Friday, December 19, 2014

The Faux Tree of Love and Life

Over 20 years ago I found myself knee deep in cold, wet snow on a southern slope of the Blue Mountain searching for, "The perfect Christmas tree." My wife was pining for a tree of the ideal height, symmetry and balance to fit into our living room in a spectacular fashion. Laurie was home with our three very young children and I was taking time off from my labors at Twin Rocks Trading Post to satisfy her wish. I left for work and struck-off in the old Dodge pick-up truck we had at the time. After tossing an ax and a bow saw in the back, I drove up the mountain road. I believed that I could find our tree and be off the flanks of the Blues in record time, but that wasn't working out so well. It seems that perfect trees are extremely difficult to find. I was, however, determined. Laurie had given me three incredible children and I was determined to provide her with a magnificent tree.
Navajo Santa Pictorial Rug - Helena Begay (#061)

That entire day I trudged through snow drifts and flurries. I can't tell you how many times I spotted a likely target, floundered over and discerned the topiary to be lacking in one way or another. It was either too tall, too short, too wide, too thick, too thin or missing branches, causing a gap tooth effect. I was getting frustrated because nothing yet was worth taking home to my bride. Laurie loves the holidays. In fact, she is a festival on hot wheels, a real and true advocate of gifting good tidings and great joy to me and our children. That woman had done more for me than I can ever emulate, and our life together was just beginning. For me, this was an opportunity to do something for her and if I lost feeling in my legs to do it, then so be it. Unfortunately this was not the day to accomplish the goal. As the sun began to set I admitted defeat and drove home to defrost my lower extremities.

Laurie was on to me by now and warned me away from facing fatigue and frostbite, but I would have none of it. That cursed mountain would not deprive my wife and children of a Christmas without perfumed perfection. But it did--for two days more I searched those provoking peaks. The Navajo people believe mountains are hallowed ground, deities dwell within them, they are blessed with plants and animals brought forth by sacred ceremony. Had I ticked- off someone or something of consequence through my dealings with The People and their cultural icons? I would need to check with Priscilla Sagg our sage supervisor in such matters. I did know for a fact that because of my now frequent excursions into these hills the Navajo monster called Cold Woman was beginning to get a grip on me.

Laurie must have decided enough was enough, because she suggested I take the next day off. My self imposed quest for perfection was beginning to get on her nerves. She asked me to go Christmas shopping with her in Cortez, Colorado. "Grandma Washburn will watch the children, it will be nice, come with me," she cooed. I have never been able to resist her charms, so I went along without resistance. While in town Laurie suggested we visit a nursery, she was interested in picking-up some poinsettias. As we arrived I noticed a large grouping of cut Christmas trees in a nearby lot. I told Laurie to go-on inside, I would wander over and compare my ideal image of the perfect tree against these inferior specimens. I walked onto the lot and was startled by the elegance of a stately Douglas fir. It was simply sublime. Voile! Twenty minutes and $100.00 later the tree was tied to the top of our car and my quest for excellence was complete.

Laurie, the poster girl for frugality, was not happy with my excessive expenditure, but I assured her this tree would make our Christmas great. And it did, to a certain extent. Laurie learned that I would do most anything for her and the kids, and I gained a better understanding of how marvelous close relationships can be and the joy children bring into our lives. From that point on though I have been banned from over spending on the holiday experience. The next year my sister Cindy and I were doing a trade show in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, marketing our Native American products to the Eastern Seaboard. One evening after the show closed Cindy and I were out and about in Pigeon Forge, a town a few miles down the road from Gatlinburg. We entered a Christmas store the size of a city block which was lit-up in colored lights, like the Rockefeller Center in NYC. In the central courtyard I saw the very same Douglas fir I had purchased in Cortez, Colorado. The difference was that this one was made of plastic and steel. It was beautiful, but lacked the enticing odor of the real deal. "No worries", said the salesman, "This little aerosol spray will satisfy your olfactories."

A few days older and a tad wiser, I called Laurie on the phone and asked her opinion. I told her this was the biggest and best faux tree for the money; it would last decades and the price . . . only $200.00. A bargain at twice the price. The convincing argument was that it would be a one time expenditure, and I would no longer need to tempt fate and frostbite to prove my affections. Permission was granted. Cindy and I both bought one and had them shipped to canyon country via UPS. That very same tree has been raised and lovingly decorated in our home for 20 years now. Laurie, the kids and I have shared many Christmas seasons under its enduring boughs and the soft warm glow of Christmas lights embracing its form. The kids are mostly grown. Spenser just completed a Masters program with the University of Kansas, Alyssa is wrapping-up her Bachelor Registered Nursing degree at BYU and McKale is serving an 18 month mission for her church in the California, Bakersfield mission. Everyone is well and happy.

That old Douglas fir look-alike is a bit haggard and worn, but Laurie refuses to discard it. She gets attached to things and has a hard time letting go, even when she should. Lucky for me! Laurie and I, and hopefully our children, look forward to many more Christmases with that tree and just maybe, if the future allows, a few grandchildren may experience the warmth and happiness that tree represents to us. All of us here at Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe wish you the best of the holiday season. Be well.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Vegemite Sandwich

It was a foggy Sunday morning in the land of turquoise skies and coral cliffs. Consequently, the heavens were imperceptible and a shifting blanket of mist hung over the red rock bluffs. The misty cover intermittently opened to reveal patches of moisture-streaked sandstone and then all to quickly reformed to obscure the red rock escarpment. Priscilla has informed us this is a time when the gods plant seeds that will sprout in the spring. According to her, it is a sacred time.

Having walked the five blocks from our house on Mulberry Avenue to the front doors of Twin Rocks Cafe, Grange arrived for his stint as head cashier. Shaking off the cold, he announced, “Hey dad, this is a beautiful day. I love the fog.” In a wintry, austere, crystalline way, it was indeed glorious.

Not long after the smell of frying bacon began to permeate the restaurant and the open sign was illuminated, a party of three seated themselves at a table next to the kitchen and Samantha took their breakfast order. As I meandered through the dining room, inspecting tables and making sure everything was in order from the night before, I overheard their conversation. The two women spoke with a heavy brogue, which clearly emanated from the Southern Hemisphere.

At Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe we make a game of guessing where in the world our customers originate. Over the years we have become adept at identifying countries of origin. Knowing they had to be from one of two places, I stopped by their booth and inquired, “Aussies or Kiwis?” One of the women reached into her coat pocket, and, smiling broadly, brought out an almost exhausted bright yellow tube that prominently displayed the Vegemite logo. Remembering the 1980s song by the Australian new wave rock band Men at Work, I said, “Do you come from a land down under?” To which the trio replied in unison, “Where women glow and men plunder.” At that point we all burst out laughing.

Grange, wondering why we were making so much racket, came to investigate. About that time the man, who was actually from Los Angele's but had previously dated an Australian woman, took the tube and smeared a healthy portion of the dark goo on a piece of fry bread. “He just smiled and gave you a Vegemite sandwich,” the second woman said chuckling at her own joke.

Having only heard of Vegemite, and being somewhat concerned about the bite marks on the scone, I was nervous. The man was, however, insistent and the ladies were obviously having great fun, so, asking if they “Were trying to tempt me”, I took the offering and gulped it down.

Seeing my nose scrunch and my lips pucker in response the bitter taste of the gloppy yeast extract Australians swear is essential for brain activity, fighting fatigue and enhancing all manner of human functions, the instigator sang, “You better run, you better take cover.”

Since Grange was too young to be familiar with the song’s lyrics, he just stood there with a baffled look on his face. Sensing another opening, the man pulled off another hunk of bread and made a smear for him. “He might ‘chunder’ I cautioned. There was, however, no alternative but to comply, so I encouraged Grange to “eat up”.

As they paid their bill and walked out into the fog, I could hear the Aussies singing, “We come from the land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder.” I was clear that in this introduction the gods had planted seeds; seeds goodwill, seeds of cultural exchange; and seeds of friendship that had already blossomed.

