Thursday, April 30, 2009

Where in the World Are We?

I recently received an interesting e-mail from our friend Frank, a map maker, from Cortez, Colorado. The message read; Hi everyone, I am on my way to be interviewed by NPR for All Things Considered. Yes, I am as shocked as you must be! As some of you may have seen, there was a recent national "news" story published that stated the Four Corners Monument is 2 1/2 miles from where it should be. I guess there may, or may not have been a surveying error way back in 1869. Tune in to your local NPR station and listen in. We should have some fun with this. Cheers, Frank."

Four Corners National Monument.

The Four Corners is a major tourist attraction in our area. It is the only point in America where four states come together; thus the Four Corners designation. People from all over the world have stood, or sprawled, on the monument to have their pictures taken while in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah at the same time. Consider the implications of false documentation spread across the entire globe. It now seems that they may have been in only one state (New Mexico) after all.

The monument is located on the Colorado Plateau, just west of U.S. Highway 160; 40 miles southwest of Cortez . . . or near there anyway. It seems someone, somewhere, somehow figured that in 1868 E.N. Darling misfigured his coordinates. Because of a variance between the Prime Meridian and the Washington Meridian, our friend E. N. has been accused of being discombobulated and placing a concrete marker a couple miles from where it should have been. Now that creates a problem . . . I guess!

The Associated Press originally reported a misappropriation of land mass and then retracted the statement after being challenged by a more educated and much higher power. So, in actuality, there is not, was not and shall not be a problem after all. The American Survey Magazine got involved and found the original surveys were . . . accurate. Something about the fractional portion of the offset between the two meridians. Additionally, general U.S. land law principles and the Supreme Court determined the location of the Monument is the legal corner of the four states. Put your pictures back in the scrapbook, everything is as it should be. Those aged and untouchable judges that rise above have spoken.

They should have asked us. After a few dozen surveys here in Bluff, we know that nothing is where it should be in this country, and even when you do find it, it's not there anyway; legally that is. No worries, the Four Corners Monument is where it otta be, and you can find it any time you want or need to. Right there in the center of the Navajo Universe. Man, there are Coyote tracks all over and around this thing. Chaos reigns. Welcome to the Southwest!

You will still find Navajo and Ute artisans hawking their wares at the monument. Navajo and/or Ute tacos are also available. We recommend spending your time and money in Bluff though. You can be our E. N. Darling. We will love you no matter how confused you, or we, may be. There is no question where you are and where you should be here. We are an Obama endorsed stimulus zone. Oops sorry! I retract that statement. Darn justices and their overly opinionated opinions.

I just received a call from our good friend Stephanie in Pennsylvania. She advised us to buck-up and brace ourselves. It seems that the European Union Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou says EU health ministers will discuss possible travel restrictions at a meeting Thursday. Because of the Swine Flu pandemic we may be "oinked" off as an undesirable destination. Stinkin' pigs! First the mice and now the swine. I think the animals may be plotting against us. Whether you know, or think you know where you are or are trying to get where you think you should be, we are here and hope and pray you get here too. Y'all come if you can. There are very few pigs. . . here. I think!

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

If I Had Only Known

I have often heard people say, “If I had only known it was going to turn out like this, I would have done things differently.” In fact, I have often used those exact words to describe certain aspects of my life. Lately, I have been wondering how that statement applies to my job as an Indian Trader-Trading Post Lawyer.

Trainrock in Bluff, Utah
Trainrock in Bluff, Utah.

It is difficult to know exactly how one prepares him or herself for a job that requires you to at one moment convince a customer to purchase a turquoise bracelet, necklace, bolo tie or buckle and the next negotiate the sale of an enterprise your client has invested his entire life building. It is often hard to make the transition from drafting an agreement to selling a Navajo rug or basket.

As you may guess, the right brain/left brain dichotomy of these conversions at times leaves me dizzy and incoherent. Customers to the trading post or clients to my law office inside the store must often wonder if I have had too much, or not enough, caffeine. There are, however, parallels. Selling is selling, no matter what the magnitude of the transaction. Experience has led me to the conclusion that the psychology of selling a $100 piece of pottery is not altogether different from that associated with a million dollar deal. People are universally the same, and have generally similar needs when it comes to initiating and consummating a transaction.

Years ago, I left Utah for the sunny skies of northern California and promised myself I would nevermore reside in the Beehive State. Imagine my surprise when a decade later I found myself once more residing in Utah; in the same small town of 225 people into which I was born. Now that was completely unexpected. What was even more surprising was how enjoyable and rich my life would be in this state in general and Bluff specifically.

