Friday, April 17, 2015

The Finger

But for a few common phrases, a limited amount of numbers and an expletive or two, we did not speak the same language. That, however, was no impediment to our conversation. This was show-and-tell, not elaborate dialogue. Holding up a single digit, she was confident I would understand. I am no stranger to expressing one’s emotion with a finger or two, nor am I unfamiliar with this particular individual. I have known her more than 20 years and we have never shared a cross word.

Outside it was a blustery early April morning, and the Kokopelli doors were braced against a steady gale that blew in from the west. On spring days like this, Barry, Priscilla and I joke with Twin Rocks Trading Post patrons about not having to visit Monument Valley. Instead, thinking we might wheedle a few bucks out of them, we recommend they sit tight and watch as the formations blow by. “You can see the whole thing from right here”, we advise them. When it blasts particularly hard, we have actually been able to sell the idea. “Just give it a little time,” we admonish our impatient guests, “they will come.”
Navajo Ceremonial Horses Basket - Mary Holiday Black & Granddaughter (#348)

The trading post is a ever evolving kaleidoscope of humanity, and on stormy days the volume increases as people duck in to avoid the wind, rain, snow or cold. Over the course of any given day, we might see shoppers from every corner of the globe and artists from every region of the reservation. Barry and I work to cultivate both groups so the art ebbs in and flows out in a systematic, rhythmic and symbiotic tide. We, however, always seem to invest more than we divest, so the bankers have become our best friends.

As this cycle has developed, Navajo weaver Mary Holiday Black became a mainstay of our enterprise. Twin Rocks Trading Post is probably most well known for contemporary Navajo basketry, and at the store we have oodles and oodles of these woven gems. We also have gobs of people who stop by to investigate the cultural, historical and artistic meaning of these sumac story boards. Barry and I, and sometimes Priscilla too, are eager to decipher their messages. It does not take much to launch us into a discussion about their significance in Navajo folklore. To say we love baskets would be a gross understatement, they are in our blood and we are obsessed.

Mary is surely the most famous Navajo basket weaver ever, and in many ways she and Twin Rocks Trading Post are synonymous. You might say we are interwoven. As Mary’s reputation has soared, Twin Rocks has correspondingly become more widely known. Indeed, Barry and I have grown extremely fond of Mary, and she is considered the matron of our trading post family.

Along with her fame, a callous on her left index finger has ballooned. After scores of baskets, the lump had become greater than half an inch thick, and she has often displayed it to illustrate just how difficult weaving is on her hands, and to convince us we should be more generous in our offers. It is an odd reminder that progress typically comes at significant cost, and that in southeastern Utah fame is an imperfect hedge against hard work.

On this particular day Mary was not negotiating, she was flaunting. She had recently visited her physician and the pernicious barnacle was gone, disappeared, altogether vanished. That is why she stood on the consumer side of the counter holding up her finger. She was proud and wanted us to share in the exorcism of that painful bump. Barry, Priscilla and I each carefully examined her pointer, stroking the smooth surface in admiration. After all these years, was it actually gone for good? She was confident it would trouble her no more.

Having shared her good fortune, Mary proceeded on her way, and we went back to work. The incident must have made an impression on Barry, however, because later that day I overheard him talking with Danny. “Pull this finger”, Barry said, prompting his associate to take action. Danny must have complied, because the request was closely followed by a mysterious “chuff”. Priscilla, who was reorganizing the Navajo rugs, just smiled.

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

Friday, April 10, 2015

Inspired By the Scenery

At least once in their lifetime, everyone should stand upon an exposed rock rim of a high desert mesa and look out over the land. Recently I had a conversation with an attractive, effervescent couple from eastern Tennessee. They were over fifty, lean, fit and healthy looking; as if they were well versed in the lifestyle of the great outdoors. The couple shared tales of hiking the trails of the Great Smokey Mountains, mentioning how green and overgrown the back country is and how they thrilled at turning corners to see what the next leg of a journey had to offer. They, however, felt the vistas were somewhat inhibited because it is unusual to find a spot high and open enough to gain a bird's eye view.
Navajo Mother Earth & Father Sky Rug Set - Luana Tso (#51)

Not to be outdone, and wanting to prove a point about how amazing this part of the world is, I shared a recent experience I had while trekking up the back side of a butte. Upon arriving at the far end of the plain and stepping-out upon the awe-inspiring rim, I looked out upon this place known as southern San Juan County. The sky above was as blue as an alpine lake, with cotton-ball cloud formations scooting across the upper atmosphere on a gentle spring breeze. The only sign of human existence was vapor trails left by monster sky busses passing overhead. The 30 foot face of vertical slick-rock below the toe of my boots bulged-out, a bit like the belly of an ancient Buddha statue I had once seen. The tummy of the carving, as with these humps of stone, was weathered, mineral stained and deeply cracked, much like the sun seasoned faces of Navajo men and women I had known during my youth.

The jumble of wrecked rocks on the talus slope below constituted a ragged and jagged exhibit of fragmented sandstone. This rocky ramp was populated with tenacious juniper trees of unusual character, and clumps of dry, yellow grass. Because of the precarious footing and lack of moisture, the gnarled trees seem to have no business growing there. Somehow, as with most undaunted life forms in this region of the world, they find a way to sustain themselves. Looking across the raw and furrowed landscape, I saw sun bleached outcroppings of rock scattered about the countryside. These were interspersed with undulating mounds of red sand spotted with limited stands of sage, rabbit brush and Mormon tea.

Way off in the distance I saw a squiggly line of light green plant life making its way through the low-lying portion of the landscape. I realized a stream bed waited patiently for any precipitation the heavens might offer-up. Near what looked like a deeper impression in the landscape I saw where there must be just enough moisture captured below ground for a small group of cottonwood trees to eek out a meager existence. The foliage was more verdant there. It takes a great deluge for any amount of water to make the trip all the way to the San Juan River. The land is far too parched and porous to let any sip of refreshment escape.

As I explained to my new friends, the beauty of southern San Juan County is best viewed from on high. It is easier to see the fabric of the land from above and at a distance. The texture of what lies below makes me long to reach-out and touch it, to caress it with the tips of my fingers. When I stood on the edge of the mesa it was mid-day, light from the sun shone straight down upon the land and it was strikingly graphic. I know though that refracted light from different angles or shadow from cloud color cause a completely different impression. This is to say nothing of how moon-glow illuminates the scene. When it comes to this land of monument, mesa and canyon, an early morning, late afternoon or midnight visit to the same spot provides a completely different visual perspective.

As I spoke of our homeland and tried to explain its singular beauty, the couple seemed to comprehend, and they wanted to see it from a similar vantage point. I mentioned Cedar Mesa and told them to find their own mesa top. "In this part of the country there is no screen of tall trees, nor overgrown vegetation", I told them. "There is something exciting about the open nature of this land, the exposure that stimulates your heart and frees your emotions." "I am ready ", said the woman to the man, slapping him on the tush, "lets go!" As the woman headed out the Kokopelli doors, the man grinned as if he had just been let in on a secret. He looked after his spouse and said, "Thanks, thank you very much!" "For what?" I wondered as they bounded down the front steps hand-in-hand, hopped in their Jeep Cherokee and quickly drove away.

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