Friday, December 18, 2009

The Navajo War Dance

Older Navajo people did not generally have access to medicines that could heal severe ailments. Mountain tobacco, herbs and a few salves often defined their medical kits. What they did have in their arsenal, however, and what they relied upon heavily, was psychology. Early on medicine men realized that by healing the mind they accomplished miracles with the body. Severe ailments were mostly unmanageable, but a measure of comfort was obtainable using these psychological treatments. Sacred ceremony was primarily effective in helping a patient heal after an emotionally damaging occurrence. One of the most effective ceremonies of this type is the war dance, which is also known as the enemy way.

Navajo Enemy Way Basket

The Navajo war dance is intended heal the battle-scared minds of Navajo warriors returning from hostile interaction with a foreign foe. It is also believed to be effective to those who struggle with ghosts of a perceived enemy. Navajo families decide if an individual is in need of the ceremony, and if a healing is deemed necessary they contact a medicine man to initiate the process. The initial treatment requires blackening the patient with soot and ash to the point where a ghost or ghost-like enemy has difficulty recognizing him under this cover of darkness. If there is a noticeable improvement, the full ceremony is commenced. At that point a new hogan must be built and a scalp obtained. A chosen member of the tribe or a close family member is sent on the warpath to gather an article associated with the ghost. This "scalp" is rolled onto a stick and carefully returned to a protected point near the newly built hogan.

Any war dance requires at least two singers; the first prepares and decorates a rattle stick and the second receives the stick at a separate location. The stick is created from a specially chosen cedar or juniper limb which is chanted over while it is cut. As prescribed by the Hero Twin Monster Slayer, a small but precise ceremony is undertaken to decorate the stick, which is representative of all vegetation. The stick is bound with buckskin and trimmed with grass, plants, sage and turkey feathers. Eagle tail feathers, deer hooves and strands of red yarn are also attached. The yarn is for the women, and represents blood cleansing the earth to make it more productive during planting and harvesting. A sacred water drum is also an essential element of the war ceremony. The drum is used to beat the ghosts of the enemy into the ground. With the aid of the drum, the first singer sings coyote, owl and burrowing owl songs.

When the rattle is complete, the patient grasps it firmly and the singer sings a song to begin the process of carrying it away. When the song is complete, the patient or a chosen representative will take the stick, mount a horse and deliver the stick to another home where the second medicine man waits to receive it. The second medicine man inhales the breath of the stick, which indicates his acceptance of the rattle. This activity begins the three nights which comprise the war dance. Those participating at the second camp will mark themselves accordingly and take up their own water drum to begin more singing. The singer in the second camp is now in charge, and chooses a young, unmarried, reliable girl to be the stick carrier and leader of the girl dancers.

Legend tells us that in the first war dance two girls were sent out to meet the warriors returning from war on Taos Pueblo. The girls encircled each warrior, beginning with the leader and proceeding down the entire line. Upon reaching the last man, they returned in like fashion. The girls of the present day represent these two young women. In modern dances, each girl selects a man from the crowd and, standing behind him, moves him in a circle once or twice and then reverses the motion. The female stick carrier continues to guard the stick, and the drum is beaten during the songs. It is said that in the first war dance warriors promised the two girls that their wishes for a better, more productive earth would be fulfilled. The warriors told them that regardless of the blood covering it from the war on Taos, the stick would produce vegetation and the girls would be in charge of rain. Therefore the girls must not release their partners without a gift from him. The two camps merge into one during the girls' dance.

During the morning of the first day, friends and relatives provide small gifts to be thrown through the smoke hole of the hogan while a serenade is sung. An oversize cigarette is provided the drummer, and an auction or gift swap is enacted. The small gifts represent booty taken in war, while the exchange represents the initiation of peace. A serenade is sung to the stick receiver, who then throws the gifts out of the smoke hole. This distribution of gifts to the serenaders and the public expresses the tribe's joy and appreciation for restoration of the earth’s productivity. The party bringing the stick from the patient’s camp now returns to the first hogan. They enter, circle the fire twice in a counterclockwise position and settle in. A scalp shooter must be secured and a singer for the concluding songs of the entire ceremonial must be agreed upon. A crow bill must then be made for the patient. A buckskin from a strangled deer, one not wounded by an arrow or pierced by a bullet, must be secured. Three ceremonial baskets are sought, one for the hair bath, one to contain an emetic and the third to contain a no-cedar mush.

On the second night of the ceremony, the singer sings selected songs, and the receiver's camp prepares to move. At the approaching dawn, both singers and camps begin the ceremony anew. With the aid of the ceremonial baskets, there is a cleansing and the emetic is prepared. The patient drinks the emetic and dispels the enemy ghost as the sun rises. When the sun is fairly high in the sky, the crowd begins to move from the receiver’s camp to the first camp. The girl carries the stick, a man holds the pot drum. When close to the camp, the patient enters the first hogan and horsemen go out to meet the crowd, discharging their guns. The receiver’s party also discharge their guns and both parties begin chasing one another in a wide circle around the hogan. They repeat this four times, after which the receiver’s party makes camp some distance from the first hogan. Food is served, representing the meal brought to the Black God at the first war dance.

The serenade is re-initiated, new gifts are flung from the smoke hole and the gift exchange or auction is concluded. The drummer is given an over-sized cigarette and relieved of duty. Feathers and vegetation are burned and tallow and red ocher are added. The substance is used to blacken the patients face in preparation of the attack on the scalp. The individual shooting the scalp and the patient's wife must be blackened. The blackening of the woman represents the restoration of the earth's productivity. Shoulder bands and wristlets representing paraphernalia of the Hero Twins are provided to the patient. The patient is also provided a decorated crow bill, which is used as an instrument to help kill the ghost of the scalp. During the singing, yucca fronds tied into knots are cut at parts of the body where ghosts can be dispelled. At this point a scalp shooter is employed. He may use a gun or an arrow to shoot at the scalp that was kept safely outside the hogan. Ashes are then thrown upon it. The patient and a couple of aids poke the scalp with the crow's bill saying; "It is dead. It is dead!" They walk away, turn their shoulder straps in the opposite direction, face the sun and inhale its breath four times. The entire gathering then inhales the breath of the sun four times. The men and women separate into distinct quarters. Others may shoot at the scalp if they choose, but the patient has concluded his attack.

After the scalp shooter has strewn the scalp with ashes and the attack on it has been concluded he carries it into the circle of dancers who face the enemy. The end men draw the circle eastward, away from the hogan entrance. This formation puts the scalp in the center, and leaves just a small opening between the two end men. Some fifteen songs mention the distant enemy’s name and motion or order him into the ground, ridding the warrior most effectually of his enemy. After the conclusion of these songs, ashes are again strewn upon the scalp and around the hogan by the scalp shooter, who now carries it out of the dance circle some distance away. The end man at the south now swings around counterclockwise to the north and the entire group of dancers face the hogan entrance. This symbolizes the return from war, originally from Taos, now any war or harmful encounter. The songs sung facing the hogan express rejoining. They tell how the warrior defeated his enemy. They shout his name out in public, something that is never done in private life.

On the last night the two singers retire and the conductor of ceremonies and the stick receiver take charge. Those who were blackened are released by untying their wristlets and removing the shoulder bands and plumes. Songs are sung as the sun dips lower in the sky and the group moves towards the hogan. They form a line with the stick carrier at one side of the entrance, the drummer at the other side, and the stick receiver immediately behind these two. As soon as the song is concluded the patient shoves a basket out bellow the entrance curtain. The stick receiver picks it up and tosses it in the air with a shout in which the entire group joins. He then sits down facing the curtain with the basket turned bottom up before him. He clasps his hands during four songs which he sings, slapping the basket with his hands. He then sings the four first songs again. When these are finished, the pot drum is brought out from the hogan and the people begin sway-singing. The basket is given as a gift to the stick receiver.

This sway-singing continues at the hogan for a time, after which the stick receiver’s party moves their drum to their camp and continues to sing and dance. About midnight, the hogan party carries their drum to the receiver’s camp, where both drums are retired. Fire may be set to the wood pile. The girl carries the stick out, and other girls follow her bringing the remaining men to dance. This continues until the night is fairly well advanced. Then the stick receiver takes the rattle stick and stands in the center of a sway-singing group with it for the rest of the night. At dawn the singer of the hogan ceremonies leads the patient outside. He eats pollen and throws a portion to the four sacred directions as an offering. The singer then asks the stick carrier to conclude the ceremonial and again intones the four opening songs, the first of which he concludes, while the stick receiver finishes the other three. When these are finished, the patient makes a pollen offering and inhales dawn’s breath four times, then all return to their own side of the living quarters. When the stick receiver’s party moves camp and returns home one of them disposes of the rattle stick in the prescribed manner with song and prayer. The stick is never used again.

