Thursday, February 25, 2016

I Saw the Light

It was early morning in the south-facing dining room of Twin Rocks Cafe and I was feeling quiet and introspective. As I wandered among the tables looking for smudges and smears missed during the prior evening's cleanup, I felt something singularly compelling. It could have been the sanctity of Sunday morning, or maybe the almost paralyzing peace of that particular moment. Whatever the reason, I felt an overarching sense of calm that was unbroken even as the dishwasher, cooks and servers began rattling round in the kitchen behind me.

Before the sun crests the eastern horizon and our corner of the world becomes fully enlightened, Bluff stands almost motionless in the semi-darkness, cars don't cruise, the wind doesn't whine and even hares don't hop. To people accustomed to an urban setting, this lack of movement might be unnerving, but for those of us raised in rural America, "out in the sticks", it is the norm. The kinetic energy of our country's larger cities has no presence in our daily lives, so we move slower and are more directly connected to the natural world. Out here we have time to communicate with Mother Earth and Father Sky and absorb the lessons they advocate. Not that we always listen, fully comprehend the message or follow the advice.
Navajo Mother Earth and Father Sky Handmade Weaving - Luana Tso (#54)

The previous night I had been at the restaurant when three twenty-somethings came in for beer and a bite to eat. Like most young people, they were more interested in what was happening on their phones than what was going on in the next booth. As I walked past their table, however, I noticed them scrolling through photographs and gasping at the shots and selfies they had taken of themselves in the surrounding geography. Apparently they were transfixed by their journey through this land, because one suddenly blurted out, "I must show the world! I must show the world!" Soon they were all shuffling in their seats and softly chanting the same mantra. It was late and they were the only patrons in the restaurant or they might have sparked a movement. While it could have been the alcohol, I concluded they were instead infected with a form of red rock, high desert fever and had decided they should share it with the rest of the population, or at least those within their personal electronic sphere. I guessed what they were feeling was a little like the Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu; difficult to diagnose, life changing at times, but never fatal.

With memories of the prior evening's young trio and thoughts of Johnny Rivers meandering through my mind, I watched the crystal rays illuminate the line of trees established as a windbreak on the westerly side of the old Curtis Jones hay farm. I am terrible with plant typology, so I have never determined what kind of stock they are. All I know is they are thin, grayish and extremely tall. As a result, these lanky timbers turn a whiter shade of pale and look almost apparitional as the sun rises, highlighting them against the glowing coral colored cliffs embracing Bluff.

Watching the sunbeams creep slowly across the valley, I could not help thinking, "I saw the light!" Now I realize that term is generally associated with having some type of revelation, or finally grasping the true meaning of a topic, which I likely was not experiencing. For me, it literally meant witnessing the birth of this new day, with all its possibilities and potential. I have never been good at practicing institutionalized religion; churches and chapels leave me yearning for the great outdoors, and parsons preaching morality or mores find me distracted, disinterested. Consequently, I long ago discovered my God in nature. I sense the presence of a higher power when I watch the seasons change, see waterfalls cascading over desert varnished sandstone or witness the sun and moon travel across the sky each day. Bluff is, of course, the perfect place to be if that is your philosophy, your theology. I believe outside is where God wants to be, not held captive in some building, no matter how splendid or swanky it may be.

It was not long before the automobiles began to ambulate and the bunnies bounce. In that moment between darkness and light I once again witnessed my own personal Paradise. And then there they were, the twenty-something threesome, hungry for bacon and eggs and keen for coffee. They too must have seen the light, because they were overtly and environmentally enraptured.

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

Friday, February 12, 2016


As you may have gathered from our previous writings, the business of Trading Post management offers many difficult lessons. Because of our unconventional business model, standard principals simply do not apply. As you may have also guessed, after all these years, Steve and I are still working on the fundamentals. We have read the books by professors of business and luminaries in the field. We still feel less than adequate when it comes to managing this business correctly. You may think that we are simply slow learners, and you may be right. We hope there is more to it than that.

One thing we know for certain is that the local artists are an impassioned group. We have developed a variety of reasonable procedures to deal with their various levels of excitability. These situations manifest themselves when an artist brings in his or her creation and the negotiation process begins. Attempting to work out a reasonable settlement can be an interesting experience. This bit of wisdom has resulted from numerous head on collisions with inspired artists. Translating that fervor into financial principles is seldom easy.

We do, or did feel that we had a handle on the art of the deal. There are, however, certain instances where reason and enlightenment overcomes well planned principles. The other day Lorraine Black provided us with one of those high lights. That day she had the patience to help us realize her point of view. Lorraine did not become frustrated when we began the negotiations, even though she figured my evaluation was out of bounds. She must have divined a chink in our armor and was ready to force her issue.
Navajo Yei's & Corn Basket - Lorraine Black (#220)

There are artists who approach us with their work that have built-up a head of steam, even before they arrive. Everyone scatters when one particular basket weaver comes in because she is always ready for battle. It can be an emotionally draining experience for everyone involved. I know you will forgive me for not mentioning her name. In contrast, however, when Lorraine strolled in through the Kokopelli doors she was unusually calm and collected. Her new tack of attack was preparation and patient communication.

