Thursday, May 28, 2009

Work Ethic

It is not uncommon for people to stroll into the trading post and see me sitting on my keister visiting with customers. These same people often feel obligated to provide unsolicited opinions on my work ethic. To be sure, I am no stranger to hard labor. Heck, as kids, Craig, Steve and I were only slightly bigger than badgers when we started digging two miles of ditch each day. And that was through Bluff "hard pan", with only sharp sticks and baskets to work with! At the time, our attitudes were only slightly less calloused than our hands and feet. We were sun-fried crispy critters, ready to take on any job. Life was hard back then, but we were always up to the task.

Laurie & Barry Simpson.

Some would say I am prone to exaggeration, and that my perspective on the world is more than slightly askew. In describing my storytelling capabilities, my daughter McKale frequently quotes Ben Franklin, who said, "Half a truth is often a great lie."

I freely admit that I have lost a little ground over the years, but I can still put in a hard day's work. I can wipe down counter tops, run a vacuum and schlop a mop with the best of 'em. There is, however, one larger than life, supernatural being which I cannot hold a candle to, and I am often confronted by her when I go home at night or have a day off.

The other afternoon I was sitting in the shade of our carport, admiring the small slab of concrete sidewalk Laurie and I had just poured and wondering where such a skinny woman found so much strength and endurance. My wife had pitched in from the get-go, working right along side me hefting 60 pound bags of Ready Mix and shoveling half a ton of mud.

There I was, feeling like I had just wrestled a cranky croc through three periods of overtime, and she was calmly shoveling dirt into a wheelbarrow to move across the yard. I sighed deeply and forcefully pushed myself out of the chair. Hitching up my dirty jeans, I stumbled in Laurie's direction. By the time I reached her, I had regained my inner composure and presented an outwardly cheerful and robust attitude. "Here, let me do that for you," I said in a macho, manly manner.

Taking the shovel from her dainty but diligent hands, I quickly filled the wheelbarrow and allowed her to move the load to a new and more convenient dump site. The lower portion of my back complained bitterly, but I refused open protest. It took us about an hour to relocate the soil, and all the while I looked forward to regaining my shady perch and dispatching a tall, cool drink. That, however, was not to be.

To make a long, painful story short, that woman worked me from dawn to dusk. She and I pulled every noxious weed on the place; trimmed bushes and trees; cleaned and rearranged the carport; and planted, moved and replanted flowers. I managed a short break when Alyssa drove me to the transfer station south of town to disperse chunks of busted-up concrete, grass clippings and other various and sundry articles of refuse. As the sun neared the western horizon, I imagined we were through for the day. Nope, the garden needed planting. I began looking forward to a stretch at the trading post and cafe to get some rest.

I recall watching a biography on Ben Franklin once and learning that he is believed to have practiced a little self-promotion; allowing himself to be seen as hard working. In doing so, he promoted witticisms such as, "There was never any great man who was not an industrious man" and "Trouble springs from idleness and grievous toil from needless ease." Franklin thought it wise to practice what he preached, so he would rise early, load a trolley of Poor Richards Almanack and publicly wheel it about town distributing the popular paper. Ben could have learned something about "real work" from Laurie.

Some time around 10:00 p.m., I fell into bed heavily braced with Ibuprofen. I was tormented by my physical exertions and wondered if the morning would bring about traction. Laurie strolled in looking only slightly tired. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she looked down at her feet. "Look at that," she said, "I think I broke my toe. I wonder when that happened?" Somehow I found the strength to sit up and look at her damaged appendage. Shaking my head at her high tolerance for pain, I told her to lie down. "No." she said, "You worked hard today, go to sleep. I have some ironing to do."

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Pride

The other day Jana surprised me by asking if I wanted to attend a beauty contest. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that I was not an intended contestant. I have always been a little slow to catch on, however, so I immediately had visions of a glittering sash flowing diagonally across my chest and a sparkling tiara balanced gracefully on my head. “Heck yes”, I said, “I can parade as well as any queen.” To be candid, I was concerned that although I have been called many things, beautiful is not one of them. Additionally, crabby as I am, even Ms. Congeniality didn’t seem a realistic possibility.

Navajo Famiy Pride Carving
Navajo Family Pride Carving

“No, no,” Jana chuckled, “I haven’t entered you! Grange has to sing at the Whitehorse High School Miss Indian Broken Trail Contest. Can you take him?” “Well,” I said defensively, “I am really busy. There are, after all, dishes to do, floors to mop and bathrooms to clean.”

To be honest, I was both relieved and disappointed. In light of my recent weight gain, the thought of getting into evening wear, not to mention a bikini, was worrisome. The other problem was that I could not begin to imagine what I might do for a talent. Telling off color jokes, my special gift, would surely be inappropriate.

