Friday, December 18, 2015

Over the Top

I was having a bad day! It was getting on toward evening. and because of extenuating circumstances I had not gotten much of anything done at the trading post. I think it was the first telephone call of the morning that got things started off wrong. I received a page from Danny saying there was an irate customer on the line seeking someone to take her frustration out on. I hesitantly picked up the phone and said, "Hi this is Steve, how may I help you?" I sometimes use Steve's name when I need a scapegoat.
Bluff, Utah from above.

The woman on the other end of the line wasted no time letting me know she was angry because of getting a first class runaround. She jumped right on me, saying in an aggravated tone of voice that her ring needed repair and I should take care of the situation, "post haste". "Okay", I said, "everything we sell is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Simply send me the ring and we will repair it, right away." There was silence, then resignation. I probed, "You did buy the ring from us, didn't you?" The woman sighed and said, "Sadly no, I bought it directly from the artist."

A few minutes later the entire story was related to me. It seems a couple years ago this now unhappy collector bought an expensive coral ring from Hasteen Begay, whose name has been changed to protect the guilty, while visiting the Portal in Santa Fe. Recently the coral had dislodged itself and escaped into the forests of Vermont. The woman had wisely charged the transaction on her credit card, so she called VISA to solicit their powerful aid. VISA, with their supercomputers and know-it-all data base , gave her our 800 number and said, "Go forth and seek satisfaction". So, I found myself attempting to arbitrate a situation that had absolutely nothing to do with us.

How the credit card company connected this poor woman's complaint to Twin Rocks will surely be one of those forever unsolved mysteries. Now that I knew the woman's problem, I began searching for a solution. Realizing I knew this Mr. Begay, I rolled out the Rolodex and extracted his phone number and address and promptly gave him up. The unhappy woman was now on the path to resolving her problem. She thanked me for my somewhat selfless service. I told her it was not a problem and that if she had further complaint's to call 1-800-Steve's your man.

Later in the day, I received a call from one of the turquoise miners we work with. I will not mention his name for fear of retribution, but this guy is, as dear old dad often says, "Rough as a cob!" For years I took this saying for granted, not really understanding its significance. One day I decided to discover the true meaning of the phrase and asked my father exactly what it meant and where the saying originated. He patiently explained the term sprang to life in the days of outdoor facilities. Paper products were scarce, not often afforded and certainly never wasted. Every little thing was used and used again if an additional, beneficial purpose could be uncovered. It seems a feast of roasted corn was not only a treat for the palate, but afterwards the dried cob provided a cleansing tool for the derriere. Thus the saying, "rough as a cob!" I had to ask.

As I spoke with my associate, I felt I was being formally abused, much like the sensation the cob might have provided one's backside. After having my personal safety and life threatened several times, we came to somewhat agreeable terms on the purchase of his highly desirable blue and green gemstones. Just before he hung up, Mr. Turquoise laughed at my sensitive nature and told me that just because he threatened to break my knees and stuff me in a mine shaft, it didn't mean we weren't friends; it was simply his way of showing affection. Ya gotta love the guy!

So it went the rest of the day, until it came to a point where I was feeling chaffed. I felt as if I needed to get out of the shop and reconnect with the natural world. I hoped Mother Earth would treat me with more respect, so I found my coat and headed for the door. Lately, I have been noticing the beauty of the cap-rock on the cliff tops above town. As I drive home, the play of evening light and shadow on the roiled and domed surfaces has captured my imagination and is drawing me in. Leaving work an hour early would give me enough time to view a sunset "on the rocks!"

I told Steve where I was going and that if a Mrs. Norton from New England called to act like they were old friends. I was out the door before he could ask any further questions, jumped into the Toyota and headed north. I drove up Cow Canyon, took a hard right on the belt loop and another right onto the first dirt road that ran parallel to the canyon. Five minutes from the front door of the trading post put me within a short walk of my goal.

Stepping out of the truck, I was struck by a brisk and bitter breeze, my ears immediately frosted over and my eyes teared up. It seemed nature was not going to allow me a reprieve from a less than perfect day. I had only a light coat and no hat, but I was determined to get to the slick rock and see the sunset no matter what. Trudging across the desert caused my toes to become numb, but I soon arrived at the point where the desert met the rock. Looking up through crying eyes, I recognized the bold, bubbly formation before me. I reached down and felt the welcoming sandpaper texture of the rock and felt welcome.

