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.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tradiology - For the Love of People

Navajo First Woman Basket by Elsie Holiday
Navajo First Woman Pictorial Basket by Elsie Holiday

Not long ago, Kathy asked me to help load a crate onto the soon-to-arrive motor freight carrier. Kathy has developed a skill for making modern-day petroglyphs using sandstone slabs and an electric pencil, and her art adorns several homes and businesses across the country. When I accepted the invitation, little did I know that Kathy had a word or two in her vocabulary I had not previously heard.

In this particular case she had sold a large, and heavy, specimen to a structural engineer and his wife. According to Kathy, the couple intended to mount the piece over their fireplace. As Craig, Kathy and I grunted and groaned the 275-pound specially built crate onto the truck, Kathy began explaining what the gentleman’s wife did for a living. “She’s a ped. . ., a pid, a . . . a pediologist.” “A podiatrist? A proctologist? A pharmacist?” I questioned. No, you know, a baby doctor.” I laughed so hard the crate almost did not make it out of the parking lot.

Kathy’s creative terminology started me thinking not only about pediatricians, but also about what it means to be an Indian trader; a tradiologist. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines a tradiologist as, “1: one engaged in the profession of tradiology 2: one with an exceptional interest in people.”

A distinction must be made between historic and contemporary traders. The old-time traders were a special breed, and there are not many remaining. They often left their comfortable homes for lonely, underpopulated and isolated outposts to set up shop in unknown and inhospitable environments. They were required to build relationships, both personal and professional, with people who were not always pleased with their incursions into traditional areas. Come to think of it, maybe no distinction needs to be made; some things never change, and Barry and I have similar stories about isolation and restless natives. Bluff is the perfect example, except that the restless natives are not usually Native.

Navajo Basket Weaver Elsie Holiday
Navajo Weaver Elsie Holiday

It is the second part of Webster’s definition, however, that defines why I am engaged in tradionomy; I love and am fascinated by people. I have heard countless individuals exclaim, “Retail . . ., oh, I don’t know how you do it!” For me, the trading post is like standing at the edge of a smorgasbord with a bounty of previously unknown treats spread before you; you simply never know what will happen when you dig in. Once in a while you get a sour morsel, but overwhelmingly the flavor is extraordinary. Being at the trading post is better than Dairy Queen, A&W or Baskin Robbins; there are millions of flavors, and each is unique.

Last Wednesday, Elsie Holiday stopped by with her latest basket. Being concerned about the state of the U.S. economy in general and trading post economics specifically, which affect her personal economics directly, she had been here a few days before to ensure we were still buying baskets. “Of course,” I assured her, “we can always figure out something. We always have.” Barry is convinced I am addicted to Elsie’s basketry, and at times has suggested detox. Although he may be right, my explanation is more simple; I just cannot conceive of letting her creative streak wane. During a previous slow period, Elsie expressed a desire to retire from weaving and I was in a funk for weeks.

When she arrived this time, I was sitting in Barry’s office, working on a story, some might say tall tale, he had recently outlined. Elsie wandered in, sat down with a casual air and began to ask about mortgages, bank failures and high gas prices. “It’s not so good is it?”, she queried. “Well, we may all have to tighten our belts a little”, I responded, “the economists keep talking about recession.” She looked up, smiled gently and said, “I had a prayer done on this basket. That should make things better.” Apparently she had been talking with her father, a traditional Navajo medicine man, and he had suggested a remedy. The prayer was said, the basket blessed and off to the trading post she sped.

As far as I am concerned, nothing is better than people working together to find reasonable solutions to a difficult problems. Being as concerned about her trading post pals as she was about herself, she asked her father to include us in the blessing. I could not help feeling a great fondness for her, so I dug into Barry’s hidey-hole and paid her for the basket; maybe a little less than she had hoped, but probably more than I could afford. In the bargain, however, I received an invaluable human experience. “It will work,” she assured me and turned toward the door. “It always does,” I reassured her with a wink. Now that is the essence of tradiology.

With warm regards,

Steve, Barry and The Team

Unfair Advantage

The little Banty Rooster guy in the orange and blue Denver Broncos t-shirt, tan plaid knee length shorts, dirty white/red socks and muddy Teva sandals would not let it go. I knew Betty was loosing patience because I had seen that look in her eye before. Years ago, as a small child, I had made the same mistake. Push Betty too far and you will receive a well deserved "tongue lashing" for your trouble. Betty helped raise me right.

Melvin & Betty Gaines' Flower Pot
Melvin & Betty's Porch in Bluff, Utah across the street from Twin Rocks Trading Post.

It all started when Priscilla walked in from the porch speaking of a big bang. "Whaddayamean?" I asked. Priscilla gave me a look of strained patience and began to explain. Priscilla said she was watering the plants on the porch when she heard a "Bang". Looking toward the sound she saw that a Subaru wagon had gotten loose and rear-ended Melvin and Betty Gaines' brick flower box across the street.

People park their cars over there all the time to gain the protection of the Gaines' trees from the blistering summer sun. As soon as the car hit the planter a young man jumped up off of the porch of the Cafe and hustled over to inspect the damage. Priscilla watched the young man as he checked out the Subaru's rear bumper. He then, unabashedly, jumped in the car and drove it across the street to the cafe, remounted the porch and resumed lunch.

Hmmph! thought Priscilla, that ain't right! She strode into the trading post, told me the story and then told me to do something about it. Not wanting to upset Priscilla and wanting to be a good neighbor I got on the phone and dialed up the Gaines. Melvin was on a shuttle, helping some river runners get their car to Clay Hills, thus out of touch so I explained the altercation to Betty. She walked out of her house with the phone to her ear and inspected the damage.

