, I came upon an ancient and long forgotten formula originally developed by singer Kitty Wells, which goes like this, “Love, love is the answer.”

As it turns out, love, with equal parts of compassion and understanding, is the equation that unifies the people of the trading post and the various and distinct individuals of this nation, including its newly elected president. These are the elements that explain the unification of diverse groups, cultures and beliefs. As the zebras of the savanna ultimately determined, it really does not matter whether they are white on black or black on white, it is their individual character that defines them.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sky World

Navajo Fire Star Basket by Chris Johnson
Navajo Fire Star Basket by Chris Johnson

The other morning I strode buoyantly homeward after my predawn workout. I was feeling refreshed and invigorated by the physical activity and the clean crispness of the air. As far back as high school, I have had a love-hate relationship with early morning exercise. I hate to drag myself out of a warm, comfortable bed to initiate an hour or so of (what I consider) strenuous activity, but I love the feeling of having fought off a more matronly figure one more day. I also enjoy witnessing the dawn of new beginnings on a regular basis.

Elsie Holiday Sun Bearer Basket
Elsie Holiday Sun Bearer Basket

As I walked home, I glanced to the west and witnessed a spectacular show of light and color. The sky dome overhead was a dark and dreary gray. It looked as if a curved lens cap of high clouds fit snugly over the world. The exception was a horrific looking rift on the southwestern horizon. A ragged tear of incredibly bright orangy-red light split the earth and sky. I thought to myself that this must be how the first primordial dawn looked.

Navajo Wings Rug by Eleanor Yazzie
Navajo Wings Rug by Eleanor Yazzie

Stopping in my tracks, I watched in wonder as the rift widened until the sun sprang forth, igniting the earth one more time. The fiery orb lit up and blended with the blanketing cloud cover and cast an ominous glow upon the surrounding landscape. It was a simple, yet glorious, moment to witness. I wondered what ancient peoples might have thought of such events. The Sky World must have at once attracted and repelled them.

Navajo Owl Carving by Marvin Jim and Grace Begay
Navajo Great Owl Carving by Marvin Jim & Grace Begay

Working with local Native American artists has allowed Steve and me a deep and abiding interest in their creativity, and the myth and legend from which they draw inspiration. We have learned that the Sky World is of critical importance. Living in such close proximity to the natural world and her splendid wonders allows these artists a unique and exciting perspective that many of us can only imagine. To them, the sky alone implies a potent, thought-provoking reality.

Dennis Hathale Memory Aid
Dennis Hathale Memory Aid

The sky is infinite, remote, inconceivably immense, inaccessible and eternal. From this upper realm, as with numerous cultures around the world, the Navajo derived their first notion of the divine. Native artists are inspired by thunder bolts, eclipses, storms, meteors, falling stars, phases of the moon, sunsets and rainbows. The sky was (and is) an endlessly active dimension with a life all its own.

Navajo Mitten Basket by Joann Johnson
Navajo Mitten Basket by Joann Johnson

Although the Sky World was basically effected by human beings, it affected and motivated them tremendously. From this elevated realm evolved cultural and faith-based inspiration that developed into elements that were essential to their spiritually inspired, artistic lives. These, now iconic, images are projected through rug weaving, basketry, jewelry and folk craft.

Zuni Knife Wing Buckle
Zuni Knife Wing Buckle

The images include the Bearer of the Sun, who carries the light disk across the sky and can represent youth, endurance, virility and strength, and the Moon, a more settled personality associated with knowledge, wisdom, compassion and understanding. These two inseparable characters combine to present a harmonious, balanced persona. Big Thunder, Star People and those beings with dual citizenship to earth and sky such as the raptors and small birds are now common to Native American art forms.

Morning Sun Katsina by Wilford Begay
Morning Sun Katsina by Wilford Begay

All of these images are instrumental and beneficial in explaining creation, existence and relationships. The art allows us to experience a mystical unity with people of a unique perspective derived from the ancient past and the natural world. This grants us a glimpse at primitive richness common to the land in which we dwell and the people with which we associate. Look to the skies, there is beauty and enlightenment there.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Art is the Spark/Creating the Environment

Serena Supplee
Serena Supplee

As I left the sprawling metropolis of Salt Lake City late last week, I decided to check my messages before entering the no-man’s land of cell signals. Having punched the correct sequence of numbers into the telephone, I was treated to the slightly smoky voice of Serena Supplee spilling out of the handset. Serena informed me that Terry Tempest Williams, noted Southwest writer, was doing a reading in Moab, and suggested I attend. Serena, Barry and I have been talking with Terry about the history of Twin Rocks Modern weavings and Serena felt I should check in.

