Friday, December 17, 2010

A Pastoral Christmas

As young men roaming the weathered landscape of southeastern Utah, Barry, Craig and I were infinitely unaware of the larger world. At the time we were primarily interested in adventures among the rocks and washes within and immediately adjacent to the small community of Bluff. We explored every nook and cranny looking for treasure, scaled sandstone walls, dug fortifications in the soft earth of eternally dry drainages and, when the desert became superheated, splashed in the local swimming hole. At that point in our development, we were as independent and rebellious as the South during the Civil War.

Christmas at the Simpson home during this period was universally simple; a tree, colorful lights, clothing, carols, a few sweets and ongoing necessities. There was not a great deal of money for elaborate parties or gifts, but as many who lived through the Great Depression have said over the intervening years, “We did not know we were poor.” In fact, we universally believed we were kings; kings of the back country and kings of our individual destinies. What was happening in the rest of the world rarely, if ever, entered our consciousness. Cash dollars, since we never had any, were not a concern.

Likely the most memorable Christmas for me was the year I turned six years old. I vividly remember receiving several books from Santa. Although I do not remember their titles, I do recall being thrilled with the gift. Whatever else that had found its way under the tree has long since been forgotten. Why that memory has stuck with me so tenaciously I do not know; books were not luxuries in our house and played a prominent role in our daily lives. For some reason, however, that particularly year remains the highlight of my personal Christmas experience.

At Twin Rocks Trading Post the colorful lights have once again gone up in anticipation of another holiday season. In keeping with our early years, Barry and I have kept the decorations simple; a tree, a few colorful bows, four or five happily wrapped packages and holiday cards received from friends and acquaintances. Although the store is eminently empty as travelers head for more populous areas, there is a feeling of quiet peacefulness and restful satisfaction that permeates its interior.

When I am in the more metropolitan portions of these United States during this season, I am delighted by the abundance of decorations. Surely most people would not consider our barren cottonwood trees, sparse lighting, slow breeze nudging fallen leaves and lonely roads a match for such elaborate adornments. Recently, however, I stood on the porch watching Grange and Buffy meander back to the house above the trading post after feeding Jana’s diminishing equine herd. As they entered the gravel parking lot I was overcome with gratitude and a feeling of complete satisfaction. Even though there was no greenery to compliment all the scarlet, the redheaded boy wearing a crimson University of Utah sweatshirt, gentle red dog with her wispy tail merrily swishing from side to side and rosy red rock cliffs rising steeply from the valley floor all seem to speak of Christmas, goodwill.

While others may yearn for the show of the city, I am compelled to admit that the pastoral life in this tiny settlement on the banks of the San Juan River is fulfilling in many surprisingly unexpected ways. It seems the slowness of Bluff allows us to refocus our attention on the essential elements of life in general and the fundamental values of the season specifically.

As Christmas nears, we send out a simple, heartfelt wish: In the coming year may you find the peace, serenity and contentment we enjoy in our southeastern Utah sanctuary.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Driving Test

My daughter McKale is taking a course in Driver's Education this winter; she is 15 years old and ready to experience the freedom a couple hundred horses will allow. It is usually my job to teach our kids to drive, but for some reason Laurie has taken over the reins and bumped me from my designated duties with our last child. It is my belief that Spenser gave me up for swearing at him after he, "Boldly went where no man had gone before", or should ever go during one or two . . . okay, on several training runs. Much of the time I spent trying to teach Spenser to drive was centered around him turning the radio up to drown me out and me turning it off. Between the two of us we wore out the knobs in my Previa "torpedo" shaped van. Alyssa was slightly easier to instruct on the rules of the road, because she actually listened. I am fairly certain I never swore at my eldest daughter, and she turned out to be an excellent driver.

Twin Rocks truck
McKale has taken to chauffeuring Laurie and me to Grandma Washburn's house for dinner on Sundays. Part of an effort to build up the 40 hours she needs to garner that most desired of teenage treasures; her driver's license. On one such trip, McKale, Laurie and I were returning home after dark. The road between Monticello and Blanding is notorious for being a crossroads for the local deer population. Laurie prefers to ride up front and place me on the back burner. From the back seat I calmly told my darling daughter that she was causing me a great deal of anxiety, because she was driving far too fast for existing conditions. "What did you say Dad?" she hollered over Rihanna wailing Disturbia. She must have been taking advice from her older brother, because her "wall of sound" effectively blocked me out. "I said." yelling over the music, "If you pop a deer at this speed things are going to get ugly quick!" She must have heard me that time, because she looked over at her mother (who nodded in agreement) and slowed down perceptively. Why is it, kids these days feel the need to verify all fatherly advice with their mothers? "And turn off that darn radio!" I yelled again. "Nothing heard, nothing said," Rihanna wailed. McKale looked to her Mother once more, which caused me instant aggravation. "Don't make me come up there!" I yelled over a refrain of "It's a thief in the night to come and grab you."

McKale turned off the radio and looked at me in the rear view mirror, as if contemplating my mood. In an effort at diplomacy she asked, "When did you learn to drive Dad?" "When I was three," I shot back, still agitated. "Seriously, Dad." she said like she meant it. "I don't remember exactly." I answered, trying to recover from my rude reply and then attempting to recall the first time I crawled behind a steering wheel. I told McKale that as kids, my brothers and I would try to drive everything on wheels. Our parents had a second-hand store in Blanding, south of town, by the Plateau gas station we also ran. Grandpa Duke would bring home Tote Goats, motorcycles, Dune Buggies and all sorts of used vehicles to sell or trade. There was an empty field south of the large tin building which housed the store, and we would drive those vehicles around that field every time Dad turned his back. We wore a dirt track around the border of that field in short order. The track was our place to practice driving and in Dad's words; "Destroy everything he brought home!" Good memories, those.

"When was the first time you drove on the highway?" McKale questioned. I thought back, pushed aside the cobwebs and recalled a trip to Grand Junction, Colorado with my father. Dad and one of us boys used to travel there nearly every weekend to attend two or three auctions. Either there or the Flea Market, at the Dog Track, in Phoenix. I recalled one trip where Dad and I drove to Grand Junction and bought so much furniture I was certain we would not get it all on the pick-up. I was 14 years old and well versed in packing furniture and roping loads with "truckers knots". We had a steel rack that extended over the cab which allowed much more room for such large payloads. After the auction I stood there looking at the massive pile of furniture and "stuff" sitting on the ground waiting to be put on the truck. I turned to my father and said, "We are never going to get all of that furniture on that truck." "Yes you will," said my father confidently. "Mike here will help you load it." I turned to see a young man Dad had hired to help me load the truck. He smiled a toothless grin and smacked his gloved hands together as if to say, "Let's do this." "It's too big a load!" I said to my father again. "You can do it boy," said my father, "just use a bigger hammer!" At that, Dad turned and went inside to settle his bill. I mumbled something about using a hammer on him which brought a chuckle from Mike.

If I recall correctly it took Mike and me over two hours to load that darn pick-up truck. Just exactly the amount of time it took Dad to pay his convenient! Just as I cinched down the last rope, Dad strolled out and eyeballed the load. He walked around the truck testing my lashings and returned to the driver's side, climbed in and started the truck. I climbed in the passenger side and asked, "Did you enjoy your hamburger?" "Yes I did son, and I brought one for you." he said pushing a greasy white paper bag and a soda in my direction. "Thanks!" I said sarcastically. "You did a good job boy!" said my father, "That load is not going anywhere." "Thanks Dad." I said again, this time with a more appreciative tone. I knew there would have been a long line of patrons waiting to settle their dues with the auction company. I never knew my father to shirk manual labor, I was simply angry about that oversize load. We drove south as I wolfed down that burger and fries and washed it down with an ice-cold Orange Crush. About 20 miles outside of Grand Junction, just over the hill from Mack, Dad began to get sleepy. He had been working a lot of overtime hours and must have been really tired. I started to worry. We still had 150 miles to get home, and it was just the two of us. I could just see us parked alongside the highway like a gang of Hillbillies straight out of Steinbeck's, The Grapes of Wrath. It was 9:30 at night and I had school in the morning. Dad pulled to the side of the road, looked over at me and said, "You drive." "Me?" I asked incredulously. "Sure," said my father, "you have driven every vehicle I have ever brought home, you should have no trouble driving this pick-up."

Dad got out of the truck, and checking the load one more time, walked around to my side. He opened the passenger door and motioned with his hand for me to move to the driver's side. I looked at him for affirmation and he said; "You can do it, I have faith in you." I felt a jolt of pride and confidence as I slid across the saddle blanket seatcovers and strapped in. Dad settled in as I grabbed first gear and jolted forward, ground out second then third and fourth. Dad never said a word about my less than practiced hand with the stick shift. The only thing he did say was, "Look down the road as you drive, it's easier to keep it straight that way, otherwise you are going to shake me silly trying to keep this thing between the lines." I searched out fifth gear as I hit 55 and looked over to my trusting father for assurance. He was sound asleep! Luckily that old road was fairly straight and I did not have to shift much, I gained confidence with each mile. As we passed Thompson Springs I began to worry about making the turn off the Interstate toward Moab. As I slowed and down-shifted Dad opened one eye the nodded off again. We did not make the greatest time, because I was not driving all that fast. We were, however, making progress. I drove through Moab and Monticello before Dad sat up and started paying attention. It was after 1:00 a.m., and the thrill of driving was starting to wear off. I began to slow so as to let him drive, but he waved his hand down the road and said; "You might as well finish it, we're almost home."