Trying to clear up Grange’s confusion, I went to the computer and pulled up the lyrics. As he read the words of the song, I said, “Maybe you’ll meet a strange lady who will take you in and make you breakfast.” Being just 15, he blushed red like the rocks.

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, November 21, 2014

It’s All About the Story

So there I was last weekend at the wedding of one of our nephews on Jana’s side when my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law, which I believe makes him our other-in-law, pulled up a chair and sat down next to me. Jana speculated he probably had heard how fascinating I am and wanted to get in on the action. She is usually right about such things, so I told her I thought her conclusion was correct. She just nodded her head and smiled knowingly.

My new companion looked like a conservative middle-of-the-road type, maybe even a right-leaning Tea Party activist. The celebration had, however, been pretty lively up to that point so I didn’t know what to expect. As it turns out, he is a Mormon, converted at 18 and actively pursuing the faith ever since. Surely his boat, as my nephew’s newly minted mother-in-law is inclined to say, “Was going under the bridge straight and true." Having spent the overwhelming majority of my life in Mormon Country, I try to keep my vessel straight and true too. Unfortunately it tends to wander, and is often distracted by the eddies of everyday life.

Once my new friend declared his religious affiliation, I was comfortable our discussion would at least be lucid. He looked like he had a few tales to tell, and I thought under the right circumstances he might spark up and become a real adventure. At this stage in my life, interesting is my watchword, and I actively seek out intriguing people, places and things. Because of my close connection to Utah, I am fascinated with Mormon culture and welcome any insight I can gain, so I took a big gulp of my tonic water and jumped right in.

Turns out this guy is a real gem, the genuine article when it comes to storytelling. He had been a Navy pilot during the last days of Vietnam and was involved in a few skirmishes. Fortunately for him, and his unborn children, the battles officially ended shortly after his arrival. That, however, did not prevent him from accumulating a couple good narratives. Nothing too risky or risqué, but he did see a few bullets fly and was involved in an explosion or two.

“It’s all about the story," he said as we discussed his military adventures, his affiliation with the Mormon Church and the teaching position he held in the Georgia school system. As a teacher he interacted with students from a variety social and economic backgrounds. ROTC was his specialty and he loved his students; working hard to give them the tools necessary to survive in contemporary society. He said for a majority of his students there was an unfortunate lack of fiscal and monetary knowledge; an overwhelming difficulty mapping future needs and desires; and an almost total disregard for how decisions made today impact one’s future. I mentioned Barry and I see some of the same characteristics in local silver smiths, basket makers, folk carvers and rug weavers.
Elsie Holiday Navajo Bison Basket

Despite his somewhat bleak commentary, he did have inspiring examples of success, which reminded me of Mary Holiday Black. She, in spite of significant cultural obstacles, became one of the most important contemporary Native artists in the United States. Mentioning the weaving of Elsie Holiday, whom Barry and I agree is the best contemporary Navajo basket maker; I realized an interesting narrative might be developed from our experiences at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Beginning to think our journey might be molded into an epic tale, I imagined a book deal, a TV series and maybe even a feature length film. All we needed was a healthy dose of creative embellishment. My other-in-law had noted it was, “about the story;" he never said it had to be the true or accurate story. So I began thinking we might need to invent a few crazy customers and some implausible circumstances to really get things started. When I mentioned it to Jana, she pointed out we had already made up countless unbelievable characters, told more than our share of canards and invented volumes of extraordinary events that never really happened. Forget Pawn Stars she said, you and Barry can be the Non-Stars.

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Recently I found myself sitting atop a large flat rock surrounded by a field of dry, yellow grass while the chilly wind rattled through stalks of once vibrant wild columbine. The deserted meadow is located on the eastern edge of the Blue Mountain, in the Abajo range. From my elevated vantage point I could see range lands and cedar breaks far below, in an area which straddles the Utah-Colorado border. A brisk, westerly wind blew down from the peaks, mussing my hair and tugging at my semi-frosted ear lobes. It was midday, but the sun was absent, hidden from view behind heavily laden banks of deep, dark cloud cover. The cold breeze, overcast sky and tickle of light snow on my face and eyelashes made it seem that winter was ready to settle in. I pulled my Carhartt coat closer about me and zipped it up to fend off the biting breeze. The quaking aspen and oak brush surrounding the pasture were skeletal in nature, void of the once vibrant foliage which decorated their branches just one week ago. Evergreens growing sparsely in their midst stood lonely and exposed.

As I sat on the stone's chilled surface and looked upon the bleak landscape, I thought to myself, "This is fabulous!" I could find nothing negative about this place and time. Whatever shroud she wears, Mother Nature is forever fascinatingly alluring. So there I rested, absorbing the elegance and wonder of my surroundings. The experience made me think of a book I often refer to by author Paul Zolbrod. I often consult it to better understand Navajo culture. The text, Dine' Bahane', is one of those reads that is so packed with information constant study is necessary. My recent interest involves Changing Woman, one of the most appealing and fascinating holy people of the Navajo. She is wholly positive, absorbs all negativity and replaces it with thoughtfully righteous and affirmative action. Her mate, the Sun, is a contrastive complement who is necessary to harmonize our natural world. Changing Woman comes closest to being the personification of the earth and of the natural order of the universe. She represents the cyclical path of the seasons, birth (spring), maturing (summer), growing old (fall) and dying (winter).

Feeling the creak of my bones, I raised myself up and walked toward the trees in the direction of my truck. As I went I contemplated Navajo philosophy and life-ways, and how they are so eloquently explained through stories of the natural world. Working my way through the raggedy oak brush caused me to consider just how complicated those various paths can be. As in most aspects of life, there was no specific order. Here trees grew wherever they found a foothold, in clumps and bunches or off by themselves. The gnarled branches tugged at my clothing, impeding my progress and doing their best to poke me in the eye. I either had to pick my way carefully through the twisted mess or crash through with my arms and hands protecting my face.
Navajo Mother Earth/Father Sky Basket - Lorraine Black (#229)

At differing times in my life I have used each of these methods. I still wonder which process was most effective. I soon arrived at a huge pine tree encircled by oaks and walked up to it. Admiring its strength and stature, I gave it a hug. Yes, I am a tree hugger and have always been, It felt good to embrace the texture and well rooted solidity of the timber. The first limb of the pine was only three feet off the ground, so I stepped-up and began to climb. It took awhile, but I huffed and I puffed and made it to the top. Some 30 feet up I found the view exhilarating and the pathway to my goal much more clear. There are times when we need to step-up to see our way to a desired goal.

On my way to the truck I discovered a fresh bear track in a moist area of the path. Bending down, I checked the size and realized the critter must have been rather small. From then on I watched my back, just to be certain I was not on the menu. In the Navajo life-cycle, I am somewhere between late summer and early fall. I could neither run nor stand and fight as well as I once could, so even a bear cub has to be considered a threat. I thought of the Navajo Hero Twins, the sons of Changing Woman and the Sun, and how they purged the Monsters from the earth to make it habitable for man. After exterminating the really bad abnormalities, they decided to move on to those slightly less threatening but still harmful. Changing Woman had warned the boys not to pursue this task, but they persisted.

With Born-for-Water staying home to keep the home-fires burning and pray fervently for his brother's safety and well being, Monsterslayer went in search of the remaining beasties. He soon discovered Old Age Woman among the mountains. She was a bent and twisted creature with the ability to sap your strength and cramp your style. He discovered Cold Woman high on the mountain, naked and afraid, shivering like a leaf. This evil could cause you to feel as chilled and frigid as a frozen pond. He discovered Poverty Man huddling behind a peak, lacking anything of value and destitute beyond belief. To be looked-upon by Poverty would cause great hardship and difficulty. Hunger Man, a gaunt, hollow eyed being that caused starvation and famine with the wink of an eye, was everywhere. Monsterslayer threatened them all with instant death and they welcomed the end to their suffering with cries of, "Do it, do it now!"