By the time I retrieved the message, it was late in the afternoon and I still had to swing by Home Depot to buy paint for Grange’s newly constructed bat house. With a little luck from the freeway Gods I might make it on time. Traffic is an unknown commodity in Bluff, so I am not competent when it comes to predicting metropolitan travel times. Fortune smiled on me that afternoon, however, so I managed to avoid the crush of homeward bound commuters.

When I arrived at Star Hall in Moab, the reading had already commenced, so I quietly took a seat near the back of the auditorium and settled in for stories about Rwanda, prairie dogs and the influence of art on our daily lives.

During her presentation, Terry blended unbelievable tragedy with extraordinary hope, courage and forgiveness. Art, it seems, was the glue that helped bridge the gulf between the pain of ethnic and environmental cleansing and compassion. Mosaic was the metaphor for her experiences. As Terry pointed out, art is a universal language.

Navajo Zig Zag Twin Rocks Modern Rug by Eleanor Yazzie
Navajo Zig Zag Twin Rocks Modern Rug by Eleanor Yazzie

During her concluding remarks, Terry said, “Art is the spark.” The comment reminded me of a conversation I had with Bruce Hucko, well-known photographer and art coach to the children of southeastern Utah. Bruce has spent decades encouraging artistic creativity among the youth of the Colorado Plateau, with stunning results. His children’s book A Rainbow at Night is one of my favorites.

During a discussion about Navajo folk artist Charlie Willeto, Bruce had recently said, “You have to create the environment.” He was referring specifically to Jim Mauzy, trader from Mauzy’s Trading Post at Lybrook, New Mexico, and others who recognize that the Indian trader’s fundamental role is to build and nurture an environment where people freely express themselves.

When no one else would, Mauzy supported Charlie; buying his work for a sack of flour or a bag of canned goods, even though Mauzy had no idea what to do with the carvings. Surely Mauzy could not begin to conceive that Charlie’s sculpture would come to be known internationally, or that he would be mentioned in connection with twentieth-century self-taught luminaries like William Edmondson, Bill Traylor and Martin Ramirez.

Navajo Coyote Skinwalker by Robin Willeto
Navajo Coyote Skinwalker by Robin Wellito

As Bruce pointed out, it is all about building an environment that sets the creative landslide in motion. It is, however, often difficult to know which rock to dislodge to start the tumult. Barry and I have done things we were sure would result in striking success, only to find we could not be more wrong. On the other hand, we have seen movements result in beautiful rugs, baskets, folk art or jewelry when we thought they were doomed to failure.

Maybe creating the right environment is a little like chemistry lab when I was in school; under the right conditions, one strike was all it took to ignite Mr. Guymon’s classroom. Surely art is the spark, but a little combustible material never hurts. Barry and I keep looking for just the right mixture.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Changing Woman/Changing Man

Navajo Changing Woman Basket by Elsie Holiday

Last evening, I arrived home to a glorious sunset. As I pulled into the driveway, an orangy red glow radiated about the town. The streets and spaces between buildings visible from the west were ablaze with a fiery glow, while those running perpendicular to the light rested in murky shadow. Laurie and the girls were not due home from Monticello until later that evening, so I had a little time to kill. I grabbed a light jacket from the house, snatched a big white plastic lounge chair from near the carport and took a seat on the lawn to enjoy the autumn sunset.

The sun sank lower on the horizon behind me, and the skyline took on that blue/black/purple hue unique to this time of year. Main street was relatively quiet, the air crisp, clean. . . invigorating. The maple trees in front of the house were decked out in leafy halos of red, orange, yellow and brown. Dispersed light set the foliage on fire as the great, luminescent orb settled in for the night.

As I sat back and mentally relived the day at Twin Rocks, I shivered in the cold fall air. A question posed by an agitated e-mailer weighed heavily on my mind. I had received the note entitled, "A much needed correction", just before leaving for home. In the message, the sender strongly questioned the integrity of Elsie Holiday's interpretation of Changing Woman. The tone of the dissenting message disturbed me, and cast a shadow of negativity on a near-perfect day.

In a video we produced, Elsie described the deity she portrayed in her latest weaving, and gave her personal view of Changing Woman and what she stands for. The e-mailer was adamantly opposed to Elsie's version of the cultural icon, and said in part, "Being Navajo myself and growing up with these stories I am offended that someone could make something so beautiful and not know the meaning behind it."

Steve and I have spoken extensively with Elsie about her culture. Elsie was raised traditionally, and her father is a recognized medicine man. She often consults him before weaving such iconic images into her baskets. At times, Elsie seems embarrassed by what she apparently perceives as her poor language skills. In my opinion, however, there is no one more eloquent when it comes to presenting a mythological story through art.

