Friday, March 25, 2011

The Bluffoonery

The day began like many others, spring was in the air, the trees were budding out and the birds were singing their favorite songs. At Twin Rocks Trading Post, patrons and artists came and went in the regular, unending cycle of buying, selling and trading. Rug weavers, basket makers, folk artists and silversmiths had all been in by early afternoon, taxing our checkbook, but stimulating the local economy.


At Twin Rocks Cafe, breakfast and lunch were complete. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, hamburgers, Navajo tacos and fry bread had been consumed in significant volume. The customers smiled, greeted each other pleasantly and whistled happy tunes. Winter was surely on the wane, tourists were arriving and everyone was feeling fine.

In Bluff, many of the residents refer to themselves as Bluffoons. As a result, a few years ago Barry coined the term “Bluffoonery”. As originally conceived, the word is loosely defined as a “colorful cast of characters”. In this community, there are always colorful characters, whether they be indigenous, imported or transient. This day would prove the point.

In addition to the snowbirds migrating north, spring also brings its share of wanderers, those who seek a warmer climate on a strict budget. Over the years we have witnessed veritable troops of these adventurers. As one might guess, the restaurant is a magnet for the untethered traveler who is hungry and in need of support. Sorting the needy from the merely creative can be a challenge.

On this particular March day, the first roamer to arrive was a slight man of about 50 years named Doug. Doug was turned out in a blue Nike wind jacket, reasonably clean trousers and climbing shoes. He rode a good quality mountain bike, wore a sensible helmet and at least outwardly appeared to be far from needy. His closely cropped hair, however, highlighted a pair of penetratingly blue, red circled, darting, troubled eyes that revealed Doug was not fully in control of his emotions or his addictions.

Asking if we had any work, Doug explained that he wished to earn a cup of joe and a plate full of biscuits and gravy. Since we could not imagine what needed to be done at that particular moment, and since deeper investigation indicated he was sincerely in need of a little help, Melissa and I sat him down with a large mug of steaming coffee and a batch of biscuits smothered in white gravy sprinkled with sausage.

As Melissa and I had guessed, once Doug had consumed enough to refuel, he explained that he had for many years wrestled with his intense fondness for alcohol and illicit substances. In 2006 he had taken to the road on his bicycle and had been soberly peddling the Southwest byways ever since, stopping only long enough to accumulate the capital necessary to keep himself and his bicycle operational. After a couple years he had developed a routine and, although I had never seen him before, Twin Rocks Cafe had become an annual stop, biscuits and gravy his favorite meal.

Once Doug was tanked up and was on his way, I got in the old Ford truck and headed west towards the Desert Rose Inn to retrieve Grange, who had been visiting his cousin Tarrik. Standing directly in the center of Highway 163 was a young man sporting dreadlocks, worn baseball cap and dirty shorts. Following logic I had not previously witnessed in hitchhikers, this youth had apparently decided he could go either way. When the traffic was proceeding north, he hitched north, when it was going south, he hitched south, with no apparent regard for where he might ultimately wind up of his personal safety.

“Hey,” he shouted as I entered the stream of traffic, coming dangerously close to him, “how about a couple bucks. I’M HUNGRY!” Thinking his show was more theater than substance, I passed him by without making a contribution. “Bah,” he said, stamping his feet. Not long after Priscilla noticed him walking away from the K & C Trading Post carrying a large package of beer, looking all the world like the cat that ate the canary.

Surely our experiences in Bluff are not altogether different from what happens in mainstream America. The size of the town, however, causes the interactions to be closer, more personal. As a result, we quite often learn the rest of the story behind these eternal explorers who comprise our own private Bluffoonery.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team

Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American art!

Our TnT's purchased new treasures! Check out Traders in Training!

Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Pond That Was

A long time ago, in a not too far away place, was a pond. This small water source was a magical niche, a supernaturally placed source of life and comfort. The pond was located in a small, high desert river valley, in an alcove formed by vertical sandstone cliffs rising 300' on three sides. Within this natural bowl was an artesian water source that bubbled up from an ancient aquifer far below the surface. On the southern lip was a small grouping of undaunted cattails which forced their way up through rocky soil where nothing else grew. Just to the west, two massive cottonwood trees thrived in the sparse runoff provided by the a slight breach in the pond bank, the heavy foliage of their gnarled and twisted upper branches providing shade from the hot afternoon sun. To mark the spot and let humans know of its sacred nature, directly above the pond, where cliff and talus slope intersected, the Gods placed a zone of moisture; a hanging garden containing cave dwelling primrose. This was an oasis in the desert.

