Friday, April 25, 2014

Turkey Talk

Earlier this year Grandma Washburn gave me one of Grandpa's old box type turkey calls as a gift. I was dying to try it out, so last Sunday I snatched the opportunity and escaped into the Blue Mountains. Laurie and I arrived in Monticello around 2:00 p.m. and I promptly dropped her off at Grandma's house, making a beeline for the big hill. Arriving at the family's mountain property, I parked at the lower gate, grabbed my day pack, hopped the fence and began walking in a southwesterly direction. As I trekked along, the crisp alpine air refreshed me, and the aroma of giant pine trees were enticingly aromatic. At 8,000 feet there was no snow remaining on the ground, the still leafless oak brush looked gaunt and haggard and, often, busted-up from carrying an overwhelming load of snow from earlier in the year. Struggling up through a carpet of pine needles, cones, dead and down oak leaves and a variety of other ground cover were young and tender shoots of grass. Interspersed among the new growth were gorgeous miniature blue bells, and what I less than scientifically determined to be white phlox.
Navajo Wild Turkey Wood Carving - Marvin Jim (#348)
When I discovered a promising location, I would back into it, sit down and talk turkey for a few minutes. Although I had previewed several You Tube videos on the subject and "practice scratched" on the box at home, this was my first attempt at reaching out to the freaky looking fowl on their own turf. As I somewhat silently made my way through the property, I gobbled out declarations and listened for a response. There was none. In high school Coach Bayles counseled me on the negative effects of walking and talking at the same time. Maybe it was simultaneously walking and chewing gum? No matter, the implications are the same. He and I never did get along well, and our win/loss record on the gridiron reflected that painful reality. Who was responsible for that downward spiral has never been finally determined, but I am certain my inability to do two things at once played a relevant role. Even if I was not effectively communicating with the turkeys, I afforded the local deer population a bit of comic relief. I am confident this is the case, because a small herd kept circling my route as if they could not get enough of my ongoing act.

On one occasion I found myself sitting on a large lichen-encrusted rock which rested beneath an overhang of mangled oak brush. There were a few turkey feathers scattered about the ground, and I picked one up to inspect it. As I did so, I recalled Navajo legends concerning Turkey. In one, Turkey was created by deities and is mightier than eagles and far more benevolent. Because the supernatural beings provided Turkey with many types of seeds, he is charged with teaching humans agriculture, and is in turn responsible for bountiful harvests. Turkey carries white corn in his tail feathers and blue corn round his neck. Yellow corn he hides in the small feathers above his tail and mixed corn is on his wings. Squash he keeps under his right wing and melons under his left. Tobacco is under his tail and beans are kept in the piece of flesh that stands on top of his beak. Turkey is blessed with wide ranging knowledge, and knows the thoughts of humans. He does not often care to be bothered and, because he is graced with impeccable vision and a crafty nature, Turkey has the ability to appear unexpectedly and disappears without a trace. When a flood moved the Navajo from the previous world, Turkey was the last to enter the escape reed. Thus he was stuck at the end of the line. When the waters rose high enough to wet him, Turkey began to gobble and the people knew danger was near. Often did the waves wash the end of the Turkey's tail, and it is for this reason the tips of his tail feathers are to this day lighter in color than the rest of his plumage.

Making my way to the top of the property, near the crest of a hill I discovered a star-like stump in the midst of an oak brush cluster. I sat with my back against the stump and sent out more calls. Turkey did not answer. Either I was a pitiful purveyor of turkey vocabulary, there were no turkeys about or they were just not interested. Whatever the case, I was feeling rejected. After awhile I gave up and put away the box. From my pack I pulled a coyote call I kept for just such occasions. After a half hour of intermittent screeching with no sign of the chaotic Coyote, I put that one away as well. That day my attempts to reach out to Turkey and Coyote were a bust. While I was lucky enough to interact with the local deer population, I feared they might have a low opinion of me and my activities. I decided it was best to just walk about and enjoy the beauty of the land and day. As it approached 5:00 p.m., my mind turned to dinner. I knew Laurie, Grandma Washburn and sister Stephanie would have been putting together another Thanksgivinesque dinner at the house. The main course would be ham not turkey, which was fine with me since mustard goes better with pork than with fowl and I was craving Grey Poupon. As far as those uncooperative gobblers were concerned, I decided to leave them with an Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator-themed statement, so I said out-loud, "I'll be back!"