Navajo Sun Bearer Basket by Elsie Holiday

Elsie's critic went on to say, "I admit there are many versions of the story but I have never heard one of Changing Woman being spiritually or physically female AND male. PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG!" As I sat there in the deepening twilight, I contemplated an adequate response.

As I understand it, the bedrock of Navajo mythology is attempting to discover a balance in one's life, and trying to hold onto it as one grows and develops. I think the key is, "as one grows and develops." I have read a number of books on Navajo myth and legend, but do not claim to fully understand it or have the personal perspective of a Native. What I have come to realize, however, is that even the recognized experts have differing opinions when interpreting Navajo mythology. And when it comes to individual beliefs, . . . well let me just say, "Katie bar the door!"

Experience has taught me that criticizing the cultural interpretations of others is detrimental to my own basic education. Anyone who intently studies a subject and honestly contemplates the possibilities will generally have something interesting to say about the topic. Many of the artists I have spoken with have given me thought-provoking and throughly stimulating interpretations of their traditional stories.

I do not feel that legends were meant to be translated literally. Instead, I believe they were intended to teach through metaphor. The intent or meaning of the story is contained within, but must be lived and practiced to be totally understood. Education and contemplation are a journey of understanding; a quest for knowledge. If they are approached with honor and respect, there really is no wrong answer, just different levels of understanding.

I have learned that artists such as Elsie have a special talent; through their creativity they have the ability to motivate. These incredibly creative individuals bring hope for the future of Navajo culture. They create not only to make a living, but to inspire. Open your mind and discover the mystery of an age-old culture that has relevance even in today's world of science and technology.

In the darkness I sat there thinking, listening and feeling, while Laurie's feral cat population rustled the nearby bushes. The more friendly of the pride tugged at my shoe laces. Then, out of nowhere, came a distinctly pungent odor in the chilly night air; a skunk was afoot. I stood up and moved cautiously towards the house, having no desire to meet Mr. Pole Cat up close and personal. It seems there is always someone or something causing a stink and fouling an idyllic situation.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Center of the Universe

Experience convinces me it is generally most difficult to fully comprehend the things we know best. So it is with Bluff.

Bluff, Utah Sunset seen from Twin Rocks Trading Post.

“How do you get married in this county?” Cindy asked over the telephone. It was an odd question, since she and her husband have been together well over 20 years. When I inquired why she asked, Cindy explained that there was a couple standing at her motel counter who desired to tie the knot, and she did not know how to advise them. Not long ago, a French-Canadian friend who could not wait to marry his Russian sweetheart had posed the same question, so I was prepared.

A few days later, the happy couple was standing at the Twin Rocks counter, smiling from ear to ear. When I asked why they had chosen Bluff for the wedding, they stated emphatically, “Because it is the center of the Universe!” Although their response may appear surprising, I simply nodded my head in agreement. My familiarity with such logic also goes back almost 20 years.

It was 1990, and, much to the embarrassment of my family, I was a newly minted divorcee. My marital canoe had run aground, and the turbulent tides of marriage had overwhelmed it. In the process, however, I learned some valuable lessons, and had discovered that some things are just not meant to be, and that love surely does not conquer all.

Finding myself with large blocks of unallocated time, I began investing more of it in the trading post. Leaving the lights on and the Kokopelli doors flung open on those beautiful October evenings, I would often sit on the porch watching the light turn to dark and wondering at the majesty of Mother Earth. I will admit, however, that because of my singular status, much of the natural beauty was wasted on me.

As I sat on the porch one evening, enjoying the mild weather and wondering what can to open for dinner, a young couple wandered up the steps. Saying nothing, they sat next to me, one on my right and one on my left. As odd as it may seem, we were all extremely comfortable with the seating arrangements and nobody felt compelled to speak.

After a short time, the female part of the team, turned to me and asked, “What is it?” Somehow, instinctively, I knew what she meant, and responded, “I think it may be the diffused light on the cliffs, the quiet, the peace, the stars just beginning to show themselves, the lack of artificial light . . . I don’t know for sure. I have this feeling, however, that Bluff is a little like Santa Fe and Taos in the early days; the days that brought Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz and Millicent Rogers.” “Yes,” was all she said. A few minutes later, the couple stood up and with a thoughtful, “good-bye” were gone, leaving me to ponder the significance of their visit.

Several years later, in March of 1997, the comet Hale-Bopp streaked across the night sky; Heaven’s Gate opened in Rancho Santa Fe, California; and Susie Bell designed and Anita Hathale wove an extraordinary, and somewhat macabre, Yei rug commemorating the event.