Many of the workable standards we have in place for evaluating baskets were developed after discussions with numerous artists. For years now we have kept a log of individuals and their work. Each image shows the price paid for the basket along with notations relating to quality of weave, size, technique and creativity. This accumulated knowledge is intended to help us maintain a consistent pricing policy. It sounds easy but remember we are dealing with extremely sensitive individuals, and that is saying nothing about the weavers. We felt confident our pricing structure was in order; Lorraine’s past creations were documented and her values locked-in.

On this particular day Lorraine brought in a gorgeous basket with a profusion of Yei and corn figures. We were pleased with its creativity and visual appeal, so I cracked open the volumes of past knowledge and began comparing its size, weave and creative appeal. Thereafter I proudly proclaimed a price I felt was compatible with her previous work. Lorraine simply looked at me with her big brown (now sad) eyes, shaking her head in a negative manner.

Wincing under "that look,” I asked, "How can you think I have figured wrong? I have considered every possible aspect and the rules apply, the value is correct. I have a degree in Trading Postology--I am right-on the money!" "Learn-up!" said Lorraine, as she began to explain her point, "When I weave the Yei-be-chei, I am portraying an extremely sacred and powerful being; one that demands respect. If I convey this respect in the proper manner, these Holy People will bless my family and me. If I show disrespect, these same beings can, and will, cause me great distress. One way I show that respect, and protect myself from harm, is by having a Beauty Way ceremony done each year. I save part of the price from each basket to pay for the ceremony. Since you are involved, you too must help keep me safe and healthy."

As I stood there letting her explanation sink in, Lorraine simply smiled and quoted a new price. I looked to Steve and Priscilla for support. Steve shrugged and said, "It makes sense to me." Priscilla rolled her eyes and said, "Duh." Lorraine was aware that we knew she spoke the truth; this was her reality so we had to consider it. She also knew that we had learned and shared similar stories of ceremonial practice and tradition with readers of our missives. There seemed nothing to do but add another notation in the book of advanced learning and close it before another costly lesson was realized.

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

Fart Tax

It was a slow February morning, the day after the Iowa Caucus, and Barry and I were loitering around Twin Rocks Trading Post discussing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Barry did not have anything good to say about either the Democratic or Republican candidates, and I was in full agreement. This cycle has left us disenchanted with the election process, and we are considering a draft Ronald Reagan movement. We figure having a dead president would be better than electing any of the current contenders.

As Barry devolved deeper and deeper into a political funk, a Mercedes SUV pulled into the gravel parking lot and a middle-aged couple exited the vehicle. Since these were the first customers we have seen at the store since early January, Barry and I got a little excited. If nothing else, this would be an opportunity to communicate with somebody besides Priscilla and Danny. If our visitors were talkative, maybe we could gather fresh intelligence about what is happening outside the Kokopelli doors, thereby broadening our perspective. At times, living in this isolated corner of the world leaves Barry and me feeling somewhat detached. Revenue aside, we get starved for human interaction.

As it turns out, the pair originated in New Zealand. As many who have spent time around my family know, my son was named for Bill and Penny Grange. Bill discovered Penny in Christchurch during his LDS mission. It was likely love at first sight, and they never again separated until Penny entered the next realm approximately six decades later. When we met, Penny was in her middle 60s, and Bill a couple years younger. I readily admit I was madly and irretrievably in love with Penny, and exceptionally fond of Bill too. Despite our age differences, which amounted to about 30 years, we formed a natural and lasting bond. As a result of my attachment to Bill and Penny, I developed an unrestrained interest in Kiwis and the land in which they live.

As is my habit when New Zealanders arrive at the post, I began interrogating the couple about the islands. One day I will travel to their homeland and be armed with volumes of information essential to an exhaustive exploration of the country. The gentleman seemed sophisticated about the economics of dairy and sheep production, so we launched into a discussion about cows, water rights, grazing and waterways contaminated by animal waste. About that time Barry commented on the volume of methane gas produced by bovines and its effects on the natural environment. The man chuckled and said, “Yes, our politicians even tried to enact a fart tax.”
Cow backpack methane measuring device

Barry, who had apparently been studying this particular issue by watching several episodes on the Discovery Channel, said, “Do you know, according to new research, livestock’s noxious emissions account for a large portion of the methane gas being released into the atmosphere. Some researchers say cows are producing twice as much methane as scientists previously believed. While carbon dioxide is still the primary greenhouse gas, methane is certainly a formidable contender. Do you know the EPA has recognized the contribution cow farts are making to the Earth’s greenhouse gases? A single cow can produce between 250 and 500 liters, or about 66 to 132 gallons, of methane a day.”

The Kiwis and I were startled by Barry’s vast knowledge of issues relating to cattle emissions. Barry, realizing he had captivated us, and wanting to burnish his reputation as an expert in the field, proclaimed, “You should know, however, it is a common misconception that the cow’s rear end emits the methane; the vast majority is produced orally. It’s bovine burps that really matter. A fart tax would therefore be misapplied and generate precious little cash.” We all had a good laugh, and soon the travelers decided it was time to continue their journey.

A short while later I was sitting at my desk, reviewing the economics of trading posts and mulling over the concept of a fart tax. I began to wonder whether we could assess one ourselves and make a few dollars to shore up our ongoing operations. We won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say we might generate a significant income stream when the tour busses begin arriving this spring. Barry, Danny and Priscilla questioned what the tax rate should be and how to collect the assessment. As for me, I am most concerned with the ill effect those tourists are having on our physical and emotional well-being and our immediate environment. As we can all attest, cows have nothing on that herd of travelers.

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