It has become clear to me that no amount of preparation could have readied me for what I discovered at Twin Rocks Trading Post. I am convinced that had I the sense, and control, to choose where my life would go, I never could have conceived of a more rewarding and enjoyable lifestyle. Upon leaving Utah for the first time since I became old enough to make my own decisions, I dreamed of a life in corporate America; maybe even on Wall Street. No Sir, I was not going to be a small town boy all my life, I assured myself.

As I negotiate a turquoise deal with John Huntress, Bruce Eckhardt or Tony Cotner, or speak in my broken Navajo with Robert Taylor, Mary Black, Betty Rock Johnson or any number of other artists, I realize that I am enjoying an extraordinary view of a rapidly changing world; one where the old ways are quickly giving way to nontraditional values.

During the 1970s, as a result of the federal government’s bonding and reclamation policies, many small turquoise mines closed; never to reopen. As a result, much of the stone we saw in abundance at the time is now unavailable; gone forever. What is available has become highly prized and correspondingly expensive. It is not that I quarrel with the legislation, I just miss the deep greens and blues of those nuggets, slabs and cabochons.

There are times when destiny takes hold of you and sends you in a completely unexpected direction. Surely that can be difficult, even painful. In my case, however, fate has dealt me a superb hand which has been the surprise of a lifetime. Things being what they are in the current economy, I have many reasons to be grateful I did not realize my dream of being a Wall Street resident.

As the Indigo Girls once said, “Whatever happened to anyone else could happen to you and to me - And the end of my youth was the possible truth that it all happens randomly.” The quote most applicable to my life, however, is from Gertudis Gomez de Avellaneda, who said, “Wherever fate demands me . . . I will go.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Among The Rocks

As a small boy growing up in Bluff, I often wandered off alone and found myself climbing upward. The jumble of rock and rubble piled at the base of the towering cliffs frequently called out to me, and I would scramble up the difficult grade, through the boulders and into the zone between slick rock and slag. Backing into the shaded depression, I would gaze upon the happenings of our fair town.

Double Rainbow over Bluff
Double Rainbow over Bluff, Utah.

Some of my earliest memories are drawn from that vantage point. I am old enough to recall dilapidated round-fendered pick-up trucks rolling into town packed with vibrant Navajo families dressed in colorful swatches of satin, velveteen and denim. The back of the vehicle would be stocked to the gunwales with sheep, dogs or bright-eyed, smiling children. Coming to town was a much anticipated event in those days. The Navajo people seemed to have a knack for keeping those old work horses running; they were amazing mechanics. Bailing wire could be counted on to bind everything from axles to valve covers.

The K and C store was a hot spot of activity. Keith and Curtis Jones ran an early example of a convenience store/trading post that drew the locals for all of their grocery and trade good needs. Livestock, pinion nuts, propane, gasoline, white gas, Spam, Vienna Sausages, huge saltine crackers, canned peaches and red pop were just a few of the staples. If there was a demand for it on or near the Reservation, you could find it at K and C.

From where I sat, I could see Bob Howell patiently working his garden. It seemed a never-ending effort to keep the weeds at bay and the soil from locking up. Traces of alkali were clearly visible, even from that height and distance. I could see my sisters Susan and Cindy playing around the clothesline as our mother hung the wash. Five children and a hard-working man kept her busy washing and cleaning up after her brood. Mom always kept a clean house; hot, fresh food on the table. She persistently attempted to keep the red dirt out of her children's clothes and off of their deeply tanned hides.

My brothers, Craig and Steve, were forever getting into trouble and, because of their highly mobile nature, could only effectively be tracked from above. Craig was big and strong, the local "Conan the Barbarian". Steve and I depended on Craig to regularly save us from harm or misfortune.

Once a month, the traveling Catholic priest would make his rounds. It was extremely entertaining to watch as Mom scampered about town locating her wayward children in an attempt at indoctrination. The priest finally gave up, Mom never did.

I recall heat waves dancing upon the pavement as the rare tourist made his or her way through the S-turns of town. Many would slow down as the unshaven and reckless Bobby Goforth; in his black cowboy hat, blue jeans and boots, waved them on through with his realistic looking set of cap pistols and authentic leather holsters. Bobby would scowl, spit Skoal into the dust and "move-em-out". Gene and Mary Foushee attempted damage control by calming their fears, inviting them to stay the night at the quietly comfortable and quirky Recapture Lodge. After a good night sleep, a tour of Monument Valley might even be in order.