Scrambling up the slick rock slope, I searched for a small protected alcove that would provide shelter from the north wind and allow me to enjoy the end of day while being warmed by the dissipating rays of light. Topping the stone monolith and moving down the other side, I found just the right impression. It was actually quite cozy. The sun was resting right on the horizon, waiting for me to settle in and enjoy the show.

I have to say that I have witnessed much more grand and spectacular sunsets, but never one so calming. The sound of complete silence surrounded me, as did the coarse yet unobtrusive stone. It seemed my self-perceived troubles dissipated into the rock as the sun descended behind the horizon. It felt good to join with nature and ignore the complications of my temporal situation. As all traces of the sun and my bad humor withdrew and twilight overtook me, I raised up and breathed deeply. Turning toward the west I was greeted by a nearly full rising moon. I said a word of gratitude for being able to live in such a strikingly beautiful and unique area and for the ability to access it so so quickly.
The Sunset from Bluff, Utah

Walking back across the short strip of blow-sand and stunted vegetation, under the icy white moon and enveloping purple twilight, made my world feel a bit enchanted . I thought of my loving wife waiting at home and felt warm and comfortable in spite of the nip in the air and frostbite on my nose and ears. I was hoping Laurie would forgive me for being late for dinner, but was certain I would be easier to get along with when I arrived. I also thought I might have to send Steve out tomorrow night to enjoy a similar experience. When he finds out I have sacrificed him in the effort to save my own sanity he may be aggravated. No worries, we all know that he is no saint either.

With warm regards Barry Simpson.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Titans of Turquoise

Craig, Barry and I were all high school wrestlers. Craig, however, was more accomplished in athletics than Barry and I. While we both placed third in the state competition, Craig was twice champion. So, it should come as no surprise that over the years Barry has developed a fondness for the World Wrestling Federation. I am confident he knows the matches are staged and the wrestlers nothing more than actors on steroids, but he does not seem to care.
Steve @ Twin Rocks

In his library are priceless collections of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, The Sheik and Sensational Sherri memorabilia. You can imagine the celebration Barry held when Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota. He had a heavyweight hangover for months.

Navajo baskets and rugs aside, if eBay had a special category for WWF high rollers, Barry would be a charter member. When Big Show and Hornswoggle are “wrestling”, we always know right where to find him. It is a sure bet he will be in his Barcalounger with his feet up, an extra large bag of low fat pork rinds and a super-size jug of diet root beer close at hand. Barry explains that he has long since given up the hard stuff (Pepsi), because it was either that or start wearing sweatpants.

Having recently turned 56, however, I was confident our wrestling days were over. As a result, Barry’s latest proposition caught me off guard. When he showed up at the trading post in Sleeping Beauty blue tights, a red coral muscle shirt, Bruce Eckhardt variscite beads, a squash blossom necklace and more turquoise and silver bracelets than I could count, I knew something was up.

“I have it”, he said, “you and I are going to be the next WWF tag team champions. If the Valiant Brothers and the Wild Samoans did it, why can’t we? We’ll go all the way! Oh, not to bruise your ego or anything, I initially wanted Craig as my partner, but he won’t fit into the rig. Here, put this on!” Boy, was I amazed when he held up what looked like a miniature Speedo swimsuit, lace-up wrestling boots and nothing more. “They’re Morenci blue,” he said. “We’ll be the Titans of Turquoise. Twin Rocks Trading Post can be our sponsor, maybe Polygamy Porter too. You know, the Utah connection.” He was obviously rambling.

Staring at that g-string thing, and beginning to feel faint, I remembered the first time our friend Karen Tweedy-Holmes suggested we take a family photograph, in the nude. “Jana will never let me go out in that thing,” I protested. “ And what will Kira and Grange say?” “Come on,” he said. “Just think, once we win the championship, we can maul all those guys who have ever challenged us for dominance of the turquoise business. “Tony Cotner, The Duke of Damale; Ernie Montoya, The Count of Carico Lake; and even Dean and Danny Otteson, The Royston Royals, they don’t stand a chance.”

