Friday, July 30, 2010


Sunday night I returned home from the Washburn family reunion, which was held at the Canyonlands Lodge on the shaded flanks of Blue Mountain, because I was plum worn out! There were way too many good times and good people, and far too much good food; all those things a contrary soul can only take in small doses. I was a little afraid of being drawn into that lifestyle, loosing my perceived edge and being unable to maintain the fare-thee-well state of mind I have achieved in Bluff. To be somewhat truthful, it might be more accurate to say I was giving Laurie's family a break from me. It was also my turn to open the cafe Monday morning and I needed a bit of good, sound sleep before attempting to manage the unmanageable. Laurie, Alyssa and McKale stayed to squeeze out as much enjoyment as possible from the remaining relatives and to supervise clean-up operations Monday morning.

Skunk & Coyote Carving.

When I arrived home it was stifling hot; the indoor temperature was in the low 90s. Even with the aid of our air conditioner, it was going to take time to make the house comfortable. After unloading and putting away tables, chairs, Dutch ovens, propane burners and sleeping gear, I hosed off and headed downstairs to seek cooler climes. Spenser's bedroom is in the northwest corner of the house, and is by far the coolest, quietest, darkest and most comfortable room below ground level. I like it even more because it is packed with great memories and memorabilia. Spenser is away in Virginia discerning fundamental beliefs and practices, thus the room has been mostly closed-up. To make a long story short, I parked in Spenser's space.

When I hit the sheets I must have completely passed out, because I was dead to the world when that stinkin' phone went off. I shot off the bed like a rocket and reached for the telephone, which was not there because I was not where I was supposed to be. I was totally confused, my space and time continuum was completely out of whack, and I was afraid! In my book there is nothing worse than a midnight telephone call, no one should call that late at night unless there is a dire emergency. I scrambled around the nearly pitch-black room until I found Spenser's lime green phone and fumbled for answer mode. I hit it, . . . nothing! I hit it again, . . . still nothing! Then I remembered Laurie telling me the phone was not working properly. Darn that woman and her reluctance to throw away anything that "might be salvageable." I threw the green weenie to one side, groped for the bedroom door and sprinted up the steps, stepping on Shady, (Alyssa's Siamese cat), as I went. Stinkin' cats!

By the time I reached the kitchen phone it had, of course, stopped ringing. I squinted at the clock on the stove and discerned it was just after 11:00 p.m. I fumbled with the telephone, trying to find the button that would tell me who had called. Because I had earlier removed my contact lenses, I was not having much luck. The phone in my hand went off as I was holding it to my face and squinting into its brightly lit screen, scaring me enough that I nearly dropped it. I found and then punched the answer mode and (might have) yelled into the receiver, "HELLO? Who is this, hello?" From the telephone came a voice I am intimately familiar with, "Hi honey, it's me, are you all right?" "What's wrong?" I asked my wife, still out of breath from running up the stairs, and frightened by the prospects of an emergency. "Um, nothing really. I just need to ask a favor." I bit my lip and did my best to remember this is the woman I loved and, even more remarkable, the woman who deemed me salvageable; the woman who spent her life taking care of me and our children and the one I planned on planning on. "What is it sweetheart?", I asked as nicely as I could under the circumstances. "I need you to go outside and check the valves on the well to make sure they are set for the sprinklers to come on in the morning." That woman and her yard! I thought to myself, but to her I said, "Uh huh."

Laurie outlined the technical details of the water transfer as I stood there cooling my heels. Ten minutes later she asked, "Did you get all that, because if you didn't it won't work." "Uh huh." I replied. "I got it. Love ya. Bye." Laurie hesitated then said, "I was afraid to call because I knew you would be asleep, but McKale said I would not be able to sleep until I knew it was taken care of." "Uh huh," I said "I got it. Get some rest." "Okay. Love you. Bye," she said. We both hung up. Half asleep, I walked to the back door, flipped on the outside light and stepped onto the porch. The cats living there exploded in every direction! I let out a stream of feline related ugliness and headed toward the steps. Squinting ahead, I noticed there was one remaining cat at the feed trough. As I closed in the cat raised its black and white tail in a threatening manner. It took a few seconds for my groggy brain to register the danger, but when it did I must have turned on a dime, run to the back of the porch, and vaulted over and ducked behind the retaining wall. For all the good that would have done. I was amazed at my escape, because I was within three feet of a spritz of Ode' de' Pole Cat. Raising back up and appraising the situation allowed me to see the retreating backside of Pepe La Pew leaving the scene as casually as you please. Stinkin' skunks!