Susie Bell Navajo Rug Design

Not long after Hale-Bopp’s appearance, I received a telephone call from Cindy. “They’re coming to Bluff,” she said. “Who is coming?” I inquired. “Orpheus, Orpheus Phylos.” “What’s an Orpheus,” I wanted to know.

As it turns out, Orpheus Phylos and Virginia Essene had co-authored a book entitled, Earth, the Cosmos and You. In the book they propose, “Bluff, Utah is the heart center or pivotal point of the source of energy in the Electromagnetic Gold Band and is known as the generator. . . Those who live in, or will migrate to, the Four Corners area are the ancient Lumurians, and possibly some Atlanteans, coming back into the frequency that they had previously used in Venus and other stellar systems.”

Orpheus, Virginia and a small group of followers had arrived in Bluff to await the arrival of the “Mother Ship.” Expecting to see cultish figures, and still vividly remembering the gruesome scenes from Rancho Santa Fe, I was extremely worried what their arrival might mean for our small town.

As it turned out, Orpheus and her followers were well-educated, well-mannered, mostly middle-aged and extremely pleasant. By the time it was determined the ship would not arrive at the appointed hour, we had developed friendships with many of the faithful, and were hoping to get a glimpse of the craft when it landed; maybe even a ride. I think we were all a little saddened when we realized our friends had been disappointed and we came to “good-bye.”

Why such a large number of people feel so strongly about this small town has remained a mystery to me. Using logic not unlike that of Orpheus, one western trained medical doctor who had studied eastern healing techniques recently explained that the answer resided in the large amounts of iron contained in the sandstone, which attracts a stronger than normal magnetism, thereby directly affecting human energy fields.

Whatever the case, those of us in Bluff, whether Lumurian, Atlantean or just plain Bluffoon are bound by the magic of this community, and its rocks and art are clearly the center of our universe. Perhaps that is why my compass always point home.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ballistics and such

Don and I just stood there with our heads bowed in humiliation, shoulders hunched in disgrace, hands thrust deep in our pockets; dumbly kickin' horse turds because we could not think of anything else to do. Buck watched us closely, without saying a word. He finally walked past us, and went over to lean on a fence post to survey his cows and disgraced pony. We turned on our heels and went back inside the building, hating that we had done what we did, and, worse, that we had been caught doing it.

Navajo Folk Art

It was the early 1980's, and my sister Susan and I were running the Bluff City Trading Post for our parents. We purchased the old grocery store from Bob Howell and had renovated it into an Indian arts and crafts store and silversmithing shop. My father, Duke, thought it a good idea to train me as an entrepreneur and silversmith, in hopes of securing my future as an "Indian Trader".

Susan was recently married. Her husband, Renis, worked for Utah Power and Light and was stationed out of Bluff. This worked out perfectly in the minds of Mom and Dad. My older sister was charged with keeping an eye on me; a big job for such a small girl. This was my first taste of independence, and I loved it.

We quickly hired a silversmith by the name of Don Dale. Don said he was a Missouri hillbilly who had walked out of the Ozarks and straight into the Army. After his tour of duty, he made his way to the Southwest. Don then hooked up with the Sanchez family of Cortez, Colorado. They owned San Juan Gems, and had taught Don the art of silver and gold smithing. After a bad experience with a dark-eyed girl and her ill-tempered family, Don found his way to Bluff.

Don is a talented artist who taught me a great deal about silver smithing. Knowing the difference between quality and shoddy workmanship has come in handy over the years, and I have to give credit for this education to my parents for being astute business people and to Don for his masterful tutelage. Don had been a sharpshooter in the military, so he also taught me about guns, ammo and shooting.

One day, as we worked at mastering soldering techniques and discussed ballistics, Don began explaining the various angles of trajectory between light and heavy caliber bullets. As we spoke, a light went on in Don's head and he said, "Actually, I can show you trajectory right here and now!" "How's that?" I asked. Don went on to tell me that he had a Benjamin air rifle in his Volkswagen Beetle. He said that if you pumped up the pressure only slightly, you could see the lead projectile exit the end of the barrel and watch it travel to its destination.

"OK then," I said, "let's do it!" We went out to his Bug, got out the air rifle and walked to the back of the building. Don put a .177 caliber pellet into the gun, pumped it twice and handed it to me. "Pick a target," Don told me, "and watch the flight of the pellet."