As I recounted my story to McKale, I recalled how proud I was that my father put so much trust in me; not only to effectively tie down that cumbersome load, but to drive him and our livelihood home safely. Either that or he was completely exhausted and beyond caring. I choose to believe the more exemplary explanation. As I came to the end of my reminiscence, I noticed my wife looking, in a Disturbia manner, at me over her shoulder. I am sure she was wondering at the point of my story. Was it all right to steal the car when your father wasn't looking, or to let an underage, untrained child drive on public thoroughfares, unsupervised? Good and fair questions for rational thinking people, but as we all know few are rational and even fewer sane. As Rhianna sings; "It is too close for comfort. Bum bum beedum bum bum beebum dum!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Art is Not Concrete

Last Saturday evening Kira and I decided to go for a run after I finished my Sunday shift at Twin Rocks Cafe. Sunday morning dawned cold and blustery, so as I turned the key in the restaurant door I seriously thought about canceling our outing. By early afternoon, however, the sun was brightly shining and the temperature had greatly improved. There was a slight breeze from the west, so we asked Jana to drive us to Sand Island so we could run into town with the wind at our backs.

Elsie Holiday with her Winter Butterfly Basket.

As is often the case, Kira was in a philosophical mood. Since it was Sunday, we began by talking about God and various world and local religions. By the time we arrived at the trading post we had gone through a great deal of spiritual material. As we sat on the front steps winding up our thoughts, I could feel the cold seeping into my bones from the cement porch. Thinking I was extremely clever, I pointed down and said, “Well, God is not concrete. Instead of being cold and hard like these steps, He is warm, flexible, compassionate, varied; difficult to precisely define.”

Since I know more about art than I do about God, I began to think about the statement in terms of the artistic creations we buy and sell at Twin Rocks Trading Post. It did not take long to realize that art too is not concrete. Trying to define art is a lot like trying to define love; there are simply too many permutations to actually get your arms around the concept.

Several years ago Gregory Holiday brought in a sculpture of four or five Kokopelli figures dancing across a piece of drift wood. This was before Kokopelli became well known, so the carving was extremely innovative. I remember standing behind the counter for what seemed like an interminable period of time trying to decide whether Gregory had made something extraordinary or just more firewood.

After about a half hour, Gregory became anxious and started shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Assuming he needed to use the facilities, I directed him to the back of the store. No, he assured me, he did not need the restroom, he was merely impatient for me to make a decision. One way or the other, he needed to move on.

About that time Duke walked in and said, “Hey, that’s nice. Why don’t you buy it.” Thinking he was probably right, I purchased the sculpture and put it up on a shelf in the back of the store. Less than an hour later, a customer came in, spotted the carving, raved about how beautiful and creative it was and insisted I sell it to him. “Surely,” I thought, “I have no idea what is and is not great art.”

Having spent over 20 years at the trading post, I have come to understand there are no strict definitions of art, and that art is not hard or static. Instead, the best art is fluid, simple, clean, warm, sophisticated, moving, touching, inspiring and many other things I cannot even begin to explain.

I have also realized that art is about the people who create, sell and collect it. For Barry and me, art is very personal. We feel the creators are at least as important as the creations. Much of what we do is in support of the people who live and work in the Four Corners region. Of course, we enjoy the constantly changing exhibits; each a masterpiece in his or her own right. Maybe it is the God in art or the art in God that convinces me neither is concrete or subject to strict interpretation. Both are very personal and subject to a variety of interpretations that are ever changing and infinitely beautiful.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Day

The early evening was glorious, the air crisp and clean. The perfectly angled sunlight streaming into the still heavily laden red and yellow leaves of oak brush and wild maple visually set the fall foliage on fire. My wife Laurie and I, along with our three young children and Grandpa and Grandma Washburn, tromped through the few dead and down leaves in search of wild turkey feathers. We were exploring on my in-laws' property, which is located on the east flank of the Blue Mountains, just above Monticello. It was one of those autumn afternoons poets, the likes of Robert Frost and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, could only do justice through well crafted verse. We could hear Merriam turkeys chuckle across the way, but could not see them for the thick brush and stands of aspen and pine between us. We knew those wily rascals roosted nearby, because they left behind tufts of fluff and feathery fringe.

Navajo Turkey Carving

Laurie had a fistful of the flat-topped, white-tipped tail feathers and several striped brown, black and white wing plumes. The brown tones in the feathers were coppery and iridescent when viewed through the refracted light. Every time Spenser, Alyssa or McKale found one they would sprint to their mother, pass off the treasure and fan out in search of more. Because of his sharp eyes and intimate knowledge of terrain, Grandpa had a small handful of pompons himself. Grandma had even fewer finds because she and Laurie were more interested in the flora of the mountain lands. Earlier they had gathered a small sack of seeds from the dry pods of columbine in the nearby meadow. More often than not, mother and daughter were bent over some plant or bush, plotting a future of replanting their yards. I had the fewest finds of all, because I was more interested in antagonizing the kids than plundering plumage. Much to my wife's chagrin, I am the instigator of mayhem in our home. In an effort to teach them to predict the unpredictable, I do my darnedest to keep our children on their toes.

As we probed deeper into the stand of oak, we came upon a grouping of trees 8-10 inches thick, hefty for oak brush. The trees rose 6-8 feet, arched overhead and created an woven mesh of branches. With the mass of colorful leaves lit-up as they were, the place impressed me as a natural cathedral enhanced by a leafy version of stained glass. We stood there silently in the midst of this sacred place, embraced by its splendor. Just then the breeze picked-up and the dried seed-pods resting upon the columbine stalks began a woodsy harmony as they bumped and scraped against each other. Further back in the trees the wild turkey joined the concert with their deep throated verse. It must have been Alyssa or McKale who first discovered the mother load of turkey plumage, because I heard a loud squeal of excitement. Grandpa exclaimed, "We found their roost!" The happiness in the children's voices as they laughed, scrambled about and let out exclamations of pleasure added harmony to the coral arrangement. To my ears there was no more beautiful sound in the world.

As I stood there watching, wondering, enjoying my family and listening to the chorus, a group of does and fawns filed out of the trees and began feeding in the meadow just below us. They seemed completely unperturbed by our boisterous presence. The deer were within 50 yards of us, and I could see their brown eyes blink occasionally, as if they wondered at the awkward, loud nature of human beings. In spite of everything, they seemed to accept us. As I stood taking in the scene, I heard rustling in the bushes to my right. Slowly moving in that direction, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare and unusual tassel-eared Abert's squirrel. I slowly rounded a group of three closely grouped pine trees and spied a couple chipmunks frolicking in the leaves. I bent over, plucked a stalk of crested wheat grass, leaned against a tree and chewed the stem as I watched Chip and Dale play. Behind me I heard more rustling. Leaning forward slightly and looking through the trees, I spied my son Spenser intently scanning the ground for feathers. He passed my position without noticing me and turned his back as he began to move away. "Time to disrupt!", I thought to myself. I moved as quietly as a cougar preparing to pounce; sure of my prey. When I was in position I let out a roar like a grizzly bear and charged the boy, expecting to have him in my grasp in no time. Somehow Spenser anticipated my attack and took off on an all out sprint, quickly outracing me. "The little Bounder!" As I pulled-up winded and spent, laughs and cheers erupted all around me, Spenser had outwitted his maniacal old man. I guess I was, deservedly, the turkey of the day.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, November 19, 2010


It was the summer of 1971, and the Simpson family was living in a mobil home behind the Plateau filling station south of Blanding. Woody, our paternal grandfather, was working in Cisco, Colorado, clearing brush for the Nielson brothers.

Craig, Barry and I ran the service station, pumping gas, checking oil, repairing punctured tires, washing windows and drinking Pepsi. At eleven, twelve and thirteen years of age, we were fully in charge. When one of us had a baseball game or other important event, the others would sub in. If for some reason we were all gone at once, Rose and Duke took over.

Woody, whose name was actually Woodrow Wilson Simpson, was a handyman's handyman. When it came to welding, driving a Caterpillar tractor or repairing a pick up truck, there was none better. At times it seemed he could design, build or repair anything. As for catskinning, it was said that Woody could level land so well water would run in either direction. Many testified they had personally witnessed this landscaping miracle.

After a week’s work in Cisco, Woody would often stop by the station to say hello and have a soda. On one particular occasion, he came home a few days early. Upon pulling his Ford into one of the fueling bays, he reached into the back of his truck and pulled out a gunny sack full of squirming, chattering critters. “What’s that?” we shouted. “Coons,” he proudly proclaimed.

Apparently Woody had found a nest of kits. Their mother had either abandoned them or been run over during the clearing campaign, so Woody, being a lover of all animals great and small, decided to adopt the whole bunch. As it turned out, they were more than he could handle at his camp trailer, so he was intent on farming them out to his family and friends. We were an intended recipient. After considerable discussion, Rose and Duke consented and we became the proud owners of of a baby raccoon. Never known for our creativity, we named him “Bandit.”