This is a basic explanation of a highly elaborate ceremony. I have been informed that Navajo medicine men, based upon their attachment to different areas of the Reservation, practice numerous variations on the theme. The basic implication of the war dance describes a ceremony that focuses on the mental health and well-being of loved ones. This is brought about through sacred ceremony initiated and carried out by family and friends. There is also a conscious awareness of their close, symbiotic relationship to Mother Earth. Here at Twin Rocks Trading Post we wish you the best of the Holiday Season. We wish you the love and hope the spirit of the season has to offer. We pray that you are surrounded by the love of family and friends, that your ghosts are exorcised, that the earth embraces you and that the breath of the sun fills you with youth and vigor. Be well and prosper.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Two Zits defines zit as, “A pimple or skin blemish.” The term can, however, mean much more than just another unwanted skin condition; at least for me.

Grange Simpson

Last Friday morning, I noticed two assignments Grange had left on his bed before heading off to school. Jana and I are generally conscientious about going over the assignments Kira and Grange bring home, so I placed these on the kitchen counter for later review and discussion. As I grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, Jana perused the documents. We are accustomed to seeing 90s or 100s on Grange’s class work, so I was surprised to find 75s written in red pencil on the worksheets.

While Jana and I discussed the reasons why Grange had not performed as well as expected, he came strolling in. Friday is a short day in this district, so he was home early. As we talked with Grange, I noticed he had developed two small blemishes on his forehead. I vividly remember the unhappy time when similar blotches began appearing on my own face. To my surprise, however, rather than worrying about Grange’s complexion, and immediately dialing up the dermatologist for a remedy, I was overcome with delight. These spots conclusively demonstrated that my 10 year old son is growing up and developing all the characteristics of a young man, including the widely detested zits.

When I expressed my fascination with his blemishes, Grange was clearly displeased and became seriously self-conscious. There are times when I don’t express myself well and this was obviously one of them; my enthusiasm was lost on him. In those two red dots, however, I saw both his past and future. A myriad of memories flooded my mind, making me smile broadly.

Remembering Grange’s first day on earth, I recalled proudly displaying him to Kira. Her response was, “Dad, can you give him back to his mother?” “Yes,” I said, “but I don’t think that solves your problem.” Although there were the expected bites, scratches, snubs and scrapes from his sister, over the years Grange and Kira have grown exceptionally close, as have he and I.

From the time he was old enough to walk to school, Grange and I have taken morning journeys from the house above Twin Rocks Trading Post, past Far Out Adventures and Calf Canyon Bed & Breakfast to Bluff Elementary School. During our walks I am often reminded of the opening scene from the Andy Griffith Show, where Opie and Andy stroll down a dirt road towards a fishing hole. Bluff is, I am convinced, much like of Mayberry.

As Grange grew and became more coordinated we began having short foot races, playing football or tossing a baseball. For me, this is treasured time. Once in a while he even tell me he loves me, something I have always found difficult with my own father.

Even now I can hear the lyrics from that old Harry Chapin song, Cat’s in the Cradle:

Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head and said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"

Seeing the pimples on Grange’s face reinforced my conclusion that he is growing up faster than I would like, and that our morning walks will soon end. Next year he will attend fifth grade in Blanding, and instead of the 15 or 20 minutes I have with him each morning, I will see him board the bus and be whisked away. Not long after, there will be high school, car keys and see you later can I have them please.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, December 4, 2009

Of Snakes and Servers

"There's a snake out there," said Ruth, "a rattle snake!" Looking at her carefully, I tried to guage Ruth's sincerity. After hiring her as a server at Twin Rocks Cafe, I had come to understand that she was a fun-loving character and not above jerking my chain. I vividly recall the spring day in 2002 when she walked in and applied for for a job. "I will be the best server you've ever had," she proclaimed. We hired her on the spot and never regretted the decision. When it came to pranks, however, Ruth was extremely imaginative. Focusing on her cornflower blue eyes, and looking for any hint of deception, I asked, "Seriously?" "Yes,"she said, "seriously!" I could tell by the urgency in her voice, and the disquieted look in her eyes, that Ruth was indeed sincere.

Lorraine Black with her Snake Basket.

Ruth pointed out the back door of the kitchen and said, "I was taking out the trash and heard it rattle; right by the wall!" I grabbed a broom and walked out the door into the inky blackness. Twin Rocks Cafe is built into the talus slope, near the slick rock. Exiting the kitchen door lands you on a sidewalk heading east between the back of the building and a narrow access road. There is a concrete retaining wall that starts out about three feet high and in about twelve feet tapers down to eighteen inches. The access road rests about ten inches below the top of the wall, creating a shadowed area. According to Ruth, somewhere on the other side of that wall was a poisonous serpent.

It was one of those deep, dark summer nights with no moon, and the crystalline stars above the towering bluffs provided no help when it came to illuminating the forbidding shadows. The day had been hot and was still warm, even at 11:00 p.m. The air was dry and the breeze nonexistent. I stepped to the wall and began to probe the shadows with the broom handle. I was still sweating from mopping the dining room floor and the suspense of what might be on the far side of that wall was not helping. About half way down the wall I discovered the problem. Something began buzzing like a turbo charged bumble bee. Even though I was half expecting it, the darn thing still scared the heck out of me and I jumped back.

What I did not immediately realize was that Ruth had followed me out the back door and was right behind me the whole time. When I backed into her, she screamed like a mashed cat and shoved me back in the direction of the fanged one. Although she was slight, I quickly discovered she was also quite strong. I do not know if it was the rush of adrenalin or something else, but when Ruth pushed me in the direction of that snake, I went. I did not want to go anywhere near that thing, but I had no choice. The combination of discovering a viper in our midst, backing into a screaming banshee and being shoved into the abyss upset me.

I am not sure whether I screamed, but the cooks watching from the safety of the kitchen swear I did. What I know for sure is that I fell to the concrete sidewalk and did a reverse crab walk back towards the now retreating Ruth and a door full of shouting and laughing cooks. When I hit the threshold I regained my feet, turned to Ruth and said something like, "Doggone it Ruth, that was just not nice!" Ruth apologized, but refused to go out the door until the reptile had been dispatched. The rest of the staff agreed whole heartedly. When I finally regained my composure, I secured a shovel and a flashlight. The staff we maintained (mostly of Navajo persuasion) reminded me not to hurt the snake and that doing so would bring about disastrous repercussions. I assured them I was well aware of the snake's power, and would not harm it.

Navajo mythology tells us that Monster Slayer is credited with presenting Snake with witch medicine. Snake, being naked and with no place to put it, placed the evil brew in his mouth for safe keeping. That is why snakes are poisonous. Snakes are considered sacred and have their own prayer sticks and corresponding songs and ceremonies. Snake people were prominent players in the emergence of the Navajo from the fourth world, they are believed to have held back the flood waters long enough for the others to escape. In the Windway ceremony we see the power of Great Snake and his relationship to Lightning, Thunder and Wind. Medicinally, the myth and chant of the Windway help cure "snake infection," which includes a whole host of illnesses. Mythologically, the chant warns against the violation of ancient Navajo codes, which include a prohibition against ignoring the dominion of Great Snake. The connection between Great Snake and his representatives on earth (that is, all snakes) should be noted, as well as the tie between Great Snake, Thunder and Lightning.

Great Snake's retributive power derives from being able to call forth Thunder and Lightning. Symbolically, Snake, Lightning and Arrow are closely related. In sandpaintings, the two-headed arrow looks like lightning. Snakes, which are often designed as zigzags, or lightning-like motifs, are sometimes shown with lightning coming from their mouths. Navajo mythology often depicts the snake as a link between earth and sky. The Feathered Serpent (part bird, part snake) is perhaps one of the oldest archetypes of this ancient union. It is interesting to note that in Navajo sandpaintings the marking on Snake's back are a symbol for brotherhood, again emphasizing the positive link between the worlds of earth and sky, man and reptile. Navajo mythology shows the positive power of Snake, Thunder, Lightning and Wind. It also shows how, when human transgression is present, these forces work against human will and become detrimental.

The snake at the back of the cafe was not very big, maybe a foot long and half an inch thick. He was angry, full of piss and vinegar and itching for a fight. I was reminded of a quote I once read by Mark Twain, one that I also attribute to my son Spenser and his attitude towards life. It goes like this, "It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog,". . . or snake in this case. I knew these critters were highly venomous, so I kept my distance, gently picking it up with the blade of the shovel and carrying it over the hill and far away. As I set it down, I looked around to see if I was being watched. There was no one in sight. In the way of the Navajo, I chastised brother snake for coming to town and causing such a commotion. The reptile, ignoring my tirade, crawled under a large boulder. Fortunately, we have not seen him since.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and The Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, November 13, 2009

Light-en Bluff

Last Sunday I stood at the easterly entrance of Twin Rocks Cafe and watched as the sun expanded its influence over this small river valley. At the old Jones farm an east-west line of mist hung like a curtain over the field. As the sun's rays touched the frosty clouds, the fog glistened like a shimmering veil. The scene reminded me how traditional Navajo people believe there are portals to mystical, parallel worlds where sparkling, all knowing beings exist in peace and tranquility; a Navajo Shangri-La as it where. Watching this ethereal scene unfold made me wonder whether experiences like this are the origin of such legends.