In the cool of the evening, like James Dean, Billy Huber could often be found touring the town on his motorcycle. If we were extremely fortunate, his very attractive sister, Barbara, would be with him. To this day, the distinctive sound of a motorbike reverberating off of the cliffs brings back fond memories of a dark haired beauty roaring by at breakneck speed. Unfortunately, dear sweet Barbara was less than interested in younger men. Their parents, Bill and Gladys, owned the Silver Dollar Bar on the west side of town. Bill often opened the door after sundown in order to ease the strain on his over-worked air conditioners, which allowed a clear and entertaining view into the joint. Temptuous strains of animated laughter, cigarette smoke and the sharp "clack" of pool balls colliding drifted out onto the cooled night air.

I remember Father Pontias of Saint Christopher's Episcopal Mission could often be tracked about the village on service oriented visits. His three young blond-haired daughters might also be seen following closely behind. One of the girls remains in Bluff to this day; a lonely, but fondly remembered resident of the Mission cemetery. She became an all too early victim of the ravages of cancer.

On a lighter note, our local constable, Rusty Musselman, backed up by his wife Lillie, watched over the local population and kept a sharp eye out for young troublemakers in the making. Rusty's jaunty character, distinctive laugh and Lillie's brilliant smile are fondly remembered by those of us who knew them well.

I once saw an episode of Star Trek where the crew of the USS Enterprise rescued a team of ethnologists from a cliff face overlooking a primitive community. The forcefield they hid behind had partially collapsed and the scientists become visible to the residents below; a shocking development indeed. Because of the time I spent in the rocks, overlooking and participating in this community, I believe it would have been, and probably would still be, an extremely fascinating case study. And who knows, if you believe in extraterrestrial beings, maybe we are being watched right here and now. I wonder if they might like warm, canned peaches and cold red pop.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Working Like A Dog

At the trading post I often find myself engaged in the following dialogue:

Customer: “What a nice dog. Are you her owner?”
Steve: “Yes, although she thinks it’s the other way around.”
Customer: “What’s her name?”
Steve: “Buffy the Wonder Dog.”
Customer: “Can we take her home with us?”
Steve: “No, that would surely end my marriage.”

Buffy the Twin Rocks Wonder Dog
Buffy the Twin Rocks Wonder Dog.

It seems everyone, from the very young to the very old, is interested in Buffy. Barry and I have frequently considered buying a fur coat and taking turns laying on the rug in front of the Kokopelli doors so people will pat us on the head, scratch our ears and rub our tummies.

Our only concern is having to eat Purina or Pup-Paroni when the UPS and Fed Ex crews deliver. In spite of that, the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages and Barry raises the issue every spring when the European women begin arriving in Bluff. We figure that if we bark once in a while, shake hands and roll over on command, nobody will know the difference. To say we are envious of the attention Buffy receives would be a gross understatement.

Jana has recommended we put Buffy on salary; union scale, medical benefits, retirement plan, the whole package. It seems Buffy is ill-bred and will have serious hip problems in her old age, so Jana is seeking a long-term solution. Apparently Jana wants hip replacement surgery and a guarantee that Buffy will one day be assigned to a first-rate canine retirement home; one that provides quality companionship and ample doggy treats.

Buffy came to Twin Rocks Trading Post approximately four years ago, when she was just a puppy. She had originally been adopted by Jana’s parents who, at the time, were 84 and 92. When a thief stole their Chevy van, which had about 500,000 Reservation miles on the odometer, they decided a guard dog was needed. Buffy, a golden retriever, was the solution. As it turned out, Buffy rarely barks, and would never, and I mean never, harm a soul, so her guard dog days were numbered.

Once Jana’s parents realized Buffy was a lover not a biter, Jana began petitioning for a transfer to Bluff. I deferred, citing the loss of three dogs in rapid succession as the rationale for my objection. Jana’s old dog from a prior marriage had finally succumbed to the pink needle; Freckles, the ugliest dog in the world, had been killed on Highway 191 by an RV; and Sadie, the prettiest, smartest and most neurotic dog on the planet had been accidentally run over one moonlit night by Jana and the kids. I just could not take the loss of one more canine I argued. It was all to no avail, Buffy was reassigned to Bluff in spite of my protests.

After Jana and the kids left on their great adventure, Buffy found her place in the world; the porch of Twin Rocks Trading Post. Barry and I have come to recognize the value of her services, and from time-to-time drape a squash blossom around her neck or place a turquoise bracelet on her paws in a crass, but effective, marketing ploy. We have even thought of piercing her ears so she can wear silver earrings, but are concerned that may be going too far. When you operate a trading post in rural Utah, however, you have to use any and all means necessary to survive, so the issue is still under consideration.

Our latest Buffy initiative involves hanging a ceremonial basket from her collar. We figure it will be like the St. Bernard dogs, which carry a cask of brandy for ill-fated travelers. If someone requires an emergency wedding or healing ceremony, they need only locate Buffy and remove her basket to resolve their crisis.

