Friday, February 28, 2014

Gemmologist, Tradingpostologist, Internetologist

It was 9:00 a.m., and I was at Twin Rocks Trading Post filling online orders. We were lucky enough to have received a few sales overnight, and I was grateful Al Gore had invented the Internet. As I printed a certificate of authenticity to send along with a 14k gold and Royston turquoise pendent, Danny, our Internet manager, walked in. Because Danny's pay is partially tied to web sales, he is extremely interested in how things are working out. As a result, he strolled over to check on my endeavors and exchange morning pleasantries. While we talked, a woman walked through the Kokopelli doors and began carefully perusing our inventory. Earlier that morning, when I stopped into the cafe to make myself a cup of hot herb tea, I had noticed the woman and three friends enjoying a leisurely breakfast. As I walked by their table, I overheard them talking and, because of their speech, concluded they were Brits.

When the woman drew near the sales counter, I asked where in the United Kingdom was she from. She stopped short, thought for a moment and questioned how I knew she was from the British Isles when she had not spoken a single word. "I cheated,” I admitted, explaining I had overheard her talking to her pals during breakfast. "Ah, I see,” she said in a crisp, clipped accent, "I thought you might be clairvoyant." "I wish,” I replied, "that might help me better understand how my wife thinks, and keep me out of trouble." The woman chuckled heartily and asked how long I had been married. "Over a quarter century,” I responded. "Love, if you haven't figured her out by now, you probably never will,” the woman advised. "Ouch!” I thought as she wandered on, "leave it to a British matron to ferret-out the heart of a matter and state her position in an unabashed manner.
Turquoise Map

Just then one of the lady's traveling companions walked into the store and spied her friend. They stopped at the case containing a variety of turquoise cabochons displayed on a turquoise map. This Priscilla inspired exhibit shows the location of many of the most recognizable mines and associated turquoise specimens. The newcomer shared her knowledge of turquoise, and it became readily apparent her understanding was not deep. Over many years of working in this business, and stumbling through life, I have discovered it unwise to point out the faults of others, so I let her comments pass without a response. I have also discovered that too little information and too much confidence can make us dangerous to others and ourselves. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and I am well endowed with the latter. Consequently, I find it best to keep my mouth shut. Well, most often anyway. Unless people corner me with a question, I remain reticent. It just so happened this woman felt secure enough to test her knowledge. She walked up to me and said with a cocky air, "New Mexico turquoise is, by far, the best ever mined in the United States. Wouldn't you agree?"

I know, for example, that Tyrone turquoise, from the Burro Mountains near Silver City, New Mexico, has been lauded for its exceptional quality and also advertised in several high profile magazines. Because heavy-hitter investors promoted it, early on Tyrone brought some of the highest prices ever paid for turquoise. I would not, however, say it is the best ever extracted from American soil. In spite of my point of view, I decided to tread lightly and soften my dissension by fastening a friendly grin upon my mug before answering. "Well,” I cautioned, every mine produces a wide range of quality, from good to bad. Additionally, each claims to have produced, or to be producing, the best turquoise ever discovered. If pinned down, I would argue your point. I prefer to take turquoise on an individual basis and independently decide the beauty and value of each stone." "Well,” the woman said, as if the statement would explain everything and finally settle the matter, "I am a gemmologist!" Since he knows I am a graduate gemologist, Danny looked at me in anticipation of a vigorous rebuttal. Danny also understands that over the last 40 years of working with and studying turquoise, I have developed a strong opinion on the subject.

To lighten the mood and add a little humor to our conversation, I said, "Well, I hold a doctorate in tradingpostology from the University of Bluffoonery." As they considered my statement, both women studied my smiling face to determine whether I was serious. Eventually, one grinned knowingly. The gemmologist frowned deeply and stormed out the door. As she tried to push her way out through the Kokopelli doors, she recognized the "pull" sign and reversed course, exited the building and left us in the lurch. Just before the door closed, I heard her reaffirm, "I am a gemmologist!" Laughing, I shot back, "I am a tradingpostologist!" The remaining woman smiled brightly as she pulled open the door and followed her friend. Before she left, I told her my degree was self-proclaimed, self-awarded and written in crayon. "I thought as much,” she said with a chuckle. She waved cheerily and departed. "A tradingpostologist?" asked Danny, "Sure,” I said, "after 40 years in this business I deserve a fancy title." Danny laughingly responded, "I guess,” as he made his way upstairs. Later that day, I overheard him explain to someone on the telephone, "Well, I’m completing my masters in Internetology."

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Bee C

Early Wednesday morning I loaded Buffy the Wonder Dog into my old Ford pickup and headed north. Destination: San Juan High School, Blanding, Utah. When the task is great, Buffy is the Simpson family and Twin Rocks Trading Post talisman, and this particular day was sure to be a challenge.

Grange, like Kira, his older sister, has fallen under the tutelage of Jana the Spellmeister. When it comes to spelling, Jana does not fool around. Consequently, under her guidance Grange was this year’s champion at the Albert R. Lyman Middle School Spelling Bee. He therefore received a ticket for advancement to the next phase, and the time had arrived. In spite of his early success, I reckoned Grange could use Buffy’s support, so into the truck she went.