Navajo Frog Basket

Unlike the muddy, unmanageable, freely flowing river a mile or so to the south, the pond was most often crystalline, sweet and pure. Except after thunder showers, when mud and debris from the outer world briefly clouded its tranquil waters, the pool's 10' depth was easily visible. Within its 12-15' circumference lived four large bullfrogs, the only inhabitants of this secluded and sacred spot. The pond was a gifted home to the frogs. Among them was one black and one blue frog, representing the east and west, they were male. There was also one white and one yellow frog, females, representing the north and south. All frogs had white streaks down their backs, signifying armor and dawn, and spots corresponding to differing types of corn. The center of their spines were black, like dark water with outlines of foam, pollen and rainbows. They also had rainbow bars, representing heavenly strength and protection which blazed brightly on their sides. The water and the frogs were blessed and caressed by the sun's rays. The frogs had once been people who planted maize and explored herbalism. Because of their talent for counteracting disease and ailments of the bones and joints, the Gods had turned the people into amphibians and granted them deity status.

Just below the pond, on a flat, fertile bench was a plot of corn and tobacco which was tended by the frogs and nourished by the sacred waters. The corn provided sustenance for the frogs and the pollen required to bless and sanctify their food and medicinal plants. The tobacco had power to calm pain and suffering, and was provided for the benefit of humans. If the Earth Surface People approached the sacred pool with reverence and respect, did not disturb the frogs and offered the required prayer sticks, they were allowed the benefits of this hallowed ground. For nearly 1,000 years the pool, the plot and the attendants remained pristine. Humankind benefited greatly from the blessings of the supernaturals, the diligence of the frogs and the sacred harvest. All was well.

As time passed and life ways progressed, or, depending upon your personal perspective, regressed, the Earth Surface People forget to revere this place. Respect for the deities began to fail them, as did their honor and integrity. Humans began to visit the pond in a less than humble manner, they swam in the pool, harassed the guardians, tromped through the garden and spoiled the harvest, taking whatever they liked without showing homage or deference to protocol. The frogs became upset and turned their favor against the people, thwarting the dissidents with pain and suffering, disallowing the intended benefits of this sacred place and its holy plants. These were dark times.

In anger and frustration over their mistreatment, the frogs appealed to the Gods to strip the benefits of the pond from the profane people. The supernaturals were saddened by the actions of their subjects, but hesitated when it came to taking something so precious and beneficial from them. The frogs, however, were adamant, and because of their long-term sacrifice and service were certain to prevail. The Gods decided that both frogs and man needed a respite from each other. Time to contemplate negligence and loss was needed on both sides. After all, they reasoned, there was always hope that knowledge and understanding were still possible. Those who created the pond and its majesty came to earth and conducted a ceremony to place the pond and its inhabitants in the Mirage World to await a better day. To remind humankind of their loss, and mark the valley as the location of the pond, the Gods left the hanging garden in place.

There is this small alcove in the cliffs of Bluff, where, if the light is just right and there is a sense of peace, harmony and balance in the world, a veil seems to appear, illuminating something just beyond mortal vision and comprehension. Here in Bluff, we choose to believe there is a wondrous, majestic and magical place just beyond that illusion; a place where deities await the day when humans and supernatural guardians once again come together.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American art!

Our TnT's purchased new treasures! Check out Traders in Training!

Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flours in My Hair

After a full day spent on the mats coaching Grange in his first wrestling tournament of the season, the following morning came too fast. As I struggled out the door towards Twin Rocks Cafe for my Sunday morning shift, my joints were stiff and sore, so I hobbled a bit. Napping in their car, Janelia and her daughter Menvalia, our morning cooks, waited for me to arrive. About 100 yards west on the deserted Twin Rocks Drive I could see Corri, the waitress, and Kory, her boyfriend, walking towards the restaurant.

Steve, Lalana and BlueBird flour.

As I approached the front doors, I noticed a large ball of black fluff lying on the door mat. “Oh no, another stray,” I thought. As I got closer, however, I realized this was not just any abandoned dog, this one was obviously well fed and well loved. Around his neck was a new collar adorned with several tags identifying himself and his owner.

After opening the doors for the crew, I reached down to give the dog a pat and check his ID. As I do so, he rolled on his side, requesting a scratch on the stomach. As he went over, I noticed his eyes were clouded and he creaked when he moved. “Kindred spirits,” I said as I stiffly patted his head and read his information.

“Bosco,” the tag said, “435 . . . - . . . .” By this time Corri and Kory had arrived. Being young and wired, Kory promptly reached into his pocket, pulled out his telephone and in a matter of seconds was speaking with Bosco’s owner. “I’m just around the corner,” the dog’s master excitedly said, “I’ll be right there. I’ve been looking for Bosco all night.” Five minutes later a truck sped across the gravel parking lot toward us. After explaining that Bosco was mostly blind and had wondered away late the previous night, the pet owner reached down, gently took hold of the dog’s collar and towed his best friend away. As Bosco rigidly waddled down the porch, guided by his master, I reiterated, “kindred spirits” and shuffled inside.

“I need two flours,” Janelia said as I entered the cafe. Instinctively understanding what she meant, I walked to the storage room and retrieved two 50 pound sacks of Blue Bird enriched flour. Throwing one of them over my shoulder like a longshoreman, and in the process raising a terrific white cloud around my head, I delivered it to the kitchen and returned for the second bag, repeating the process.