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Co-op

One thing that has always confounded me about Bluff is that, at least during my lifetime, it has never had a centralized commercial center. Whenever Jana, Kira, Grange and I visit other small communities of the Colorado Plateau, the historic buildings that testify to their origin fascinate us. We all enjoy walking up and down ancient streets, looking into abandoned and renovated storefronts; surveying the past; and speculating on the future.
Bluff Fort Co-op - 1890's, Charles Goodman Photo
Today, Bluff has the Desert Rose Inn on the extreme west side; the Recapture Lodge and K & C Trading Post in the center; and Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe on the east end. There is not, however, a consolidated business core.

According to our best friends LaRue Barton and Corrine Roring, in 1899, approximately 19 years after they arrived in Bluff, the Mormon settlers built what was known as the San Juan Co-operative Company. This massive stone structure served as a clearinghouse for commercial transactions in Bluff and the surrounding area. Even the Ute and Navajo populations traded wool, pelts and woven goods at the Co-op. It was a regional hub of business activity.

Unfortunately for the citizens of this tiny settlement, in 1925 a burglar who went by the alias Fred Starr decided he needed the contents of the Co-op’s safe more than its members. Using an overabundance of dynamite to accomplish his goal, in a flash of brilliance he managed to simultaneously collapse the building and end his earthly existence.

In recent years the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation has begun building a replica of the Co-op to celebrate the story of those who answered the call to establish the San Juan Mission. Over the past few months, Vance Seely, a local stonemason who applied the sandstone exterior to Twin Rocks Trading Post many years ago, has been laying up stone on the reconstructed building.

Aside from being one of the best tradesmen on the face of the Earth, Vance is also the nicest guy on the planet. He is universally happy, and always makes your day better. As a result of my interest in the history of commerce in Bluff; my fondness for Vance and his work; and my fascination with the extraordinary stonework he and his crew are doing, I have taken to driving past the Co-op every day on my way to work. The building literally glistens in the early morning sun, and is a hive of activity. I cannot help hoping the Co-op will be the catalyst for reviving commerce in this small town on the banks of the San Juan River.

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Divine Conversations

Last Sunday I found myself in Bluff bright and early. I was managing Twin Rocks Cafe, covering the shift for Steve because earlier in the week he had covered for me. On Thursday Laurie and I had made a mad dash to Provo to be there when McKale opened her mission call for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. California, Bakersfield is where our dear daughter will serve. We are both excited and frightened by the prospect of her being out of personal touch for 18 months. Steve and I have been covering manager shifts at the cafe while our new, very dedicated GM, Marc Hodge, trains more managerial support staff. Since Craig and Kathy moved on we have struggled to find people who really want to work and focus on business. As of late Steve has been burdened with the majority of the extra load, so I really wanted to make sure he had a day off. My primary goal was to steer our ship and crew along a calm and peaceful course until Marc came on board to take the helm at 3:00 p.m. I would then disembark and hustle to Monticello to share a bountiful meal with Laurie's side of the family.
Navajo Mother Earth & Father Sky Rug Set - Luana Tso (#51)

It was still early in the day, and I was standing at the front desk visiting with my young niece, Kira, who was cashiering. Just then a man walked-up and asked if I could run next door to the trading post and fetch him a jar of pinion salve. I assured him I would and headed in that direction. As I exited the glass doors of the cafe I was struck by the beauty of the day. The air was cool but not cold; golden light filtered down from the sun, which slowly tracked across our sapphire skies. The scene reminded me that the Navajo believe sunlight is the personification of drifting corn pollen, which is associated with prayer. The red rock bowl in which our businesses rests and the accompanying monolithic twin towers that rise above our unworthy heads seemed to emanate strength and power. The cottonwood trees across the road were pushing forth-green growth and there were weeds of every denomination forcing their unwanted leaves up through the sandy soil. I thought how wonderful and beautiful Bluff can be, and wondered at how accepting and hospitable Bakersfield, California might be to my precious child.

As I rounded the Sunbonnet Rock, which stands between the cafe and trading post, I came upon a slight wisp of a woman sitting on one of the stone benches smoking a cigarette. I was so caught-up in thinking of McKale and her upcoming spiritual adventure that I nearly stumbled over the waif. I came up short and apologized for my clumsy approach. She nodded as if to accept my apology and smiled with unreasonably yellowed teeth. Because she had such an unusual appearance, I caught myself staring and had to look away so I did not seem rude. She was skinny, emaciated in a way. I doubt she was more than eighty pounds. Her face was deeply tanned and mightily wrinkled, her eyes a piercing blue. She had her shoulder-length, yellow tinged salt and pepper hair pulled severely back in a tight bunch at the back of her head. The tiny Munchkin wore a plain, rumpled, dark grey t-shirt; less than clean straight legged Levi's 501 jeans; and yellow flip flops over hoary, sunburned toes with scraggly nails. I stepped back and attempted to cover my surprise at her appearance by commenting on the glorious, almost divine, nature of the day.