Since our home had only two bedrooms, every night Craig, Barry and I rolled out sleeping bags and slept on the living room floor. While he was small Bandit would crawl inside the bags and sleep at our feet. As Bandit progressed into full grown maturity, we realized our sleeping arrangements would have to change. While building a run to confine him, we put a dog house out in the yard and staked Bandit to a chain, which was in line with the custom of the time. Every morning Bandit would exit his new abode and pace back and forth on his chain, eventually wearing a semicircular path in front of his new dwelling.

During his tenure in the house, Bandit had developed a fondness for the yellow tabby cat we called Tigger. That’s right, T-I-double Ga-Er. Tigger, on the other hand, realizing there was no future in the relationship, had no love for Bandit and consequently avoided him at all cost.

Noting that Bandit’s mobility had been circumscribed, Tigger began sitting just outside the perimeter of Bandit’s walking path, licking her paws and tempting him with her considerable charm. That drove Bandit crazy, and he tried every conceivable trick to reach the feline. It was, however, no use, the cat always stayed just beyond Bandit’s reach.

One morning we looked out the kitchen window to see how Bandit was getting on and noticed he no longer paced at the end of his chain. Instead, he had withdrawn a few feet and was pacing a short path back and forth. It was clear the cat, was about to make a grave miscalculation.

Assuming Bandit was, as always, at the end of his rope, Tigger strolled out and sat down; just inside the worn semicircle. Bandit continued to pace until the cat began preening. Sensing she was not paying attention to her surroundings, Bandit streaked out, scooped up the cat and held it like one lover holds another. Tigger, too startled to howl, spit or scratch, wilted in Bandit’s arms.

Unfortunately Bandit was also shocked by his success, and after momentarily holding the cat firmly to his breast decided he did not know what to do with his captive. All those months of anticipation had given way to an uneasy climax. With no other alternative, and knowing he would never hold her again, Bandit gently released his captive. Surely his heart was heavy as the cat scampered to safety.

When the trading post is slow or work difficult, and I start wishing for something different, I often think of Bandit and wonder what I would do if I actually got what I wished for.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coming out and Going Home

As Laurie, the kids and I walked into the Washburn household Grandpa Clem said, "Come outside, I want to show you something." It was a mid-summer evening, and the glorious and radiant orb of the sun had just settled itself behind the towering Blue Mountains to the west of the house. The shadowed side of the mountain was a deep purple-blue in color. Deeper, darker shades moved in the canyons and clefts. High overhead, above the mountaintops, were cloud patterns looking as if a master artist had taken his brush in hand and swiped it randomly across the sky, then added brief but magnificent undertones of rose-red and tangerine-orange. The backdrop was magnificent enough to take your breath away. When I walked into the back yard I saw that my father-in-law had set-up several lawn chairs in a semi-circle facing a stand of vine-like plants along the red brick wall at the back of the house. I looked at him and the arrangement of chairs and asked: "What's going on Grandpa?" "The wild primrose are about to bloom," he replied. I plopped down in one of the chairs, expecting the buds to start popping any moment. When we weren't looking, the kids dispersed to watch TV and Laurie went inside to help Grandma finish a project. "It looks like it is just you and me Grandpa," I said. "That's okay," he replied with a hint of excitement in his voice.

Grandpa Clem

This sort of thing was typical with "Grandpa Clem"; he is as passionate about the natural world as he is about his family. He loves flowers, rocks and discarded artifacts and will search them out while tending his cattle, bringing home specimens at every opportunity. Looking about his back yard I recognized several varieties of plants, piles of rocks and meteorites, busted wagon wheels, old bottles and such. These were items I knew he had transplanted from his properties on the nearby mountain, flatlands east of town and lowlands to the north; just off Peter's Hill. "This particular plant," he explained, "came from Dry Valley." That is where he winters his cows. Grandpa found this patch of Pachylophus Marginatus (Oenothera), aka white evening primrose, while riding his horse, Ginger, on a cow trail; halfway between a rim and a plateau, in a shaded spot beside a large boulder. I knew that if necessary Grandpa could find that same spot again in the dark of night, without a luminescent moon to guide him. He is that familiar with his range. Clem dug the small bush up with his work-hardened, calloused hands, and carefully brought it back to the cow-spattered pick-up truck, because he had, "Just the spot for it at the house."

As we sat there in the glow of a mid-summer night's dream, watching and waiting for the "blooming", Grandpa pointed out how the white evening primrose, when in bloom, has a few large flowers, three inches or more across, with pure-white diaphanous petals, fading to pink, and pink calyx-lobes. The buds are erect, hairy and pink, and the flowers spring from a cluster of long, downy root-leaves, narrowing to slender leaf-stalks, with hairs on the veins and on the toothed and jagged margins and almost no flower-stalk. The hairy calyx-tube is so long, sometimes as much as seven inches, that it looks like a stalk. The root is thick and woody, and the capsule is egg-shaped and ribbed, with no stem. "Alrighty then," I said, my narrow mind shutting down from information overload. "When is this thingy going to join the party?" I asked. "Soon," said Grandpa Clem expectantly.

To tell the truth, I don't have the patience of Job as does my father-in-law. I am more like the vulture depicted in that famous cartoon; the one that characterizes two gaunt and hunger-challenged vultures sitting in a twisted, lifeless cedar tree alongside a deserted strip of desert byway. The buzzards are resting there with the relentless sun beating down on their bald crowns and beaks, looking more than pitiful, when one of the hapless vultures turns to his more laid back acquaintance and says; "Patience my apple, I am going to kill something!" That is the point of space and time I was arriving at when Laurie and her mother brought out some of Grandma Washburn's famous homemade cherry pie with the incredibly flaky crust. On top was a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which was accompanied by an ice cold aluminum tumbler full of fresh milk. "That's what I'm talkin' about!" Laurie and Grandma joined the audience and, if I remember correctly, our three kids were enticed out as well. As we sat there feasting on the finer things in life, one of those blossoms slowly unfurled and graced us with its precious presence. Before we finished the pie ala mode, two more blossoms slowly unfurled and exposed themselves to our wondering eyes. Between the colorful glow of the setting sun, the warm embrace of the mountain and the genuinely enjoyable company, the pie and the evening primrose, this particular evening was one of the most precious memories gifted me by this thoughtful, considerate and compassionate man. A little sugar and spice and a whole lotta nice makes for great memories. The simple pleasures of life are, by far, the dearest and most cherished.

This week Grandpa Clem's mortal body failed him and an extraordinary spirit took flight into the realm of the heavens. I am sure my dear father-in-law is up there wandering around, gathering and surrounding himself with the simple and most wondrous pleasures of the sky world. Grandpa Clem would be the first to point out that he was not a perfect human being. In my experience, however, he was a man well loved and respected by his family, friends and surrounding communities. Clem was a man of substance, a man of honor and mostly a man of deep and abiding love that reached far beyond his immediate aura. I will greatly miss watching the evening primrose bloom with Grandpa Clem.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Maple Tree

We would like to introduce the newest contributing member of the Tied To The Post writing team. McKale Simpson has been a Trader in Training for several years and has reluctantly agreed to lend a story she produced in her Honors English class. Instead of reading the missives of two old crusties we offer-up a fresh face and attitude. We hope you enjoy McKale's personal narrative as much as we do.

I curl up on my couch, trying to ignore the roar of the chain saw in my front yard. I bury myself in my book, desperately attempting to escape into the story that no matter how hard I try, I can’t interest myself in. “Ugh.” I groan and stand up, stretching my legs and hearing my hip joints pop. I slowly amble into the gloomy and dark kitchen, where my mom stands gazing out the window with tears pooling in her eyes. I rest my elbows on the cool, black countertop that chills my skin and makes goose bumps appear on my forearms. I can see the reflection of the gray clouds in the countertop, realizing that they mirror my mood exactly. I resign to watch them chopping at my tree and soon taste droplets of salt water on my lips. I didn’t realize I was crying until now. I know my older sister, Alyssa, and my dad probably think that we are being silly. Maybe we are, but I don’t care right now. All I want is for them to stop.

McKale Simpson

As I witness the bare branches slapping then rebounding off of the ground, I am wrenched back to when I was five years old. It’s a bright and sunny afternoon and I can see my eleven year-old brother, Spenser, sitting in the fork of my maple tree. He’s laughing gleefully and shouts, “Mom! Look how high I am!” My mom softly shouts back, “Wow Spenser! Be careful!” I can see the grin stretched ear to ear across his face; you can practically feel the pride radiating off of him. I turn my head to look at my sister’s jealous face. “Mo-om. I’m nine years old and I want to climb the tree, too!” My mom turns to her with a genuinely sympathetic look on her face. “Both of you can’t fit in the tree at the same time. As soon as Spenser get’s down, it’s your turn. OK?” Alyssa’s lips pucker and her forehead wrinkles, making her eyebrows almost meet as her facial expression turns from a questioning look into a scowl. “Fine,” she huffs, and folds her arms into a tight pretzel. Soon, Spenser descends the ladder, and Alyssa skips to the trunk and begins to climb with the help of my father. She sits in the maple, shouting, “Ohmagosh! It is soooo cool up here!” As she steps down the rungs a couple of minutes later my dad asks, “McKale, do you wanna climb up?” My eyes pop and I look up at my mom to confirm that I really am allowed. She nods her head with an affirmative smile and I scamper over to my dad, who chuckles at the look of thrill on my face. I slowly put one foot on a rung, then the next, still having trouble believing that I am actually permitted to sit in my maple tree. When I get to the top, I plop down in the wide fork and gape at the view before me. “Whoa,” I whisper. I can see everything from here! All too soon my parents are telling me it’s time to get down. I slowly descend and look up at my maple, wishing I could stay up there forever.

