Friday, June 25, 2010

Turtles and Other Slow Creatures

Turtles have always held a certain fascination for me. It could be their strong armor that makes me envious, or maybe it’s the patience they display in their everyday lives. Turtles never seem to be in a hurry, and are impervious to the stresses of daily living. Nothing bothers them. As they crawl across the landscape or lounge on a half submerged log, you would never know that their amphibious neighbors had been keeping them up all night or that their burrow was in foreclosure as a result of a housing slump at the frog pond. They are always calm; slow, sluggish, but calm.

Elsie Holiday with one of her Turtle Baskets.

Turtles play an important part in Navajo culture; their shells are highly valued for beads and are also used for medicine cups in ceremonies. Navajo healers often tell the story of how Monsterslayer destroyed Kicking Rock Monster. Once the task was accomplished, Monsterslayer went down to the river, where Kicking Rocks Monster’s children lived, and killed all his offspring except Turtle and Alligator.

When asked if these survivors would promise never to hurt anyone again, Alligator replied, “I am not sure.” Turtle, on the other hand, agreed to be helpful rather than hurtful. As a result, Turtle was told he would be used for medicine by man and that his shell would be used to drink from during sings. Alligator, being uncooperative, was banished to what is now Florida and never again seen in the Southwest.

In spite of my fondness for these traditional stories, in reality it is likely their speed that makes me feel a great kinship for these creatures. I have often been reminded of this lately as I struggle to regain my running legs.

As an incoming freshman at San Juan High School next fall, Kira has decided she wants to be part of the cross country team. This being the case, her coach has advised her that she needs to run 200 miles this summer to ensure her success. Since Jana does not claim to enjoy running, the job of coaching Kira has fallen to me. “My knee,” I protested, pointing to the torn meniscus in my right leg. “No dice,” I was told as a knee brace was handed over. “I haven’t run in three years,” I proclaimed. “It’s time you got started, you’ll feel so much better,” came the reply.

After the first few runs, I hobbled around the trading post like an 80 year old man. My muscles ached, my back ached and my pride also ached. “See,” I said to Jana, “this will kill me.” “Did you pay the life insurance premium last month?” she joked. A mile and a half seemed like a marathon, and the thought of eventually jogging eight miles made me quake.

We are now, however, one month into our adventure and things are looking up. Big Daddy Turtle, as I have been renamed, can generally keep up with Kira through a three or four mile course, although my sprinting capabilities are mostly shot so she universally beats me at the end.

This morning we arose early and were on the trail by 6:30 a.m. The air was cool , the breeze gentle and I was remembering how much I loved jogging along the road that leads to St. Christopher’s Mission when three deer jumped out and loped across the hay field. As they faded into the distance, I could almost hear them chanting, “Daddy Turtle, Daddy Turtle, Daddy Turtle.” “I’ll be back,” I shouted as they disappeared over the levee. Kira pulled out her ear buds, gave me a strange look and said, “What did you say?” “Oh nothing,” I answered.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Coq au vin

I have the uneasy feeling our rooster is not long for this world. The fated fowl resides at the barn on the family farm located just north of Blanding. He is the cock-of-the-walk and barnyard buckaroo of 26 hens cooped together in a familial effort to raise farm fresh eggs. As part of the ongoing project, we collect greens and other suitable poultry produce from Twin Rocks Cafe to feed and nourish the gumpy group. Chicken feed fortified with fresh fruit and vegetable matter allow for some very tasty cackle berries. The problem with the rooster first came to light when Laurie noticed the hens were loosing feathers while looking and acting a bit more than bedraggled. My dear wife can be a fearsome proponent of the underdog or, in this case, barnyard biddy. Laurie was certain that banty beast was picking on the hens, causing them to purge their plumage. To her this is an untenable circumstance, one requiring intervention.

Navajo Folk Art Rooster

Personally I did not pay much attention to the state of affairs surrounding the hens or the cockalorum that rousted their fluff. Other than one run-in with the barnyard bully, wherein he attacked my footwear when I first entered his little kingdom to gather eggs. The crazed cock-a-doodle-do had thrown himself upon my shoe with a highly aggressive attitude. My initial reaction was to strike back in similar fashion, whereupon the hapless fellow found himself plastered to the chicken wire reeling with delerium. After that encounter I assumed we had an understanding, because from that point on he stayed on the far side of the enclosure when I entered. Certainly he vocally vented his frustration at my daily appointments, but the demented fellow maintained his distance.