The field next to the building was grassy, with a small, old, dilapidated sandstone block building. Roaming the field was a rank old stud horse that had been put out to pasture and a small herd of Hereford cows. I smiled to myself, picked out a cow that stood chewing its cud about 30 paces away and pulled the trigger. I watched as the pellet "puffed" out the end of the barrel and fell to the earth short of its mark. "Hhmmph!" I said reaching into the box for another pellet and pumping the pressure up to a five on the danger scale. "Hold the barrel just over its shoulder this time," said Don. I pulled up, sighted in, pulled the trigger and watched as the pellet arched in and struck the cow in the shoulder. The beast barely moved; didn't make a sound.

Navajo Baskets

I squinted at the cow in consternation, reached for another pellet and pumped the gun up ten times. "This time hold dead on," said Don. I raised the air rifle, held just behind the bovine's ear and let fly. The cow lurched forward in stunned surprise, and let out a bellow of indignation. "Cool!" I said, pumping the gun up again, "Where's that nasty horse?" It was nowhere to be found. I sighted in on a few more of the nearer cows and let 'em have it until Don took the rifle and made some long, beautiful shots by holding well over the target and arching the pellet in.

Just then that old stud horse stepped out from behind the broken-down rock building to see what all the commotion was about. He was standing tall, proud and looking for love. I reached blindly for a pellet, hoping to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. I fumbled the projectile into the chamber, pumped the handle twelve times, raised the rifle and sighted in. When Don realized my intention, he reached for the rifle and began to voice opposition. "Phfoof!!!" The rifle belched. "whack!" The projectile found its mark, the horse screamed and began bucking wildly.

We watched in amazement as the horse tried to shake off the shock of the insult. As we stood marveling at the sight, we heard a frightening sound. From directly behind us, a voice heavy with sarcasm said calmly, "Good shot!" We turned slowly . . . There stood Buck, the cowboy who owned these now highly-agitated cows and the big, black stallion standing cross-legged on the far side of the fence. If a horse can look indignant, this one did - as did his disgruntled master.

Buck stood there with his hands stuffed in the back pockets of his threadbare Wrangler jeans. His potbelly was encased by a well-worn red paisley cowboy shirt with faux pearl snaps. An antique silver rodeo buckle with gold accents and a woven horsehair belt held his over-long britches in place. His beanpole legs and meatless buttocks were long and lean. On his big ol' feet were a pair of heavily scuffed, once black cowboy boots, with high swooped riding heels. The bottom of his jeans bunched up on top of those "Biskit Kickers" in wrinkled layers of denim and dust.

Buck's face was deeply tanned and wrinkled from many years of exposure to the harsh elements of the high desert. His livid brown eyes flashed at us from under his furrowed brow. Resting upon his high forehead sat a rustic black Stetson as well-worn and weathered as he and his boots. His overly black bowl cut hair stuck out in several directions from under his hat. We could tell by Buck's expression and posture that he was fit to be tied. We were guilty as sin, and suitable to be hung at sunset.

Navajo Rugs

Buck said nothing more. He simply walked past us, leaned on a cedar fencepost and quietly inspected his livestock. I wanted to say something about scientific experimentation, ballistics or trajectory, but could not make it sound reasonable in my head, so I just shut-up and walked away.

There are obvious morals to this story, and I have discovered a few more after years of thoughtful contemplation. Realizing that I might have wound up in a penal colony for my misdeeds, I leave you with this missive in hopes you will learn from my mistakes, and be inspired to resist similar temptations. Amen brothers and sisters.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Good Trade

Jana’s relatives are generally more diligent when it comes to tracking their family history than ours has been, and probably with good reason. For several years, her clan has been writing its stories, and this work recently culminated in a manuscript entitled A Good Trade, which is slated for publication by the University of Arizona Press.

Jana & Steve @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

In 1965, Jana’s paternal Grandmother, Mary Jeanette Kennedy, published her personal exploits in the book Tales of a Trader’s Wife. Since first learning of this small but interesting gem, I have feared Jana may become inspired do the same. Although my concern may seem irrational or unfounded, I have serious reservations what may happen if the truth is known.

Many years ago, with an eye on preserving our heritage, sister Cindy took it upon herself to begin looking into the Simpson family lineage. Having been raised around the Mormon culture, which makes researching one’s genealogy a priority, she felt we too should know more about where we originated and who we are. I am sure she had it in her mind that somewhere in the distant past there must be royalty; a king, queen, prince, princess, duke or duchess. A court jester or resident of the palace dungeon is, however, the most likely scenario.

Cindy began her inquiry by interviewing family members and reading documents that had long ago been hidden from public view. When I later asked how the project was progressing, she stated without explanation, “It has been permanently suspended.” It was only after an independent investigation of my own that I began to appreciate her decision. The list of incarcerated Simpsons only a few generations back was both embarrassing and impressive. My findings helped me understand both the shame and pride of Australians.