The warrior's hand was however stayed when he considered the implications of his actions. Killing Old Age Woman would cause over-population, and Monsterslayer decided it is better that people pass on their wisdom and responsibilities to the youth. Destroying Cold Woman would cause it always to be hot; the land would dry and the springs cease to flow. Over the years all people would perish. "If I destroy Poverty Man," he thought to himself, "people will not suffer from want. Humans will not replace anything or improve their tools. By causing things to wear out, poverty leads people to invent new things, garments become more beautiful, tools become more useful and people appreciate what they have." By dispensing of Hunger Man people would lose their taste for food. They would never know the pleasure of cooking and eating together. But if he lived, however, they would continue to plant seeds and harvest crops, and they would remain skilled hunters. At this Monsterslayer decided he should let these beings live, so he returned home and stowed his weapons.

I am not sure I agree with the benevolent philosophy of those bad boys. They had the opportunity to change the world. Because they chose not to act, however, I am getting old, I am usually too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and too broke all the time. I am always hungry too. Realizing I was truly hungry, I searched my pockets and discovered just enough change for a green chili burrito at Del Taco and decided things were not all that bad. As for my own death and rebirth, well, those are conditions that will take more time and consideration to figure out. Although I have noticed that after eating one of those darn green chili burros I often feel I am going to die. Additionally, Laurie does not appreciate the side effects. They are, however, just too tasty to pass-up. Rebirth, in that respect, is greatly appreciated.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Yes-men “Yes”, I said to the woman who asked if she might photograph our Navajo baskets. “Yes”, I acquiesced when she wanted to handle a Nancy Chilly-Yazzie pottery vase. “Yes”, I allowed as she requested permission to take our Navajo rugs out into the sunlight to evaluate their quality. “Yes, yes, yes,” I said, “This is a yes place. We don’t like to say no.” The woman sensed my weakness and seemed inclined to press her advantage.

Hearing my comments, Priscilla nodded her head knowingly. After almost 25 years at Twin Rocks Trading Post, I have become a “yes-man”. The problem is that Priscilla has the same attribute. While one might question whether a woman has the essential characteristics, defines a yes-man as, “A man or woman who always expresses agreement.” Therefore, according to that imminently reliable resource Priscilla qualifies. As a result, Barry is the only person on the premises capable of saying “no," and when he is out of town we are in trouble.

At some point in my conversation with the assertive customer, I began to worry what might happen if she asked for a thousand dollars. Barry was traveling, so I wondered whether I would be compelled to give it to her, and whether Priscilla would consent. Years ago, Momma Rose claimed I would, “Argue with the Devil.” What that meant I was never completely sure, but she may have felt I was incapable of agreeing with anyone, including Old Scratch himself. Maybe she thought I was unpleasant, or maybe she believed I would simply debate all issues, no matter the subject. In any case, the trading post has apparently diminished my argumentative nature.
Navajo Male and Female Pottery Vase - Nancy Chilly (#55)

Despite Rose’s assessment, I have always viewed myself as a congenial individual. When I recently mentioned this personal assessment to Jana, she just laughed and said, “Let’s discuss that some other time.” On this point, however, Barry seems to agree with me. He is forever saying I am too soft on the artists and customers. “No wonder they always ask for Steve," he frequently comments to Priscilla, “he always gives in.” She just nods sympathetically and wonders whether there is enough left in the checkbook to make payroll.

Barry is more of the old-time trader type. It is the art of the deal that motivates him. In fact, I think he got Duke’s trader gene and I was left out of that particular genetic transfer. Indeed, the trait may have run out by the time I arrived. I guess I lean more towards Rose’s side of the family, although how that factors into the equation I do not really understand. In any case, I justify our situation by contending that Barry and I balance each other out, and the end result is workable. We will see what happens in the long term.

When it comes to ace traders, I am often reminded of Bob Slaven, one of Duke’s best trading buddies. Years ago Duke and Bob would load Bob’s truck with goods and hit the road for weeks at a time, trading for anything they came across. A jar of coins, elk teeth, deer horns, bear skin rugs, saddles, guns, jewelry, turquoise, steer scrotum purses, whatever they stumbled onto was fair game. When they returned, Priscilla and I would marvel at their stories and acquisitions, and from time-to-time bury the newly acquired trade-goods under the counter in hopes they would never again see the light of day. For Bob and Duke, the issue was never yes or no. Instead, it was how they were going to get the deal done, and they always did.

A few days after our initial encounter, the woman returned and I turned numb with fear. What might she request this time, I wondered. She immediately started in, “May I take your picture?” “Yes, if you don’t fear for your camera," I approved. Spotting Barry, she said, “Who’s that? Can I get his picture too?” “Okay," I said, shrugging my shoulders. Barry was not so sure, but I had already committed him. There was no way out.

Eyeing Buffy, and sensing his companion had me on the ropes, the woman’s husband said, “Hey, what about that old dog? She looks like a good one. Can we take her home with us?” Priscilla and I froze. Taking a page from the Duke and Bob play book, however, Barry saved the day by pointing to me and saying, “Sure, if you take him with you.” That, as they say, ended the conversation and Buffy and I remained on the job.

Feeling something had to be done to prevent a catastrophe, Barry recently enrolled Priscilla and me in “No Therapy." While the progress has been slow, we are getting better. “No, no, no," Priscilla and I chant several times each morning, confident we will one day overcome our handicap.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla, and Danny.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ceremonial Buckskin

One of my favorite memories as a kid is going deer hunting with my father and brothers. Dad would roust us from bed early on crisp October mornings and advise us to quickly get ready. It didn't take us long to get out of the house when we were excited about going somewhere. This can often be a good thing, except that young boys seldom comb their hair, brush their teeth or dress properly in their rush to escape into the wild outdoors. In comparable situations, I have noticed similar behavior from my son Spenser. My wife even sometimes claims that I still have not outgrown this troubling behavior.

Since we were not preparing for entry into the world of humans, Mom would allow us out "as is." Dad would take us to the juniper groves and yellow grass of Bally Flats. Upon arrival we would pile out of the old truck and line up behind him in order of age. In my mind's eye, I can still see us trooping along behind our father, each stepping exactly in his footprints, one after the other.

Dad would occasionally stop short upon hearing the definitive sound of a "buck snort." "Hear that?" he would ask. "They're close boys, so close I can smell ‘em . . . Quiet now!" The time period would have been the mid-sixties. We were quite young, and thrilled at the thought of being out with our father. Dad was usually fairly reserved in public, but getting out into the hills seemed to loosen him up and ease the stress of supporting a growing family. It was a golden time; one I will always hold near and dear to my heart.
Twin Rocks Metal Art by Neil Rose $134.00 – (Contact Twin Rocks for Purchase)

One of my first introductions to Navajo culture came when I was a teenager; after a successful hunt. Our parents had moved us to Blanding, and we were managing the Plateau filling station on the south end of town. It was a full service operation, which brought us into close contact with both Navajo and Ute people on a regular basis. Opening day of the hunt had provided me with a heavy bodied three-point buck. I was home by 9:00 a.m., and had the animal hanging by a ladder near the station.

I was looking forward to Mom's famous hunting season breakfast of fresh, thinly sliced venison; homemade biscuits; and white gravy, but first I had to skin the deer as quickly as possible to get the tenderloin. As I stood there scratching my head, and looking for the best way to approach the situation, a beat up old pickup truck packed to the gunwales with a Navajo family nosed right up next to my game and me.

I was surprised by the intrusion and quickly turned to face the raiding party, armed only with a sharp knife and a bad attitude. An old, bent, white haired Navajo man scrambled out of the passenger side of the vehicle and walked right up to me speaking rapidly in his native tongue. Ignoring my aggressive stance, he plucked the knife from my hand, nudged me out of the way and went to work skinning my deer. As the old timer worked, one of his entourage filled me in on what he was saying.

All I really remember was being chastised for almost wrecking a perfectly good ceremonial buckskin, and that he was a medicine man who was going to put it to good use. In approximately fifteen minutes, the old man skinned the animal from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, right on down to its four black hooves. He handed back my knife, rolled up the buckskin, placed it in the back of his truck and drove away with his clan.