Laurie on the other hand was not about to tolerate such an intrusion of poultry privacy. I suggested that the complicating factor may not stem from the rooster. Had she not heard the term "pecking order?" Tongue in cheek I explained that the basic concept behind establishment of the pecking order among, for example chickens, is that it is necessary to determine who is the "top chicken," the "bottom chicken" and where all the rest fit in between. The establishment of the hierarchy is believed to reduce the incidence of conflicts that incur a greater expenditure of energy. The dominance level determines which individual gets preferential access to food and mates. Laurie gave me a harsh look and said; "Don't think I don't recognize a lame attempt at pointed parallel relationship related jabs when I hear one!" "Huh!" I said feigning innocence and trying to make sense of the string of words she had just exuded. She was convinced the rooster was causing the hens undue stress, and she was not happy about it. The pecking order was not in question, but the rooster was being charged with high treason.

After doing some research of her own, Laurie was convinced the rooster was the culprit bringing about the excessive loss of fringe to our poor poultry. She was also convinced that the noticeable slowdown in egg production was a by-product of that marauding rooster. She reasoned that by removing the culprit the lost plumage would return, as would a higher egg yield. She was making sense, and I was beginning to feel empathy for the bad boy banty. The poor fellow was facing extermination for what came natural to him. I tried to convince Laurie not to interfere with the normal course of chicken order, but she was undeterred. "Chickens do not need roosters to produce eggs!", she stated. I gasped at the implications, and worried at the future of the world as I know it. There was a primal scream of indignation reverberating through my brain, somehow I must find a way to save the poor beast.

The next day I found myself working at the cafe looking over the shoulder of "Chef Blevins," our new, multi-talented and highly eccentric cook. As he prepared his tantalizingly tasty version of chicken salad, I shared my concerns for the safety of said rooster. "Coq au vin" he muttered as he chopped chicken breasts. "Excuse me?" I replied. "Bring the rooster to me," said the Chef, "I will take care of it for a time and then create a Southwest version of coq au vin." He explained that coq au vin was French for cockerel in wine, a fricassee of rooster cooked with vino, lardons, mushrooms and garlic. Older capon roosters are traditionally used, because they contain a lot of connective tissue which creates a richer broth when cooked. A capon is a cockerel castrated to improve the flesh. "Dude!" I exclaimed. On several fronts things were looking bad for our abusively fraternizing foul. Like my daughter McKale, I cannot eat something I know personally. I backed out of the kitchen carefully and left the knife wielding Chef to his breasts.

After these episode, I have decided that socially-minded women and crazy cooks are not the ones to determine the fate of misunderstood roosters. I am a proponent of live and let live, unless someone or something musses-up my new shoes. So, upon my intervention on behalf of the rooster, Laurie, Chef Blevins and I came to an understanding of sorts. If anyone out there can or will offer a ridiculous rooster safe haven, please call 1-800-deadbirdwalking, and I will deliver an aggressive Rhode Island Red to your doorstep (within a reasonable travel distance). Otherwise the ax will fall and garlic will be crushed.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Tradition Starts Here

Apparently it was President Harry S. Truman who made the phrase “The Buck Stops Here” famous. Evidently the saying originates from the expression “pass the buck,” which indicates an inclination to shift responsibility for unpopular acts. A sign with the adage was given to the president by a U. S. Marshall, who saw the original at the Federal Reformatory in El Reno, Oklahoma.

Since President Truman was an avid sportsman, for years I assumed the term was associated with hunting. That, as it turns out, is not the case. Unfortunately, I never actually considered why deer might be stopping by the Oval Office. I do, however, understand there was a great deal of wildlife in the White House during the Kennedy and Clinton administrations, so my ignorance may be partially justified.

Taking a page from President Truman’s play book, at Twin Rocks Trading Post we have a saying of our own. It goes like this: “The Tradition Starts Here.” Now, for someone who is constantly fussing about what is and what is not traditional, this may seem an odd slogan.

