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.