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.