When it comes to Southwest Indian trading, which has been a part of our histories for several generations, our families have been both cooperative and competitive. It was not long after we opened Twin Rocks Trading Post that Jana and her father arrived to explore the opportunities. They opened their trunks of pueblo pottery, storytellers, Zuni jewelry, and miscellaneous other goods and the trading began. It has continued for almost 20 years.

At 96, Jana’s dad is clearly the senior member of the trading establishment, with decades on many of the other old-timers like Elijah Blair. I chuckled at Jana recently when she dejectedly informed me that her father was coming to Bluff to make his, “Last ever trip to the Reservation.” “Last trip!” I hurrumphed. “He will be back in less than 30 days.” “No,” she assured me, “this is really it, he’s getting too old to travel.” Two weeks later he was here trading for Navajo baskets, and has been back several times since.

Navajo Baskets @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

At the recent Second Annual Southwest Traders Rendezvous, Jana’s dad was recognized for his long-standing involvement in the industry. As Jana and I sat on the lectern with several contemporary legends of Indian trading, Claudia Blair, who is legendary in her own right, took the microphone and declared, “I want to shake Steve’s hand and give him a hug; he is the only one that ever out traded old John Kennedy.”

Claudia had unwittingly let the cat out of the bag. Unfortunately, taking the position that some things are better left unsaid, I had never informed my wife that I had gotten her in trade for Navajo basketry. “They were very nice baskets”, I sheepishly assured Jana. Although Claudia may have overstated my trading abilities, since that transaction was consummated I have understood how the Dutch traders must have felt when they bought Manhattan for $24.00 worth of beads. Now that was a good trade.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Standing near the cash register, I was just finishing a telephone transaction when an older couple walked into the trading post. From the lines on his face and the abundance of gray in his beard, I estimated him to be approximately 70 years old. The lady had only a few laugh lines around her eyes and her hair was more brown than gray, which made her appear at least 15 years younger than her companion.

Navajo Rug Weaver Sarah Descheny

As soon as they came through the door, the couple split up. The man veered off in the direction of the Navajo rugs, poked his hands into his pockets and took on a look of complete indifference. The woman walked right up to where I stood and smiled in a bright, friendly manner; hesitating a moment as if waiting for me to finish my work. At the back counter, Priscilla, our trusty associate, was busy pricing bracelets we had just purchased from Ella Toney. I set what I was doing aside and greeted the woman, who was dressed for summer in khaki shorts; a sleeveless, button-down shirt; and sandals.

Her pageboy haircut and sparkling brown eyes made her seem even younger than my original guesstimate. She said she was interested in earrings, so I showed her a variety of styles. She liked those by Navajo artist Jimmy Poyer, and began to closely investigate his work.

Looking up to locate her husband, I found him standing near the bat wing doors leading into the rug room, tapping them impatiently. I told the man he was welcome to enter and look more closely at the weavings. Except to push through the doors and walk in, he did not acknowledge my comment. His wife and I returned to Jimmy's earrings. She soon found a pair that suited her and held one to her left ear to view it in the mirror.

Neither of us saw her husband approach, but we both distinctly heard his next statement. "I am dumbfounded," he said emphatically. We were caught completely off guard, and stared at him in wide-eyed wonder. He reiterated, "I am dumbfounded!" "So am I," I thought to myself. "Why?" I asked. I could tell the woman was thinking the same thing, because she had a similarly startled look on her face as she continued holding the earring to the side of her head.

The man was slight of build, with sharp features and a slightly olive complexion. He stood there looking intently at us in his Levi's, hiking boots and plaid button-down shirt. I admit I am sometimes slow on the uptake, but this guy was not giving me any clues. I looked to Priscilla for help and saw only confusion in her eyes. The man gazed at us intently from under his "Indiana Jones", sage green felt hat; waiting. At close range, the man's bearded face and the serious look in his eyes allowed me to see just how passionate he was about this subject.

The three of us stood gazing at this interesting character and wondered where he was going with his comments. He shook his head and produced a pictorial rug which I had not previously noticed him holding. "Sarah Descheeny" he said. Then again, "I am dumbfounded!" "I understand that part," I said, "but why?" Shaking his head at my lack of comprehension, he began to explain. "I am Jewish, and my last name is Deschenes. This rug was woven by Sarah Descheeny!" He looked at us again with raised eyebrows. "Oh," I said, somewhat relieved, "you have similar last names."