Bluff Sunrise

Reaching into my jacket pocket and pulling out my iPod, I set the earphones and scrolled through my play list, landing on an a capella version of Amazing Grace by LeAnn Rimes. As she lent her distinctly powerful and emotionally charged voice to Newton's timeless lyrics, I watched the sunrise enhance, then evaporate the veil; ultimately consigning it to the heavens. With thoughts of mystery and magic in my head, and LeAnn's song ringing in my ears, a considerable chill ran up and down my spine.

This time of year, the morning light on the red rock landscape is awe-inspiring. At dawn, the tufted grass on the upper benches glows golden with rosy red undertones rising from the bumpy hillocks of blow sand. Stunted and gnarled vestiges of sage and Navajo tea add a dark purple, shadowy effect to the singular scene. Looking off to the wide expanses of the four sacred directions, there are shifting degrees of light and shadow. Statuesque silhouettes manifest monuments, mesas, canyons and clefts in soft, watercolor detail.

Dropping into town through the gateway rift of Cow Canyon, I see jumbles of fallen, rough, nature hewn rock of earthy red and sunburnt white. A ragged line of bowed and buckled cottonwood trees crowned in gold escort me into our quaint little pioneer settlement. The contorted roadway discharges into a wide river valley braced on the northern and southern boundaries by towering bastions of mineral stained red rock. A semi-verdant hayfield carpets the valley on the left. To the right begins the town of Bluff herself, its cluttered groupings of varied and unique home sites spread sporadically about town. The only similarity of these dwellings and outbuildings being that they rest closely clustered under cottonwood trees that have, somehow, writhed up out of the less than fruitful earth. These much appreciated topiaries offer shade in summer, color in the fall and dramatic, skeletal effects in winter.

The town of Bluff has always been an inspiration to me on many levels. Here I realize a calm peaceful niche where old dogs and no longer young men can sit back, relax, commemorate and resuscitate, and the youth can truly live. To be born unto this place, to be labeled a Bluffoon, is considered by many to be a high honor. There are those who claim membership through association, ancestral connectivity or simply adoption. We accept all positive minded beings with open arms. The more uncommonly singular the better! The unique atmosphere and attraction of this fair hamlet is based on a cosmic connectivity and magnetic energy from iron rich rock enhanced by Bluff's good citizens.

To come and stay one must be attracted to the earth; Gaia dwells here. We embrace the dynamically crystalline night sky, uninfluenced by light or man made structures. We are moved by echo, transfixed by visions of the great expanse and absorbed by silence. Traditional Navajo people promote the Beauty Way or Pollen Path, which translate into focusing on the light and evading the darkness. They seek the way of enlightenment and so do we. Whether you find your destiny through the natural world, the world of science or somewhere in between does not matter, so long as you discover your truth and your proper place in the world. Our search has left us here.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ella and The Great Unwashed

Not long ago Ella Toney dropped by with some of her signature stamped jewelry. Ella said she needed a little money to buy hay for her son’s livestock; he had done her a good turn and she needed to return the favor. Although we did not really need the jewelry, Barry and I agreed to buy it anyway. We are fond of Ella and realized she needed a individual economic stimulus package. After all, what’s a few hundred bucks when the federal government is spending trillions?

Navajo Jewelry Artist Ella Toney

Over the years, I have developed a theory that there is a universal energy that notices and rewards good deeds. Some call it God, Barry refers to it in terms of string theory, but I think it is less complex. I believe the good energy radiates out and touches others who correspondingly respond to the positive stimulation. In any case, before we had finalized the transaction with Ella, a customer telephoned to buy a Ray Lovato turquoise necklace, validating my hypothesis.

Borrowing a page from Barry’s philosophy text, mixing in a little of my own testament and making a large round shape in the air with my index finger, I said to Ella, “You see, there is this great cosmic circle. Here’s how it works, your son does something nice for you, and you return the kindness. We buy your jewelry and somebody calls in to purchase something from us. It’s all part of the cycle. It’s . . . magic!” Looking over her shoulder and winking as she exited into the bright October sunshine, Ella said, “Steve, that’s called a blessing!” As I stood pondering Ella’s comment, a customer who reminded me of playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Great Unwashed” came walking in.

At Twin Rocks we often see those who have spent a lot of time in the outdoors. Some are beautifully tanned and others, having forgotten their sunscreen are red as lobsters. Most are freshly scrubbed, but a few arrive before experiencing the sublime and reinvigorating pleasure of a shower or bath. This customer fell into the latter category. He had spent so much time hiking and camping in our red rock sanctuary that his fingernails were black and his formerly straight blond hair had evolved into dreadlocks. He smelled of smoke and sage, and there was a crust of red dust on him that, despite his fair skin, made him look almost Native.

Having walked through the small museum we maintain in the back room of the trading post, he expressed interest in the Twin Rocks Modern weavings by Eleanor Yazzie and watercolor paintings by Serena Supplee we currently have on display. These are some of our favorite Navajo rugs and Serena is a perennial favorite at the trading post, so it did not take much to engage me in a spirited conversation. After only a few moments of discussion, however, the visitor quickly changed the topic. In the every day odyssey that is Twin Rocks Trading Post, that in not an unusual occurrence. Our dialogues with customers frequently take unpredictable turns, and we often wind up discussing the most unexpected and enlightening topics. In this particular instance, however, the abrupt switch took me by surprise.

As I explained how Serena had been “directed by the Great Spirit” to paint rug patterns and how Eleanor had quickly adopted these as her own, the man said, “Oh, that’s a blessing!” In short order he launched into a lecture on respecting the needs of others and how his life had been changed by learning that fundamental principle.

An hour and a half later, as my eyes were becoming droopy and I was seriously concerned I might fall over from fatigue before his discourse ended, he said, “My girlfriend recently told me I am too impulsive and insensitive. She’s right, it was a blessing; she blessed me with that information.” With that, he said goodbye and left me standing there once again.

Since our visits from Ella and the Great Unwashed, Barry, Tina and Priscilla have blessed me many times with valuable information about my personality and daily habits. After an initial bout of sensitivity, I began to consider what the Great Unwashed had said and realized he was right; blessings often come in strange and unusual ways, and there is nothing more strange and unusual than the trading post staff. As Ella would say, “Steve, that too is a blessing.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 30, 2009

McKinney's Market

Lately Craig, Steve and I have been contemplating the possibility of retirement, and have decided it is just not in the cards for us. As our dear old dad, "Duke", says about work, "I'll be here until they haul me out feet first!" Mom replies, "If that's the case, you're on your own!" Obviously a consensus has not been reached. Some people work to retire, while others work to live. If our parents cannot reach an accord soon it might cost our father a good woman, or at least a bump on the head.

Barry @ Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Duke and Rose's decision is one of choice, not necessity. Not so with us. As a result of the times in which we live, and the commitment we have made to Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe, my brothers and I have concluded that, unless there is divine intervention, we are truely "tied to the post".

That said, I have been considering how to approach our position with some sense of decorum. In other words, we are in need of a comfortable, yet manageable, approach to "hanging around". While considering our options, I was reminded of an interesting experience I had after working a trade show in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Years ago, the Smoky Mountain Gift Show was a venue we took advantage of to share American Indian arts and crafts with the rest of the country. On one particular trip, I attended the show with my sister Cindy. While there, Cindy became seriously ill and had to bow out of the breakdown and clean up. We later discovered she was pregnant with Tarrik, and was reacting poorly to her introduction to gravidity. Friends took her to Ashville to rest and wait for our flight home. I packed up the show, contacted the freight company about shipping the containers home and promptly left the building.

Just before leaving town I realized the car was in need of gasoline, so I wheeled the rental into McKinney's Market, which is located at the intersection of the Great Smoky Mountain Parkway and the Historic Nature Trail. Exiting the vehicle, I discovered the pumps were not programmed to accept credit cards. Taking a chance, I lifted the nozzle from its cradle and tilted the lever. The pump surged to life, so I filled the tank and headed inside to pay. I smiled inwardly as I told myself there are still trusting people in the world. I remember thinking it might also be that or sheriff Buford T. Pusser was on hand to run down anyone attempting to gas and go. About that time, I noticed a set of double glass doors at the entrance of the building. When I pulled on the left side, which was covered with a blizzard of local fliers, it seemed blocked. All indications pointed to the conclusion that the right door was the only available access, so I heaved it open and stepped inside the store.