Taking into account our mutually protruding stomachs, saggy butts and receding hairlines, the only consolation I could imagine was that Barry was not promoting a syringe full of muscle making magic. As he stood there holding the costume, my mind began to race uncontrollably, “The Titans of Turquoise, The Titans of Turquoise . . . THE TITANS OF TURQUOISE!” I had to admit, it has a certain ring, and I do need to get back into shape. “Okay,” I blurted out, “I’m in, but I want matching suits and equal access to jewelry. No bikinis for me.”

In 1938 Harry Goulding packed up his wife “Mike” and drove west to see legendary filmmaker John Ford about making movies in Monument Valley. When Harry threatened to camp out in Ford’s office until he got an interview, Ford finally gave in and agreed to a meeting. The rest, as they say, is history. With that in mind, I have dispatched Barry to see Pini Zahavi, the great sports agent. I packed Barry a large picnic basket full of chips, salsa and soda; gave him a history lesson and a blowup sleeping mat (the blowup doll stayed at home) and instructed him not to come home without a contract.

As Barry always says, “If you do, you can.” I have never been sure what that means, but I am confident we can do. In preparation for our debut, yesterday I lifted two 20 pound sacks of Blue Bird flour and jogged next door to Twin Rocks Cafe for a mug of coffee. I can already feel the burn. Surely it won’t be long before Bluff is known as the home of the terrible, the tumultuous, the tremendous Titans of Turquoise. Look out Big Show and Chris Jerico, here . . . come . . . the . . . Titans.

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

High Country Tripping

The season of snow and ice will soon be upon us, so I was looking forward to one last hike upon the flanks of our Blue Mountain. It was Sunday afternoon, Steve was managing the cafe and the trading post was closed for the day. Laurie was enjoying the company of her mother in Monticello and I figured there were four hours of good daylight left to get into the forest and back, five if I pushed my luck. My goal was to hike the old power line road leading up to Abajo Peak. I have studied it digitally, using Google maps, several times and decided I could traverse the path and not get lost. Actually, I could easily keep track of where I was because I would have intermittent views of the eastern slopes of the "Blues", the valley below and the LaPlata mountains far to the east. I would begin my journey on the lower extremities of Pole Canyon, then catch the power line road at the southwest corner of the Jones property and head uphill from there. I was excited about undertaking the trek.

My wife has often offered to loosen the purse strings and let me purchase a gently used four-wheeler to carry my aging bones to places I can't easily walk. Since I love the quite and solitude of a hike and, to steal a phrase, "take the path less traveled,” I have declined her offer until I can no longer carry myself. "When that time comes", I tell her, "I will require the latest, greatest model available, nothing used." She waves me off and says, "Then you may walk for now." So I do, and I have a great deal of fun exploring thick timber and crossing ravines where a four-wheeler should not or cannot go. This time though I would be traversing an old road, one that was quite steep, rocky and becoming chocked down by encroaching trees and brush. Shouldering my bug-out bag, I set my hiking boots to the task. An occasional mule deer bounded by, grey squirrels barked at me and I could hear but not see heavy beasts moving through the thickets. My imagination told me there were bear, but common sense said cows were about.

Thick strands of twisted and gnarled oak brush, the stuff that grabs at your clothing and pokes you in the eye if you are not careful, border the first course of the trail. There are also statuesque and fragrant yellow pine and stumpy juniper with smatterings of sap that can be chewed like a stick of Wrigley's gum. When the Mormon pioneers first came to Bluff, the Navajo people were using the sap as a healing salve, a natural Neosporin that is proven to draw out infection and foreign objects. Because it was effective, the pioneers adopted it and adapted it for personal use. (Ask me about this later. It will be the next pyramid scheme I invest in. It works, it really does. Only this time I intend to be at the apex of said pyramid.) Anyway, I digress. It was not long before the path became exceedingly steep and rocky. I most often hike alone because on increasing inclines I begin to huff and puff like a locomotive. It is less embarrassing if I am the only one to hear the steam vent. On a hike like this I generally set my sights on a rock or tree up the hill and trek to it, then take a breather and do it again.
Going Up