Now it’s the Fourth of July and the parade is about to begin. I can see the Honor Guard beginning to march down the hill and I hurry to find a shady spot beneath my tree. I sit beneath a low hanging branch where I can touch the leaves that are the size of my hand. Out of the corner of my eye I realize that everyone else is standing, so I hop up and place my right hand over my heart. As the soldiers pass, I hear my grandma sigh and say, “It is so hot out today.” She begins to fan herself and declares, “I’m glad we have the tree to sit under,” and takes a seat. I notice my cousin heading over to me with a smile and he questions, “Why don’t you come down and watch the parade with us on the street?” I shrug and say, “I dunno. I guess cuz I don’t have a bag to put my candy in,” but I know this isn’t the real reason. I could simply run inside and pull one out of the drawer by the sink. Ever since I turned twelve, I don’t particularly care about the candy anymore. What I really want is to just sit in the shade under my maple and watch the parade. “Oh!” he replies, grinning, “I have an extra one right here!” He pulls a grocery bag out of his back pocket. “Gree-aat!” I utter with a forced smile, and we saunter down the driveway to the curb where the rest of my younger cousins are sitting. I love my cousins, but it is blistering hot and I would just like to park myself under my tree and sip the delectable raspberry lemonade that my dad made this morning. After about 15 floats, I’ve had enough of sitting on the curb and slip off while my cousins are battling it out for candy on the asphalt. I pour myself a cup of the lemonade, find my nice, shady spot and plunk into the lush grass. I tilt my head back and observe the small, red-breasted robin that flits from branch to branch. My cat is attempting to catch the little bird, but failing miserably. I notice a rather large lady bug with seven spots that is climbing up one of the huge leaves toward a teeny, neon green aphid. I know that I should want to sit with my cousins, but sitting here beneath my tree, I am content.

“AlYsssssaaaaa.” I have been trying to get my eleven-year-old sister to come out and play with me for ages. There is this huge pile of leaves sitting in our front yard beneath my bare maple tree, just beckoning for us to jump in it. “Well, I don’t really have time to play with a little third grader,” she chides while rolling her eyes, “but I guess I could spare a couple minutes.” She says this as if she is doing me a favor, but I know she is just as excited as I am. My suspicions are confirmed as we dash out the front door and belly flop into the orange and yellow mountain. “Hey!” she hollers, “I have an idea! Let’s find a ball, throw it into the pile and try to find it! Whoever finds it first wins!” “OK!” I enthusiastically agree, because this sounds like the best idea I’ve heard all day. We sprint to the garage and discover a dark blue rubber ball. We rush back to the front yard and fling the ball into the mound. We look at each other with smiles and a glint in our eyes and hurl ourselves into the heap of leaves. We giggle hysterically because this is the most fun we’ve ever had. After a couple minutes, Alyssa surfaces with the blue ball in her hand with a wide, toothy grin. “Do it again! Do it again!” I holler. “I’m gonna find it this time!” We have decided that it’s only fair if we close our eyes, so we don’t know where the ball goes. We stand back, both pretending to close our eyes tight and toss the ball into the pile. I dive in and after a few moments, feel my hand close around the hard rubber. Victory! After multiple rematches of this game, we hear our mom call, “Come inside girls! You’re gonna freeze out there!” Alyssa and I look at each other with a pout, but obediently run to the porch. We shake out our shirts that were filled with leaves as we walk up the steps and in the door. We stand in the kitchen with red cheeks and runny noses, but we don’t care. We just had the time of our lives beneath my maple tree.

The growl of the chainsaw jerks me back to the present. I witness the tears streaming down my mom’s face and when I look out the window to my maple tree, I understand why. All the branches, all the limbs, are cut off and they are hacking my tree completely down. I hear one last roar of the chainsaw and the trunk falls in slow motion. My maple collapses to the ground. It feels as if the reverberation goes through my entire body, but I know this is impossible. I realize I am crying freely now, but I honestly don’t care who sees. I hate these people. “No, no you don’t,” I tell myself. I understand that it is not their fault my tree died, and they are just doing their job. They can hack my maple tree down, but they can’t take away my precious memories.

With Warm Regards,
McKale, Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Huntin' on high"

I wrapped my left leg around the top of the tree, cautiously leaned back into the sling and brought the rifle to my shoulder. Bracing the long gun against the roughly textured tree trunk and my forearm I tipped the barrel downward in the direction of the oncoming deer and leaned my head forward, in line with the scope. My right foot was uncomfortably jammed into the crotch of a small limb and was bearing most of my body weight. As I tried to squirm and twist my frame into proper shooting alignment and brought more weight to bear upon that thin leather strap, I became exquisitely aware of the fifty some odd foot drop below me. I knew if the sling did not hold I would go bee-bopping down that big old tree like a steelie in a pin ball machine. The thought reminded me of the age old philosophical riddle; "If a man falls out of a tree in a forest and no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound?" Or something like that. My guess was, yes, he did!

Navajo Deer Carving

The day started out invigoratingly crisp and clean in the high country. It was early morning, opening day of the Deer Hunt, October 1988. I was hunting deep in the oak brush on my in-law's property located on the east facing slope of Blue Mountain, overlooking the small, quaint town of Monticello. I attempted to creep through the Oak brush which was as thick as bristle on a bear's backside and the fallen leaves underfoot crunched like corn flakes on concrete. It did not take long to realize that I was not going to sneak up on any self respecting buckskin in this stuff, much less get off a shot. The age-old Navajo and Ute people that once hunted these same slopes would have certainly laughed out loud at my less-than-skilled attempt at sneaking through the thicket. I finally broke free of heavy cover and came upon a giant Pine tree rising majestically above the surrounding chokebrush. As I stood there in the shade of the tall timber, I looked up and realized that this tree rose head and shoulders above the surrounding brush pile. I reached up and barely touched the first limb protruding from the massive trunk. "Humph!" I thought to myself. If I could get a leg up on that first branch, I might be able to climb higher and obtain a bird's eye view of the surrounding landscape.

Years ago a friend of mine clued me into using a military-like sling on my hunting rifles. This type of strap is heavy, well made and amply adjustable and was about to come in very handy. I adjusted the sling so my Sako .243 rifle would fit over my head and shoulders with the barrel pointing down so as not to get debris in it. I jumped up and grabbed ahold of that first limb and walked my feet up the trunk until I could wrap my legs around the eight to ten inch limb. With much effort I flipped myself over onto the top of the branch and sat upright. Leaning back against the massive trunk I looked up into the extending branches loaded with Pine boughs and said to myself: "Only forty feet to go." I soon discovered that climbing a Pine tree is no easy task, especially when fully outfitted with hunting gear. About half way up, because I was sweating from the labor of the climb, I straddled another limb and stripped off my heavy coat. After replacing my orange vest over a thinner sweatshirt I readjusted my rifle, left my fanny pack hanging there with the coat and continued the climb. When I finally emerged through the Pine needles at the top of the tree, I was puffing like a freight train and was certain the entire country side had been alerted to my presence.

The view from up in that tree was impressive. I was exhilarated by the lofty perch and felt all too precarious dangling there by my fingers and toes. The last four feet of the tree was bare and ended in a three prong forked-like protrusion. I climbed up until the crown of my head was even with the top of the tree. Wriggling free of my rifle, I winced when I saw fresh scratches in the stock. Oh well, I had planned on refinishing the walnut stock anyway, this would force me to do so sooner than later. I unclipped and removed the sling from my rifle, carefully wedged the gun in the fork overhead and extended the sling to its longest available length. I then wrapped the sling around the narrow tree top, then my waist, and used the clips to connect the ends. I was now securely attached to the tree and good to go. Good to go unless the top of the tree decided to let go and send me plummeting back to earth! At this point I was too invigorated to worry, and too foolish to care. It seemed I could see every opening and trail in the Oak brush from my new vantage point.

I must have hung from the top of that tree for an hour or more before I saw any sign of life. At some point nature must have forgotten my rude intrusion and the natural world regained her stride. Soon thereafter I witnessed three magnificent Tom Turkeys promenading about a small clearing no further than 70 yards away. At another point a group of five does and fawns gathered at the base of my tree and played a game of "kick-box" for ten to fifteen minutes before they moved off totally unaware of my towering presence. After a couple of hours dangling from the top of that tree I was starting to get numb from "clinging to the vine." I was considering working my way back down when movement from a small hill about 150 yards to the North caught my eye. Looking closer I realized two very nice bucks were slowly and quietly making their way directly towards my roost. The lead buck was a heavy three pointer, the second a small two point. I could smell buck on the barbie as I watched them move in. It was at this point I wrapped my left leg around the top of the tree and prepared to bring in the bacon.

