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.