After making sure the coast was clear, I tip-toed out to the well and reconfigured the settings. Walking back to the house, I wondered at how my encounter with Mephitis mephitis could have gone much worse and just how I would have/could have rounded-up enough of Aunt Kathy's odor scouring mixture of Dawn dish detergent, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to cleanse my aura this late at night. Something more to add to our food storage to be sure. I smiled at the prospect of returning to the lodge and crawling into bed with my dear wife smelling of that particular perfume. It would serve her right! I can hear her now, "Stinkin' Man!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Male Land

“Meredith believes this is male land,” Win said as we sat across the table from one another, consuming a lunch of Navajo fry bread and Caesar salad. With his intelligent eyes and wild white mane, Win, who is in his early 70’s, looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia and Albert Einstein.

Recapture Pocket in Bluff, Utah.

Contemplating his own remarks Win unconsciously nodded his head, agreeing with the conclusion of his mate of many years. “She says female land is green, undulating, fertile, verdant. This is stark, hard, male,” he continued. Glancing out the plate glass windows of Twin Rocks Cafe at the vertical sandstone cliffs embracing Bluff, I had to agree.

A few days later, I found myself tramping through a five mile run with Kira and Jana. As we jogged south and west from the hoodoos and thumping oil wells of Recapture Pocket towards the pavement of Highway 162, my legs probed the rock-strewn red dirt road, searching for stability. There was none to be had; where there were not rocks, there was sand. “Male,” I thought to myself, remembering Win’s comments and quickly glancing over my shoulder to locate Kira. At that moment the sand deepened, focusing my mind on unsteady feet and interrupting my thoughts.

As the path became firm once again, and better traction ensued, I surveyed the landscape. Small, squat spires of sandstone populated the region. In the distance, weathered table mesas encircled us. The sandy soil supported only low patches of vegetation. Here it requires many acres to support a cow, and verdant is not a descriptive term generally applied. “Male,” I said out loud, “beautiful in its own right, but surely male.”

Priscilla has often reminded me that the Navajo universe is divided into male and female parts. From time to time she and I stand on the porch of Twin Rocks Trading Post as the wind howls and rain pelts the metal roof. “Male,” Priscilla reminds me. It is the right side of an individual that is male, the warrior. The left half is compassionate, female. When the slow sprinkles come to leisurely saturate the ground, she points out, “quiet, gentle, female.”

At times I have disagreed with her philosophy. When I am stormy and warlike or loving and kind, my emotions are all consuming, not half and half. Fortunately, as I have aged fire has given way to comprehension. Now, my world is more peaceful. I do not, however, feel less male. I believe I have simply come to better understand the female perspective. Maybe that is the meaning behind the metaphor, the purpose of the legend.

Looking back once more, I noticed Kira sneaking ever closer. Like our day-to-day relationship, when we run the distance between us expands and contracts in an ever evolving, perfectly elastic choreography; sometimes close, sometimes distant. We are, however, inextricably tied. Father, daughter; parent, child; older, younger; male, female. We do not exist independently, she is the blood of my blood.

As we approached the stability of the pavement and the cleft that delivers us into the valley of our residence, I sensed flowing water and saw vegetation sustained by the perpetual stream. In the middle of this male land, with all its hardness, runs a streak of moisture; a strand of fertility. Water converges with red earth, the elements connect, give birth to silt, mingle with the turquoise sky and shimmer under the mother-of-pearl sun. It is impossible to know where one facet ends and the other begins. They are inseparable.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Squash Bugs and Cheap Beer

Last week while working at the trading post, I received a telephone call from my wife. "Will you please go to K&C and buy me some beer?" she asked. Unsure I had heard what I thought I had heard, I hesitated, sat down the receiver, dug the wax from my ear, put the telephone back in place and replied, "Say again!" "What are ya, daft man?" she asked laughing uncomfortably, a bit impatient and embarrassed at having to repeat herself, "I asked you nicely, to go buy me some beer." A thousand rapacious remarks, caustic comments and tart insinuations ran through my agitant brain. Since my emotional bank account with Laurie is in arrears because of such smart-alec remarks, I decided it best to behave myself. "Yes! I must be daft, because I can't for the life of me figure out why you would want me to buy you a beer." The hardest thing Laurie ingests is PEPSI retro, thus my quandary. "A six-pack, actually, I need it for squash bugs." "Squash bugs!" I snorted, "Have you been listening to Jerry Baker again, and are you sure you don't need a little panther pizz to mix-in?" There was only silence on the other end. "What brand?" I asked sheepishly, "Whichever is the cheapest," came the reply. Then click, the line went dead.