With an eye towards resolving this quandary, I consulted Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, which defines tradition as: “1: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) 2: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction 3: cultural continuity in social attitudes and institutions 4: characteristic manner, method or style.”

For over 20 years Barry and I have advocated, supported and promoted innovative Navajo basketry and rugs, and have even helped create the contemporary Navajo basket movement and the Twin Rocks Modern style of weaving. In spite of that, I have never been clear whether either of these movements is or will at some point become “traditional.” To be completely candid, Webster’s was not overly helpful when it came to sorting out this issue.

It was not until this weekend that I began to understand the term’s most fundamental meaning. Jana, Kira, Grange and I were testing for our next belt levels in Shorinji Kempo, a defensive martial art we have been been studying for about three years. During the test, the instructor explained that in traditional programs, there are only three belt colors; white, brown and black. It is only in the United States that you have a rainbow of shades.

Apparently in the Far East, when you begin studying the art you are assigned a white belt. Over the years, as a result of ongoing practice and volumes of perspiration, that same white belt turns brown. If you stay with it long enough, the brown belt turns black, and you are considered a master. The color, therefore, has everything to do with hard work and nothing to do with vanity. That, as they say, is the tradition.

At the trading post, I have noticed a similar, although opposite, progression. When Barry and I opened Twin Rocks in 1989, our hair was black. Over the years, it took on a slightly lighter tone, more brownish. Although my evolution has been more accelerated than Barry’s, we are now arriving at the white phase. Although I am not sure anyone will call us master, maybe we are on the path to becoming traditional, in which case the tradition did start here. Where it will end is anybody’s guess. Even President Truman would have to admit that the buck has to start before it can stop.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mrs. C.M.K. Partridge

Last Saturday I was tending the trading post alone. It was Steve's day off and Kathy and Craig were next door managing the cafe. Priscilla felt she needed time to spend with her grandkids, so she was absent as well. Tina and Lalana were upstairs, but unable to help because of Internet duties and play time. Outside the weather was downright nasty; a brisk, dust-laden wind was blowing through. It was cold and gritty, my sinuses were reacting poorly to the pollen onslaught and tour buses assaulted the premises. Short term bus stopovers represent a love/hate relationship for me. They are beneficial to our cafe and gift shop and marginally supportive of our gallery. For the most part, however, they only serve to raise havoc with our bathrooms and septic systems.

The problem is that bus companies advise their passengers to refrain from taking advantage of the on-board facilities. It is my understanding that since there is a high probability of fouling the shared atmosphere, the on board water closets are for emergency use only! Thus, because those poor people are held comfort station constricted for several hours at a time, they usually become victims of internal circumstance. Thus, the riders are greatly inspired to discover quick and effective relief whenever released. In short, "They have to go!" I quickly realized that since no one else was here I would have to clean-up after the quickly dispersing herd. Thus my foul mood.

By mid-afternoon I had dealt with four such encounters, with not one opportunity to finance the restocking of lavatory supplies. Just as the fourth bus departed another pulled in to fill the spacial void. Oh shoot! I thought to myself as the great vehicular behemoth disgorged its human contents and the inspired group sprinted in my direction. Sure enough, the tour group breached the Kokopelli doors and quickly lined up in the hallway leading to the bathrooms. As I bemoaned my fate, and cussed under my breath, a ray of golden sunlight cut through the red blow sand and black cloud of frustration that clung to my furrowed brow. Mrs. C. M. K. Partridge, London, England, thank you very much, blew into the building.

Mrs. Partridge was quite tiny, maybe 90 pounds, maybe not quite. The first thing I noticed when she was literally whisked in through the heavy doors was her over sized smile and vivacious laughter. Such an expression of friendliness crossed her continence that it nearly caused the developing chagrin resulting from dealing with five consecutive tour buses full of bathroom seeking missiles to retreat with the wind. Right then, there were 30 people hopscotching about the premises until it was their turn to "use the facilities." The moment they "finished their business" they would bolt for the door, because, "Goodness gracious, these articles are rather expensive!" But Mrs. Partridge was different. She looked about for a moment, walked right up to me as I sat scowling behind the counter and said in her crisp British accent, "Oh my, what a lovely shop!" Her big brown eyes twinkled from behind her dark horned rim glasses and underneath her neatly bobbed, straight, auburn hair with bangs cut straight across her forehead. I could not help smiling back, even as I winced at the sound of each ominous flush coming from the back hall. I half expected the septic system to back up at any moment.