I stood there somewhat stunned and amazed at what had just taken place. Looking again at the deer, I realized my work was done. The tenderloin was exposed and only minutes away from Mom's magic kitchen. It was some of the most educational, memorable and tasty venison I have ever eaten.

I have since learned that the Navajo people believe ceremonial buckskin and corn were used to create the first people, who were made in the image of the Yei-be-chei. Buckskin is an important element in ceremonies such as the Beauty Way chant, and represents the honor and the respect game animals are given in Navajo traditions. Properly prepared buckskin is valuable, both economically and ceremonially. That elderly Navajo gentleman was one of the first to introduce me to the ways of the Navajo, and to him I am grateful.

The love of the fall hunt was definitely instilled in me by my father, who taught me many lessons about life and death, and also gave me a healthy respect for nature during our outings. I have also taken advantage of this initiation ceremony to build a closer relationship with my own son. We have spent many a frosty morning huddled close on a canyon rim or tree covered knoll, waiting for that monster buck to show himself. We have often failed to put venison on the table, but have been very successful at bonding, sharing and gaining a better understanding of each other and the ways of the world.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Are You A Simpson?

Many years ago our sister Cindy began researching the Simpson family history. Having grown up in Mormon country, where determining one’s genealogy is essential to a full religious experience, she apparently felt compelled to unearth our own paternal roots. I have often wondered whether she initiated the enterprise after being led to believe we came from royalty and that she was, therefore, a princess. Simpsons, as we know, have vivid imaginations. That is, however, a different story that should be left for another day.

Having begun her project in earnest, she soon uncovered details better left in the past. Illuminating the activities of our ancestors was apparently an unnerving experience, and after arriving at that conclusion she folded her tent, locked the offending documentation in a chest and abandoned the undertaking. It is clear from what little information Cindy later disclosed that our antecedents were mostly outlaws, misfits, vagrants, miscreants and Democrats; the latter category being most worrisome. Intuitively understanding that our linage should never be open to the public, before Cindy began her investigative adventure I had consciously avoided the truth. Indeed, fearing what I might find, I steadfastly refused to interpret our family narrative.

Last Tuesday as I sat at my desk trying to sort out the trading post accounting, which is always challenging, I was reminded of Cindy’s quest. Having heard the doorbell ring, I looked up to see a slender, well-dressed, middle-aged man enter the store through the Kokopelli doors. Since it was late in the afternoon, Barry had given up trying to peddle turquoise and was reclining in one of the wooden chairs strategically located in the middle of the showroom. “Good afternoon”, I heard Barry warmly greet the guest. “Good afternoon to you”, the man replied affably, “Are you one of the Simpsons?”

Knowing our history all too well, Barry’s posture straightened and he cautiously responded, “Well, that depends on whether you are from the CIA, FBI, NSA, IRS, ATF, EPA, BIA, BLM or one of those other governmental agencies designate by consonants and vowels and designed to trip up ordinary human beings. If, on the other hand you are from ABC, CBS or NBC, I have a story to tell, let’s talk.” While Barry was not interested in being incarcerated long-term, but was still looking for the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol guaranteed us all.

Several years before, after a particularly harrowing federal raid in Blanding, Barry and I had been advised by a lawyer who came wandering into the trading post to always stonewall when people asked for information. This shyster had counseled that we should never voluntarily divulge our personal affairs. “Never give ‘em anything”, the ambulance chaser cautioned, “make ‘em work for it. If you directly ask ‘em if they work for the feds, they have to tell ya, then you’ll know and won’t be entrapped.” Since I cannot keep a secret, that guidance was lost on me. Barry, on the other hand, was obviously following the jurist’s instructions. He seemed worried I may have made some grievous error he had yet to identify and this guy knew more about that particular issue than he was willing to reveal.

“No, no, none of that”, the gentleman replied, “just met a character in Blanding who said he had two sons here in Bluff. Thought you might be one of them. I think his name was Ace or Duce.” “Duke”, Barry corrected. After a bit, Barry relaxed and began chatting amiably with the visitor. He had obviously forgotten about going to jail and was thinking there might be one last chance to sell a Navajo basket, rug, folk carving or piece of silver jewelry.

As I watched through the tinted glass of my office, the dapper man closely inspected Barry. Sensing nothing was amiss, after a time I went back to my accounts and left Barry to address any ongoing issues. When he had concluded his analysis, the dandy turned to go. Before exiting he said, “By the way, while I may not be employed by any of those organizations you mentioned, if I were with the fashion police I would have to charge you with a first degree felony for violating the IDC, International Dress Code.” Obviously impressed with his own humor, and chuckling to himself, the man strolled out, glowing like a new penny in the late afternoon sunlight. Barry self-consciously smoothed the wrinkles in his Twin Rocks Cafe T-shirt and uttered an oath he had long ago learned from our neighbor Opal Hooper.

With warm regards Steve Simpson, and the team; Barry, Priscilla, and Danny.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pole Canyon

Last Sunday afternoon I took the opportunity to go on a short hike, starting my trek west of Monticello on the northeastern flank of what locals call Blue Mountain. The day was a bit wet for such an outing, but it was not cold and I felt good about going out. As we all know, moist air improves engine performance and the additional moisture felt good in my lungs. Because of the heavier than normal rainfall earlier in the day, the exposed areas of the mountain looked darker and richer in color. The green leaves of the oak brush seemed more vibrant, as did the gold foliage of the quaking aspen. The mountain peaks were shrouded in masses of rolling gray and black clouds, and thunder rolled about the crags above the tree line. The return of precipitation seemed assured, but the slopes were inviting and the warm weather made the possibility of a successful hike more inviting than dangerous. Since I was wearing but a light sweatshirt, I grabbed an oversized trash bag and a cigarette lighter from my pick-up truck, just in case I needed a shelter and heat. At any rate, I would not be going far and a rain shower would feel invigorating.

Skirting the edge of the mountain, I discovered a fairly wide watercourse with a lazy trickle moving slowly down the rocky channel. I could tell that not long ago there had been heavy runoff. I was drawn by the music of the stream, so I moved uphill and followed it into the thicker timber. My memory of the Google Earth maps associated with this area caused me to believe that if I maintained my present heading I would soon intersect an unpaved road. I did not. My memory was assuredly faulty. I was, however, so entranced by the natural peace and quiet of the place that I continued upward. I knew where I was in the larger scheme of things, because when I came to a small clearing I could see Monticello five or six miles below. When I came to a large valve cover I was a bit confused, because I knew there were such things in Pole Canyon but, thought I should be south of there. This was my first visit to the narrow valley, so I was unfamiliar with the road or trail situation further up the mountain. As I climbed higher, I realized I was traveling in a slightly southwesterly direction.

Looking around, I listened to the sounds of birds chirping, squirrels barking and the creak of trees in the wind. I was seeing deer at every turn, and recognized the footprints of a fox and a weasel on the muddy banks of the stream. I breathed in the sweet, fragrant aroma of the forest and felt it was far too early to leave this place. I trekked upward and discovered a head gate, which was more proof of where I trod. This must be Pole Canyon, one of the main watersheds for Monticello. If I remembered correctly there would be an age-old trail connecting the Gold Queen mine, situated between South Peak and Abajo Peak, which wandered across the top of this canyon and made its way into town. I soon came to a large clearing edged by ponderosa pine and white trunked quaking aspen leaved in bright yellow crowns. The mostly perpendicular park was carpeted in long stalks of grass with green shafts crested by golden heads that ebbed and flowed like tides in the breeze. I stopped to take in the clean, clear beauty of the place. Walking to a perfectly formed blue spruce, I drew in its perfume and knew I was getting closer to heaven. It is no wonder early Native cultures considered mountains sacred dwelling places of the Holy People.
Navajo Paiute Water Star Basket - Fannie King (#87)

A misty rain passed through, cooling me after the exertion of my upward ascent. I looked to the peaks. Drawn by their towering beauty, I wanted to finish my climb, to search-out the trail and follow it back to my point of origin. Just then lightning flashed and thunder rolled. The storm up there at the peaks was building fast and this boy’s mama didn't raise no fool. Being struck by lightning was nothing to brag about. I turned on my heel and hoofed it back the way I had come. As I traveled, I scanned the northern border of the creek because I thought there should be a trail running south from the base of the dilapidated ski slope. If my assumption was correct I would discover an old water pipe that would lead me home. A short time later I found it and turned north. Soon thereafter I came upon a garden-like metal gate with a sign on the opposite side that read, "Private property, no motorized vehicles beyond this point.” Another round of thunder and lightning sent me scampering once more.