As I peered through my scope and found the lead deer I recalled a lesson in ballistics and figured that when I pulled the trigger, from such a high and radical angle, that my aim would need be lower than expected. By now the deer were within fifty yards and clearly visible through the branches so I aimed right at the base of the buck's chest and slowly squeezed the trigger. The kick of the rifle nearly dislodged me from my perch. It took me a moment to regain stable footing and relocate my prey. Surprisingly, both bucks were still standing there, frozen in time and place. They couldn't see me. Because of the ridiculous angle of trajectory I figured I had over-shot my mark. The deer still had no idea where the shot came from, thus their indecision. I was feeling lucky. As quietly as I could I re-chambered another round and lowered my aim to six inches below the bigger buck's breast bone. I squeezed off another round and missed again. Dang! and double dog dang! I cussed inwardly. Both bucks were still rooted in place, hunkered-up and looking around wildly for somewhere to disappear. They could not, would not, make an educated exit strategy because they had no idea where the shots were coming from. I chambered another round and aimed at the buck's feet, said a silent prayer to the hunting gods and squeezed off another round. Between the point of aim and the point of impact that bullet climbed over two feet in fifty yards before it found its mark. I had bagged my buck. The smaller buck was still confused but when he saw his comrade fall he exited, stage left and smashed into a wall of Oak brush, plowing his way out of there leaving a new and disheveled trail in his wake. Me? Well I hugged the tree until my breathing slowed and I became a lot less excited. I made sure my deer was down for good, re-slung my rifle and began the slow meticulous descent to the forest floor.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Of all the cartoons I have seen over the years, only a few have stayed with me. I have a devil of a time remembering jokes, so it should come as no surprise that I also struggle to recall the details of Sunday morning comics. I can remember characters just fine, but when it comes to the story line I am always at a loss.

Lizard and Coyote Carving

Most prominent of the few cartoons I have seen is a Beetle Bailey series I read in the Sacramento Bee probably three decades ago. It involved Sergeant Snorkel deciding to lose weight. As I recollect, the panels show Snorkel getting a haircut, taking a shower, cleaning behind his ears and, lastly, cleaning the lint from his bellybutton. At the conclusion of the process, he stepped on the scales and was pleased to discover a few pounds had indeed been shed. Over the years I have tried the sergeant's technique, but never with any success; the pounds simply stay put.

For some reason lint has also stayed with me, and from that time forward I have been obsessed with “getting the lint out.” In fact, lint has become a metaphor for me letting things languish longer than reasonably necessary. It is a sign that I am not doing what I should and that I have become lazy and complacent. So, I search for it everywhere; in my trousers, under the bed, behind my ears, in the toes of my socks and, yes, even in my navel.

If the trading post has taught me anything, it is that in Navajo culture there is a story or legend for almost everything. From the male-female dichotomy to Coyote, Horned Toad and Monster Slayer, the tales are deep and fascinating. Until recently, however, I have never heard Navajo people talk about their experiences with lint. It may be that the red sand of the Northern Navajo Reservation does not allow for the accumulation of this material. Or, it may be that the Navajo, like me, are ashamed when their pockets and stockings fill up with these fibers.

In my quest to determine whether there is actually a Navajo tradition relating to lint, I have spoken with many a medicine man. When I say I am interested in the issue, they shake their heads and, as John Lennon said, “look at me kinda’ strange.” “Surely you can’t be serious,” they say. “Indeed I am,” I respond. That only makes things worse.

After years of investigating this mystery, last week I finally asked Priscilla if she had any insight into the issue. She cocked her head to one side, reached into her shirt pocket, tugged out a few clumps and said, “This?” “Yes,” I almost shouted, “exactly.” At that point she related the following story:

When the earth was new, the Holy Ones created Coyote to be a leader among the people. They invested him with may unusual characteristics to distinguish him from others; a lush coat to set him apart from the ordinary animals, wondrous eyes that could see far and wide and a quick mind with which to make responsible decisions.

Coyote, however, elected to disregard his responsibilities, choosing instead to gamble, carouse, stay in bed until late into the morning, neglect his corn fields and create chaos. As a result, Coyote lost his beautiful eyes to the sparrows, his mind became dull from too much cactus wine and his lustrous fur became coarse and matted.

The Holy Ones, noticing Coyote’s failings, decided to take action. “Brother Coyote” they called to him. “Yes,” he drowsily responded, waking from his afternoon siesta. “You have been idle and sloppy,” they informed him. “We therefore must give you something to remind you of your duties. From this day forward, if you neglect your responsibilities, you will accumulate lint,” they continued. “Lint?” he asked and promptly fell back into a deep slumber. The Holy Ones hung their heads in shame and left Coyote snoring under a cottonwood tree.

Later that afternoon, Coyote awoke to see Brother Squirrel and Sister Prairie Dog gazing upon him. “You look like a porcupine,” said Brother Squirrel. “You look like a giant wooly caterpillar,” said Sister Prairie Dog. Coyote yawned, stretched his long legs and shook himself. Lint flew in every direction; north, south, east and west.

Coyote, however, did not mend his ways. He continued to bet at the shoe games, distill beer in his bathtub, skip chapter meetings and associate with loose women. So, the lint continued to accumulate, until dust bunnies began to overtake the land, to choke the rivers and to drown the vegetable patches.

In a panic Coyote sent a smoke signal to Grandmother Spider, who promptly came to visit. “Shicheii, my grandson,” she said, “I can hardly tell who you are.” “Grandmother,” Coyote said in a distressed voice, “These fibers are destroying my life!” “I will help, I know what to do,” said the spider, and she immediately began to gather the lint. Once that was done, she spun the fibers into slender strands and wove the strands into a large, beautiful rug with many zig zags and a detailed boarder. She then rolled the weaving, slug it over her shoulder and took it to the trading post to sell.

And that, as they say, is how lint came to the people and Navajo rugs came to the trading post. The moral of this story is, “If the Holy Ones give you lint, weave rugs.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mountain Musings

The frizzy gray squirrel sat high upon the roadside rock and did his best to shun the steady stream of traffic through his chosen territory. A small flock of Marion turkey fussed and scratched for hidden seeds and bugs further back in the oak brush and a group of mule deer does and fawns fed nonchalantly in the nearby meadow. The seasons "coat of many colors" added an appealing backdrop to the picture postcard scene as we drove the mountain road, greatly appreciating the natural world just outside Grandma and Grandpa Washburn's back door.

Last Sunday, Laurie, McKale and I took a ride up the side of Blue Mountain, just outside of Monticello. We had recently dropped Alyssa off at the Shell station for her return trip to college with the Acton girls. It is always a sad event for Laurie and me to see one of our children disappear into the distance one more time. We knew it was for the best, but the tears still flowed and disappointment disrupted. If I were to succumb to my more selfish nature, I would keep my children near to me for all time. I, however, realize they must experience the world on their own terms. To "go forth and prosper" as it were, to stimulate their minds in an attempt to gain the knowledge and understanding only the chaos of campus life can provide. Life away from the sanctuary of Mom and Dad provides many lessons parents cannot express; ones that must be individually experienced to be fully appreciated.

To help alleviate, or perhaps soften the emotional impact, we decided to drive "high upon the mountain" and seek solace closer to the spiritual realm. The vistas from up there are magnificent, and the animal life more easily accessible. In times like these, songs the likes of Go Rest High on that Mountain by crooner Vince Gill and the more recent tune from teen sensation Miley Cyrus, The Climb (The only song I recognize by Hannah Montana, I swear!) come to mind. McKale brought along her camera. Occasionally she hopped out of the van with her Nikon and went high-stepping through the underbrush in her flip flops; moving in the direction of one critter or another in an attempt to capture them digitally. Often she would stop in her tracks, back-up a fraction, re-evaluate a particular scene, then frame a shot that captured her imagination. It was fun to watch the artist in her at work.

As I watched my youngest daughter frolic through the forest I felt the stress of cutting Alyssa's parental tether dissipate like mountain mist after the sunrise. I began to focus on the animals and their Navajo mythological interpretations. The animals themselves became relative to our situation. The squirrel is believed to be a seeker of awareness and understanding. The little guy on the rock was speaking to me, letting me know that to ferret out knowledge was essential to the development and future of our children. Turkey effects the world in a positive manner because of his foresight, generosity and gathering tendencies. Lessons learned from supernatural sources eventually helped this seemingly lowly creature lead the people to higher levels of consciousness and save the world from famine. The deer are sacred beings to be honored and respected, not only for the sustenance they provide, but for sacred ceremony as well. The Yei or Holy People used sacred buckskin and corn to create the people in their image. Symbols of creation, upward movement, education and continuation stood before me in their most unhindered and free living form.

As Laurie, McKale and I drove down the mountain I felt a little better about sending Alyssa off to school. Being without her beautiful, smiling face and captivating personality would be a struggle for us, as being away from home would be for her. Everyone's first venture into the unknown is frightening and emotional, but others have survived it as will we. In our modern age of cell phones, text messaging, Facebook, Skype and whatever else is just over the verizon, I think we will survive. Even without all that, there are still motor cars and personal visits. There is nothing more important than family-friendly visits and plenty of hugs.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve the Team.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Our Children Don't Care About Our Stuff

One of the images that has indelibly etched itself into my mind over the past 20 years is that of an old Woodie station wagon parked alongside a dirt back road leading to Shiprock, New Mexico. The doors of the vehicle are flung open and the passenger compartment empty. From the picture it is impossible to tell whether the car has stalled or if its occupants were so stunned by the natural beauty of that stark geography that they spontaneously bailed out in order to capture the moment on film.