Spelling bees have always been a source of anxiety for me, even when I am not a participant. Maybe this results from a lack of focus in school, maybe it indicates a shortage of innate intelligence or maybe it is just fate. Whatever the reason, spelling and grammar confound me. So it was with great trepidation I attended Kira’s years of competitive spelling. Each time I sat next to Jana at one of the many events Kira entered and mentally tried to suss out the words, I all too quickly realized that, had I been a contestant, I would have been quickly dismissed for failing to articulate the correct answer. Kira, on the other hand, has a natural talent for language. From an early age she intuitively understood how letters fit together to form even the most difficult words.

When I look back at my own scholastic career, I often wonder how my instructors were able to decipher my hieroglyphics. Maybe they were accustomed to young people not knowing how to spell, or maybe they realized I would wind up miserable and alone if they did not award me a passing grade. Whatever the reason, I was universally promoted. This, of course, was the dark days before the rise of Steve Jobs, widespread personal computer use and spell check, so I did not have technology to identify and correct my scholastic missteps.

Unlike Kira, Grange has had to work hard at developing his language proficiency. So, last year when the Master of Spelling was too busy to focus her lexicon laser beam on the next protégé, Grange faltered in the early rounds. I, of course, worried he might succumb to the destiny that had befallen his sire and forever wander in a wilderness of words. Jana, however, never lost faith in her ability to train Grange or in his capacity to master their joint undertaking.

In spite of his paternal predisposition, with Buffy’s support and me sitting quietly by hoping nobody would ask me to arbitrate an alphabetic misfire, Grange was able to conquer all challengers and move on to the regional competition as district champion. Overcome with excitement, and momentarily forgetting my linguistic handicap, I leaned over to Jana the Queen of Spelling and said, “That was S.T.U.P.E.N.D.U.S.” She just smiled and said, “I’m sorry, you are dismissed.”

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

Friday, February 14, 2014


About 30 years ago I traded Floyd Miller out of a pair of aluminum, leather and synthetic sinew snowshoes. From that day forward they have hung forlornly in our carport–a constant reminder of my ineffective attempts at leisure activity; last week however, I finally found the opportunity to put them to use.
Navajo Black and White Tree of Life Basket - Elsie Holiday (#355)

Almost every Sunday we venture forth to visit "Grandma Washburn," my wife's sister Stephanie and brother-in-law Reid. This tradition has evolved into a real treat for me, because the womenfolk gather together their bountiful culinary talents and put on a Thanksgivingesque meal. On this particular day Laurie mentioned dinner would be served later than usual. We would, however, be arriving early to help prepare the feast. Because I felt guilty about leaving those webbed walkers hanging so long, and also a bit exhilarated by the prospect of exploring a winter wonderland, I was moved to action.

Laurie asked me to retrieve a cooler from the carport so we could take our fixings to Monticello. While extracting the icebox, I pulled the old snowshoes from their rusty nail. Inspecting them closely, I tested the materials for strength and durability. Amazingly they were in good condition. This I attributed to high quality manufacturing and storing them in a cool, dry place. Apparently my age old exchange had been solid. As I understood my wife's agenda, there would be a period of three or four hours between our arrival in Buckarooville and dinner. This seemed plenty of time for a walk, so I placed the shoes in our Toyota Tundra and fetched my bug-out bag, which I maintain for scouting events and day hikes. Laurie noticed my animated activity from the kitchen window and asked what I was planning. "I am going snowshoeing!" was my enthusiastic reply. "Just don't be late for dinner or you will be eating squirrels and acorns", she cautioned. "Umm", I thought to myself, "acorn stuffed squirrel might not be half bad."

When we arrived in "Cello", I helped Laurie unload the groceries, greeted Grandma and made a beeline for the mountain. The road to the dilapidated ski lift was snow packed and laced with cross-country ski tracks. I parked the truck, grabbed my gear and walked up the road to the entrance of Redd ranches real estate. Facing my as yet unspoiled entry point, I strapped on the snowshoes and stepped over a barbed wire fence. Standing there for a moment, I inhaled the pine-scented breeze and admired the clean, unmarked snow scape. There was a stout hour breeze pushing cotton ball cloud formations across the face of the mountain, therefore, I zipped-up my Carhartt jacket before pressing on. Sunlight burst through the spaces between traveling puffballs, causing shadowed movement through the trees and across the face of scant boulders left uncovered by the forces of nature.
Navajo Black and White Tree of Life Basket - Elsie Holiday (#355)

The snow wrapped itself around the trees like frosting on a cake full of candles. It sparkled and scintillated like a field of diamonds in the early afternoon sunlight. The first five inches of snow was fresh and fluffy powder. Beneath that was approximately a foot of crust I assumed had been warmed from beneath by earlier thawing. Each time I stepped forward my snowshoe sank several inches. When I put my full weight forward, the crusty snow beneath broke and settled even more. As I traveled through the gaunt, twisted and skeletal looking oak brush interspersed with evergreen pine and spruce, I made a swish-thunk sound that reverberated through the thickets. The pure, white snow was mostly trackless. I did, however, see one set of squirrel tracks that began at a large pine, trailed into a clearing and circled back. I thought of my spouse's comment and laughed to myself, thinking, "At least if I do get hungry, I know where to search for a nut or two." I soon came to the Washburn Enterprises fence line and hopped over. I passed through a grove of statuesque quaking aspen, by a small earthen dam holding back a live spring, through more oak brush and evergreens and finally into a large open space.

