Thursday, February 26, 2009


“What time is it?” the customer asked as he hurriedly glanced among the cases of turquoise jewelry on display at the trading post. Surveying the rugs, baskets and sandpaintings displayed on the walls, the man, who was apparently in a hurry to be somewhere else, had noticed there is no clock.

Grange 1st place in Yeibichai
Rock Point Ye’ii bicheii 1st Place Winners.

Looking at my wristwatch, I advised him it was slightly before noon. I added that he need not worry; Bluff is a place where time, in many ways, is irrelevant. Neglecting my advice, he quickly exited the Kokopelli doors and hurried off to his appointment.

As the rest of the world speeds by in an unending, unceasing river of events, our small community in the middle of southeastern Utah’s red rock desert is sheltered from the everyday madness. To be sure, we have our own special insanity; as anyone in the Four Corners will confirm, however, our mania is unique to Bluff and has little to do with the rest of the universe.

Our father, Duke, often reminds us that when he arrived in Bluff shortly after the conclusion of World War II, the Navajo people were still living in an extremely primitive state. As a young man in the 1960s, I saw Navajo families riding in wooden wagons pulled by teams of horses. While the animals clip-clopped along, modern automobiles sped past. The inherent conflict was lost on my underdeveloped mind, but many years later I am amazed by that juxtaposition of cultural icons.

Although the teams and wagons are gone, one can still witness ancient rites like the Ye’ii bicheii being performed by Navajo people inhabiting the surrounding regions. This ceremony, which is also referred to as the Night Chant, is a healing ritual which treats the patient experiencing vision, hearing, mind or balance problems. These illnesses are often diagnosed by a hand trembler, also known as a tinilei yeena’idilkidigii, and the actual event can take several months and numerous ceremonial baskets to arrange.

These timeless traditions exist in the midst of an internet connected, cell phone enabled, Blackberry prevalent environment. In the local elementary school, which has all the technological amenities, the Ye’ii bicheii is taught to children of all colors. The Bluff team, clad in their satin shirts and headdresses, dark trousers, traditional Navajo moccasins, turquoise beads, silver concho belts and medicine pouches recently competed in and won first place at the prestigious Rock Point song and dance competition.

Among the championship team members was Grange, my nine year old son, who is only just beginning to grasp the importance of his participation in this ritual. To him, the singing, chanting and dressing up is simply fun; he does not yet fully appreciate the cultural significance or deep meaning of the Ye’ii bicheii.

In our backyard of sandstone cliffs and prehistoric civilizations, we scramble among the ruins and find pottery shards, petroglyphs and pictographs that remind us of the people who have previously inhabited this location. Evidence of earlier habitation is stacked one on top of the other; Paleoindian, Ancient Puebloan, Spanish, Navajo, Ute, Mormon pioneer and contemporary Anglo are all here in an unbroken chain of events.

The other day Grange requested a hike, so we tied on our boots, filled our water bottles and struck out for the canyons. On top of one boulder we found a cross likely placed there by early Spanish explorers. At another site, there were several petroglyphs; pictures pecked into the sandstone by the people formerly known as the Anasazi. As I admired an elegant spiral indicating eternity and the continuous cycle of life, Grange said, “Hey dad, look at this; a man with three legs.” Innocence, like many things in Bluff, is timeless.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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