In the early part of the 20th Century, it was common for those living in the Midwest or East to hire a car such as that and tour the rugged, undeveloped Southwest. Along the way the travelers might stop and buy an Acoma pot, a Navajo weaving, an Apache basket or any one of a variety of cultural curiosities. Once home, these items would be strategically placed in their residence to let others know the occupants of the house had satisfactorily completed the classic Southwestern tour.

In most cases, these artistic creations acquired from Native tribesmen were both beautiful to look at and fond reminders of an important time in the lives of the travelers. Not only had the voyagers persevered in difficult terrain, they had met the Natives face-to-face and experienced ancient cultures that were rapidly receding.

As the 1940s turned into the 50s, 60s, 70s and eventually the new millennium, these adventuresome newlyweds became mom and dad, and all too soon grandma and grandpa. When retirement rolled around, the happy couple began thinking about moving into a smaller, more manageable living arrangement, and also started wondering what to do with the tangible reminders of their early years together.

All too often Barry and I meet these individuals as they retrace their footsteps from distant decades and wonder, “What do we do with all the things we acquired?” The easy answer is, “Bring it in.” Barry and I are happy to help find new homes for their art. In some cases we even keep a piece or two for our own collections. The more difficult answer is, however, actually a question, “Why don’t your children want it?” There never seems to be a satisfactory answer.

My suspicion is that, like the numerous tribes of Native America, we with paler faces are also failing to adequately invest our children and grandchildren with the stories of our past. We are not passing on the wonder and romance that caused us to acquire these items initially and to love them for so many years thereafter. To me it seems we have an obligation to teach our descendants about our history, to give them the opportunity to understand our experience and to learn from what we have seen.

Earlier today, I spoke with a woman who told me she had inherited two “beautiful Navajo rugs” from her mother. She thought her father had brought them into the marriage, but since both mom and dad were long gone, there was no sure way to know. She said she had photographs of her as a baby playing on the rugs, but she knew nothing about their origin. “What a pity,” she said, “my kids don’t know anything about these weavings. They probably don’t even care.”

In many cases these items define who we are and where we were at a particular stage of development. Those are not just black pots, they are a reminder of what was important to us at the time, our economic status and what was happening during that phase of our lives. That is not just a Navajo rug, it is an indication of the fondness our parents had for each other; a memory aid. Just another basket? No, that might be a representation of our support for a particular artist or artistic movement. An undistinguished piece of jewelry? Well, maybe it is all that is left of a particularly romantic evening all those years ago.

If our children do not care about the items we have collected over the course of our lifetimes, then we have failed them; failed to communicate our passions, failed to communicate our histories and failed to invest those children with that part of ourselves that lives on when we do not.

What do we do with these things our children care nothing about? How about using them to help our descendants understand more about who you were, who you are and who you may become. Then those items will have true value, and we will no longer have to ask ourselves what to do with our collections at the end of our lives.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Roy made his way down the still dark sandy path, past Foushee's Recapture Lodge, toward the muddy river. The early morning breeze caressed his full head of mostly gray hair. The long, tall Tamarisk stalks he moved through left centipede like wisps of foliage on his forest green, color-coordinated, oil stained khaki pants and shirt. His equally blemished work boots hardly made a sound as he intentionally made his way toward the gurgling watercourse. In Roy's oversize, rawboned right hand he carried an ancient, but well-maintained, rod and reel. In the other was a "chum sack". Mr. Pearson effortlessly held the bulging potato sack away from his body, so as not to let it rub against his clothing. The loosely woven burlap bag was full of leftovers from Clemma Arthur's Turquoise Cafe. These were highly pungent, placed-out-in-the-hot-sun-to-rot-for-a-week leftovers. Roy's eyes watered as he walked. The odor of the sack's contents assaulted his senses, but also assured him the bait would attract the prey he so hungrily desired.

Navajo Corn Spirit Basket Set

As Roy intercepted the red waters of the San Juan River, he stopped and breathed deeply the scent of the scene before him. He smelled mildly rotten vegetation, the earthy water and the cleansing flow of fresh air blowing down river. This breeze circulated about the lofty cliff face to his left then exited the valley in a widening path as the towering rock formations opened up to his right. Roy paused only a moment, because he visually detected a hint of morning light to the east and wanted to be in place by the time the autumn sun rose. He veered left and headed upriver in search of a deep pool he had spied during his last visit. A hundred yards or so upstream Roy came to the spot he felt would produce the "Monster Cats" he desired. Parallel to the shoreline was an oversize log; a broken and skinned remnant of a once thriving Russian olive tree. The down-river end was jammed deeply into the river bottom, while the other stuck up at an acute angle, uplifted to the flow itself. The long, thick log must have been thrust deep into the river bed, wedged there during high water. The slight dam formed by the driftwood timber caused a build-up of debris resulting in a swirling eddy of water against the bank. The underscoring flow lead to a concave cut bank behind the dam which formed an alcove of sorts; a sheltered section of river bank and a deep hole in the water below.

Roy dropped off the bank into the hollowed out area and loosened the coarse rope about his still narrow waist. He expertly tied one end of the 12 foot cordage to the knotted neck of the burlap bag and the other to a root woven into a sand bridge to his right. He quickly tossed the offensive offering into the swirling waters and watched it sink. Ambrosia to the Water Creatures, Roy thought to himself as he rubbed his gaunt cheeks and thickly stubbled chin. Thoughtful green Tennessee hill country eyes gazed out from under a prominent forehead bisected by a dominant unibrow as Roy looked into the swirling waters below. Within minutes every catfish for a mile down stream would be here bumping and chomping on that sack, trying to get in for the feast. Roy retrieved his rod and reel, expertly baited his hook with a tasty morsel from a pocket sack and dropped it into the gently swirling waters below. He sat down on the dry sand at the back end of the cut-bank, leaned his bony backside against the ledge and snuggled in behind the debris pile, awaiting the first strike. As Roy sat there he contemplated his life as a mechanic in Bluff and nodded in approval. Yes, life was good here!

As Roy waited, listening to the song of the river and appreciating his circumstance, he began to nod off. Dreams of catfish fillets invaded his slumber. From somewhere in the near distance a tune came into his head, invading his dream. As he returned to consciousness, Roy realized the sun must be just raising itself over the horizon. From across the river, on the Reservation side, he heard someone chanting. Roy leaned forward a bit and found a narrow break in the limb jam and spotted an elderly Navajo man, opposite his position on the far side of the river, singing, fishing something from a small leather pouch around his neck and sprinkling it about him. Roy recognized Old Archie, a character he was familiar with from his Gas Station and Garage in town. Archie drove an antiquated, rust red, Ford truck. But for the aid of bailing wire and electrical tape, that dilapidated dumpster would be a scrap heap of busted parts. Archie would often stop in for petrol and ask Roy's help in reattaching one part or another. As far as Roy was concerned, that red roadster was a moving mechanical miracle.

As Roy watched, he realized Archie was lost in a prayerful litany. Hasteen Roy, as Archie called him, was aware that the Navajo people prayed to the four directions, the Wind and the Water, they offered thanks to Mother Earth and Father Sky. The forces of the natural world were their benefactors and corn pollen their gift of gratitude. Archie would often show up on Roy's doorstep this time of year and politely ask to enter his garden and gather corn pollen from the stunted and stumpy stalks of corn. It was not unusual to see his Native American associate topping his corn plants with a brown paper sack, bending the tassel carefully to the side and tapping the bag to loosen the sacred dust. These people helped Roy survive by supporting him and his business, what was a little corn pollen and hay wire among friends. Roy sat back so as not to bother Archie's communion with nature, his line twitched with movement, but he refused to cause a commotion by setting the hook. As Archie crooned his soulful incantations, his vocals reverberated up and down the river. The sing-song melody, the rushing water and the cathedral like atmosphere was enchanting and made the hair on the back of Roy's neck stand on end. In short order the old man wrapped up his worship services, turned and re-entered the heavy growth on his side of the river. Roy was moved by the moment and whispered to himself, "Amen!"

After a time Roy lifted himself out of his refuge and rolled his sinewy shoulders to relieve the stiffness. It was time to go to work. There would be no fresh fish this morning, but he had unexpectedly been a silent witness to an ancient and spiritual event; something far more satisfying than food had sustained him. Roy had been fed a soulfully satisfying and naturally nutritious feast of sanctification. Roy did not wish to waste his efforts at chumming, so he began to rig himself a trot line. He pulled from his pants pocket a 20 foot length of nylon cord, found and tied a naturally notched donie to the end and attached four hooks, at equal intervals, to knots in the line. From a baggie in his breast pocket he drew more "stink bait" and baited the hooks. He then tied the lead end to a submerged root and tossed the other down stream in line with his bait bag. Roy then untied his chum bag and secured it to a submerged portion of the Russian olive stump.