Before long I came to a large, metal trough overflowing with water and coated in dark green algae. Standing there briefly, I congratulated myself on my Jedidiah Smith-like path finding qualities. I would have to explore the upper portion of Pole Canyon on a later date. I climbed up to the nearby rocky road and traveled down it until I discovered another less traveled dirt track pointed in the direction I needed to go, so I took it. The path led me to within a hundred yards of my Toyota. It was now 4:45 p.m. and Grandma Washburn, along with her feisty daughter Laurie, would serve dinner promptly at 5:00. It would be a HeeHaw, "Grandpa what's for dinner?" spectacular. There was promise of fire grilled shush-kabobs of beef and chicken interspersed with garden grown mini bell peppers and white onions, along with a vegetable medley, garden fresh red potatoes and wheat rolls with homemade jam. This would be followed-up with handcrafted peach pie topped with whipped cream for dessert. Boy howdy! It was most definitely time to beat a path to that front door.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla, and Danny.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Leave the rabbit be!

It was late in the day at Twin Rocks Trading Post, after 5:00 p.m., and the evening was coming on lovely. One of those infamous mid-August thunderstorms had just passed through town and left our high desert landscape looking rubbed and scrubbed of its, generally, dust laden mantle. The air was fresh and golden; sunlight filtering through scattered clouds left us feeling good about our recently weathered condition. The light breeze blustering about the wide-open Kokopelli doors smelled and felt as if there might be a seasonal change in the air. Could fall be near at hand? Not for a while now would be my guess. Surely Mother Nature was just teasing us with her tempestuous tendencies.

Just then a bright and bouncy British couple who appeared to be in their late thirties to early forties, bopped into the shop. The woman was tall, close to six feet, she wore her sandy colored hair short. On her perky nose rested large framed glasses, which highlighted her big brown smiling eyes. She was dressed for summer in a sleeveless, boxy, polyester blouse with a flashy flower print. The lady also wore Khaki shorts and brown sandals. The man, who was dressed for hot weather, was a good 3" shorter than his wife. He too wore his light brown hair cropped, had hazel eyes and gold-rimmed glasses. His Hawaiian looking shirt was colored in muted tones of brown and cream. Tan Khaki shorts and brown sandals completed his attire. To my surprise, tucked under his left arm, he embraced a raggedy purple, stuffed rabbit.
Navajo Turquoise Bead Rabbit Carving - Ray Lansing (#212)

The Brits were light hearted and funny, easily displaying the dry wit our friends across the pond are famous for. Noticing the lagomorph, Priscilla eyed me cautiously, knowing from past experience I was likely to make a saucy remark concerning this guy packing around a rascally rabbit. Noting her concern, I held my tongue and waited for a child to join the couple, which would explain the hapless hopper. After twenty minutes of banter and no youngster appearing, I about made a comedic comment concerning a grown man and his comfort toy, but my timing was off however, and I missed my chance when Laurie telephoned to ask if I would be on time for dinner. At that moment, the couple slipped out and disappeared into the brilliant evening light. Priscilla laughed merrily at my missed opportunity; relieved I had failed to poke fun at, what seemed, a rather obvious security blanket.

To my delight, the couple returned the following morning. A turquoise pendent they saw the previous day bothered the lady in her dreams and they had returned to retrieve it. Joy upon joy, there, tucked securely under the man's arm, was the object of my obsession. As I spoke with the couple, and fought to restrain myself, my sarcastic mind refocused on less than appropriate commentary relating to that well-worn rabbit. Just as I opened my mouth to spout, a tall, thin boy of approximately fifteen years walked into the store. The youth was followed closely by a girl of ten or twelve and another child no bigger than a biscuit. The tiniest child approached the man, kissed the well-secured bunny on the head, patted her "Pappi" on the arm and went to lean lovingly on her "Mumsi."

My miscreant commentary dissipated like a mirage on the desert and Priscilla gave me a "Man are you lucky you didn't mouth off" look. As the couple completed their purchase the man remarked, "You won." "Won what?” I queried, puzzled at the comment. He explained that he and his wife noticed my reaction when I initially spotted the rabbit and could see that I was struggling not to offer-up a wisecrack. They realized that I did not see their children, whom Buffy the Wonder Dog was entertaining on the porch of the Twin Rocks Cafe. When the couple left last night they had a good laugh at my internal struggle. When they decided to return for the pendant, they felt confident I would loose my emotional battle and come across with a sarcastic remark. "You won because you held your tongue," they acknowledged.

The couple congratulated me on my restraint, and recommended I work on my poker face. Actually the woman said, "What you were thinking was written all over your ruddy mug." That must often be the case because Laurie tells me the same thing all the time. Just before the family left I asked, "So do I get the rabbit as my booby prize?" "Well,” the man said, "you'll  have to take on little Penelope to get it and I wouldn't recommend you try." Looking into that sweet child's hazel eyes made me think of my own wee bairns. Our three children are mostly raised and working hard on becoming independent. We are, however, still deeply committed to them and their well-being. Because this Brit would carry a mangled rabbit around for his small daughter, without considering how his manliness might be questioned, showed me that he too was devoted to his family. "Enough said," I replied, "I wouldn't want to make a little girl cry." "You better not?" Priscilla warned, "leave the rabbit be!"

With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Old ‘59

Most Sunday mornings I am the designated manager at Twin Rocks Cafe. That is my reward for not attending church on a regular basis. While the cooks prepare breakfast, frying bacon, steaming oatmeal and baking biscuits, I sometimes stand at the south-facing picture windows, waiting for the sun to crest the eastern horizon. When it ultimately does, the sandstone cliffs embracing our small community glow with a stunning pink-coral radiance. It’s enough to take your breath away.

Promptly at 7 a.m., we illuminate the open signs and begin welcoming hungry travelers. Last week as I stood admiring the natural light, a late model pickup turned into the gravel parking lot. Hitched to the truck was a gooseneck trailer loaded with a vintage Ford F-250. The transport came to a stop and a couple in their early 30s hopped out and headed my direction. I could tell by the way they hurried along they were in desperate need of coffee, so I alerted the servers.
Old '59

Once the pair had settled into a booth and placed their order, I asked about the classic car. “It’s hers “, the young man said, pointing to his wife. Pleased I had taken an interest in her truck, she said, “It’s a 1959; has some scratches and dents, a bit of rust; body looks good from afar; not so great up close; not bad for an old one.”

Feeling unexpectedly self-conscious, I surprised myself by declaring, “I’m a 1959.” “Oh, that’s interesting”, the woman said, wholly unaware she had exposed a nerve. For some reason, I could not help thinking that in describing the old ‘59 she had illuminated my own shortcomings; more than a few scrapes and scars, not bad from a distance, but don’t look too closely. All of the sudden I felt a strong affinity for the truck.

Considering the current state of affairs; scratches, dents, worn joints, wiring not working so well, leaky valves and noxious exhaust, I was initially uneasy. Then I began to envision the adventures that old truck might have had in its prime. I thought of it tooling down a country road, feeling the excitement of new power and straining to find its limits, everything working at maximum efficiency. Over the sound of wind rushing through open windows, I could hear Elvis crooning Big Hunk O’ Love and My Wish Come True on the AM radio.

I conceived of projects started and completed; loads of building materials hammered into a beautiful home, rocks for landscaping and bags of leaves raked from lush green lawns as winter approached. I could see children piling into the cab, on their way to camping trips, birthday parties, school events and athletic contests.