Upon entering, I noticed an attractive young lady standing behind a counter, which was situated immediately to my left. Turning toward her, I nearly fell over an antiquated woman perched in a lounge chair just behind the left door. I apologized vehemently, but received only a disdainfully raised eyebrow in return. Backing off a bit, I surveyed the situation and found an eighty-something, well-fed woman stretched out in a Lazy Boy chair which was elevated on a 6" high pine dais. She was casually dressed in wool slacks, black boots, an over-sized purple sweater and a plaid shirt jacket. The old girl wore a heavily wrinkled exterior; had intelligent blue eyes; and sported short, well managed shoulder-length gray hair. She gnawed less than delicately on either a baseball player sized wad of bubblegum or an unhealthy chunk of chewing tobacco. Her outward manifestation made it clear she did not much care for the opinions of others.

As I looked her over, she stared back at me with a contemptuous expression on her furrowed brow. The young woman wore an apologetic look. "That will be $14.50", she said, as if to more quickly conclude the transaction. I moved forward again, steering clear of the lounging woman's faux leather boots. Because of the close proximity of the staring woman on my left and a rack of potato chips on my right, this maneuver was rather uncomfortable. I felt like a bull being herded into a cattle chute. I nervously stepped into the narrow gap and was struck with an epiphany. Turning back to the lounger, I said, "You are Mrs. McKinney, aren't you?" "Damn Right!" she shot back as she switched her chaw from one cheek to the other. "Nice to meet you ma'am," I said respectfully. "Yup!" said Mrs. McKinney, as if I had been slow on the uptake. The young woman smiled sweetly, took my money and said, "Thank you very much sir. Ya'll have a good one." "You un's too." I said in my best Southern drawl. Tipping my head respectfully to Mrs. McKinney, I left the store and proceeded to Ashville.

As I think about it now, lounge chairs might be solution to my retirement dilemma. There are two sides to the cash register in the trading post; one for me and one for Steve. Personally, I am partial to distressed leather. There are also double glass doors at the cafe; plenty of room for Craig to place an overstuffed chair, just like Mrs. McKinney. All we need to do is take up chewin' and cussin'. Laurie would agree that I am well on my way to perfecting such an existence. All I can say is "Damn right!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 200 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hello Goodbye

Just outside the Kokopelli doors hang two woodcarvings by Dave Sipe, a folk artist from Mancos, Colorado. The carvings feature Navajo men holding signs that say “Ha’goo’nee” and “Ya’ at’ eeh.” While not exactly culturally or grammatically accurate, they are attractive, whimsical pieces.

Ya' at' eeh'

On days when the doors are flung open to reveal the beauty of Bluff, people often stand just outside the threshold, point to the carvings and ask, “What do they mean?” I frequently joke that they indicate our acceptance of American Express and Visa credit cards. After a good laugh, I explain that ya’ at’ eeh is Navajo for “hello” and ha’goo’nee’ is “goodbye.” Although that generally ends the investigation, for me the carvings have much deeper meaning.

Having grown up in the 1960s, I cannot walk past the pieces without thinking of the 1967 Beatles tune Hello Goodbye. Shortly after that song was released in the United States, Paul McCartney was asked to explain its meaning. He responded by saying, “The answer to everything is simple. It’s a song about everything and nothing. If you have black, you have to have white. That’s the amazing thing about life.”

McCartney’s explanation echos the Navajo belief that everything in nature has both positive and negative aspects. As McCartney noted, black does not exist without white. Correspondingly, males do not exist without females and there is no day without night.

This positive/negative framework of the Navajo does not fit neatly within the Western philosophy of right and wrong, it is a much broader, more subtle concept. Navajo scholar Harry Walters once described it to me in terms of a blizzard. “If you go out in it without the proper clothing, you might freeze to death,” he said, “it’s dangerous.” The storm, however, brings much needed moisture to the land, and is therefore beneficial. Harry’s interpretation was that all things can help or harm you, it is simply a matter of how you manage the various elements.

Priscilla and I have often stood on the Twin Rocks Trading Post porch and watched as a violent thunderstorm flashes its way across the land. On those occasions, she frequently says something like, “Steve, that’s a male storm. See how it blusters and blows like a man; lots of wasted energy. Female storms are gentler, quieter and leave more useful moisture; the rain does not simply run off.” I have many times thought of her comments when I am about to commence a storm of my own making. Her sound teaching has saved me, and those around me, a lot of heartache.

The other day I was in a particularly rambunctious, some might say obnoxious, mood. Having tolerated all she could stand, Jana finally declared, “Stop being such a . . . guy!” Her statement reminded me of a basket woven by Agnes Gray several years ago. The title of the weaving was Separation of the Sexes.

In that story First Woman infuriates First Man by belching after dinner and immediately launching into a lecture about how important she is to the relationship. As a result of the ensuing argument, all females are banished to the other side of the river. First Man apparently wished to drive home the point that men can live without women easier than women can live without men. The men and women finally reconcile, but not before serious consequences arise for the Navajo people; the monsters are spawned and begin terrorizing the tribe.


Eventually both sexes realize they are inextricably woven together in one great tapestry, and separation is not a viable option. The fabric of life needs us all, with our many and varied characteristics, to make it whole. As McCartney said, “That’s the amazing thing about life.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 16, 2009

Virginia Got Lucky!

Last Thursday, a Navajo rug weaver I had known in the old days walked into the trading post with one of her beautiful Yei-be-chei weavings. Virginia had not been in Twin Rocks Trading Post for years, because her pricing had long ago outpaced our purchasing power. Sometime in the early 1980s, our Sedona, Arizona competitor began offering extraordinary prices for her rugs. Being unwilling to compete with this high-end buyer, we stopped purchasing Virginia's weavings.

Virginia and her son.

Virginia originally came to us through her mother, Lena Poyer. Lena also wove white Yei rugs that made me weak and was one of the toughest negotiators I have ever dealt with. Somehow she knew I would always buy her weavings, so she universally took advantage of the situation to put me through my paces. Unfortunately, Lena now struggles with dementia and can no longer weave. I miss her a great deal.

Virginia Poyer-Begay shares her mother's weaving talents, but has an altogether different negotiating approach; she simply doesn't bargain! Virginia is one of those artists who has always been a pleasure to deal with; she is calm, cool, collected and self-assured. In the past Virginia would state her price and we would scramble to empty ash trays and lift the sofa cushions, looking for every spare coin to pay the tariff. There was simply no negotiating, it was all or nothing. I think Steve and I bought every rug Virginia ever brought in; until her prices tripled.

When Virginia came in this time, I was working in my office. Priscilla, who was covering the floor for me, said, "Barry, you might want to come out, there is someone here to see you." Looking through the open door, I noticed Virginia toting a rug rolled into a long narrow cylinder. Even from my poor vantage point I could tell the weaving was spectacular.

Although I was pleased to see an old friend, I feared the rug in her hand, knew the process that would follow and immediately got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. "Hello Virginia," I said, and in the same breath, "I can't afford your rug." Virginia smiled broadly and said, "Hello Barry, yes you can!" We bantered pleasantly for a short time, and I mentioned that she could likely get a lot more for her weavings than I could pay her. "That was then." she said, "Have you been living in a cave? Times have changed." I was dumbfounded, because this is the approach I have recently taken with artists trying to sell their work. Virginia had turned the tables on me and I was in unfamiliar territory.

"Whaddayamean?" I stammered. Virginia explained that she was well aware of the difficult economic times, and that it was no longer possible to get the extraordinary prices she once received. She told me she was willing to sell her rug at 1980 prices. "But I want something more," she said. I looked at Virginia skeptically and said, "Whaddayamean?" "Stop that!" she laughed, "Do you remember what that price was?" I shook my head in the affirmative and looked at her closely, trying to predict what would follow.

What I did not know was that Virginia and her entourage had become attached to "Lucky", the mangled brown sheep which stood just inside the Kokopelli doors. We had taken to calling the sheep Lucky after that famous lost dog poster; the one featuring an accidentally neutered dog with three legs, one blind eye, a missing ear and a broken tail. The dog answered to the name Lucky, you know the one. Our brown sheep was in a similar state of disrepair. He was so popular with visiting children that he had been worn to a frazzle. Our hapless sheep had loose horns, was missing his tail, one eye had fallen out and his ear had been loved off; thus the descriptive moniker. "I want the same price you used to pay me and that brown sheep!" said Virginia.

Struggling to understand the psychology behind the request, I gave up and began scratching my head. "We used to have the tail around here somewhere," Priscilla said. I shot her a wondering look and asked Virginia why she wanted such an ill-fated character. "He reminds me of the Simpson brothers!" was her spontaneous reply. "All three of you are in various states of disrepair. The sheep reminds me of you, and the economy. I like it!"