Just before he left the scene, Roy looked the area over carefully to see if either his trot line or rope was noticeable; they were not. He took from his trouser pocket a small pen knife and cut a large leafy branch from a nearby Tamarisk stem. Taking the limb, he used it as a broom to whisk away any evidence of his stay. Roy was acutely aware that this "set-up" was well within the range of the Simpson brothers. Those three young rascals would not steal fish from his line because Duke and Rose would come down on them like a ton of bricks. They might, however, pull his trot line to see what his catch might be or play a trick on him if they discovered his fishing hole. This was a game of hide and seek Roy played with his mischievous friends; one which he intended to win. As Roy walked away an unseen gleam of white flashed in the early morning light. The large, fresh cut stem of Tamarisk gleamed like a neon sign on the river bank. He didn't have a prayer.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Art Will Save Us!

The other day I was listening to National Public Radio when a piece came on about Camden, New Jersey. Apparently Camden was once a thriving, bustling, vibrant community. It has, however, fallen on hard times, is blighted and, in many quarters, mostly abandoned. In an effort to revitalize the community, the local parish has embarked on a redevelopment program which focuses on bringing art; performing, visual and other types, back into the downtown. When asked about this project, the priest who spearheads the program said, “Art will save us!”

Comb Ridge

That phrase stuck in my mind, and I kept repeating it to myself, along with snatches from Paul Simon’s Graceland, the other day as I peddled my bicycle south from White Mesa at about 7:15 a.m. The sun was not long up from its nightly trip around the world and was beginning to create what I like to refer to as God Art. For me, this entire area is one enormous canvas, and I am always excited to see the ever-changing, constantly evolving portrait.

As I looked east, I noticed the sun rhythmically poking its rays through the puffy clouds that had accumulated over the plateau the night before, illuminating scattered sections of landscape in pulses of brilliance. Here there were shadows, there colorful patches that burned brightly. The diffused sunlight seemed to skitter over the canyons and mesas like an insect on hundred and ten degree pavement.

To the west awakened Comb Ridge, the sandstone monocline that Navajo people believe forms an arm of the female Pollen Mountain. Her head is Navajo Mountain, Black Mesa her body and her breasts are Tuba Butte and Agathla Peak. As the light moved across the land, Comb Ridge seemed alive, dynamic. God’s palette was nothing short of stunning, and at that moment Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel had nothing on the exterior beauty of southern San Juan County.

Like the sun across the land, I could feel a glow beginning to infect me. Deep in my being, the color that was shifting back and forth over the land was growing inside my body, making me smile outwardly and for some unknown reason motivating me to shout out loud. What I would say, I did not know, but hallelujah or a deep growl seemed likely.

Some believe our country has become much like Camden; dark and dreary, with an uncertain future. The economy has left many unsure, and countless plans have been abandoned. Admittedly, there is a great deal to concern us. Day after day reports arrive notifying us the job market is weak, the stock market is weak, the housing market is weak and consumers are cautious. We hear terms like “double dip recession” and “long term sluggish growth” that make us wonder what is next.

Every morning, however, I come into the trading post, feel the power of art and believe it will indeed save us. For years I have noted its effect on visitors to Twin Rocks Trading Post. Some are confused, some are intrigued, but all seem enriched by the experience. Never have I had anyone walk away less happy than they were before seeing the rugs, baskets, jewelry, folk art and paintings created by local artists.

Like the parish priest of Camden, Barry and I have been working on our own project to revitalize and rejuvenate the local economy. We believe art, whether it be the God Art found in the vast cathedral just outside our Kokopelli doors or the artistic creations of local Native American artists, will indeed redeem us. Hallelujah brother. Our faith is strong.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Insightful Intuition

The aged man sat quietly amid a group of three giant, twisted and textured cottonwood trees. The heavy foliage overhead protected him from the excessive heat bearing down on the weathered cliffs, broken sandstone and iron-stained earth that surrounded him. Deesdoi (too hot), he muttered to himself. Surveying the landscape, he spotted three young boys (ashii Ke yazhi) forming a pincer movement on the giant bullfrog that rested comfortably in the shallows of the small pond just below the hill to his left. The shavers were so intent on their prize that they were completely unaware of the interested bystander. From under the rumpled rim of his sweat-stained, black felt Stetson, the observer studied the intent faces and deliberate movements of the boys. Avoiding any sudden movement that might arouse the attention of the frog or the sprouts, he carefully reached into the right breast pocket of his tan and brown Pendleton shirt, pulling out cigarette papers and a small bag of Bull-Durham tobacco. Closely studying the young bucks, he shook loose a bit of the shredded leaf and deposited it into the Zig Zag sheath, deftly licking the edge and sealing the seam.

Navajo Frog Basket by Lorraine Black

As the youngsters navigated swamp grass and cattails, slowly but surely closing in on the croaker, the man noticed that two of the boys were heavily tanned, but lighter than the other. Their hair was cropped short and sandy blond in color. "Tow-heads" was the term he had heard white people (Bilaganna) call such flaxen-headed children. The other at first appeared to be Navajo, he was darker skinned with closely shorn raven hair; heavier, with more muscled features. The old fellow's mahogany eyes brightened and his weathered complexion crinkled as he smiled and thought to himself, "Duke's Boys". Duke was the red-headed white man who had built the filling station on the east end of Bluff. Duke had brought the pretty Portuguese woman from California to the edge of the Rez. The old timer studied the boys. They were outfitted in well worn Levi's, slightly soiled white T-shirts and heavy "clod hopper" boots. The kids worked well together, and the "kicker" looked to be cornered.

The resting, rustic character simultaneously placed the cigarette in his mouth and removed his high domed hat, presenting a full, uncombed head of salt and pepper hair which stuck out in all directions. The small fry did not notice the movement, but the monster frog did. The old Indian slowly reached into his pocket and drew out a stick match. The frog hunkered down. The boys were nearly in position. Hasteen placed the match on the thigh of his stiff Wrangler jeans, preparing to strike. The little soldiers eyed each other in silent conversation, making final preparations. The man pulled the match in an upward motion, lit it and moved the flame to his cigarette just as one of the boys shouted "NOW." Spying the flash of fire, the bullfrog jumped an instant before the striplings, escaping into the depths of the pond. The ruffians yelled in frustration and began pushing and shoving one aother about, each blaming the others for failing to catch the marvelous trophy. The man smiled to himself, replaced his hat and took a long satisfying drag on his cigarette.

At the edge of the pond things were quickly getting out of hand. The old Indian reached back and pushed himself up from the gnarled tree trunk, placed two fingers to his lips and let out a shrill whistle. The punks froze the instant the sound split the thick air. The boys looked in the direction of the man, smiled and waved, never suspecting his involvement in the frog's escape. The lads sat down on the bank of the pond, removed their boots and t-shirts and bailed off into the murky, artesian well water. The old codger smiled to himself and headed off in the direction of the K&C store for a cool red pop (To'lichii). As his chafed black riding boots scuffed the dust, he could hear the ruffians splashing and laughing out loud behind him. According to Navajo legend, the old timer had saved the youngsters and, for that matter, all locals numerous crop failures and countless ailments. He had done them a favor! Those boys were certainly not aware of the frog's influence over corn, rain and diseases of the bones and joints. To trifle with a bullfrog was to court disaster. If they had indeed caught and handled that huge frog they might have been adversely affected for years.

As the old sage made his way to Keith and Curtis's store, he thought of canned peaches and licked his lips in anticipation of the sweet (likan) goodness. Hearing the sound of distant thunder, he looked to the west and noticed a heavy build-up of storm clouds illuminated by flashes of lightning. A thunderstorm was moving quickly in the direction of the sheltered river valley. With the advancing winds, the old gentleman picked-up his pace, he knew a male rain would soon bust loose overhead. Nearing his destination, he checked his pockets for loose change and, noting the problems he had averted for the kids and this small community, said out loud, "You're welcome!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Est. 650 A.D.

A few years ago, the Business Owners of Bluff, which is commonly known as BOB, or BOOB if beer is involved, decided our small community should have signs announcing its name to the many people traveling U.S. Highway 191. It was not that we craved attention or had an identity crisis, we just wanted everyone to know what this slice of heaven is called.

The Bobbies, as BOB members are sometimes known, are a progressive group, and when they set their minds to a project good things generally happen. These are, after all, the individuals responsible for the annual Bluff International Balloon Festival; an event that brings hot air balloons and hordes of people to our community each January.

As anyone who has spent time in Bluff knows, everything must be thoroughly debated before it is implemented. This process has been known to take decades. So, as you might guess, the idea of signing the town had to be fully vetted. As mentioned, however, the Bobbies are not ones to waste time on trifling details, so a consensus was quickly reached; the signs would go up.

The next issue was what would the signs say. Some wanted Bluff to have a motto, others did not; the others won out. Some desired a picture of one of the rock monuments associated with the town. The Twin Rocks seemed the logical choice. That idea was soon discarded as too divisive. Eventually it was decided they should simply say Bluff, Utah and list the date it was established. And that is were Bluff’s most recent controversy began.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines establish as “1 a: to make firm or stable, b: to introduce and cause to grow and multiply.” On that basis, settlement by the Mormon pioneers in 1880 was a sensible choice. I, however, proposed 1989, the year Twin Rocks Trading Post was built and Barry and I began peddling turquoise jewelry and Navajo rugs on this location. For what were obvious reasons to everyone but me, that suggestion never got any traction.