Seeing these conflicting emotions reflected on my face, Jana put her arm around me, gave me a little squeeze and said, “It’s okay honey, I think you’re pretty. It is important for you to take Grange. He sings really well.” “All right,” I said, “no hard feelings.” We shook hands and I resumed the clean up.

Grange has become an acomplished Navajo singer, so he and several other students in the Bluff Elementary Navajo Language Program had been invited to perform during the pageant. I had been elected chauffeur and given detailed instructions for delivering him to the high school in time for the event.

When the appointed hour arrived, Grange appeared at the trading post in black pants, pollen-colored satin shirt and traditional Navajo moccasins complete with silver buttons at the ankles. Jana had adorned him with Sleeping Beauty turquoise beads from Ray Lovato, a John Begay pin to keep his collar together and a classic concho belt to support his trousers. But for the red hair, freckles and fair complexion, he looked all the world like a miniature medicine man.

As we drove the thirteen miles from Twin Rocks to the high school, Grange was extremely quiet. “Stage fright” I speculated, and asked if he had thought to bring a note pad. He gave me a sideways glance. “You never know pal, you might be able to get their telephone numbers,” I advised. “Dad, I am only nine”, he shot back. “Never too early to get started”, I counseled. “This is not my first beauty contest”, I boasted, shading the truth just a little.

When we arrived at the auditorium, I was amazed by the number of Navajo kings, queens and princesses. I had not realized there was that much royalty in all of San Juan County. There was the Bluff Elementary Princess, the Northern Navajo Queen, Miss Monument Valley, King Whitehorse, Miss Red Mesa and the soon to be derailed Miss Indian Broken Trail.

After the introductions and the evening wear section, during which I conceded I would not have had a chance, Grange was called up. During his introduction, in which he gave his ancestry as the Portugese sausage and Italian linguini clans, the audience was mysteriously silent. When he started to sing, however, the auditorium exploded with clapping, whistling and shouts of support. Apparently the spectators had been so surprised by his fluency during the first part of his performance they had held back until they heard him sing.

When the kids were small, they often watched Walt Disney’s The Lion King. They would squeal with delight when Mufasa tumbled with Simba and afterward roared his approval. That animated film gives one a sense why a group of lions is referred to as a pride. Watching Grange sing in Navajo I felt the same emotion, and had to restrain myself from roaring like Mufasa.

As we exited the building, Grange asked, “Could you tell I had stage fright?” “No”, I said, “Did you get any telephone numbers?”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 14, 2009


When possible I search out high lonesome places, craggy mountaintops, unfrequented rocky knobs or deserted cliff-side perches; places devoid of contrary vibrations yet rich in scenic wonder. Sanctuaries which allow me to rediscover meditative silence. I seek overlooks and pinnacles that stimulate my visual senses and grant me the opportunity to better recognize and appreciate the beauty, elegance, mystery and magic that surrounds me.

Welcome to the Garden Weaving by Tabita Bitah
Welcome to the Garden Weaving by Tabita Bitah.

My desire is to sit way up high and look across the textural landscape created by deeply shadowed canyons and randomly stacked monuments and mesas overlaid with the hint of sage and cedar. Nature offers a unequaled palate of soft colors that accentuate this disparate land. Settling in and allowing my mind to wander, with only the horizon of my imagination as a boundary, is sublimely delightful and inspiring.

For me, the key is silence; the lack of man-made noise. I desire only the sounds created by nature; the wind, the rain, the tumbling water, the creak of a tree in the breeze, the call of a solitary bird or the hushed tones of an unidentified wild thing moving about. Without silence and natural beauty to stimulate my imagination, it is difficult for me to find my focus or maintain clarity of thought for more than an instant. My goal is to circumvent certain ideas and explore them in their comprehensible entirety.

Simple, yet complex; my thoughts are about relationships, for relationships always seem tenuous in the beginning. Time, patience, compassion and the search for understanding, however, allow us to develop and solidify our connections. We must discover laughter with our family, friends and loved ones; share their joy, their disturbances and distresses and even go so far as to open our hearts. What makes us human is an ability to love another and absorb their passion and pain as well as their bliss and tragedy.

With a spouse it is the little things that grow into the most meaningful memories. These occurrences that bind us together come from open and honest communication; sharing a look; recognizing a thought or emotion at the same moment; connecting at a higher, magnificently personal, level. With a child they often grow out of a desire to motivate, activate and empower them with our own personal, hard-won knowledge, experience and understanding. We must educate, uplift and then simply trust in their innate abilities.