Laughing at Virginia's painfully pointed statement, I agreed to her terms. I paid Virginia's price and her son gathered up Lucky, leaving me to wonder at the unusual encounter. Once Virginia and her clan were gone, Priscilla began rooting around noisily in the cabinets. "What the heck are you doing", I asked. "Looking for Lucky's tail", she said. "I promised to drop it off at Virginia's place if I find it." I shook my head sadly and went back into my office, smiling at the memory of all the good friends we have made through the years.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 9, 2009

Almost Fifty

Last Friday, Jana, Kira and Grange headed for Albuquerque to visit the more respectable side of the clan, so I had a little more familial freedom than usual. Consequently, when Barry and I barred the Twin Rocks Trading Post doors for the evening, I rushed upstairs and tugged on my cycling gear. It was going to be a beautiful evening, and I was feeling the pull of the pavement. Never mind that it might be dark by the time I finished; I had to get on the road.

Mother Earth & Sun Baskets

As I began the climb up Cow Canyon, I could tell my training had not been as diligent as it otherwise might have been. The breeze was, however, cool and soft, the cottonwoods golden and the rocks ablaze with early October light. It seemed clear that all the elements necessary for a great ride were falling into place. It is rare that I get to ride later in the day so, in spite of the struggle, I was smiling widely when I crested the hill.

Heading north as fast as my legs would carry me, which frankly was not very fast, I noticed the sun striding towards Comb Ridge. I was reminded of Johonaa’e, the Navajo deity responsible for carrying the sun disk across the sky each day. On this particular evening, he was blazing orange, and exhibiting all the majesty ascribed to him.

In Navajo mythology, Johonaa’e is represented as a tall, virile, handsome man with long black locks of hair. It was the union of Johonaa’e and Changing Woman that resulted in the birth of the Hero Twins, Monsterslayer and Born-for-Water. These twins were destroyers of the demons plaguing the Navajo and redeemers of their people.

Racing the sun towards White Mesa Hill, which I refer to as my personal nemesis because it is the last big climb before I make the turn home, I could see the sun would win and set long before I made it to Bluff. On the way back, about half way between White Mesa and town, Johonaa’e dropped below the horizon and Tl’ehonaa’e, the bearer of the moon, stepped onto the stage. Tl’ehonaa’e is just the opposite of Johonaa’e, and is portrayed as an elderly man with long silver hair. Tl’ehonaa’e has acquired the wisdom of the ages and is revered among the Navajo for his knowledge and experience.

As the diamonds of the desert began to ignite on the Reservation, twinkling an amber color, I could not help thinking that the setting of Johonaa’e and the rise of Tl’ehonaa’e was a perfect metaphor for this stage of my life. In less than a week, I will have been striding Mother Earth 50 years, and will begin receiving mailings from AARP. In my case, the youthful attributes of Johonaa’e have surely begun to dim, and in many cases have altogether faded. In my graying mane one would clearly recognize Tl’ehonaa’e. I am hopeful that in the preceding half century of life I have at least planted the seeds of knowledge and wisdom. What may sprout from those plantings is anybody’s guess.

As I dropped into Bluff through the rocky crag that is Cow Canyon and turned into the Twin Rocks Cafe parking lot, I noticed a group of European tourists standing on the porch. As I slowly peddled across the gravel, I heard one say in a French accent, “Mon dieu, a full moon.” Looking over my shoulder, I noticed the high cliffs behind the restaurant blocked my lunar companion from view. I sheepishly reached back and pulled down my cycling jersey. Maybe there is more Tl’ehonaa’e in me than I care to admit.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 2, 2009

Football Follies and Financial Feasibility

This week I want to share one of my old football stories. I do so not as an opportunity to boast, because my high school football days are nothing to brag about. Instead, I share the tale because it is one I think about a lot; one that has become symbolic in my lifelong educational experience.

Navajo Baskets

While in high school, I followed my older brother, Craig, into the sport because he was really good at it. He was big, fast, strong and talented. I figured that because I was of the same gene pool I would be good as well. It was not until much later, however, that I learned the first rule of genetics, "What should be rarely is!"

Just to remain in Craig's wake I had to work extra hard. It was a good learning experience though, and I gained a better understanding of pride, greed, jealousy, self-pity and anger management. By the time I became a senior, I had come to terms with my lack of talent. By putting in the extra effort I become a decent football player. I was a 167 pound lineman, #66. In those days there were not enough "tackling dummies" for individual offensive and defensive squads, so most of us played both ways and nursed our bruises the next day.

On this memorable occasion we were practicing short yardage plays near the end zone; the team came up to the line and the quarterback barked out the call. From the huddle we knew it was a pass. A slant in for the wide receiver, slant out for the tight end and a curl in from the tail back. Bruce, our wideout, was the primary receiver. Our quarterback called out, "Down!", the line went down and braced for impact; "Set", we set ourselves for action; and then "HUT!" The entire team sprang into motion. The line tightened up to protect the passer. The ends sprinted off the line of scrimmage on their routes and the tailback hustled around the line towards the end zone. It was poetry in motion, a thing of beauty; mostly because we were not practicing against a live defense.

Bruce flew off the line, found his mark and slanted toward the end zone. The quarterback drew back, figured the trajectory and let fly. Bruce eyed the ball over his shoulder and put forth a burst of speed to catch the football and score. As Bruce and the ball sped to their appointed point of contact, we realized something terrible was about to occur. We watched in amazed wonder as Bruce sprinted blindly toward the goal post. We stood in silent fortitude, wishing to somehow impede our teammate's forward motion. Just short of where our wide receiver and the ball were supposed to meet, Bruce met the goal post.

There was a horrific banging, thudding sound, whereupon Bruce came to fully embrace the metal upright; was repelled and collapsed in a motionless heap. A collective groan rumbled through the team as we felt his pain. Everyone had seen it coming, but we could do nothing to prevent it. The coaches were the first to react, they sprinted to our hapless cohort and checked his pulse . . . He was still alive! They revived Bruce with smelling salts and drove him to the clinic for a check-up. It turned out Bruce was okay; mostly. His pads and helmet had saved his life. Bruce incurred a slight concussion, a loose front tooth and a new found respect for immovable objects.

Over the years we have often given Bruce a hard time about that event. Slapstick humor is actually really funny if no one gets hurt. Otherwise why would cartoons regularly feature Roadrunner dropping an anvil on Coyote's head, crushing his cranium; Jerry tripping Tom into a slamming door, thereby collapsing his nasal cavity; or Tweety Bird slapping Sylvester in the butt with a 2x4, forcing him into the Bull Dog's house. The Three Stooges made a living by poking each other in the eye and slapping one another other upside the head. Metaphorically speaking; there have been several times in my life where I have been running full-out, looking over my shoulder at a prize zipping my way, knowing full well I was going to score big and then, BANG!, hitting the goal post in full stride. I do not remember it ever being funny until healing had taken place and time had numbed the pain.

Surely many of us feel this way concerning our current economic woes. Way too many people have run into their own personal goalpost and dislodged a few teeth. Not necessarily because they were not paying attention, but because those we trust stood by and watched it happen. Many of the artists we deal with at the trading post have hit the wall. They are accustomed to asking us for advice on the subject. When they do, I often feel as I did watching Bruce racing towards that imminent impact and being unable to warn him. After much concerned concentration, Steve and I now tell the artists it is time to do their best work; to slow down and create art with passion and great attention to detail.

To effectively evade this economic goalpost and come out with a game winning catch we have to be even more aware of our surroundings; we have to work harder and sacrifice more. We must forgive the fact that we are not as big, fast, strong or talented as others. We can, however, accomplish great things if we put our minds to it. The artists of Twin Rocks Trading Post have really stepped up. They have shaken off the anchor of pride, greed, jealousy and self-pity, and discovered anger-management. Our customers have reacted favorably to this new and exciting thought process as well; they love that they are seeing better art and have been incredibly supportive.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Not?

Recently Lalana, reigning princess of the post, discovered a baseball Grange had abandoned some time ago. Grange has, at least for now, moved on to football and wrestling, so the baseball was not seeing a lot of glove time. Apparently the ball had found its way under a desk or behind a cabinet, and it took someone close to the ground to rediscover it.

Steve and Lalana at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Lana, as she is known around Twin Rocks Trading Post, has become the latest in a long line of trading post kids. First there was Dacia, then Kira, Grange and now Lana. She was born to Tina, also known as “Mommatina”, our internet manager, almost three years ago. Like the others before her, Lana began coming to work only a few days after she arrived on this earth. She is now the ruler of the kingdom, and commands attention as she runs about downstairs shouting “Super Lana” and things of that sort. When Tina manages to trap her upstairs, Lana can be heard shouting, “Cilla, Cilla, go downstairs?”

