The well-dressed man facing me across the trading post counter leaned in closer, put his diamond ring adorned hand alongside his mouth and, in a hushed and confidential tone, said, "Do you really belong here?" I leaned back to assess him from a different angle. He was a handsome gentleman with an intelligent air about him; carefully groomed, too carefully groomed from a "Bluffoon's" perspective.
Navajo Pictorial Rug by Eleanor Yazzie
When the man pushed open the Kokopelli doors and strode into the store, I recognized confidence and intellect. I thought I also sensed a slight uneasiness, maybe he was feeling a little out of place. He looked to be a well maintained fifty-something. His dark brown hair, slightly streaked with gray, was lightly oiled and combed into perfect form above his aristocratic brow. He was freshly shaved, and I could smell a woodsy, cinnamon aroma about him. He viewed his world from bright blue eyes under two distinct, carefully plucked and proper eyebrows; no Cro-Magnon unibrow on this fellow. I rubbed my own furrowed and fuzzy forehead, feeling a little self-conscious.
The man was dressed in a freshly pressed white long-sleeved cotton shirt with thin blue pinstripes; the first two buttons unfastened at the neck and sleeves rolled up one turn. A gold Rolex adorned his left wrist. The tails of that stiff shirt were tucked neatly into a belted pair of what looked to be expensive wool slacks. On his feet were a beautiful pair of brown leather loafers; no socks. The outfit spoke volumes, saying, "Big city, on vacation". I looked down at my Eddie Bauer pull-over, Levi's, hiking shoes and ragg wool socks. Smiling to myself, I thought, "Bluff casual".
The guy was actually very pleasent. After he browsed the store, we spoke of turquoise, the gold and silver markets, Indians, outlaws and local history. I was surprised when he served up his curious question. "Do you really belong here?" "Umm, whaddayamean?" I queried, disgusted with myself for abusing the King's English in such a manner. "I mean," said the man, "This is a nice gallery, high-quality inventory, educated staff and a progressive attitude. You sound ambitious and thoughtful, this place does not seem to fit the area. With a little fixing up you might go somewhere more. . . financially productive. I ask again, do you really belong here?"
I felt complimented and rebuffed in the same moment. Looking intently at the man, I said with passion, "This is where it's at! This is the source of the artists and the inspiration for their creativity." I attempted to explain the beauty of this place. How the light moves across enchanted mesa tops on cloudy days, playing games of illusion on your mind; and how the contrast between snow-covered mountain peaks, ruggedly appealing red rock country and high plains spotted with sage and cedar cause you to stop and stare in wide-eyed wonder. I told him how the silence and loneliness of this vast, exposed landscape calms your mind and eases the pain, fear and frustration of the spirit. I went on to explain how the canyons hold the mystery and magic of a still vibrant American Indian culture in their rough and tumble depths. How on incredibly bright, star-lit nights, myths and legends spring forth from yellow-hot Juniper fires surrounded by indigenous people looking to the past for answers. I related the power and security of deeply rooted friendships based on time, space and patience. I told my new acquaintance of the strength and satisfaction derived from working closely with family towards common interests and goals.
Navajo Pictorial Basket by Elsie Holiday
At some point, I had heard a story broadcast on what I think was NPR's This American Life. The program spoke of interviews with American pilots flying bombing missions over Afghanistan. The host was surprised by the wide variety of opinions these young men held on the beauty, or lack thereof, of the foreign landscape they flew over and often pulverized. A few of the "fly boys" recognized a rugged and unique beauty beneath their wings and regretted its destruction, others were apathetic; giving no opinion at all. The final group saw only wasteland below, and were more than willing to pound the countryside and its enemy inhabitants into oblivion. It is all a matter of perspective, and vision, I suppose.
The polished and proper, seemingly wealthy, gentleman nodded his head in understanding as I ended my recitation. The reasoning behind my "belonging" was evident to him now. This was home, comfort and a life lived slowly and easily, near to the earth herself. Surrounded by family, friends and spectacular scenic beauty, there is no better place for me. Everyone truly belongs somewhere, and I understood this man had discovered his proper place in the city. He found his comfort zone and source of milk and honey amidst the bright lights, noise and confusion I find totally alien. I guess every source of refuge has its price, and rewards.
With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.