I told Betty I would call the sheriff's deputy to take a report if she wished. At first Betty didn't want to make a fuss but then realized Melvin would have to be the one to repair the damage. Betty was afraid the flower box would fail, allowing the pole holding up the porch to tip, causing the porch to detach itself from the building and fall on someone's head. Melvin would surely have to do some preventative maintenance. To add insult to injury the Gaines would have to bear the cost of repair. I called the local constable.

I hung up the phone and walked outside to look at the Subaru bumper. Right then the four delinquents that belonged to the car were getting in to disperse. "Whoa!" I said, "you boys might want to stick around for the fun." I told them the sheriff's deputy was on his way to inspect the error of their ways. Right off the bat the little Bronco Fan jumps straight in the air and complains that we didn't have to call the cops. I looked at him in a confused manner trying to figure out how he foundered upon this train of unconscious reasoning.

Betty was walking across the street to face the fugitives when our new friend headed in her direction saying something like, "I will handle this." I hustled after him thinking he would try to agitate Betty and wind up being run through the ringer. The group immediately denied any responsibility for the digression. I responded that we had an eyewitness which placed them at the scene. Betty began to get that look in her eye; she doesn't like liars. I then told the group that this might have gone better if they had fessed-up upon dealing the damage and not trying to flee the scene.

Undaunted, Bronco Billy decided to buy off the country bumpkin with cash. He told Betty the the damage was minimal and her building was doomed to fall down anyway. The anger in Betty's eyes stepped up in intensity a stage or two. I told the group that their self-appointed negotiator was not helping their cause and that he might consider stepping down. Undaunted, "Li'l Thunder" waded back in.

He told Betty he could fix the planter in short order for $100. I told him to go get the materials and get-er-done. The guy shot me a distasteful look and kept flapping his jaw. Betty sat down on a cut-off post and fixed her gaze solely on the man with the plan. Oooh, he was in for it now, I thought! Betty carefully explained that the planter, pole and porch would have to be fixed and that her husband was not going to be the one to do it.

The little man sighed and offered Betty $200 to forget the whole thing. I saw Betty's eyes soften and shook my head furiously in the negative. I figured he had talked himself up to $500 by now and I still wanted to see him get "spanked". Betty took the money, gave the boys a short lecture about admitting their faults in a timely manner and let them scurry off. "Dang!" I said out loud and looked at Betty in disbelief. "It was an accident." said Betty, "And I can get it fixed for this."

I wandered back across the road shaking my head in amazement wondering why Betty had allowed the hoodlums to escape. I have often found myself in a situation when I should've stopped talking, knew I should shut-up but didn't. I always paid a heavy fine and got a whippin' in one way or another. Life is definitely not fair...never was I let off the hook so easily. Then it hit me. I stopped in my tracks as the epiphany sank in. I turned around and watched as Betty disappeared into her home. It was clear to me now; Betty must be a Denver Broncos fan, there was a common thread, and that must be why she let them off so easily. Who'da guessed?!

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Competition or Compassion?

It had been a good day in the Redrock Country of southeastern Utah. Jana, Kira, Grange and I had risen early to get Kira on the bus for her first ever cross country meet. After depositing her with the team, we drove to the Moab Golf Club for the meet. It was also my first experience with the sport, so I was excited to see the young athletes sail through their courses.

Twin Rocks
The Twin Rocks

Although she had a strong start and shows promise as a runner, it is yet to be determined whether Kira inherited the Steve “turtle” gene, or something more speedy. The reason for this uncertainty is that about half way through the race she stopped to assist an ailing team member. What we may have learned from that experience is that Kira is instinctively compassionate, if not genetically competitive.

On the way home, Jana deposited me on the side of the road with my bicycle, and I enjoyed a warm, but satisfying ride back home to Bluff, which gave me time to consider Kira’s decision. Later that evening, I found myself lying on the hammock outside the house above the trading post, gazing at the stars scattered across the heavens and still wrestling with Kira’s choice. With the Twin Rocks looming overhead, and satellites swimming across the Milky Way faster than Michael Phelps in the Beijing Water Cube, I suddenly felt an immense calm wash over me.

As the stars twinkled, the low-flying aircraft blinked and bats winged across the sky devouring gobs of insects, I heard an eternal voice ask; “How did you get here?” It is a question I have heard countless times from trading post patrons. “I arrived head first”, I tell them The confused looks often follow, at which point I explain that I was born in Bluff, or more appropriately conceived here and born at the hospital in Monticello; approximately 50 miles to the north.

In fact, the question is extremely difficult on all levels. Contemplating my place in the universe, I peered up into the inky sky and envisioned several friends who now stride the Halls of Heaven, and wondered about their journeys. I have often felt that we live or die by seconds and inches; a few seconds further along our path and we avoid a fatal automobile crash, a few inches closer to the precipice and we tumble into the void. The outcome is never certain.

Cow Canyon
Cow Canyon - the canyon entering Bluff, Utah to Twin Rocks Trading Post

The other day a lawyer from California stopped by the trading post with his wife, who was also a lawyer, and their two children. As we talked, he mentioned that he had begun his career with a large, international firm, and had ultimately decided he needed to scale back and start enjoying life; something his big firm practice did not allow. His wife and kids were proof positive he had made the right choice.

As we talked, I was reminded of the extremely well known Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken :

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Each day we are confronted with choices that ultimately dictate our future and have the potential to send us soaring off in new and unexpected directions. How we got here may be the least important question, the real issue is what we do once we arrive.

Much to the confusion of her mother and me, Kira chose to assist her fellow traveler, rather than run the entire race. Instead of competition, she chose compassion, and that may have made all the difference. Somewhere ages and ages hence, we may know the implications of that decision. For now we will just have to trust her judgment.

With warm regards,

Steve, Barry & the team