It usually does not take long for Priscilla to cave in and bring her down, where she declares, “Oh, that’s a beautiful rug.” or “That’s a pretty basket. Let me see.” Barry and I have counseled her to wait until we conclude the transaction before making her pronouncements, but it has been to no avail. Our costs have begun to increase as she has acquired a greater appreciation for the Navajo jewelry, paintings, pottery and the other art we buy at the store.

Since discovering Grange’s baseball, Lana’s favorite pastime has become going out on the porch for a game of roll and catch. She petitions Barry, Priscilla and me endlessly to, “Go outside” with the ball. On these beautiful autumn afternoons, it is hugely enjoyable to sit on the cement and roll the ball back and forth, like I used to do with Dacia, Kira and Grange. I often feel Lana is preparing me to be a grandparent.

The other day I was in my office working on a project when I heard Lana say to Barry, “Go outside?” The chartreuse softball was carefully balanced in her outstretched hand. “No Lana,” Barry replied, “not this time.” Being very polite, Lana generally says, “Oh, okay.” This time, however, she was persistent, “Go outside Barry?” she insisted. When Barry reiterated that he could not, she demanded, “Why not!” We all had a good laugh, and Lana got her baseball game after all.

As I sat in my office, Lana’s question kept rolling around in my mind; why not, why not, why not. It was not long before a Navajo rug weaver strolled in through the open doors. “Want to buy a rug?” she asked. Feeling a little beaten up by the economy, I said, “Well, probably not today.” “WHY NOT?” the weaver persisted. “All right,” I said, “let’s see what you have.” As she proceeded to unwrap the rug from its bath towel covering, I notice it was a spectacular Yei-be-chei weaving. The price was right, so we made a deal and everyone was happy.

Still contemplating the importance of Lana’s question, I watched as Grange strolled into the trading post. “Can we go to the pond after work?” he asked. “No,” I said. “WHY NOT?” he shot back. I responded, “Well, it’s almost October, the pond will be cold, there is a storm coming in and I am just too tired.” Why not, why not, WHY NOT, my mind kept repeating. Finally giving in, I told him to go upstairs and put on his swimming suit.

When we arrived at the pond, I could see dark clouds accumulating over the red rock cliffs in the distance. When I put my toes into the water, I could feel the chill. Jumping in, I had the sense that this would surely be the last pond adventure of the season. In spite of all that, Grange, Buffy the Wonder Dog and I had one of the best times we have ever had at the swimming hole. As the storm grew in intensity and the wind began to pick up, we climbed out of the water and dashed for the truck; arriving home just seconds before the rain come thundering down. It was truly a memorable experience.

All too often we see the reasons why we cannot or do not want to do something, only to discover that we should be finding the reasons why we can. Barry and I have found more beautiful art at extremely nice prices during the recent economic downturn than we ever remember. It reminds us of the old saying that every dark cloud has a silver lining. At the trading post we are now asking “Why not?” more often, and having more fun than ever before.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blueberries and Cream or Natures theme

Early Monday morning the sky over the trading post was a vision of blueberries and cream, with mile-high thunderheads tumbling across the vaulted heavens. The clouds accumulated and darkened with a temptuous promise of much needed moisture. As they skated across the sky, the thunderheads were torn into ragged remnants by unseen updrafts, only to reform in a continuous game of hide and seek. The filtered light of the brilliant sun backbit the clouds, adding a rich, milky outline to the pregnant formations.

Coyote and Badger Folk Art

Directly up valley to the east, between the red rock cliffs and the shadowed landscape, I noticed a heavy, deep purple downpour. The torrent drenched that portion of the parched earth in a deluge of heavenly, liquid life. Such a scene must have been the inspiration for the Navajo story of the birth of Coyote and Badger. As the story is told, earth and sky reached out to each other in a passionate embrace. This mating spawned opposites, children that are fundamentally different, yet compatible and necessary to each other.

As I watched, the interactive movement of light and shadow between earth and sky created the illusion of an erratic pulse upon the landscape. This subtle heartbeat gave me an underlying feeling of contentment and enrichment. At the same time the possibility of a lightning strike, flood, the scouring winds and/or an ear crunching crack of thunder made me a little anxious at the thought of the damage they might do. Stoic juniper and cottonwood trees stirred and shifted, as if attempting to track the seductive cloud formations across the sky. The sage, rabbit brush and clumps of golden grass all seemed to reach higher and stand taller in an effort to call down the nourishing but abusive thunderstorm.

Standing upon the cap rock above the trading post later that evening provided an impressive view to the north and west of town. The blueberries and cream sky scape was similar to the scene earlier that morning, only darker and richer with the recent sunset. There was a magnificent light show over the Bears Ears on Elk Ridge and the towering peaks of Blue Mountain. Lightning bolts scratched the sky and tapped the canyon rims and mesa tops with spectacular, raggedy bolts made up of varying combinations of red, orange and yellow discharges of atmospheric electricity. I could almost smell the fire and brimstone in the air circulating about me.

As the evening deepened, the cloud base floating over the mountains grew like a living thing. The ominous, now pitch black, clouds gathered about in a huge, billowy formation, and lightning sparked through and around it until it looked like something from a sci-phi flick. It was alive with electricity, and the lightning gave it essence and new dimension at every strobe-like stroke.

Witnessing the incredible power and visual stimulation of the storm helps me understand why the early Navajo people deified various aspects of the natural world. There is wonder, majesty, dynamic potency, along with angst and duress, within the various aspects of thunder, lightning and moisture produced by such an occurrence. Without scientific explanation, the people grew to embrace that which they loved, and feared, most. That helped explain all aspects of the human condition. Nature was given power over life and death, and was elevated above all else. The sun, moon, earth, sky and all associated events were granted the responsibility of all creation.

Being on the fringe of such a dynamic display gives me a great respect for what nature provides. Not only life and sustenance in a physical sense, but in an emotional sense as well. What I now visualize as blueberries and cream with a dash of excitement was once viewed in a completely different perspective. The imagination of these primitive yet thoughtful people gave them a common sense approach to explaining the world around them. It gave them promise and hope. Many of life's great questions were approached in this manner. The answers? Well, there lies our personal quest of discovery.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, September 11, 2009

Past, Present and Future at the Bluff Pond

August had lapsed into September, but Southeastern Utah remained hot. The summer was stubbornly hanging on, and seemed worse than I remembered. In the cool of the morning I had gone for a bicycle ride, and despite consuming volumes of water afterwards, my core temperature was running high. Since we had exchanged the original swamp cooler for refrigeration almost ten years ago, inside Twin Rocks Trading Post it was comfortable, but l was personally sweltering.

Buffy and Grange at Twin Rocks
Buffy and Grange @ Twin Rocks.

As closing time approached, I knew what had to be done. Nothing short of a trip to the Bluff Pond would cool my jets. Finally the clock struck six and I locked the doors, flew upstairs, quickly changed into my swimming shorts and headed west.

Like a horse to the barn, a moth to the flame and a Catholic to the Pope, I was drawn to the pond. Fortunately there were no tourists standing between me and the swimming hole or there might have been a catastrophe. Not even a long line of wallet waving or bracelet buying travelers could have stopped me once I became determined to splash into those rejuvenating waters.

As I hurried over the short dirt road leading to the pond, I could feel myself being hauled along as though by a magnetic force. Splashing into its shallow depths, I was immediately transported back over 40 years to a similarly hot summer afternoon in Bluff when Duke, Barry, Craig, Tillie and I had gone swimming. Before there were life vests and Quicksilver bathing suits, Duke floated in an inner tube and held us up by the belt loops of our cutoff Levis, which was at the time the latest recreational technology.

Tillie, a large German Shepherd owned by Warren and Freda Reck, was not much of a water dog. She never failed to jump in and save us, however, when Duke dropped us in the middle of the pond and we commenced shouting for help. Tillie would dutifully swim out, circle us so we could grasp her tail and paddle back to shore in an unending cycle of mock drownings.

Feeling the heat dissipate as the cool waters soaked into my overheated body, I rolled over on my back and looked skyward. In the turquoise sky, a small flock of ravens circled far above the red rocks cliffs, which were unchanged from four decades earlier. The scene was timeless, and I imagined being one of the earliest visitors to the pond, which dates to the 1930s.

Once in a while the sky was split by jets crisscrossing the heavens on their way to one large metropolis or another, reminding me that I actually do live in the modern era. The pond has a way of bringing you back to basic values, and I could not help feeling sorry for those who have never felt the joy and relaxation of a secluded small town swimming hole. Jana often jokes that in the cities they have their country clubs and in Bluff we have the pond. With its embracing cliffs and abundant cattails growing around the edge, given the option, I will choose the pond over the country club every time.