Priscilla and Lalana @ Twin Rocks.

I wondered just who the hops and barley had convinced Laurie that cheap beer would entice squash bugs into its poisonous depths. More likely, it would draw in the neighborhood wolfpack and send them into fits of midnight madness. It is, however, my intention to be a diligent husband, so I was determined to do my darnedest to fulfill Laurie's innocent request. Just then Priscilla stuck her head in my office to say she was running to the post office to buy a book of stamps and would be right back. "Oh, hey," I said casually, "do you mind stopping by the convenience store and picking up a six-pack of tall boys for me?" A cloud passed over Priscilla's brow as she stepped boldly into my office and unleashed a tirade of anti-alcohol sentiment that would have made the Brewers' Association blush. I received a brusquely delivered history lesson on how alcohol had helped cripple a proud and vibrant culture because of a people's susceptibility to such things. Priscilla would have no part in obtaining the amber brew, no part indeed! "Alrighty then," I said "I only wanted it to drown the sorrows of a few squash bugs."

"Squash bugs?" Priscilla asked indignantly, "Squash bugs are my relatives!" "Oh now that is quite enough!" I said holding up my hand and stopping Priscilla in mid-stride. "I apologize for the beer thing, I shouldn't have asked. I realize that I struck a nerve and lit a fuse of indignation, but please don't insinuate that I have insulted your ancestors." Priscilla turned on her heel and left mumbling something about "diisgis Bilaga'ana." Priscilla was referring to the Navajo belief that "The People" started out as lower life forms such as ants, dung beetles, grasshoppers and, yes, I suppose, even squash bugs. I was aware of the emergence stories and have studied their significance. As with most cultural references, however, I prefer to seek out the metaphor and not take the written word literally. The Navajo people believe those early creatures endured an upward moving struggle and through compounded layers of blind bewilderment overcame much ignorance and arrogant vice to emerge into a dawn of comprehension; an awakening of consciousness as it were. In the end, the Yei-be-chei, or Holy People, conducted a ceremony of reformation, the product of which stood before me today in a harshly, chastising manner. Maybe Priscilla was insinuating I seek out and endeavor to undertake a similar journey of enlightenment. In any case she was certainly not going to solve my beer dilemma.

When Priscilla returned from the post office, I told her and Steve that I needed to leave for a few minutes, but I would return shortly. "He's going to buy beer," Priscilla told Steve as I exited the trading post. "Good!" was Steve's only reply. When I entered the K&C Convenience Store, and saw the wide variety of brands available, I became confused and had to ask Jackie, the clerk, which was the cheapest. "Keystone" was the reply. "Good!" I said with a total lack of enthusiasm. While paying for the sixer, I asked Jackie if she thought Keystone beer was a good choice for a garden party. "Probably just make 'em sick", she replied before moving on to the next customer. "Good!" I said as Jackie and the next guy in line watched me leave.

When I returned home that evening, Laurie was already out in her nearly weedless garden picking squash bugs off her plants and pickling them in rubbing alcohol. I could see she had embalmed nearly a pint of the poor buggers thus far. As I stood by she took out a roll of Duct Tape, tore off a 3" piece and began to round-up bug eggs from the back side of the leaves. The woman certainly goes to extremes to keep her plants healthy. Laurie finally noticed me standing there eying her actions and gave me a gentle smile of recognition. I held out the cans of Keystone and said, "Join me for a cool one?" She shook her head sadly, but her sage green eyes smiled at my poor attempt at humor. The woman likes me even though she tries not to. Laurie set out small pans of sudsy, malted grain and left them under each plant to attract the unsuspecting insects. Later that night, when no one was looking, I added a bit of my own personal mordant to the mix just to spice things up. I don't spend a whole lot of time out in the garden, so I haven't noticed if the bait was effective or not. What I have noticed is Laurie's feral cat population spending a whole lot more time out there, languishing in the shade of tall corn and purring in an all together outrageous manner.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Turn the Page

One of my all-time favorite tunes is the 1970s hit Turn the Page by Bob Seger. On my monthly journeys to Salt Lake City, I often put Bob’s album into the player and listen to the hauntingly beautiful song several times in a row. It is a good thing I travel alone, since anyone else in the car would surely suffer from repetitive song syndrome. Although the melody intrigues me, it is the concept of the next phase that truly captures my imagination.

Mary Black and Steve Simpson at Twin Rocks.