With family we need endurance, familiarity, duty and more. Gratitude, comfort and a deep abiding knowledge of unconditional support and connectivity is required. We are bonded by blood and effected by affection. The relationship between a mother and her child is, most often, simply amazing. It seems to me that there is no more pure or unconditional earthly affection than that of a mother for her child. The proper meaning of life comes into clear and profound focus when mother and child connect for the first time. At that moment, we witness a sense of elemental wholeness; the basic essence of love and the purest form of that message is in this relationship.

With friends it is more carefree. I once read a distressed board and paper placard in a touristy gift shop. It boldly stated, "A friend is not a feller who thinks everything is grand. A friend is one who knows your faults and doesn't give a damn!" That is a tacky yet profound proclamation indeed. It is a statement directed at the personal, yet impersonal "friendly relationship". Unlikely friendships can be even more satisfying, valuable and mentally stimulating. Those one would think will never work but somehow do are often the most rewarding. You are sorely missed "Fine Art", but your thoughts and inspiration remain here with me as I sit and contemplate in silent wonder.

I hope and pray that you find yourself an aesthetically pleasing upper realm to ponder life and relationships in peace and solitude. There is nothing more rewarding between parents and children, friends and lovers and, if you are extremely fortunate or faithful, man and deity. Feeling and touching the other in an almost unimaginable manner, taking an unseen hand and stepping into the silent, prophetic light; now that is sublime.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Poverty or Prosperity

Time and again, the trading post has taught me that things are not always as they appear, and that my quickly drawn conclusions are almost universally incorrect. The social fabric of the Four Corners is extremely complex, and not subject to the usual assumptions. Ours is an area where unemployment rates are chronically high and poverty endemic. In this region, however, textbook definitions are not generally applicable, and the poor are often more wealthy than one might think.

Kachina Gifts give to Dacia at the Bean Dance.

This concept was brought home to me earlier today when Barry and I had two visitors from the Adopt-a-Native-Elder program. As we leaned on the counter and chewed the fat, the travelers excitedly talked about the elders they had adopted and the experiences they had recently had out on the Reservation. I could tell from the excitement in their voices and the tenderness in their eyes that they had been truly affected by their experiences.

Adopt-a-Native-Elder is a charitable organization based in Park City, Utah which assists traditional Navajo elders. Twice a year the group distributes support in the form of food, clothing and a variety of other items to “elderlies” living on the Navajo Reservation. This particular couple had just returned from a food run to Winslow, Arizona. Since one of their adoptees is a silversmith, they were adorned with turquoise bracelets, rings and necklaces.

The couple talked about visiting their adoptive family in an area where there is no running water or electricity, where the people still live in traditional hogans and where sheep roam freely. I could tell from their statements that they had experienced the same things I witnessed several years ago when my daughter Dacia and I first visited the village of Moenkopi.

Dacia was only about five years old when my Hopi friend Stewart invited us to the Bean Dance. Having never attended a Hopi dance, I was excited to see this aspect of their culture firsthand and give Dacia the opportunity to experience the richness of these, as yet, unfamiliar people.

The lower village of Moenkopi was founded in 1870 and is traditional in the sense that it too has no electricity, running water, sewer or piped in natural gas. Several ceremonies are still held at the village, including the Bean Dance. During this particular ceremony, the katsinam, spiritual guardians of the Hopi way of life, arrive to help the villagers begin preparations for the coming growing season and to initiate children into the Katsina Society. The ritual involves propagation of bean sprouts and a series of rites that promote fertility and the vitality of their crops.

On the sixteenth day of the event, the katsinam distribute the plantings and give presents to the children. It was once explained to me that the Bean Dance is the equivalent of our Christmas. When we arrived at the upper village, Stewart announced that he wanted us to meet his grandmother, so we drove to the old pueblo.

As we walked around the village, Stewart pointed to a large cottonwood tree that had a pipe with flowing water emerging from the trunk. In a very sincere voice, he explained that the tree provided moisture for the village. There was no mention of a spring or seep located behind the cottonwood.

When we walked into his grandmother’s home, I was struck by the lack of modern conveniences, and immediately assumed she lived in an advanced state of poverty; there was only one room, no bathroom, no electric lights, water was stored in a container under a rough counter and the bed was an old military cot with a thin mattress.

After we had visited for a while, however, I began to notice melons under the bed and that the home was comfortably appointed and warmly lived in. I came to realize that rather than living in poverty, this woman was rich in all the most important aspects of life; she had everything she needed, including the unconditional love and support of her family.

In the Desert Southwest, wealth and poverty are not always subject to traditional western definitions. As it turns out, Stewart’s grandmother was one of the richest people I have ever met. Our Adopt-a-Native-Elder visitors had found a similarly wealthy family and had themselves become enriched. As Edward Vernon Rickenbacker once said, and as we often say at the trading post, “We would rather have a million friends than a million dollars.” Barry and I have, however, decided that, if pressed, we could live with half a million friends and half a million dollars.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.