Mrs. Partridge looked to be fifty-something years of age, she wore a golden wheat colored straw hat pulled tightly down over her impish head. The topper looked like a small woven bell and had one edge turned up tightly and attached to the main body of the hat by three embroidered flowers entwined with faded green embroidery. She wore a simple mauve colored boxy blouse covered by a coral sweater, a straight cut sand-colored skirt and brown open-toed sandals. The outfit reminded me of the fashion inspired by Diane Keaton in the Annie Hall movie of 1977. As Mrs. Partridge peered out from under that classy hat and walked about the store I could tell by her interaction with her peers that her gregarious persona effected others as it had me. As she walked, she talked, telling me of her "remarkable journey" across these "vast and glorious United States" and "how stark, yet powerful this particular landscape was." This amazing little woman's attitude was terribly infectious.

As Mrs. Partridge came to the fetish case she stopped in her tracks and breathed in deeply, as if excited by something she had seen. Pointing to the case, she said, "Is that a mountain lion fetish?" I slipped across the top of the showcase, walked over to her and looked in the direction she was indicating. Sure enough there sat a yellow Zuni mountain lion fetish. "Yes ma'am," I said as I walked around the counter to open the case. "Am I correct in understanding that the yellow mountain lion is the elder brother of the fetishes; a guardian and protector?" "That's the way I understand it," I said. "Tell me more?" she asked pleasantly. I went on to tell her the Zuni people believe the less animate an object the closer to the spirit world it resides, and the more likely it is to have the ability to transmit messages to beneficial beings. I told her how the Zuni Hero Twins had dealt a death blow to many destructive monsters in the mythological past and how the monsters had turned to stone but still maintained the breath of life. If treated well, meaning they are properly fed, nourished and gifted for their service, a stone resembling a particular animal can become a benevolent and trusted ally.

Mrs. Partridge held the fetish reverently while she beamed with excitement and told me of her older brother who had recently passed away. She told me how he had spent his entire life providing for her and doing his very best to make her safe and happy. She missed him terribly, and when she had read of yellow Zuni mountain lion fetishes, she had determined to acquire one to remind her of her brother. The story tugged at my heart strings, so I reached out, folded her hands over the carving and said; "Take this, it's a gift." The tiny little woman refused me flat-out. It seemed Mrs. Partridge had an attitude under that sweet and bright exterior. We argued amiably back and forth for several minutes and began to draw a crowd. A crowd of her supporters it seemed. Mrs. Partridge would not accept the fetish as a gift and determined to buy it outright. After several, "Oh just sell it to her and get on with it!" I capitulated and did just that. As we concluded the sale there was a loud belch of obnoxious noise from the parking lot. The bus driver was calling his charges home. Mrs. Partridge reached out, patted my hand, smiled brightly one last time, said "Thank you oh so much" and departed with her companions. "What a sweet lady!" I thought.

Lalana cleaning @ Twin Rocks.

As I stood there contemplating just how a positive attitude and a friendly smile can brighten the lives of people we meet, I felt someone lean against my leg. Looking down, I saw the friendly eyes and brilliant smile of three year old Lalana Buck, aka Lana Lou Who. "Hey sweetie," I said. "Hello Bawie", came her reply as she reached up and took my hand. The flush of a toilet and squeak of a door opening interrupted our pleasantries. An elderly man came hustling from the back hall in a great rush to catch his bus. He crashed through the front door and down the steps without so much as a thank you, see ya later or how's your mother? "Dang," I said looking back at Lana, "that was rather rude!" "That was rather rude," she repeated happily. Smiling down at my young friend and thinking of the job awaiting me in the back hall, I asked Lalana, "Have you ever whitewashed a picket fence?" "Nope!" said my young, impressionable friend. "Come on then", I said, "I will show you how it's done."

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and The Team.