As I stood there taking in the scene, the snow covered meadow spread out in front of me with fragile, tubular stalks of columbine and clusters of crested wheat grass poking through. At the edge of the meadow grew oaks larger than twelve inches in circumference. These were backed by tall, perfectly formed yellow pine trees, which climbed the side of the peak directly in front of me. The mountain majestically rose up and reminded me of the Hostess Sno Balls we used to sell at the Plateau gas station our family managed on the south side of Blanding when my siblings and I were kids. For those who do not remember, Sno Balls came in a package of two and consisted of cream filled chocolate cake covered with marshmallow frosting and coconut flakes. Except for the stands of pine and spruce smudged on the side of the mountain, it was a good representation of that long lost treat. Maybe I was just getting hungry.

Walking across the clearing, I felt I was disturbing the peace and roughing-up the landscape. Entering the big oaks, I found a downed log and sat for a bit, enjoying the peace and quiet. Before long I checked the time and realized that if I did not start back soon I surely would be eating acorns. Reluctantly I retraced my steps, making my way back to the truck. Just before I arrived at the vehicle, Laurie called on the cell phone and asked where I was. I said I would be there in 30 minutes and cautioned her not to start without me. She assured me she could not make that commitment, so I better hurry. As I picked-up the pace, driving down the mountain road, I thought to myself what a beautiful country we live in and how enjoyable it is to get out into it.

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

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Crisis of Confidence

Lately a crisis has been brewing at Twin Rocks Trading Post. The unrest started quite simply; like a soft summer rain. It has, however, grown into a typhoon of titanic proportions that is battering my emotional shores. The storm looms over my physical and psychological well being, and may fully undermine the fragile foundation on which my trading career is built.

While Vienna sausages may seem too insignificant to cause one’s downfall, it is in fact those wizened weenies that have me worried. Over the past several weeks I have noticed more and more empty cans of these pitiful piggies showing up around the store. First there was the one in the wastebasket of the men’s bathroom. Although I thought that a bit bizarre, I frankly did not accord it adequate attention. I have noticed stranger things in there. Next was the tin in Barry’s office. By that time I was becoming suspicious. The final straw came when he and Priscilla showed up with an entire pan of pigs-in-a-blanket made with those sawed off smokies, which Barry has begun referring to as “delicacies.” Smiling like they had just discovered the gold of El Dorado, they offered me a bite. Not wanting to spoil their fun, my better judgment failed me and I plucked one from the tray and popped it into my mouth. That was a monumental mistake.

The root of my angst lies deep within the history of Navajo trading and reservation posts. It is well documented that Kipper snacks, anchovies, sardines, oysters in mustard and Vienna sausages have been a staple of Indian traders since the inception of vacuum sealed containers. The historical record is replete with accounts of long winters spent at lonely outposts where the only things operators had to eat were those culinary catastrophes and boxes of saltine crackers. Indeed, Jana’s dad, one of the oldest surviving members of the Southwest trading fraternity, speaks affectionately of this stuff. Jana tells captivating stories of traveling the Navajo Nation with him and his “survival kit,” which was crammed with such things. She has many times mentioned how that kit “saved their lives” when they traversed desolate Native back roads and got themselves stuck in sand dunes or mired in mud holes.

As Kira and Grange grew to maturity, I began noticing Jana trying to convince our children to taste these gastronomic gut-busters. Although the kids may not have suspected it was a test, I knew full well she was plumbing the depths of their trader gene. And she knew full well the paternal side of their genetic code might reveal an inherent defect. After all, what future does one have in this industry if he or she does not harbor a fondness, indeed a craving, for such concoctions? Jana is clearly concerned she might be the last in her line of legacy traders.

So, therein lies the source of my insecurity; I dislike, actually detest, Kipper snacks, anchovies, sardines, oysters in mustard and Vienna sausages. With that in mind, I have begun to question what hope I have as an Indian trader. Wouldn’t I starve if left all winter with only saltines and cartons of those dining disasters? What if I, instead of Jana, was stuck in a reservation sand dune or snow bank with those nutritional ciphers as the only edible alternatives? I would be a goner! Surely this proves what Momma Rose has always maintained; that I was adopted and therefore have no inherent trading capabilities.

As a result of this realization, I will soon begin a strict regimen of trader therapy. I have also contacted a life coach and initiated a search for my soul profession, which is like seeking your soul mate, only different. Barry and Priscilla are as yet unaware of my anxiety, and I can only hope they do not arrive with another slug of those pigmy porkers any time soon. That would ensure my ultimate undoing.

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