The next afternoon I was in the trading post working at selling more rugs, baskets and jewelry when Grange wandered in and said, “I’m hot, will you take me to the pond?” “Sure,” I readily agreed. At quitting time I loaded the redheaded boy and the red dog into the old red Ford. As I floated on a log, I noticed Grange sneaking out to the middle of the pond. “Help, Buffy, I’m drowning,” he shouted. Buffy dutifully swam out, circled Grange, let him grab her tail and paddled to shore, confident she had saved the life of her young master.

As Eugene O’Neill said in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, “The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future too.” At the pond I found my past in the present, while gazing into the future.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, September 4, 2009


A few months ago, my sister-in-law Kathy decided a brood of hens was needed at our small farm. After developing her plan, she ordered a bunch of hatchings. Preparing for their arrival, we constructed a coop with an outside run in a small portion of the old barn located on the property. Every evening we check on the little tribe of poultry, whose dietary intake is supplemented with leftover greens from Twin Rocks Cafe. The offerings are always well-received by the hungry hoard, and the time required to maintain the chickens is a small price to pay for fresh eggs.

Navajo Folk Art
Navajo Folk Art

Just before leaving the trading post one night last week, I went to the cafe to gather leftovers. While doing so, I ran into my nephew Adam. I have been sparring with Adam since he was old enough to take a punch; roughing him up is my way of showing affection. Adam is now 23 years old, stands something over 6 feet tall and is "strong like Bull!" He can easily take whatever nonsense I offer and give it back with change. I began harassing the boy and he wasted no time responding. During the resulting fracas, I felt a disturbing pressure on my rib cage. Attempting to catch my breath, I realized a rib must have come from together to apart. Silly me!

Attempting to save face and not tear-up in public, I grabbed what I had come for, along with a handful of Ibuprofen, and exited the building. Driving home was a blur; I had not suffered a cracked rib since high school wrestling. Despite not having a broken rib for many years, I still remember they hurt a great deal and take a while to heal. By the feel of things, this injury would be no different. I arrived home, painfully made my way from the car to the house and found Laurie and the girls in the kitchen fixing dinner. I sat down slowly at the table, groaning slightly at the inconvenience.

"What's wrong Dad?" asked Alyssa. Laurie turned from her food preparation to carefully eye me. "It feels like I cracked a rib", I said casually. "Oh great, when did that happen?" she asked in a concerned manner. "Somewhere between the time I grabbed Adam and the time he let me go!" I said. Shaking her head sadly, she turned back to her work and, speaking mostly to herself, said, "When will you realize you are too old for that kind of nonsense?" Her, all too true, comment hurt more than the cracked rib.

Hoisting myself out of my chair and ignoring the pain, I said, "I have to go feed the chickens." "Way to be a man, Dad!" quipped McKale, giving Alyssa a high five. When it comes to pain and suffering, I am always telling the girls to, "Toughen up. Be a man!" In this instance I guess I deserve the sarcasm.

As I headed for the door Laurie set down her cooking implements, dusted the flour off her hands and sighed in resignation. "I will go with you", she said. "No need", I commented, "I can do it myself. I'll be fine." "Then take the girls", she said. "No", I replied, "they need to finish their homework." Shutting the door behind me, I moved slowly towards the truck. Laurie has never had much use for horseplay; it makes her nervous. I grew up in a house full of roughhousers. It is a way of life for me; a lesson in tough love. My wife, on the other hand grew up with four sisters and a baby brother. The worse she ever got was a little respectful bickering over a shared sweater. Now what fun is that?

With thoughts of compromise and painkillers weighing heavily on my mind, I gained my seat and drove up the mountain road to provide for the poultry. Upon arrival, I called to the barnyard biddies. They came running to the chicken wire fence in anticipation of fresh lettuce, kale, carrots, cucumbers, melon and their most preferred tomatoes. After tossing the salad into the pen, I went to check water storage. Propping the door latch in an upright position, I entered the coop, bent down to check the dispensers and noticed several hens jockeying for position between me and the door. It was as if they were attempting a chicken run. I was not in the mood to be chasing gumps around the barnyard, so I reached over and forcefully pulled the heavy door closed. As it slammed shut, I distinctly heard the outside latch drop into place.

"Dang", I said out loud. Pushing on the door proved fruitless, I was cooped up in a fowl place. Moving to the center of the pen, I sat down on the roost to consider my options. As I rested on my perch, considering the possibilities of escape, a couple of the hens that had gotten me into this predicament climbed up beside me, as if accepting me into the flock. I shook my head and smiled, recalling the old Hee Haw skit where Grandpa Jones, Roy Clark, Buck Owens, several other cast members and a pack of hounds lay on the porch drinking hooch and singing, "Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. Gloom, despair, and agony on me."

Getting up slowly and holding my side, I looked over my containment. The door was rock solid, Craig had built a new wall across the barn, and it was tight. I popped the door a couple of times just to make sure. It didn't budge an inch. I could see through the old walls of the barn, but the wood was thick and well nailed. I checked the chicken wire covering the large window-like opening over the run, but decided I might cause a greater calamity by separating wire from wood, struggling through the opening and crawling across the heavy wire covering the run. I could just see myself entangled in the mesh. Looking over the wire covered ceiling of the coop, I spied a possible exit.

About that time I heard a vehicle drive up outside. I assumed it was the folks who lease the fields and the remainder of the barn. I caught my breath and began to worry about being found with egg on my face. If I were discovered, my folly would be bandied about town unmercifully. The thought of calling for help never even crossed my mind. Ain't pride a funny thing? I heard someone get out of the vehicle, go to the other side of the barn and begin hammering. Because there was a large stack of fresh hay between me and him, I felt safely anonymous. I went to the northeast corner of the cage, wedged myself as far as I could up in the junction , reached above me and pulled at the chicken wire.

Because of my fractured rib, it was all I could do to keep from crying outloud. I finally loosened enough brads to create a small opening between the wire and the superstructure of the building. I made my way up through the grit and grime covered beams of the age-old barn to freedom as the flock marked my progress, cackling back at my grunts, groans and creative language. Dropping back to the floor and re-entering the coop with its gathering of raucous spectators, I refilled water bottles and gravity grain feeders. Bidding the flock a less than fond au revoir, I locked the door behind me, hobbled out to the truck and drove home.

When I arrived at the house and went inside, dinner was being placed on the table. Corn and beans fresh from the garden, hot rolls with homemade raspberry jam, tossed green salad with tomatoes, Green River watermelon and . . . grilled chicken breasts. I cackled crazily at the coincidence while my family gazed at my dirty, ruffled, obviously pained appearance. Laurie, Alyssa and McKale looked me over very much like the chickens at the barn. I am sure they were considering my curious appearance, over-reaction and possibly, an extended furlough to the funny farm. We sat eying each other for a moment before Alyssa perked up and, in an obvious attempt to break an estranged silence, said, "What happened Dad, chickens get your goat?"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Storyteller

The young man stood close to the sales counter, his eyes slightly downcast. With his freshly scrubbed face and in his carefully pressed walking shorts and polo shirt, he was the picture of a well-bred, well-mannered boy. Digging the toe of his river sandaled foot into the carpet, he answered his mother’s inquiry with a determined, “No.” Unfortunately for him, his body language admitted what he would not.

1960's Natural Gem Grade Bisbee Turquoise Heavy Gauge Silver Bracelet
1960's Natural Gem Grade Bisbee Turquoise Heavy Gauge Silver Bracelet

A few minutes earlier as he and his parents entered the trading post, his father had gently, but firmly, instructed him to keep his hands in his pockets and not touch anything. Giving the boy a trickster’s wink, I inquired, “How will we make any money if kids are not allowed to break a thing or two?” The boy’s parents did not overtly express displeasure, but their disappointment was apparent. I imagined them thinking, “Do not listen to that bad man. He will only cause you problems. You can tell from looking at him that he is trouble.”

Barry and I had been preparing to price certain antique jewelry pieces, so a Ray Lovato tab necklace, several bracelets, some earrings and a few brooches were on the counter. Apparently, the young man had not been able to restrain his curiosity, and had reached across the glass to more closely inspect one of the bracelets. As he did so, his inexperienced fingers fumbled and the cuff tumbled to the floor. It was at that moment the young man made a grave error.

Giving him a sharp look, his mother asked, “Did you touch that after we specifically asked you to keep your hands in your pockets?” “No!,” he answered far too quickly, trapping himself before he knew what had happened. At that point the inquisition and lecture ensued. “Sweetheart, don’t you know you should never lie to your parents? What kind of man will you grow up to be if you can’t tell the truth? I am not angry, I just need you to be honest; don’t tell me any stories” When the boy still could not bring himself to admit his mistake, his mother said, “This is the way it starts, with a small, insignificant lie, and the next thing you know, you are stealing cars and going to prison for a very long time. Do you want to go to prison?”