Turning to Priscilla, I asked what Descheeny means in Navajo. She thought a moment and said, "I think it is a clan name meaning, 'Start of the Red Streaked People.'" "There you have it," I said. The guy just stood there, shaking his head side to side. I turned to the women, who looked at her husband and tried to change the subject. Shaking the earring next to her earlobe, she asked if he liked how it looked. Waving off the question, he said, "I can't be bothered with that right now; this is amazing!" The woman handed me the earrings and sighed in resignation.

What had captured the man's imagination, aside from her name, was an image of Sarah that was attached to the weaving. Mr. Deschenes held the picture up to his face and said; "Do you see the resemblance?" "Okay, this is getting weird," I thought. "Think man," he said, "her name is Sarah!" Now I was loosing patience. Shaking my head in disbelief, I said, "There is also a Rachel next door working at the cafe, and I know for a fact she is not Jewish!" The man gave me a look of disdain and turned to his wife to explain. She cut him off by turning away. I am sure she was remembering the earring dismissal.

Navajo Pictorial rug by Sarah Descheny

The man turned back to me and said, "I think this is my sister!" I just stood there a moment, letting his statement sink in. He waited patiently, and I started to disagree. Looking into his eyes once again, however, I thought better of it. I could not, however, let it go and said; "If that is true, it would mean that your father visited the Reservation 80 some-odd years ago and . . . planted a seed. "Yes," he said shaking his head in the affirmative, "I am dumbfounded!"

I stared at the man in surprise, and thought through the implications. I considered how surprised Sarah might be as well, and smiled inwardly at the thought of presenting her with the facts. The idea just did not make sense, and I said so. In reply, the man said, " I'm Jewish; I know a Jew when I see one." He held the picture up again and said, "Can't YOU see it?" What I wanted to say was, "Well, I'm not Navajo, but I have lived among them for years. In spite of that, I don't always know a Navajo when I see one!" I resisted however, and in the alternative said, "What I think is, at this point, it really does not matter what I think; your mind is made up."

Things quickly went downhill from there, and the earring sale fell through. "I just can't think about that right now," he said again. The couple departed, and Priscilla and I stood there looking at each other in wide-eyed wonder. Yup, you guessed it . . . dumbfounded!

The next time Sarah came to the trading post we mentioned the encounter to her. I thought she would fall down laughing at the thought of such a thing. Her two daughters ribbed her unmercifully the whole time they were here, and then departed laughing and joking. This was quite a contrast to how Mr. and Mrs. Deschenes left the building.

As I considered the parallel encounters, I realized that Sarah never really refuted the accusation. She laughed about it, joked about it and allowed herself to be tormented by her daughters, but never actually denied it. Either Sarah thought the idea too ludicrous to take seriously or she would make an excellent politician, or just maybe . . . .

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American creations!

Special Focus on: Bisbee Turquoise

Artist Spotlight on Navajo Folk Artist Leland Holiday.

Our TnT's purchased new treasures! Check out Traders in Training!

New Staff Picks for the Month of October, coming soon!

Auction ends Friday, Oct. 3rd @ 2pm MST. Place your bids! eRocks Auctions!

Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rock On

In this part of our United States, the distances are large, and rock predominates. The other day I checked my calendar and realized I was scheduled to appear in Cedar City for a meeting the following week. It had been many years since I visited the southwestern part of Utah, so, in anticipation of my journey, I pulled out the map. My geographic review confirmed what Jana universally maintained when we began dating all those years ago; there is no easy way to get to or from Bluff.

Barry & Steve's "Rock On" Cream @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

To access the southwestern part of Utah from our home town, one must either head north and angle south, or start south and strike north; there is no direct route. Leaving late in the afternoon, I chose the southerly course, and was west of Page, Arizona as the sun began to fade.

Beginning to feel a little lonely as shadows spread across the red rock undulations near Lake Powell, I switched on the FM radio and searched for a station. There was nothing but empty air and scratchy signals. Now, I am no stranger to vacuous spaces and static; at the Twin Rocks we have plenty of both. On this particular occasion, however, I was craving something more.

Just outside Kanab, the search hit on a classic rock station, and I eased back in the seat and set the cruise control. These were the songs of my youth, and I was in the company of friends. As the radio played Me & Bobby McGee and Satisfaction, I began considering how rock had become the central theme of my life. Not the musical variety, however, it is rocks from the Bisbee, Royston, Morenci, Number 8, Carico Lake, Blue Gem and a variety of other turquoise mines that threaten to overwhelm me.

That, I have come to understand, is not at all unusual. Turquoise, as it turns out, is a magical, mystical stone; something a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s should have instinctively understood. The metaphysical and psychedelic aspects of that era had, however, passed me by without so much as a whisper, so I was slow to comprehend.