The other evening I drove the two miles across town to the Desert Rose Inn to retrieve Grange after he had spent the afternoon scuffling with his cousin Tarrik. As it turns out, my niece Breanne and her family were visiting. Breanne and her husband Aaron have recently added Tennyson to their familial inventory, so it was my first opportunity to see the baby.

As I sat on the sofa cradling their new addition, I was reminded of the early years when Dacia, Kira and Grange were small enough to properly manage. Somewhere in the distance I could hear Bob humming, “Turn the Page.” Surely it is a new stage for Breanne and Aaron, but the experience also pointed out to me that, as fast as the years pass, it likely will not be long before the little one in my arms is my grandchild, not my grandniece.

At the trading post I often marvel how quickly the Native art and culture pages are turning. In many ways the changes are progressive; in others, however, they are disconcerting. Things at Twin Rocks Trading Post have changed so much in the past 20 years that I frequently have a difficult time reconciling where we started and where we are now.

The other day Jana and I were reading through some old Tied to the Post stories. One narrative featured a photograph of our showcases packed with Navajo ceremonial baskets. As I look around the trading post this morning, I notice that our reserve of such weavings is practically nonexistent. In the early days we universally had stacks and stacks of them available. Now we may have only four or five at a time. This, I believe, signals a sea change in Navajo basketry specifically and Navajo culture generally.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of ceremonial baskets in Navajo culture. In her book, Navajo Ceremonial Baskets: Sacred Symbols, Sacred Space, Jana quotes Betty Yazzie, who says, “[Baskets are] a representation of your life.” These weavings are also an indispensable part of any significant matrimonial or healing ceremony, and medicine men universally require them before performing traditional rites. In her monograph, Jana goes on to state, “Many families possess [a ceremonial basket], one that serves as a reminder of who they are as a people.”

Although the rug; whether it be Two Grey Hills, Ganado, Klagetoh or one of the other recognizable regional styles, is often seen as representative of the Navajo people, surely it is the basket that forms the foundation of their culture and traditions. For decades we had old medicine men like John Holiday bringing in the weavings used in their ceremonies. These baskets were part of their compensation, and are sold to the trading posts to raise much needed cash. Any more we hardly ever see a medicine man, and when we do, the quality of their basketry offerings is generally poor.

Jana is personally acquainted with the owners of Griswold’s Trading in Window Rock, Arizona. In the past they would have had over a thousand baskets in pawn at any one time. More recently, however, that number has declined by two-thirds. The reason for the decrease seems to be that the weavers are giving up the craft because it is too difficult, too time consuming and economically unrewarding.

What this phase in Navajo history means is truly anyone’s guess. My fear is that it represents the loss of an entire facet of Navajo culture. It may, however, prove to be nothing more than an adjustment. Last weekend I was sitting on the curb watching the Fourth of July parade at Barry’s house when the local Navajo queen and her attendants passed. All were holding baskets representing their heritage. On close inspection, I noticed that some had ceremonial style baskets woven in Pakistan. As the royalty faded in the distance, my mind drifted back to Bob’s lyrics. Surely change is coming. For better or worse the pages keep turning.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Seed Pots and Crackpots

The aged white haired woman precariously poked at an expensive piece of pottery which, because of her assault, moved about the counter like a Weeble wobbling and about to fall down. The old girl, who was dressed in an off-white muumuu printed with purple flowers snidely asked, "What is this anyway?" I hurriedly walked up to the 80-something-year-old woman and unsteady pot, put my hands on either side of it (the pot, not the woman) and steadied its perilous position. "That," I said, "is a $375.00 ceramic seed bowl; very fragile!" "Seriously?" she asked, unintentionally raising her eyebrows in shocked surprise. She quickly shifted her black handbag to the left and involuntarily placed cold hands over mine in a belated attempt to stabilize the bowl. "I thought it was wood!" she said crinkling her nose and creasing the skin at the corners of her big brown eyes. The shock on her face and in her eyes, which peeked out from under horned-rim glasses, was genuine. The comment reminded me of my 14 year old daughter McKale. "Seriously!" I returned, cracking a smile at the incongruity of her attitudes. "Oh dear!"she said, "I am terribly sorry, I didn't know." "That might have proved costly," I laughingly said, and the uneasiness we both felt quickly dissipated.

Nancy Chilly Vase from Twin Rocks.