The miles sped past, eventually delivering me to the present. There we were, the old truck and me, with all our warts and bumps, monuments to five and a half decades of experience, rooted in the past, but looking ahead. It was then I noticed the young man’s ball cap. “Life is Good,” it proclaimed. “No, life is great,” I thought as the couple finished there breakfast and left to continue their journey.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Two Girls Gone

Barry and I are in a funk, and this monumental muddle is affecting our ability to negotiate for Navajo baskets, trade for turquoise and bargain for beads. Indeed, we can hardly function at all. Fortunately, Priscilla is here to manage things while we mope about. Without her this would be a colossal catastrophe.

McKale and Alyssa Simpson

What, you might ask, has created such a crisis for two happy-go-lucky guys like us. Yes, it is true that residing in Bluff and working at Twin Rocks Trading Post is roughly the equivalent of living in Shangri-La. If we looked hard enough we might identify a few snags, but they would be difficult to identify and hardly worth the effort. The early pioneers arriving in this community knew, and contemporary settlers know, “This is the place.” While many associate that statement with Brigham Young and the Salt Lake Valley, at the time he made his declaration he had not seen Bluff. The confusion is, therefore, understandable.

As anyone who has ever visited the trading post knows, this joint is all about family. Virtually from the day they were born, our kids have been at the store; first in bouncy chairs situated on back counters, then in “Snuglys” strapped across our chests, next in packs slung on our backs and finally scurrying about on their own steam. Once they grew independent, they scaled boulders, shimmied through crevices and leaped from ledge to ledge on cliffs behind the buildings. They have been trading post kids from the start.

Indeed, when they were still too young to be interested in anything other than ice cream, cake and cookies, Barry, Jana and I convinced them to start their own businesses. “Traders in Training,” became a way for them to generate spending money and save for college. It was also a vehicle for teaching them about art, artists, Southwest culture and personal finance.

Kira Simpson and Navajo Artist

Now they have grown and are abandoning the post. In less than two weeks, Barry’s youngest, McKale, will be heading for a LDS church mission, first in Mexico City and then in Bakersfield, C.A., and Kira, my middle child, will be making her way to college in Swarthmore, P.A.

While they are excited to be moving into the next phase of their development, Barry and I are despondent. Even Buffy the Wonder Dog is walking about aimlessly, intuitively understanding our plight and clearly sympathetic to the cause. Priscilla, fed up with our lackluster performance and believing tough love was the only solution, ordered us to, “buck up.” That, however, has not worked; we are inconsolable. Indeed, Barry is so affected he has threatened to break his covenant against bathing, thereby upsetting our carefully developed business plan.

Therapists, psychologists and cardiologists have all been consulted, and the unanimous conclusion is, “Ain’t no cure for a broken heart.”

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Raining A Parade

It has been hot in Bluff, and also dry. As the month of July exhausts itself, with temperatures topping 100 degrees Barry and I have been closing the Kokopelli doors and turning on the refrigeration earlier and earlier each day. Fearing she might overheat, Barry has also begun bringing Buffy the Wonder Dog inside the trading post. Although keenly missing the attention she receives while reclining on the outside steps, Buffy seems content to lie on the cool concrete of the storage room floor until the workday is complete and it is time to head home for supper.

For months Barry, Danny, Priscilla and I have scanned the skies for rain clouds, murmuring quiet prayers intended to coax the thunderheads our way. We have become so desperate Barry even proposed doing a rain dance. Priscilla, however, nixed the idea, saying we do not have adequate training and would likely extend rather than shorten the drought. I had to agree with her assessment.
Buffy at her home on the porch.

As an alternative, I suggested petitioning the missionaries at Bluff Fort for assistance. They have, after all, done miraculous things over there. Since Danny is the only Mormon on the premises, and therefore the only one with bona fide influence in this arena, we elected him our emissary. He, however, deferred, saying he needed to reserve such favors in the event more pressing needs arise. Since his second child, a daughter, will arrive soon, we agreed he had a legitimate excuse.

So, all summer we have watched as our appeals go unanswered and clouds float past without so much as a sprinkle. Last Monday, however, things changed. As we went about our afternoon routines, secure in the knowledge we had once again been neglected, there came an unfamiliar sound on the metal roof of Twin Rocks Trading Post. “Rain,” someone speculated, causing us to hurry toward the picture windows to see if the assessment was accurate. Sure enough, our pleas had finally been addressed and heavy raindrops fell upon the thirsty land.

We immediately heaved open the heavy wooden doors and paraded outside, neglecting the customers who lazily inspected turquoise jewelry, Navajo rugs and baskets. When Barry and I arrived on the porch, we were not surprised to find the servers, cooks, dishwashers, cashiers and managers of Twin Rocks Cafe already outside, stretching out their hands to grasp a bit of moisture for splashing on their faces and rubbing on their arms to show appreciation and bless themselves with the holy water.

At the trading post our visitors were obviously from a wetter climate, which prevented them from fully appreciating our affinity for thunderstorms. Consequently they did not anticipate or comprehend our abrupt exit. As a result, they stumbled around the showroom a bit and, not knowing what else to do, eventually joined our celebration.

For those who have never lived in the desert, it is easy to underestimate the emotional effect even a small amount of rain can have on an individual. Since we work with the Navajo people on an everyday basis, it is likely Barry and I have a heightened sense of awareness when it comes to water. This accentuates our response to rivers, streams, cloudbursts and other wet things.

Navajo stories personalize natural phenomena like clouds, wind, rain, thunder and lightning, which are generally distinguished by the four sacred colors; black, blue, yellow and white. Sex is attributed only to rain, which can be either male or female. Heavy, fast, crashing storms with thunder and lightening are considered male. Light, gentle, nourishing showers are referred to as female.

Having interrogated Priscilla several times, Barry and I have never received a satisfactory answer to the question why Navajo legends all too often blame males for coming and going quickly and leaving a path of destruction in their wake, while females are viewed as kind, tender, patient and nurturing. At one point Barry even suggested we ask our wives for their opinions on this particular topic. I thought it best to leave them out of the discussion, lest we become black and blue.

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thunder and Lightning and Wind, Oh My!

Kneeling with my face against the screen of the open bedroom window, I strained my eyes, seeking a better perspective on the night sky. The locust tree in our front yard partially obscured my view of the strobe-like lightning storm that thundered on the eastern horizon. To steal a phrase, "I knelt all amazed." Or is it, "I stand all amazed?" Whatever the case, I was locked in place, absorbing the beauty of the ultra-electric light show. The sky-scape was pitch black until, "lightning flashed and thunder rolled". Each bolt briefly illuminated the sky, exposing boiling cloud formations that looked something like layers of huge, dark, oversized bath bubbles which appeared and faded in quick succession. I estimated there were 15 to 20 strikes a minute.
Thunder and Lightning Yei
A warm and ragged wind swept in ahead of the storm, and the night smelled of rain. The prospect of a downpour thrilled me. I knew from past experience, however, the chances of receiving moisture were not good. In this area rainstorms are rare, but that does not stop Mother Nature from teasing us with grandstanding parades of unproductive pageantry. As I watched, slowly moving cars passed by on Main Street. It looked as if their occupants were watching the natural fireworks exploding above our heads and anticipating the much needed waterworks. They too were wishing on falling fire-bolts. Just then Laurie walked into the room, and seeing me kneeling, asked with a trace of sarcasm, "What are you doing down there?" Ramping-up the rhetoric, I replied, "Praying to the Gods of thunder and lightning." Laurie, who often worries over my theological theories, contemplated me patiently. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she said, "Well, that's a start!"

Soon thereafter Laurie crashed for the duration of the evening. Each day my overly energetic wife rises at the crack-of-dawn, does yard and garden work until 7:00 a.m., takes a little time to prepare for her regular job, works at the local community college from 8:00 to 5:00, returns home to toil in the yard until 10:00 p.m. and then goes down like a felled tree. When the dust settles, she is out until 5:00 a.m. If that woman does not have her hands in the dirt and her feet in the foliage at least eight hours a day she is not happy. It makes me tired just watching her. Anyway, lying there in bed, unable to sleep, I observed the pictures on the wall flickering in and out of focus with each flash, felt the thunder reverberate through my bones and thought about all things spiritual and temporal, contemplating the forces of nature and how they work in such wondrous ways.