Realizing the number of marriages in southern San Juan County may dramatically increase as a result of this new project, we have drawn plans for the Twin Rocks Wedding Chapel. Last week I went on the Internet and purchased a rhinestone jumpsuit for Buffy so she can officiate at Elvis ceremonies.

Union scale and a 401(k) cannot be far off.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In Search of Water Sprinkler

Two weeks ago I reported on my near-divorce experience, which resulted from my kitchen remodel. Fortunately, with a great deal of patience, perseverance and dumb luck, my wife and I survived the ordeal. I, however, still regret the dismissal of my proposal to invest in American Indian art, and will probably hold a grudge for some time. Some wise and thoughtful philosopher once said, "With the loss of desire comes enlightenment". I am most likely taking the intended meaning of this statement out of context, but I have stubbornly decided that I am no more educated or less desirous than when I started that discussion.

Mary Black with her Water Sprinkler Basket
Mary Black with her Water Sprinkler Basket

In addition to my passion for Laurie and the children, I have a strong emotional attachment to the art of the local indigenous people, and there are times when the two interests collide. As a result, casualties often occur. It is an unfortunate circumstance when my personal desires get in the way of Laurie's dreams for home and garden. In this particular instance, I had decided that to heal properly I needed to let go of my frustration and move on. Then, over breakfast Laurie hit me with a left hook, "Hey the kitchen came in under budget so we should put in a sprinkler system."

This "discussion" went on for several days. I argued with conviction that after my considerate concession it was my turn for self-gratification. I was in a spiteful mood and ready to spend the money on something closer to my heart. It was my turn! Laurie informed me that since she had recently gone to work full shift, and no longer had time to pull hoses around the yard, she needed help. I considered the possibility of being assigned the task, but decided she would not allow me the opportunity to turn her yard into a desert. I have learned through the years that I need only mess up once, twice at most, to be relieved of duty.

Feeling confident, I persisted in my efforts at self aggrandizement. Then, Laurie brought out the big guns. She informed me that being in the yard and in close touch with Mother Earth is the binder that keeps her sane. She could only accomplish this by working in the yard early and late, but needed to keep the fruits of her labor alive and well in the interim with consistent watering. Talk about unfair, the woman was using my love of mythology against me. The Changing Woman reference combined with an insanity plea was just too much. Ya see, Laurie knows I know that if she slips off the deep end, she drags the rest of us overboard with her. Thus, it is in my best interest to help her remain sane. That was dirty pool if you ask me. In spite of this knowledge, I went to work grumbling under my breath.

Shortly after arriving at Twin Rocks, Mary Holiday Black walked in with a really nice Water Sprinkler basket. Water Sprinkler humph! Coincidence only? Steve immediately bought the weaving and invited Mary to sit a while and talk about her design. Tina and Rosita hurriedly trundled down the stairs, armed to the teeth with recording devices and lighting equipment to capture the moment. Priscilla was brought in to interpret, and we were off to the races. Mary described how her medicine man father, Teddy Holiday, used this design in his sand paintings to represent Water Sprinkler. She added earrings representing corn pollen and mountain tobacco, signs of life and emergence, and a rim portraying the leaf of the juniper tree. Now that was fascinating stuff!

After Mary left, I decided to do a little research in order to better understand the symbolism behind her basket. The figure in the weaving reminded me of a Hopi mudhead, but who am I to argue with a master weaver and a Navajo medicine man? That would surely be "Bad Juju"! I pulled Gladys Reichard's "Navajo Religion" series down from the dusty shelf and began to read. I learned that Water Sprinkler is one of the oldest of the Navajo deities, with close association to the emergence. Water Sprinkler controls moisture from above and deep water from below. He causes rain by sprinkling the collected waters in his jar in the four sacred directions. A strangely developing parallel began to discomfort me. I read on.

In the Night Chant, Water Sprinkler is impersonated as a clown and his clothing is of inferior quality because he might get wet. He is usually out of step with the other dancers, and generally gets in their way. Oh man, the metaphor was getting to me. Was this coincidence or a strong psychological indicator? Water Sprinkler taught the Visionary of the Night Chant how to prepare and preserve the produce of his garden. Water Sprinkler is also associated with cleansing the mind, body and spirit. Was I the one going nuts, or were the Navajo deities I am so familiar with directing me towards enlightenment? I could not take it any longer, and became convinced that I should give into Laurie's wishes.

Ringing her up at work, I told Laurie to go ahead. Sheepishly, she told me she had already contacted my old wrestling buddy turned plumber, "Mr Smith" to get started. He was digging ditches as we spoke. I asked her what she would have done if I had not come around. She laughed and said, "Kicked you in a trench, covered you with the good earth and planted a red fern." Smart aleck woman!

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post