She thought about my comment and asked me in a matter of fact fashion, "Do you know your Bible?" I was a bit taken aback by this 70 something year old woman's directness and replied, "Barely, I guess." "Well you should", she said blowing smoke in my direction, "it is the single most important book in the world." "Without religion", she followed, "this old world would be so bleak that your heart would sink to limitless depths." I wondered to myself just how we had come to such a deep and abiding conversation in such a short period of time. The gnome looked at me closely as if anticipating a reply. "It is one of my many shortcomings," I blurted out searching for a good comeback. "It is our faults that make us most interesting", was her philosophical reply. Since I am extremely cautious with whom I speak of religion or politics, and I did not have a clue as to which group this woman belonged to, I simply smiled, as did the Cheshire Cat, and held my tongue.

The smokey woman and I smiled expectantly at each other far too long before I excused myself to continue my quest for Nellie's Everything Cream. As I walked off she left me with a softly spoken and heartfelt comment, "Spread the faith little brother." As I made my way across the porch of the trading post to the side door I thought of the wizened woman's approach to religious discourse and pondered just how McKale might discover a successful introduction and approach of her own. I entered the trading post, sought out the pinion cream and made my way back out. As I went, I decided to seek out more conversation with this quasi prophet of God. As I emerged from the store, I noticed a ratty old, chalky blue 1970 something, 4x4 Datsun truck rolling out of the parking lot with smoke pouring from the driver's side window. I had certainly missed my chance at a premier discussion regarding one of the most controversial topics on this good earth. I was feeling a bit slow on the uptake concerning the leathery priestess, but I was also certain McKale would seek me out for similar conversations in the near future.

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

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Right to be Wrong

The other day Kira needed to be in Blanding for an evening play performance. Thinking that would be a good opportunity to spend a little driving time with her, I decided to load my bicycle into the bed of our old Ford pickup and do a late afternoon ride back to Bluff. Since she is open to discussing topics ranging from politics to religion to human relations, I always enjoy talking with her.
Steve Simpson and his Ford pickup in front of Twin Rocks

Kira will be majoring in astrophysics when she enters college next fall, so she universally has something interesting to say. I, on the other hand, consider myself a fairly simple man, so dark matter, black holes, the Big Bang theory, gravitational waves and cosmic inflation confound me. Indeed, I am hard pressed to explain the difference between a bison and a boson or a navel and a neutrino. It is therefore surprising to me that I am at least partially responsible for raising such a complex child. I can only surmise the solution to that particular mystery resides with her mother.

As Kira and I drove north, hop scotching from one issue to the next; we ultimately landed on a topic of disagreement. “Well”, she concluded with sincere compassion for my apparently misguided opinion, “you have the right to be wrong.” Shortly thereafter, we arrived in town so I extracted the bicycle from our truck and commenced peddling home. As I descended the 25 miles from Blanding to Bluff, Kira’s comment kept rattling around in my mind, and I wondered, “Do I really have a right to be wrong?”

Long ago Barry and I were taught the principles of “the trader’s prerogative”, which counsels that one can say almost anything in the interest of securing a sale or trading advantage. I have also been instructed by Rose and Duke that, “Ignorance is not a crime." In fact, some of our Bluff neighbors have confirmed this theory by assuring me that if it were a felony I would be incarcerated for life, maybe even condemned to death row.

While I am comfortable I cannot be imprisoned for being a Philistine, I was still not convinced Kira was correct. As a result, the following morning I logged on to the Internet and pulled up a copy of the Bill of Rights. Although I was able to identify many Constitutional privileges, I did not find any mention of a right to be wrong.

In spite of the trader’s prerogative, Barry and I have always endeavored to maintain a higher standard, even when this was considered foolish by many of the old-timers in our industry. Wanting to test Kira’s theory, however, I came to work this week with no regard for accuracy. As Barry, Priscilla and Danny stood by, aghast as I poured out volumes of misguided facts, sales at Twin Rocks Trading Post soared.

Just as I was becoming comfortable I had converted them to this new philosophy, an official-looking letter arrived. It stated, “You better retain a good defense lawyer. We are charging you with a felony of falsehood and malicious misinformation. You’re going down!” It was signed Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

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