As I tripped up the slope I could feel my heart beating like a drum on parade. The shale was semi-loose under my boots as I made my way up a particularly steep incline. Tall shoots of yellowed grass grew in scruffy patches in the midst of the slide rock and scattered boulders. There were blue spruce all around, and for contrast the white scarred trunks of quaking aspen mixed in with the pines. The forest around me was getting thicker; there were numerous giant deadfalls with their massive roots sticking into the air like the petrified tentacles of a monster squid. Lightning struck trees was common up here, with their shattered bodies and shocked trunks oozing with highly flammable sap. There were tall standing pines, dead for ages, stripped clean of bark and standing like oversized skeletons refusing to fall by force of wind and weather. As I climbed higher the trees started to thin and I began catching more glimpses of the far-reaching views in the distance.

I topped-out on a lower peak which opened to a magnificent vista encompassing a vast and beautiful landscape. On the slopes just below me there were clusters of trees sporting the fall colors of yellow, green and red. I could see the rooftops and reservoirs of Monticello below me and the highway to Blanding stretched out to the south with the forms of singular farmhouses and out buildings along its length. Deep and steep canyons cut the surface of the land interspersed with the fields of dry farms connected by a spider-web maze of dusty dirt roads. From where I stood I could see to the tops of the far peaks in Colorado, the faint outline of Shiprock to the south, in New Mexico, and if I looked to the right of South Peak I believe I was viewing a snippet of Arizona.

As I stood on this high and mighty place, my mind was drawn to the Navajo perspective of mountains; all mountains are sacred to The People. Deity, gifted with Holy People, created them one male, one female. Those beings communicate with the sky, beckoning clouds to gather and lay down moisture, which allow the plants and animals upon them to grow and prosper. Every mountain reacts to song, prayer and offerings, has a personality of its own, and will bless those who honor and respect it. Failure to do so can cause harm or accident to the individual. The values associated with sacred mountains are pervasive to the Navajo; they are called upon in every ceremony to aid in the healing and protective process. I thought about this and wondered if I had approached the mountain correctly and shown respect while treading upon it. I had no corn pollen to give, but placed a couple Fig Newtons in an obvious spot as an offering and said a little prayer of appreciation.

When I started this hike, I imagined making it to the top of Abajo Peak, the highest point in this range. Sadly though my time was short, my lungs and legs were nearly spent and I realized I was not going to accomplish that goal this time. I recently read a book by Jon Krakauer titled: Into Thin Air, about hiking Mount Everest. It was still on my mind, because in a very small way I felt like so many of those climbers that nearly made it to the peak of Everest but were turned away by similar circumstances. To be sure, Mount Abajo is nowhere near as difficult to climb as Everest. The term "a mountain to a mole hill" also came to mind. As I contemplated these issues, the sun went behind the peaks and the wind picked-up. I looked again at the slope before me and once again thought about attempting the summit. The wind whipped and the temperature dropped. Because of the climb my t-shirt was still wet and I had only my Twin Rocks sweatshirt with me to fend off the cold. If I did not want to spend an unprepared night up here, the wise choice would be to head down the mountain.

I thought maybe I would make the trek back to the truck in a much quicker manner, but my legs were tightening-up and I began to wonder if that would be the case. I found and fashioned a couple walking sticks to help avoid a face plant and started down the hill singing what I could recall of Bohemian Rhapsody and humming the melody of what I could not. By the time I made it down my toes were jammed into my boots so far I probably would never get them out and my legs were hammered to the point I could barely stand. I had one more fence to cross and a quarter mile to go when I hooked a toe on the top wire of a gate and flipped onto my back, on the opposite side. I lay there for a moment, slowly taking stock of my situation and wondering if I had broken anything. I wiggled my fingers and toes, my back and my front and realized nothing was damaged, other than my ego. I had landed in a prone position, flat on my back. My pack had absorbed the blow; some of the stuff in there hadn't done so well, but could be replaced. I don't know if the Newton cookies or the Rhapsody had hindered or helped that fall, but the mountain sent me home safely and for that I am eternally grateful. I look forward to my next excursion there.

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