Sometime around midnight I fell asleep to the sound of the white-fire storm. I dreamed how the Navajo once worshiped thunder, lightning, rain and wind. The people believed that all aspects of their lives were driven by the will and mood of the Sun and the Moon, by Mother Earth and by many other forces of nature. Through the natural world the Navajo discovered a way to explain the unexplainable. A multitude of Gods were born, each with a balance of positive and negative energy brought to bear on mankind. Mother Earth is the only deity made-up of totally positive energy; she absorbs all negativity and gives it back in a decisively affirmative manner. She is the consummate nurturer. Since I first discovered it as a young man, I have enjoyed and appreciated the legends of these high-desert dwellers. The stories are interesting and exciting, and . . . well, who knows for sure what is real and what is not.

It must have been almost 4:00 a.m. when I heard rain begin to fall. I got-up and looked out the window, hoping for a deluge: a male rain to the Navajo. What I saw was but a brief spattering of drops, not even a gently nourishing female rain. "Big Deal!” I said out loud, speaking to the Gods of thunder and lightning. A far away rumble answered my derogatory remark. Laurie turned over and murmured something unintelligible. My personal incarnation of "Mother Nature" began to stir and I knew very soon the work and the glory would begin anew.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla, and Danny.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Blisster

Barry and I have always considered ourselves innovators. Who, after all, initiated the latest business convention of treating customers badly, embracing poor hygiene and dressing sloppily to generate additional sales? Yes, that would be your friends at Twin Rocks Trading Post, sans Priscilla of course. This strategy has been so smashing that even our most ardent competitors are calling to provide encouragement. “Right on, keep up the good work, U Stink”, many have declared with great enthusiasm. We are flattered.

As our new business model has become an undeniable triumph, Barry and I have grown to realize there are additional factors to consider if we are to be socially responsible. Having contemplated the effects of our ever-expanding prosperity, we concluded one of our overarching goals must be to stay happy and help the artists and patrons with whom we work be happy too.
Happy Bliss

In pursuing our twin goals of rising revenue and bountiful bliss, Barry and I have noticed several organizations also attempting to increase, evaluate and quantify happiness in the context of economic growth. Indeed, last week Danny, who proudly informed us he had done well in history class, pointed out that happiness was a guiding principle in the formation of our nation. He noted the drafters of the Declaration of Independence expressly identified its importance, and even declared it an inalienable right. Barry and I therefore determined that if it was good enough for John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson and the boys, it should be good enough for us.

In fact, the venerable Sustainable Development Solutions Network has recently postulated, “Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more and are also better citizens.” Many others have come to similar conclusions, and recently there has been a rising tide of economists, politicians and spiritual leaders who believe overall well-being should be tested and utilized as a primary indicator when formulating governmental, business and social policy. In fact, the tiny kingdom of Butan has taken the lead in this effort by enacting a “Gross National Happiness Index”.

Barry and I are never shy about “borrowing” good ideas. So, taking a page from the Butan playbook, we have developed our own tool. Priscilla has suggested we name it the “Blisster”. We, however, prefer the title “Bluff Bliss Barometer”, which we refer to as the “3B”.

Barry and I think Priscilla, once again, may not be taking us seriously. As a result, we have considered imposing a variety of sanctions against her. We worry, however, that penalizing Priscilla may adversely affect our index, which, when you consider scenic beauty, quality of life, the lack of traffic congestion, exquisite night skies, peaceful surroundings and many other factors currently existing in Bluff, may be approaching nirvana. At this point messing with Priscilla may not be wise.

While much of the world has been slow to catch on to this happiness movement, the dreamers at Twin Rocks Trading Post are forging ahead, once again blazing the path. As the renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell was fond of saying, “Follow your bliss”; as Bobby McFerrin liked to sing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”; and as Priscilla has said . . . . Well, never mind what Priscilla said.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Red River Ruse

It was smokin' hot outside; 104 degrees in the shade, and there were not many people moving around. Steve, Priscilla and I were holed-up, waiting for the sun to set before we ventured forth. We were parked under the refrigerated air conditioners, sipping cold drinks and chillin' to flute music. Steve was sitting at the computer writing some craziness about treating customers badly and wearing his bedclothes to work. Priscilla was working at the back counter, marking jewelry and filling-out information cards. I was in my office searching for information about Super-X turquoise. Some old-timer had been in Twin Rocks Trading Post earlier and pooh-poohed a prize box of Kingman turquoise cabs I was showing off. He said, "Super-X, is the best turquoise that ever came from Nevada, or anywhere for that matter!"

The guy had kinda ticked me off, not because he had a strong opinion, but because I have never seen a piece of Super-X up close. The stuff is rare and, with its deep blue color and gold matrix, is rumored to be spectacular. In my experience turquoise from any mine has a wide range of quality and appeal, so I judge it one piece at a time. Since Super-X was mined-out years ago it is hard to get a handle on any aspect of it. Thus the reason I was online Googling anything to do with this rare bird. About that time the door chimes went off; someone was entering the store. Since Steve and Priscilla were busy, and I was becoming more frustrated by the minute with my less than productive search, I jumped-up to help. The couple that walked into the trading post was classics, as interesting as any turquoise cabochon I had seen in awhile.
Navajo Twin Rocks Modern "Stairway to Heaven" Rug - Eleanor Yazzie (#120)
The man must have been in his late sixties, maybe early seventies. He was long and lean in a solid way, as if he had lived a life of more than casual labor. He wore a pair of long shorts, the ones that hang past your knee. They were of a faded green color. What showed of his pasty legs was thatched in white hair. On his oversized feet he wore moccasin-like shoes. Covering his torso was a discolored blue sleeveless t-shirt, and over that a washed-out dark brown clothe vest. His arms were bare of fabric, but covered from shoulder to wrist in ink. His face was tan free and his eyes wild blue. He sported one of those chest length scraggly white beards and a matching mustache; similar to something you might see on an episode of Duck Dynasty. His hair was thin and white as well, and it fell almost to his shoulder. Resting peaceably atop his head was a battered felt fedora with a grouping of molted feathers that jutted out on the right side of a sweat-stained hatband.

The woman was a good ten years younger than her man. She too had an off-white complexion and was matronly in shape, standing somewhere around 5' 9" in height. Her full head of hair was mostly brown, but laced with grey. It was pulled back in a loose ponytail that fell to her shoulder blades. She had kind brown eyes and walked about with a trace of a smile on her lips that looked like it existed there permanently. She wore a long Levi's smock with an overall front of pockets, brass fittings and shoulder straps. Under her smock she wore a black tube top that barely covered her ample chest. Her midriff was exposed, as were her shoulders, back and arms. On her right arm she too wore a full sleeve of tattoos. Her left arm was unadorned. Her sock-less feet wore a once brown pair of ancient leather Mary Jane's.

The woman had an expression of contentment on her face and looked, well, she looked a little uncomfortable. The guy had his hands under his shirt, rubbing his tummy and groaning loudly. "Are you guys all right?” I asked. "More than all right," said the man, "We just ate next door at that cafe and are we stuffed." "Too much is better than too little," I said. "Yah man!” replied the woman. The couple told me they were camping at Sand Island and having a big time of it. They were an outgoing pair with plenty of jokes and puns in their repertoire, and I was enjoying their visit. Just before they left, the man told us he needed a nap in the shade and a soak in the river. "Oh, I don't know," I said, "That river is about 40% solids. The iron in the mud will wash over you, impregnating every pore of your body. It will stain your hide from tip to tail and leave you with a red-tinged tan that will last for weeks. With your skin tone it may stay on for good."