At the restaurant, frybread, a regional favorite, is one of the biggest sellers. We use it to make Navajo tacos, Navajo burgers, sheepherder’s sandwiches and as a side for soups and stews. The recipe is simple, one cup unbleached flour, one-fourth teaspoon salt, one teaspoon powdered milk, one teaspoon baking powder, one-half cup water and a little vegetable oil for frying. As anyone who has ever made frybread will tell you, however, not just any flour will due; Blue Bird is essential. Just as every New Mexican agrees Hatch produces the best chile in the world, every Navajo knows you never make frybread without Blue Bird.

Having been raised in a traditional Navajo family, Janelia can turn out frybread like Henry Ford turned out automobiles. Her traditional upbringing dictated that she learn Navajo before coming to English. As a result, she often comes up with inventive terms that are highly intuitive. The week before we had been talking about her car when she referred to her radiator as a “waterator.” Just as Baxter Liebler, the missionary who established St. Christopher’s Mission in Bluff, knew that “Boil My Heart for Me” meant he needed his jumper cables, I knew what Janelia meant. So, when she said she needed two flours, I understood no florist was required.

Having delivered the bags of flour, I resumed my duties. As the morning wore on and customers came and went, I notice several glancing at my hair and looking quickly away. The first few times, I did not pay much attention to the furtive looks, but after a time decided to peek in the restroom mirror to see if something was amiss. Looking back at we was a face I knew well, but with hair white as snow. As Janelia would say, “I had flours in my hair.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Moonlight Musing

The other morning I was out early, walking for exercise and enjoying the invigorating predawn experience. It was cool enough that I could see my own breath. Pushing my pace up the mountain road to keep my heart rate up, I was not having much trouble doing so . . . keeping my heart rate up that is. My wheezing fight for air and the regular bursts of steam emanating from my lungs must have caused me to look and sound like a mini Iron Horse trundling up the asphalt. These are the reasons I work out alone and take my covert excursions by dawn's early light or after dark, and why I am seldom found on well traveled byways. As I moved steadily up the hill, I noticed my shadow leading the way just out in front and to my right. Looking back over my left shoulder, I witnessed a full and luminous moon spotlighting my upward moving motion.

Navajo Monument Valley Basket

Earlier, when I left the house and initiated my journey, the moon lay screened behind a curtain of cloud cover; I felt shadowed, protected from view. But now, with the advent of the new moon, I felt . . . illuminated and exposed. My once secluded perambulation had turned into an outright promenade. Now I understand why Navajo people believe their ancestors might have seen the moon as an eavesdropper. When Anglo people first appeared on the scene, the Dine' must have seen the transparent face of a white man looking down upon them, leaving them to feel a bit betrayed. It is hard to go incognito with this illuminating inhabitant of the Sky World hanging over your head.

As I trudged onward, the moon began to sink on the western horizon and the cloud cover began to dissipate. The atmosphere surrounding my walk caused me to start thinking about local cultures, and how so much of the Native American experience is on the verge of extinction. I suppose every belief system experiences change or, worse case scenario, downfall. Upward moving spirituality develops into dominant society, which overtakes and overcomes those less advanced or unwilling to adapt. The trick to denominational survival seems to be assimilation of knowledge and understanding, while holding onto the basic building blocks of morality, compassion, respect and, mostly, love. Hopefully the best of all worlds will eventually survive. That ancient orb slowly disappeared beyond the edge of the rugged landscape and was eventually swallowed up there. The moon would surely return, altered slightly, but ever faithful no matter what we think of it.

Reaching my upper limit for the morning, I stopped, turned and bent to stretch that pesky nerve running down my hip and leg. As I straightened up, my eyes were drawn to the east, where life began and begins anew each day. There lay Sleeping Ute Mountain, layered in blankets of colored stratus cloud. There were wispy bands of gold, peach, rose and abalone created by the promise of a new day. Directly over the heart of the great resting mythological relic was a short thin band of multicolored cloud. This rainbow bar rested there as if assuring the world life remained within. To me, the mountain is reminiscent of a nearly lost culture; a sign that age old thoughts and perspectives can and will disappear if not progressive. It is my guess that the monumental Ute sleeping there will remain at rest forever more.

As I moved down the roadway and dawn began to break, the great sailing ship of the desert became visible in the distance. Shiprock, the massive volcanic dike that pushed its way up through the Rhyolite rubble and rises 2,200 feet from the floor of the surrounding New Mexico desert could be seen over 100 miles from where I stood. To me it was yet another reminder that we must all leave port, push our bounds and endeavor to grow as much as humanly possible, At least this is what I tell my children. I constantly remind my offspring that we must all embrace the future to survive and progress. As knowledge and understanding grow, so does perception. I also let them know that they will forever be loved and cherished in their home port. As I briskly walked in the direction of my bay of contentment, I stuffed my hands in the pockets of my jacket to keep them warm. My chilled fingers contacted an iPod. I happily brought forth that magical device, plugged in the earphones and hit shuffle. From that mini-megaphone came the voice of LeAnn Rimes singing: Can't Fight the Moonlight.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.