Friday, May 15, 2015

On the Horizon

Bluff, this beautiful little economically challenged town on the northern border of the Navajo reservation, has been my home on and off since the day I first arrived in this earthly realm. As a young man, I roamed the washes, climbed the cliffs and hurled dirt clods at the other children without a care for the financial demands of everyday life. There was of course the occasional need for a dime or two to satisfy my desire for sugary treats, but for the most part money was not a consideration. On occasion Craig, Barry and I were able to sneak into Roy Pearson’s workshop to pinch a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or two, further mitigating our need for cash. We, however, did not need coins jingling in our pockets to make us feel like kings.

In my youth I did make note of the Navajo women who looked regal in their velveteen blouses adorned with dimes, quarters and the occasional John Kennedy half dollar. Although I knew those coins could buy enough candy and red soda to make me hurl something besides stones, I do not remember ever conspiring to relieve the ladies of their adornments. I must have felt the silver served a higher purpose accenting Navajo clothing than it would have purchasing pop.

When I returned to this pink sandstone paradise after many years in Northern California, money was a more pressing concern. I had left my secure job at the age of 30 and was beginning to feel my financial ship had sailed. In fact, I wondered whether I had bought a first class ticket on the Titanic. My future appeared to be taking on water.
Twin Rocks Trading Post in Bluff, Ut

A few years later something arrived on my desk that made me reconsider my fiscal fate. No, it was not the death of a rich uncle leaving me a cornucopia of cash, they were already gone with no indication of inheritance. The thing that made me reconsider my monetary misgivings was a book, a thesis actually.

Barry generally avoids the chaos of my office unless there are serious matters to be addressed. There he was, however, peeking around the door frame with something green and rectangular in his hand. “What’s that?” I asked, in my most congenial voice, since he seemed to hold the object in high regard. “A book”, he said. “I know it’s a book”, I replied, “what kind?” He handed me the explanatory note that came with his newly acquired treasure.

The missive indicated our friend Kay had sent us a copy of her son’s master’s thesis; which was entitled Jens Nielson, Bishop of Bluff. “Oh,” I said, still trying to sound pleasant, “let me see.” Since I had obviously fooled him with my kindness, I am sure Barry thought I would immediately return his jewel. He was, however, sadly disappointed. I kept the manuscript and carefully studied its contents so long Barry began to worry he might never get it back.

As indicated by its title, the monograph focuses on Mormon bishop Jens Nielson. The background and history relating to the colonization and development of Bluff is, however, what captured my attention. The writing details challenges the settlers had just getting to this remote location, and outlines the problems associated with taming the San Juan River, raising crops and dealing with local tribes. It describes Bluff as, “[T]he back eddy of empires”, and quotes Parley Butt, one of the early pioneers, saying, “When God finished makin’ the world he had a lot of rocks left over an’ he threw them down here in a pile in Utah.” Those two statements accurately illustrate our small town.

As the pioneers attempted to gain a foothold in this difficult land, the river all too often destroyed their hopes for an abundant harvest. The wind blew red dust into every crack and crevice of their log homes, covering the settlers and their belongings with a continuous ruby film. Skirmishes between the Mormon pioneers and Navajo, Ute and Paiute people sometimes turned deadly. Like me, the settlers began to believe their economic transport would never turn up. Through hard work, faith and perseverance, however, they eventually succeeded.

Although we have always survived the raiding parties of our contemporary Navajo basket and rug weaving adversaries, Barry and I know we are in for a scalping when the Holidays, Blacks or Rocks arrive at Twin Rocks Trading Post. Generally, the skirmishes involve lots of gesticulation, protestations and haggling; sometimes even coin tossing and arm wrestling. When the deal is done, however, everyone is still healthy and generally happy. The weavers almost always seem more content than Barry and I, but we have become accustomed to that outcome.

Like Bluff’s settlers, Barry and I have a strong faith we will eventually prosper if we persevere. Way out on the horizon we think we see the sails of success, so we have asked Priscilla to help us send up smoke signals to guide the vessel through waters that are as treacherous as the Bermuda Triangle. The pioneers believed there was a higher purpose to their establishment of Bluff, and Barry and I feel the same. We just don’t yet know what that may be.

With warm regards from Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

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