“What about tying the date to our prehistoric habitation?” someone asked. Well, that was an issue we had not even considered. “Could that be establishment?” we asked. “Sure,” it was concluded. We decided the term meant more than the arrival of fair skinned individuals of European descent; surely it included those who came before. There was support for acknowledging both the Ancient Puebloan and the settlers, but placing two dates on the signs was confusing, so that suggestion died for lack of a second.

It was finally determined we should contact the anthropologists to determine when the first permanent structures were built on this location. “650 A.D.,” was the response from noted local archaeologists Bill Davis and Winston Hurst. That, and the fact that including this date on the signs would likely stimulate lively discussion was good enough for us. Bluff is unique, and this seemed a way to distinguish ourselves from the other communities in this region.

So, the signs went up and the dialogue began. “What? 650 A.D.? Columbus -1492?” To say we were pleased with ourselves for creating such debate would be an understatement. We did not, however, realize the impact our signs would have on a few of the descendants of those involved in the Hole In The Rock Expedition. Take them down, howled a great, great grandson of Bishop Jens Nielson. “You can rewrite history, but you can’t change [it],” he declared in the local paper.

We just smiled, knowing full well that Bluff is still being established by its modern day pioneers, that establishment is an ongoing process and that we had succeeded in our goal of simulating conversation. Each day when I see the sun break over the horizon, signaling the beginning of a new chapter, I am reminded that we and our history are temporary, but the land is eternal.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Eagle Way

Last Sunday afternoon I was driving my pick-up truck north of Monticello; free-wheeling it into my in-laws' Spring Creek property just west of the airport. The early afternoon was bright and sunny, and the fields were green with freshly mown hay stubble interspersed with heavyweight bales of fragrant alfalfa. I saw distinctive mounds of fresh earth dispersed about the fields and heard the definitive high-pitched bark of prairie dogs all around me. To my left, upon a rise above the dirt track 100 yards away, was an age old barn which was slowly migrating from together to apart. Admiring the scene, I wondered to myself how much time the dilapidated structure had before it fell in upon itself. It will be a shame when it goes; not only for the doves and pigeons that roost in its rafters and the cows that find shade in its shadow, but for those of us who appreciate its scenic quality. That distraction is most likely the reason I did not notice the giant golden eagle resting upon a knobby fence post beside the furrowed lane upon which I traveled. Before I became aware of the alluring bird of prey I was within 30 yards of it.

1960s Zuni Eagle Dancer Set

As I closed in, the great frequent flier turned its feathered brow lazily in my direction and blinked as if contemplating action. Sitting regally there, the eagle looked to be nearly two and a half feet tall. It must have decided I was not going to stop and gawk from afar as would most ornithological tourists. I wanted to get closer; to see this magnificent creature as closely as possible without causing a ruction or embedding it in my grill. As I moved in, the barnstorming bird rolled to its left and for the most part fell off the cedar post. I had the impression the eagle was full of varmint and reluctant to be pushed from its perch. As if in slow motion, great mottled brown wings unfurled to a width of what I presumed to be six feet. Just before it hit the ground, the captain of the skies flapped its marvelous feathered appendages, lifting itself a good three feet in the air with one stroke. Another lazy beat and it was six feet up as easily as you please. On the third beat I was within ten feet, my windshield was overshadowed with grapple hook beak, tufted breast and curvaceous claw. The bad boy bird let out a scream of indignation and banked a hard right, which exposed a very impressive underside. I was so close now that if I knew what I was looking for I might have been able to distinguish gender.

As the hefty heavyweight of the raptor world glided past my open window I was gifted with and even closer top side view of the ace aerialist and marveled at its grace, beauty and raw power. The bird's golden yellow eyes flashed in my direction and I saw a fierce aggression. Its hooked black beak, edged in yellow, opened slightly as it flew. The beak was larger and longer than my thumb, and a whole lot more ominous. The talons on its hoary yellow feet were longer than my fingers and, "Oh Baby!" did they look wicked as they flexed in flight. This was a creature not to be trifled with, not without significant body armor anyway. My mind flashed back to descriptions of early Native people hollowing out shallow depression in the earth on or near the edge of some windswept mesa overlooking a canyon or plain. In my mind's eye I could see some scrawny, malnourished fellow lying in a hole while his brothers covered all but his hand and eyes with a thin layer of brush and earth. At the last moment someone would pass him a frightened cottontail and his cohorts in crimes against nature would disperse and seek shelter from sharp sighted surveillance on high.

This unlucky contestant, holder of the short straw, would lie there with a shrieking rabbit in one hand and the other poised to grasp tail feathers from the monster bird if it made an appearance. Prayer feathers from the majestic, almighty Eagle are considered the most powerful of all transmitters of the sacred word. "Live feathers"; those extracted from a living, breathing eagle, allowed for direct and undisturbed communication with the spirit world. I wonder what Lucy talked the first Charlie Brown into attempting this feat of fearless bravery. It was a sure bet the bunny was a goner in this undertaking, but what of the poor schmuck in the covered ditch. From what I saw during my up close and personal inspection of the adult golden eagle, it is my guess that when that ravenous winged aeronaut swooped in for take-out there was significant danger afoot. There certainly would have been a higher moisture count in the bottom of that burrow upon extraction than upon insertion. A slight miscalculation of aerodynamics, ballistics or geometry could prove fatal, or at least allow for a walk on the wild side. Talk about placing your faith in "a wing and a prayer!" I mean to tell ya.

I watched in admiration as the great bird flew away and landed on the crest of the barn. For a brief moment I wondered whether the heftiness of this mighty master of the heavens might prove weighty enough to turn the gravitational tide and topple the outbuilding. It, of course, was not. I braked the truck, switched off the ignition and exchanged glances with the courtly creature for several moments. As I watched, I thought how, of all the great birds in Navajo mythology, the eagle ('atsa) is the most honored and revered. The child of Cliff Monster had become respectable, a symbol of ceremony and high regard; a warrior serving as a metaphor for the ultimate predator. The founders of our great nation concurred, and honored the eagle by designating it our national bird. This eagle, on the other hand, had no such regard for me, or anyone else for that matter. It screamed in my direction one last time and lifted itself skyward without leaving behind a single gifted feather.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, August 20, 2010


A couple years ago Navajo silversmith Kee Yazzie Jr. brought in an extremely unusual belt buckle he had made. The piece featured an asymmetric spiral with a drop of gold in the center. There is similar imagery on rock art panels scattered around Bluff, and I have been informed by many in the archaeological community that this is the symbol for eternity; the continuous cycle of life.

Steve's Buckle.

Kee had used meaningful symbolism in a clean and simple format, a combination I greatly admire in art. Native sculptor Allan Houser once said he tried to get everything into his work that was necessary and nothing more. Although that may seem an easy rule to live by, experience has taught me it is not. All too often I see work that is unnecessarily complex or completely overdone. In my opinion simple is best, and Kee had nailed it with this particular piece.

Navajo basketry is built on a similarly cyclical principle. A ceremonial basket, for example, is viewed by tribal members as a map through which Navajo people chart their lives. The center represents emergence, the place where the Dine’ emigrated from a prior world. As they emerged, all was white. The inner coils of the basket are this color to represent birth and entry into the light.

As the design spirals outward, an increasing amount of black stitching is incorporated into the pattern. This color represents darkness, struggle, adversity and pain; the difficult side of life. The black eventually gives way to red bands, which embody marriage, the mixing of one’s blood with a spouse; family. The red is pure, and in this section there is no darkness.

Progressing outward from the familial bands, the darkness begins to recede. This area is interspersed with increasing white and represents enlightenment, which expands until it reaches the border. This is the spirit world, a place devoid of darkness.

The line from the center of the basket to the rim reminds us that no matter how much darkness we encounter in our lives, there is always a pathway to the light.

It has always been interesting to me that ceremonial baskets embody progression in a spiraling path. In what seems to be an inherent contradiction, the spirit line indicates there may be a more direct course. It is that type of mystery that drew me to Kee’s buckle.

Although I do not buy much jewelry for myself, this piece had all the magic I like in Native art, so I took it home. The problem, however, is that I am eternally misplacing things, and the buckle was no exception. I immediately lost it. Having set it on the chest at the foot of the bed, I neglected it for a few weeks. When I went back to put it on a belt, it was gone.

Questioning the entire family brought no results. I had emptied drawers, searched under the bed and even threatened to waterboard the kids. It was no use, the buckle, like the Bush administration, was gone.

Living at Twin Rocks Trading Post has taught me that things often appear when you least expect them. Many times I have ordered a rug, basket or piece of jewelry for a customer only to have months, or even years, go by with no hint of the artist who promised to make it. Then, shortly after I have informed the buyer all hope is lost, the artist comes in with the item.

So it was with my buckle. Although I had searched the house a thousand times and finally given up all hope of reclaiming it, this morning I lifted one of my shirts only to have the buckle drop to the floor. Jana assures me it was my kinder, gentler approach that caused the jewelry gods to finally return the buckle. I, however, think it was my recent letter to the CIA requesting instruction on how to interrogate children under the age of sixteen.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.