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied Priscilla snickering and was inspired to say, "Just look at Priscilla there, 13 years ago she strolled in from Nova Scotia and took a dip in that same river. She was once as pale as you. Eventually her original hair color grew back, but her light complexion never returned. She can't go home until she fades back to her "true color. Her family would never recognize her or accept this new persona. She is stuck here with us." Priscilla snorted, turned and stomped off. "See," I said, "she's still angry about it." "She's mad about something," said the man, "but I am not sure it's the river!"

The man thought about my comments for a moment while watching Priscilla's exasperated exit. He took off his old fedora, scratched an unexpectedly bald and highly polished crown and said, "Well sir, I am all about new experiences. First of all, I have never been impregnated by anything; secondly, I can stand a little color; and thirdly, as long as Dora recognizes me, that's all that matters." Dora smiled brightly and bobbed her head in affirmation. "Were going in," she quipped. "Alrighty then," I said, "but let all that food settle first." The pair said their goodbyes and promised to check in if complications arose. We may not have seen some of the more rare and unusual turquoise specimens, but we are blessed to have met a few of the more singular individuals. When the couple departed Steve went back to writing his miscreant missive and I went in search of Priscilla, hoping she would accept my sincere apology.

With warm regards from Barry and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dressing Down to Move Up

As many of you know, Barry and I recently adopted the strategy of increasing trading post sales by being unkind to our customers. This new approach is based upon convincing research from Southern Methodist University, which indicates rude salespeople boost luxury item purchases.

Since we actually like our customers and since Priscilla refuses to participate in the program, we have had some difficulty fully implementing the new policies. Consequently, while we are uncertain whether this strategy will succeed, with full faith in the Methodists, we are not giving up.

Indeed, in our quest for enlightenment, we have uncovered additional data supporting this new business model. While pursuing our goal of improving revenue at Twin Rocks Trading Post by treating patrons with indifference, we recently discovered an article by Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist and professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

Since Barry and I are insecure about the quality of our public school education, we are typically wary of those associated with such influential institutions. Nonetheless, this particular essay captured our attention. Its premise is that conforming to social norms, rules and expectations is widely believed to advance social acceptance and status and avoid disapproval, ridicule and exclusion. Ms. Gino postulates, however, that deviating from accepted social norms has surprising benefits. She believes nonconformity frequently carries a significant social cost, and people generally assume those who do not conform are powerful enough to risk the price of violating these norms without fear of losing their position in society. Priscilla wanted to know what happens if you have no societal status to begin with. Barry and I did not understand the question, so we simply ignored her inquiry.

The Harvard investigation focuses on shopkeepers in stores selling exclusive merchandise and how they evaluate casually dressed customers compared to those who are well dressed. Apparently people in gym shorts and jean jackets are generally believed to be better prospects than those in silks and furs.

Since dressing down works for customers, Barry and I concluded it might also work for those of us on the other side of the counter. And, since our most recent initiative requires that we stop bathing, brushing our teeth, shaving and wearing deodorant, we believe dressing down can only enhance our results.

After thoroughly debating the issue, Barry and I concluded it would be most productive if we simply roll out of bed and go to work in our jammies and slippers. With the success we are sure to find, we will likely be working longer hours, so we can simply go from bed to work to bed. Aside from selling more turquoise jewelry, Navajo rugs and baskets, we figure we will save a great deal of time.

Surely this will lead to the next revolution in business practices. Barry is already imagining himself on the cover of Forbes, right next to Mark Zuckerberg. Twin Rocks Trading Post’s Business School classes begin in the fall of 2014 so get registered early. Priscilla has suggested we call it U Stink and that our motto be, “You don’t have to smell good to sell good,” and that we adopt a pig as our mascot.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dang It!

Last Friday I received a telephone call, which caused me significant distress; a man named David was calling from an undisclosed location in Florida. When I pleasantly greeted him and asked where in the Sunshine State he was located, dear David blew right past my pleasantries. He wanted to get to the meat of the matter. "Humph," I thought to myself, "that was rude!" But hey, my hozho is well developed; I am on the pollen path, no problem. I breathed deeply, found my center and waited for his question. It seems David was on a mission of discovery, he was focused and he was in a rush. He hurriedly explained he was a dealer in, "All things of value." He said he had found some, "items of interest" at a local thrift shop and wondered whether I might help him place a value on them. I told him I would try, and wondered out-loud why and how he had come to call us. "Well," he said, "your Twin Rocks tags are still on most of the items."

"No!” I cried, feeling the hurtful impact of what he said. That cannot be! How, I wondered, had a collection of Native American art from Twin Rocks Trading Post have found its way to an east coast thrift shop? Someone was asleep at the switch. David told me there were traditional and culturally expressive cottonwood sculptures by Lawrence Jaquez; Robin Willeto; Marvin Jim and Grace Begay; and Leland Holiday. In my mind I flashed back on the effigy sculptures Marvin and Grace once carved of Steve and me. All these artists are passionate about their art, and diligent in their creativity. And, hurt of all hurts, there were Navajo baskets included in the mix. "Oh my goodness!" was all I could say. "Alright David," I said, "I am sitting down. Who are the weavers and what do the baskets look like?" David must have realized the news was hurting my feelings, because he filled me in with a note of sympathy in his voice.
Steve & Barry

There was a 10" ceremonial basket by Betty Rock Johnson. Betty is the sweetest little lady you will ever meet, and is a cover girl for Navajo people. She still adorns herself with sky stone and silver and dresses in traditional clothes of satin and velveteen. Betty's salt and pepper hair is always brushed back and wrapped in a traditional bun tied with cotton string. The deeply impressed wrinkles on her beautiful light brown face testify to the harshness of our local environment. Her amazing brown eyes sparkle in merriment and acknowledge her family love and commitment. Because of the tightness of her weave and the extraordinary symmetry of Betty's baskets, they are sought by medicine men and collectors alike. For over 40 years we have bought and sold this woman's baskets.

There was an Alicia Nelson ceremonial basket, set with 12 arrowheads finely napped by our old friend Homer Etherton. Homer passed away several years ago. When he died we put away a hand-full of his finest points as a reminder of his artistry and friendship. Alicia weaves wonderful baskets that reflect Native tradition in its finest light. Steve and I have watched as Alicia wove her way into one of the best basket makers of all time. We were there when she and Jonathan bore and raised their small family. We watched as the couple separated and suffered the pain associated with that disaster. We saw her art reflect the hurt she obviously felt and were amazed as she regrouped and regained her style and grace. Alicia's admirable character is reflected in her art.

David drove the final stake through my heart when he mentioned there was a Mary Holiday Black multi-colored butterfly basket in the collection. Like the metaphor of this creature, Mary turned her simple upbringing into a life projecting beauty and grace. She has fought hard to create a revolution in Navajo basketry. She took the time and invested the effort to teach each of her nine children to weave. Then she made sure every family member, new or old, who was interested in basketry was given the opportunity to learn. Mary is primarily responsible for the preservation and renaissance of Navajo basketry and is a contemporary legend. In 1995 she received the Utah Governor's Folk Art Award, and in September of 1996 was awarded a $10,000.00 National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. This was presented to her in Washington D.C. by then first lady Hillary Clinton.

I asked David how much he paid for the collection. He refused to say, but implied it wasn't much. I think he was, by then, feeling sorry for me because he had discovered my overly sentimental attachment to the Navajo people and their art. David could not explain why the individual who inherited this collection had not called us to attempt a more proper disbursement. It was apparent a passionate individual had lovingly accumulated the art, and that an undeserving someone had simply dumped it for a small payday. David sent images, and I shared them with Steve. He too became despondent. David did say he would do his utmost to place the pieces in loving and appreciative homes. If that was not possible, he promised to send them to us for help. At least there was that.

The moral of this story is, find a job selling cars, groceries or stocks and bonds. This trading post business can cause far too much emotional attachment. If you are not careful, you may loose perspective and become consumed by an overabundance of enthusiasm. And for heavens sake, if at some point you discover the Marvin Jim folk art sculptures of Steve and me in a dirty storefront of some undistinguished thrift shop, please bail us out and take us home.

With warm regards from Barry and the team;
Steve, Priscilla, and Danny.