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