The story of turquoise reaches back over 6,000 years, and the archaeological record places the stone in Egypt’s First Dynasty; five centuries before the Christian era. Although I have long maintained that Barry is so addicted to turquoise he would inject it if possible, I was recently surprised to find that the mineral has historically been ground into a fine powder and consumed as a cure for many ailments. This remedy is said to mitigate nervousness, relieve stress and promote harmony.

At the trading post, we have turquoise made into beads, carved into fetishes, inlaid into bracelets, set into pottery and cut into every imaginable geometric shape. To my knowledge, however, we had never considered ingesting it.

Thinking my new realization may comprise a significant business opportunity, I mentioned it to Barry. You can imagine his excitement. After all those years of being consumed by turquoise, Barry finally believed he might actually devour it. This appeared to be a watershed moment, and a new direction for the trading post.

First, however, I cautioned him we must do our due diligence and develop a sound business plan. Scientists and pharmacists would have to be contacted, ministers consulted, bankers convinced and investors secured. As I carefully proceeded through this tedious process, I began to notice a cabochon missing here and an empty bezel there. Barry denied any knowledge of these incidents.

All of the sudden, however, Barry began speaking of harmony, world peace and free love. I became seriously concerned when he arrived at work wearing beads, a flowery shirt and flip flops, but there was no direct evidence. Finally one morning I noticed a blue film around his mouth and, pushing him aside, quickly searched his desk. There in the back corner of the drawer, under the baseball trading cards, was what I was looking for; a vial of turquoise powder and a bag of partially ground cabochons.

After a little independent research, we have struck a deal to blend Barry’s turquoise powder with Nellie Tsosie’s Miracle Cream. Clinical trials for the topical cream are proceeding, and the results are encouraging. We expect FDA approval within the next twelve months, and an initial public offering is planned. Our motto will be “Rock On”.

Peace, love and turquoise to all.
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2008 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fallen Arches

Recently the collapse of Wall Arch; a large, natural sandstone formation located along the Devil's Garden trail in Arches National Park was in the news. The occurrence was throughly documented by articles in the Associated Press and local papers, and was also a significant topic of conversation on the Navajo grapevine. What was once a magnificent geologic feature was ultimately brought down by wind, water and sandstone wearing upon sandstone, the precise elements responsible for its creation.

Arches Before
The Arches before and after.

Word of Wall Arch's passing reverberated throughout Dinetah; the traditional Navajo homeland. The Navajo people believe their deities travel on rainbows, and that arches and natural bridges are rainbows frozen in time. They are thus sacred locations. So sacred in fact, that they are considered portals into the Mirage World; a place where deities dwell in harmonious balance.

These portals are guarded by Coyote, who is both the guardian of the entrance and the key holder. Coyote patrols the arches, and leads away interlopers and trespassers. He grants access only to those he deems worthy. For these reasons, the collapse of Wall Arch was of great concern to the Native American population.

Their fear is that falling arches indicate the decline of traditional Native American culture. A few years ago, it was thought that footprints of the Navajo Hero Twins had been spotted on Black Mesa. Many Navajo people subscribe to the prophecy that the Twins will return when the culture of the Navajo is put at risk, so this was a serious incident.

Because the fallen arch has been such a hot topic of conversation lately, I have given it much thought. In doing so, I have formulated the relatively simple theory that culture is lost through lack of study, practice and support. People associated with those traditions give up hope, let their passion dwindle, and before long the legacy is lost.

Personally I believe the identity of a people, their soul, is directly related to tradition and culture. Much can be learned from the old beliefs; enduring lessons of love, compassion and understanding abound. Throw in a healthy portion of service, and you have the basis of religious ideology. The demise of a culture does not occur instantaneously, as in the collapse of an arch. Portals to the Mirage World will exist so long as there are individuals who can imagine their existence.

Many Native American people believe science and technology are corrupting their nature-based beliefs. They look to the wellsprings of their culture and deny the scientific spirit of the age. Others search out the parallels and adapt; moving ever onward and upward. Each of us must find our own path, and follow it to the best of our abilities.

A number of geologists have told me that arches are inherently temporary; that they all eventually succumb to the forces of gravity and erosion, and the inevitable re-arrangement of their sedimentary particles. Take heart though, many more are undergoing their epoch-long creation even as we speak; each arch being the product of millions of years of deposition and scouring. The geological art gallery we know as Arches National Park does not seem in eminent danger of destruction.

Some may say the failure of Wall Arch has absolutely no effect on culture, myth and legend. They may say, "It was just an arch and it fell; no more no less." To a people intimately in touch with the land and her well-being, however, it was much more. The collapse signaled the passing of an old friend, and is a warning to protect the earth and acknowledge her for every good thing she represents.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.