Just then a smallish elderly man dressed in wrinkled khaki shorts and faded red Polo shirt (untucked), walked in through the Kokopelli doors. He spied the woman and pointed his loafer clad feet in our direction. "You!" she said, rather loudly, turning faster than I thought possible and stabbing a finger at the old codger. His white legs and knobby knees stalled and the poor fellow froze in mid-stride. The man's nearly bald crown and crystalline blue eyes seemed to lean in and turn slightly to the side, as if anticipating a head-on collision. "You nearly cost me $375.00!" spouted the now intensely hostile little old lady. With menace emanating from her voice, she continued, "You and your mean nature caused me to take my anger out on someone, something else!" I saw the man's face register the remark. His unshaven cheeks paled and he breathed deeply, as if trying to regain his composure. He fought with his inner beast for a moment, then turned on his heels and exited the building without saying a word. The feisty female hurled a nasty remark at her companion, turned back to me and exposed a toothy smile as wide as the Grand Canyon. I stared at the woman openly, marveling at the way she had morphed from a sweet, lovely creature into a maniacal monster in a fraction of a second and returned to serenity just as quickly. My uneasiness returned. The lady ignored the concern most assuredly splashed across my face and calmly asked, "Now why is that pot so pricey?"

Glancing across the room in the direction of the fire extinguisher, I calculated the time it would take to get there, take aim and deploy the chemical suppressant. "Not enough time before she popped her top again," I thought, "best to pacify her and stay out of reach behind the counter." "It's handmade," I stammered. Stopping momentarily, I took a breath, shook my head in annoyed frustration and began again. I told the disturbed woman how Navajo artist Nancy Chilly had dug clay from the good earth, dried it, powdered it and sifted it for impurities. I explained how she had rolled coils of re-hydrated clay and layered and formed them into this particular shape. I detailed how Nancy had created a slip, beautifully burnished the pot to a high shine, decorated it with Holy People to empower the container with protective powers and fired the pottery the old way; with manure and charcoal. I pointed out that the last stage of the creative process was adding a glaze of pinion pitch to make the pottery glow like the warmth of a winter fire. I emphasized the terms "glow" and "warmth" in an attempt to sooth the woman's nerves. I told the volatile old girl that there were hours and hours of time invested in the pot, thus the price. "It's too cheap!" she exploded angrily, "are you taking advantage of these people?" Admittedly, I jumped perceptively at the unkind inquiry. "No Ma'am, I said, "as a matter of policy I try not to." I found myself looking woefully in the direction of Steve's office. I could hear him laughing on the telephone and knew I could expect no help from that quarter. Priscilla was upstairs packing a rug for shipment. I could also hear Tina tapping away at her computer upstairs and Lalana playing with Monique, her doll. I was on my own.

I jumped again as the crazy lady rudely interrupted my thoughts of escape with another abrupt question. "Why would someone store seeds in a silly pot?" she asked rather brusquely. "To survive!" I said, looking at the overly aggressive grandmother and wondering what might be stashed in that large handbag. "Explain!" she demanded. "Well, for the same reason the Norwegians built the Svalbard Global Seed Vault." "I love Norwegians!" she said calming perceptively, "but I have never heard of a seed vault." "Oh sure," I said, "The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure seed bank located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, near the town of Longyearbyen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago. The cold storage facility preserves a wide variety of plant seeds from all over the world, in an underground cavern. They are duplicate samples; spare copies of seeds held in gene banks worldwide. The seed vault provides insurance against the loss of seeds in other gene banks. It is also a refuge for seeds in case of large scale regional or global crises. Early people of the American Southwest had a similar plan; they stored seeds in pots like this, for the same reason; to survive, just in case." "Humph!" Grandma Grump sounded off.

We both jumped as the door opened just wide enough for the little old man to poke his head inside. He focused on the woman standing across the counter from me, and said in a loud, forceful voice, "Come on old woman, it's time to go!" He then stepped back and let the door drop shut. As she looked after him, the woman's eyes narrowed into slits, and a low rumble emanated from her chest. "If I don't kill that man before the day is done . . .", she said mostly to herself. I shook my head in wonder as the troubled woman turned toward the door. Although I shouldn't have, I couldn't help myself, "Second husband?" I asked. "Fourth!" she shot back as she trundled toward the door, "But I don't plan to keep him long!" Mrs. Jekyll grabbed the door handle, then paused. "It'll never happen." she said. "What will never happen?" I asked. "A large scale global catastrophe," she said as she exited the building. I hurried after her and barred the door with the big wooden bolt we use at the end of the day. "It will if the guardians are as volatile and out of control as you!" I said out loud. "What guardians?" Steve asked standing in the doorway of his office. "And why are you barring the door, it's only five o'clock?" "I am done!" I retorted, "If you want to stay and deal with the crackpots, you go right ahead." I walked out the back door with Steve looking after me wondering, I am sure, which pot was most cracked.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.