Her last comment startled me. Up to that point I was completely supportive and felt she had been quite compassionate. Stealing cars and going to prison was, however, overstating things a bit. Not that I hadn’t used precisely the same logic on my children when they were young. These parents, however, appeared much better prepared to guide their child in the proper ways of the world than I had been at their age. I have since learned a great deal about parenting, and work hard at not making insupportable statements.

As the couple walked out with their newly minted miscreant in tow, their comments reverberated in my mind. Although I had wanted to intervene in his behalf, out of respect for his parents, and with the hope he would soon redeem himself, I refrained from doing so.

Barry gave me a knowing look and went back to his office. Standing by the cash register, I watched the little family cross the parking lot and get into their car. They were extremely nice, and I regretted seeing the young man in trouble. As their vehicle pulled away, I sat down at the computer to write the next Tied to the Post essay.

When I had finished the story, I asked Barry to let me read it to him. “Did that really happen?” he asked. “Yes,” I said defensively, looking down at the floor and digging my toe into the carpet.

Looking at me with a penetrating stare and a smirk on his face, Barry said, “You shouldn’t tell stories. What kind of man will you grow up to be if you can’t tell the truth? The next thing you know, you will be stealing cars, going to prison for a very long time and getting tattoos.” I couldn’t help thinking, “Tattoos?”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Natural World

The other morning I saw a magnificent sunrise. I had to be in Bluff early, so I left the house before dawn and was graced with the amazing spectacle. It had rained the night before, so the earth smelled fresh, new. The heavy cloud cover made it darker than usual. Before I left the house, I hurried into the garden and picked a handful of fresh peas, two small tomatoes and a cob of sweet corn for breakfast. To me, there is nothing more tasty than vegetables straight from the garden. I hopped into the torpedo shaped Previa, pointed its nose south, split a shell and popped a few glorious peas into my mouth.

Navajo Fire Dance Ceremony Basket

Cruising slowly towards Bluff, and munching my freshly picked appetizers, I inhaled the refreshing fragrance of earth and sky flowing in through the open window. Approaching the newly mowed hayfields just south of Blanding, I looked to the east and was struck by a sky more wondrous than Elizabeth Taylor's eyes. The heavens were a magnificent lavender, with accents of vanilla highlights brushed across it. The whole scene was embellished with a tinge of rose blush about the edges. Driving to Bluff took approximately 35 minutes, and during that time the sky constantly transformed, ebbing and flowing in ever changing modifications of light and color. It was almost a shame to drop into the warm morning glow embracing Cow Canyon and leave behind this enchanted scene.

Often I speak of the natural world, probably because it often speaks to me. The Navajo people declare that humans were created of Earth and Sky, introduced through water, supported by wind and nourished by corn. Every aspect of human creation is recognized and granted sacred status. When I look closely at their interpretations, I see that every element of this creation story, every nuance, is essential to their survival and understanding.

Consistent with the Navajo traditions, modern science tells us that our bodies are primarily water (H2O); 65-90% by weight. Fundamentally we are oxygen molecules. Carbon, the basic unit for organic organisms, comes in second. In fact, 99% our bodies is comprised of just six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus. The parallels among our differing stories are striking. As human beings with vastly varying life experiences, we simply interpret the stories differently.

When our parents, Duke and Rose Simpson, came to this less than hospitable river valley I doubt they realized the cultural implications. Our mother was educated in parochial schools, and was determined to familiarize us with Catholicism. The traveling priest was scheduled to pass through town once a month, but often missed his appointments because of other, more pressing, obligations. Concerned about raising a group of heathens, and undaunted in her religious efforts, Mom, with Dad's stern support, herded us over to Saint Christopher's Episcopal Mission, where Craig and I were installed as alter boys. Our parents adapted and evolved.

A multitude of rich and varied cultures surrounded us; Ancient Puebloan, Navajo, Ute, a smattering of outlaws and, from Bluff's founding fathers, Latter Day Saints. Most people would have been confounded by the convoluted infusion of articles of faith, natural interpretations and archaeological hypotheses. My wife, Laurie, will tell you that this is the origin of my addled state of mind. Our parents did their best to introduce us to all these traditions. They patiently counseled us to educate ourselves to all, take what we considered the best and most thoughtful from each and build a firm foundation from the available materials.

It was from the Navajo that I acquired my love of the natural world, and my desire to know more about myths and legends flowing in from all corners of the globe. Listening to Navajo creation stories and embracing the simple, basic elements of life illuminated the world around me. These tales allowed me to experience the unique color variations of dawn and dusk; the depth and emotion of landscape rendered texture, the visual uniqueness and appeal of stunted Juniper trees; the invigorating aroma of sage and rabbit brush at various seasons of the year; and the humor and life lessons of the animal kingdom. These experiences came from listening to traditional stories and interpreting Native art. In doing so, I gained a grasp of many simple realities.

For example, when I see turquoise I visualize a fractured piece of the sky thrown to earth as a gift of the gods. For me, Navajo rugs portray enchanting mountains, mesas and monuments enhanced with thunder, lightning and much desired moisture. In baskets I see sacred ceremony and life ways essential to the upward movement and forward motion of tradition and culture. In the art of the Navajo people, and the stories it tells, I see a sensitivity to the earth, sky and water. In it I witness an age old honor and respect for that which we depend upon to survive. I see common ground.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, August 14, 2009

In Search of the Old Ones

Not long ago I was leaning on the counter, thumbing through a copy of In Search of the Old Ones by David Roberts, when a couple from Flagstaff began pushing on the Kokopelli doors. The book, which is about the Anasazi culture, has been on my “to read” list for several years. Like many things, however, I never seem to find time for it.

Navajo Monument Valley Mitten Basket
Navajo Monument Valley Mitten Basket

Not wanting to risk losing a potential customer in these challenging economic times, I put down the book and hurried around the counter to assist them. The trading post doors have gotten old and cranky. The automatic closer (not being mechanically inclined, I am at a loss for the correct term), has gotten sticky, requiring a strong push to enter and a powerful tug to exit the store.

Although Barry and I have attempted several repairs, none has been completely successful, and the thing-a-ma-bob is surely doomed. Replacing it, however, has been difficult because acknowledging that it is worn out will also be acknowledging the obvious; that it is not the only old and cranky thing that needs to be replaced. Barry and I realize we are not far down that list.

The couple wandered into the back room and noticed several piles of Navajo baskets Barry and I had laid out for transfer to the Utah Natural History Museum. We recently concluded an arrangement to convey our collection of approximately 300 weavings to the institution. After 30 years of accumulating, Barry and I have a serious case of separation anxiety, so we wanted to live with the baskets for a while longer before shipping them to their new home. The collection not only chronicles the evolution of contemporary Navajo basketry from its earliest days until now, it represents much of our work as Indian traders. Aside from being beautiful art, each piece serves as a repository of trading post memories.

Looking through the stacks with us, the couple was amazed by the variety, creativity and beauty of the baskets. As a result, they stayed for hours talking about Mary Holiday Black, Elsie Holiday, Joann Johnson and Lorraine Black, and the extraordinary creativity these artists have exhibited over the years. Barry and I explained how the art seems to be contracting, and that many of the basket weavers have slowed their production or quit weaving altogether. We talked about the halcyon days of basketry and discussed a time when the traditional Navajo people regularly came into the store with their beautiful turquoise jewelry, traditional clothing and leather moccasins. Admittedly, we were all a bit melancholy as we discussed the loss of traditional culture, including Navajo basket weaving.

At one point, the couple wandered past the cash register and noticed my book laying open on the counter. Picking it up, they read the title and, referring to the Navajo rather than the Anasazi, asked, “Where have all the old ones gone.” “I don’t know,” I responded, “but I genuinely miss them.”

Their question reminded me of Espee Jones, an elderly Navajo man who used to come into Twin Rocks Trading Post to pawn his rifles and turquoise beads. Espee had a congenital hip problem and walked with a severe limp. In spite of that, he was generally cheerful and fun to talk with. I always wanted to photograph him, but never seemed to have the right equipment when he arrived.

As pawn became complicated by gun registration laws and a variety of other issues, Barry and I determined to give it up. When we explained to him that we would no longer be pawning, Espee shook his head knowingly, and said, “Okay, just for me then?” It almost broke my heart to tell him that we would not be doing it for anyone, including him.

Although I never knew if the story was true or not, several years later I was told that one day Espee decided he had lived long enough and simply walked out into the desert to let nature take its course. I guess Barry and I have gone soft on old people and old things. Maybe we will hang on to that door thing-a-ma-bob a little longer, if only for sentimental reasons.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post