Friday, May 31, 2013


Trekking the high desert surrounding Bluff, you soon come to realize trees are in short supply. Granted, there are a few cottonwoods located in canyon bottoms or along the San Juan River. There are also a small number of Russian olives growing among the tamarisk along the river, but they are few, far between and not much loved. The flats nearer Blue Mountain sponsor the stunted and sparsely populated "juniper forests" we hold near and dear to our hearts. Throw in a smattering of imported shade and fruit trees around our sunburned homes and there you have it. We are more likely to find shade behind a rock than a tree, and if a test were taken of the oxygen our little portion of the world contributes to the earth's daily requirement, we would certainly come-up short. Maybe that is the reason Steve and I are so often told we are acting "light headed".

Navajo Black and White Tree of Life Basket - Elsie Holiday (#355)

The other day I was working in my office when I heard the voice of Elsie Holiday. I groaned inwardly, because Elsie is most often looking for "Help". Yup, you guessed it help equals a personal loan. Elsie is, in our opinion, the most gifted Navajo basket weaver working in this modern age. The problem is that she is also, arguably, the most economically challenged Navajo basket maker of the common era. Because Steve is the softest touch of the two of us, Elsie will search him out instead of me. Steve is such an easy mark the locals call him, Steve Quicken-loans Simpson. I, on the other hand, am known as Barry McScrooge. If we were ever able to collect on all the loans we have passed out over the years, our retirement would be assured. In the mean time, it is anything but a sure thing. Anyway, when I heard Elsie's voice, I jumped-up and headed into the store in an effort to block Steve from blowing the down payment on my beach house in Florida.

When I reached the register Steve and Elsie were standing there looking over a most beautiful Tree-of-Life basket. The weaving was so nice I forgot about our financial woes and fell in love . . . with the basket. It truly was gorgeous. Elsie saw my interest and, in an effort to boost her bargaining power, began to explain the meaning behind the weaving.

The Tree-of-Life is one of the most unique and interesting of Navajo legends we have heard during our many years at Twin Rocks Trading Post. It is a metaphorical interpretation of where the Navajo people came from, their evolution, movement of life, connections with natural surroundings and involvement of the deities. It stands for who the Navajo believe they are and the life they intend to lead. At the base of the tree there are roots, which symbolize the emergence or center of all things. These roots reflect a connection to the lower worlds, the knowledge gained from the experience and the respect for the forefathers. The roots also represent the birth of the Earth Surface People and their appearance into this, the fifth world. Emergence from the lower world came about when Water Creature flooded it, due to Coyote's theft of his children. The water withdrew only when his youngsters were returned. Those same waters, along with the creation tales, feed and nourish the Tree-of-Life.

The trunk of the tree is symbolic in that it represents the Upward Moving Way of the Navajo. It is strong and supple due to ceremonial practice and the intervention of Changing Woman, the deity who cares for all green and growing plant life. The upper branches of the tree spread out in a protective manner. The limbs and leaves represent the chant ways and life ways the people have come to know, respect and live by. As a whole, the tree suggests a progressive, adaptive nature; one willing to learn, assimilate and even divests itself of cultural implications no longer viable. Navajo land is sacred ground to her people. It provides sanctuary to The People, providing protection from the outside world. Through an abiding honor and respect of the ancient culture and the accompanying deities, The People are promised health and prosperity. Above all things; Elsie explained, are the sky worlds, showing room for further growth and upward movement. The Sun provides essential light and energy, while the Moon softly nourishes. The stars reflect the past. In its entirety, the story told by the Tree-of-Life is rich with Navajo culture and tradition and gives rare insight into its nuances.

When Elsie completed her explanation I was sold as I could be. We negotiated a price and paid the toll. Just before Elsie departed, she peeled a hundred dollar bill from her freshly acquired wad of cash, handed it to me and said with a grin, "Take that off my bill, someday I'm going to pay you back completely." I took the bill with a sheepish grin and thanked her for both the basket and the payment. Steve turned on his heel and headed upstairs with the weaving. Don't think you are off the hook pal,” I called after him, "my retirement comes out of this place first, you get what is left after we forgive all these loans." Steve just held up the basket and waved it at me as he mounted the stairs. "Stinkin’ Steve,” I mumbled to myself.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve, Priscilla and Danny; the team.

No comments: