Friday, July 29, 2016

A Pretty Good Pair of Three

As Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Lately Barry and I have been observing what is happening around Twin Rocks Trading Post and have grown suspicious. Not only has Donald Trump coopted our national consciousness, Priscilla, our old friend, trusted advisor and best buddy appears to be stealing our thunder. After a recent Tied to the Post article wherein she was quoted, one longtime reader emailed to say, “Without Priscilla you clowns are toast!” Shortly thereafter, I observed a woman take Priscilla to one side and not so quietly inquire, “Why don’t you write the blog? Surely you can do better than those two jokers!” When I showed her the email, Priscilla just chuckled. When I asked about the in-store conspiracy, she nervously blushed. As anyone who has been through the Kokopelli doors will testify, Priscilla is indispensable to our dis-organization. Barry and I understand we would be sunk without her. We trust her totally, and she has our full faith and confidence. That irrefutable fact notwithstanding, after recent events, Barry and I believe trouble may be afoot. Our worst fears were recently confirmed when a customer arrived and immediately exclaimed, “Priscilla!” The visitor then hugged Priscilla first, like Barry and I are Spam sandwiches and Priscilla is roast mutton and taters.

Priscilla next to a $2.5 million Bugatti
It was September 20, 1989 when Priscilla, a 33 year old waif, showed up looking for work. At the time Twin Rocks Trading Post was nothing more than a dream, a cement pad and a few bundles of boards tacked together. Duke had purchased the land several years earlier with the idea of resurrecting a scheme he conceived in his youth. As a young man he had watched the Ute and Paiute ladies from White Mesa and Allen Canyon making sumac baskets while reclining at the foot of Sunbonnet Rock. This unusual rock formation is located just east of the towering pillars from which the trading post takes its name. As Duke relates the story, this basketry was ceremonial in purpose and only the wives of medicine men were permitted to make it. The designs generally featured anthropomorphic figures dressed in brightly colored outfits and sporting long hair tied in braids. Years later, when he asked those elderly woman to recreate the weavings he remembered from his adolescence, Duke was advised their husbands had died and the ladies were, therefore, no longer authorized to weave. Subsequently, however, the basket makers, believing that particular aspect of their culture was dying, determined to recreate baskets with similar patterns.

Thinking his long-term goal was coming into focus, Duke had purchase the Twin Rocks property a few years earlier from a pair of brothers, who, as a matter of principal, never sold anything. Old trucks and Caterpillar tractors rusted in the desert sun as the family bone-yard steadily grew. Spent oil cans and fuel barrels proliferated next to the dilapidated equipment, and worn tires accumulated by the gross. Having been raised during the Great Depression, they likely felt the need to safeguard every potentially useful item for future use. Caution was their watchword and thrift their rallying cry. They however, had developed a cash flow crisis and reluctantly determined to convey something to remedy the situation. Duke was ready with the necessary greenbacks, and after months of serious negotiations a deal was struck. Despite overwhelming odds, Duke determined to build the enterprise inspired by his early experiences. Disregarding all those around him who assured the resolute entrepreneur he would never succeed, he pressed on. As the fall of 1989 approached, he was ready to throw open the elaborately carved doors and welcome the throngs of people who would surely support this gem in Bluff City. About that time Priscilla appeared.

After she arrived, Priscilla and I began drawing up a plan for the trading project we had inherited. Calling it a “plan” may actually be giving us more credit than we deserve. In any case, preparing for the patrons who seldom came, we knew enough to unlock the doors in the morning, clean the glass, vacuum the carpet, polish the turquoise jewelry, straighten the Navajo rugs and lock up in the evening. My paternal grandfather, Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Simpson, liked to say, “I spent a year in Bluff one winter.” With the fog of almost 30 years clouding my memory, I recall the first six months at the trading post lasting about a decade. Priscilla and I wandered round the store like specters, searching for tasks, no matter how small, to keep us occupied. After a while we had a loom constructed and she began weaving in her spare time. Often I would sit by, watching the design evolve and imagining the finished product. Thread by thread Priscilla wove herself into the textile of the trading post, becoming involved in almost every aspect of its day-to-day operation. She quickly became the warp that holds us together, the weft that colors our days.

At this point we have all been together so long that, disregarding political correctness and polite social conventions, Barry and I refer to Priscilla as our, “Right Hand Man,” our “Sterling Silver Sibling.” We are a team, a well-oiled, smoothly functioning, piston driven southwest art selling engine. In truth, all too often we chuff, belch and misfire, but for the most part our mechanics function comfortably. With such a compelling history behind us, Barry and I thought nothing would ever come between us, and this relationship would continue until we all crossed the river together. He and I, however, have become increasingly concerned as Priscilla mentioned contracts, agents and distribution rights. Lately she has begun going to Twin Rocks Cafe every morning for hot tea and . . . toast. Barry, the monarch of metaphor, the king of hidden meaning, wondered aloud whether there were ominous implications inherent in this new habit. As a result, when Priscilla wasn’t looking, we scanned the tealeaves and inspected her wheat bread for incriminating signs. We found nothing. Finally, we confronted her directly, asking, “What's going on?” Channeling Yogi and the History Channel at the same time, she replied, “What? Nothing, we are a pretty good pair of three; like American Pickers. Wanna' get tattoos?"

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

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Bear and a Donkey

We saw a bear crossing the road last night. No joke, it was one of the coolest things I have seen in quite awhile. Laurie, my wife, and I were on our way back to Blanding after spending a pleasant Sunday afternoon with her side of the family. It was 9:00 p.m. and the sun had just gone behind the northwest portion of the mountain range. The sunset was affecting our surroundings in a most marvelous show of light and color. The face of the mountain stood in shadow, huge and dark in shades of purple and blue. Wispy cloud patterns crowned the mountain's majesty in feather forms of pink and peach. The upper atmosphere provided a majestic backdrop of royal sapphire blue.

The plowed fields to the east glowed a rusty red while their counterparts, those planted in winter wheat and tasseled grass luminesced a golden yellow in the soft, reflected light. The fenced fields and rolling draws were bordered by stands of stunted sage and rabbit brush, the bonsai-esque juniper tree and bushier pinyon so common to our little corner of the world. In the distance, the rocky lip of upper Montezuma canyon cut a rugged, off-white line running north to south. Above and far beyond Montezuma rose the still sunlit peaks of the La Plata mountain range in southern Colorado.

As Laurie drove, I sat back and absorbed the magic of the moment. We drifted south and began to drop into Verger Canyon. Just then Laurie hit the brakes hard and, with growing excitement in her voice, said, "What is that, a dog, a man, a bear? That's a bear!" To our right, where a band of zinc stains the hillside green, a large black bear came sprinting across the highway. As the animal raced across the blacktop Laurie brought the truck to a full stop while I hastily grabbed for my phone and tried to release my seat belt and open the door at the same time. In a flash he crossed the road and gained the opposite side of the cut. As easy as you please the bear went up the almost vertical rock face, without even slowing.

Navajo Sitting Bear Carving - Marvin Jim (#377)

Hitting the asphalt running, I rounded the front of the truck trying to find the cruising critter in my viewfinder. The bear came to the end of the point at the top of the hill and paused for the briefest moment to look down upon us. I tried to steady my breathing and still the camera enough to capture the highlighted bear. It was not to be. That bad boy slipped around a fence post and dropped-off the backside of the hill. For a second I thought of trying to run around the downside of the hill in an attempt to intercept the beastie. Remembering just how fast that bear moved, however, I thought better of it. It was not my wish to become black bear scat.

As I stood cussing my poor reaction time, I realized where I was standing and where we were parked; in the middle of the road on the backside of a blind curve, after sundown. We were most defiantly in a trap set by the unsuspecting bear. I turned on my heel, hustled back around to the passenger side of our Toyota and jumped back in. Laurie stomped on the gas pedal and got us out of there post haste. In this part of the country a chance encounter with a bear is highly unusual. Laurie and I were jazzed about seeing the beast and even happier about not winding-up on the front grill of a Kenworth.

When I came into work on Monday, there upon the counter was a bear sculpture by Marvin Jim. The cottonwood carving depicts a wise and stately bear sitting upon a raised dais of stacked sandstone bordered by stumps of Juniper. He is dressed in a sage green velveteen shirt and adorned with traditional turquoise jewelry. Wrapped around the bears hips and knees is a Third Phase Navajo chief blanket, which allows only the tip of one moccasin to peak through. Marvin sold it to Steve while I was away, and it is stellar.

Because the Navajo people believe animals once walked upright, wore human clothing, spoke our language and helped build the world, as we know it, they are considered more than special. Unfortunately, as often happens, man, in his infinite wisdom, insulted the animals, causing a deep and abiding hurt. As a result, animals threw-off their garb, bent down and walked, slithered or flew away, never to consensually interact with humans again. Except for dogs and cats that is, which refuse to communicate but prefer to be pampered.

In the days before the break-up, Bear was considered a great and mighty chief who was revered for his thoughtful and compassionate ways. Put yourself in a mythological state for a moment and consider how amazing it might be to sit with a great bear and have a candid conversation, sharing his experience, adventures and insight without having to worry about becoming his next favorite chew toy. To me, Marvin's sculpture stands as a metaphor for relationships and opportunities lost forever because of arrogance and ignorance.
Donkey by Marvin Jim

Years ago, when Marvin carved the first of these creatures, he brought in a small crudely sculpted donkey. When I asked him what it meant, he explained: "I have noticed that every time someone, including me, destroys a valued relationship it is because we choose to be ruled by raw emotion, disregarding respect and compassion and falling prey to selfish ignorance. To put it bluntly, we play the part of a fool and . . . dare I say it . . . act like a jackass." To this day, that little donkey rests on our home mantle to remind me of Marvin's wise insight and hopefully keep me from suffering a similar fate.

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

It’s About Time

Monday morning I was walking through Twin Rocks Cafe on my daily quest for coffee when I noticed a man wearing a T-shirt with a skeletal dog image printed on the back. Above the canine cartoon was the caption, “In dog years I am . . . dead.” This experience started me thinking about the Grateful Dead, time, and, depending on your perspective, how I have spent, squandered or invested the majority of my adult life here at Twin Rocks Trading Post. Barry and Priscilla have made it clear they are in the “squandered” camp. Personally, I vacillate between “spent” and “invested”. Experience, however, tells me I spend better than I invest, so the answer may be apparent. All that pondering about death, music and the passing years led me to conclude time is both my best friend and my worst enemy, and that I needed another cuppa-joe to settle my nerves.

Around the trading post I often hear people speculate that time accelerated, as they grew older. Apparently they feel it takes longer to get from twenty to thirty than is required to progress from forty to sixty. That, however, has not been my experience. In fact, Bluff appears to be one of a few locations on Mother Earth where time actually decelerates and the world spins more slowly. Never mind long accepted conventions associated with the physical properties of the universe. As those living in Bluff will confirm, traditional principles of physics have little or no influence on the residents of this town, they exist in an alternate and mostly unexplored cosmos. Anyone who has ever tried to get a project done in this town will agree the inhabitants believe well accepted social, cultural or civil constructs do not apply. That goes double for the people of Twin Rocks, and quadruple for Barry and Priscilla, who are known to invariably stray from the known path and wander into uncharted territory.

Living in an ancient seabed, with the obvious effects of wind and water erosion spanning millions of years, gives one the illusion that things do in fact move slowly. It is easy to fool oneself into believing the arrow of time is irrelevant and that events will continue to flow as they always have, gradually, leisurely, deliberately. People often enter through the Kokopelli doors and ask, “Aren’t you afraid those rocks will fall?” We typically reply, “No, they’ve been up there a long time. What are the odds they will fall during our tenure?” The remnants of Ancient Puebloan habitations and the occasional thunder of rocks pealing off the cliffs surrounding Bluff caution us, however, that things do change, at times dramatically.

Almost three decades after leaving my adopted home of Sacramento, I still have vivid memories of the last days there before I exited the Golden State in favor of southern Utah. Over the years I have thought of one particular incident many times, and how things were so very different once I arrived in Bluff. On that particular occasion I was traveling west on one of the capital's narrow side streets when traffic began to back up. Glancing in my rear-view mirror, I noticed the driver of the vehicle immediately behind me grow increasingly agitated. The man finally got fed up with the gridlock, drove his car up on the sidewalk and bypassed the entire line of waiting automobiles. The rest of us seemed to shrug it off as simply more of the same, nothing truly extraordinary. Many of us might have considered it an ingenious solution to an ongoing problem and done the same if we had been late for an appointment. Not long after that experience I wound up in Bluff, a town where nobody is ever in a hurry, and no one cares whether or not you are on time. If you are an hour or two late, no problem, it’s a big land. After a week or so we might send out a search party, but only if we are concerned for your safety.

Unlike Sacramento, traffic rarely backs up in Bluff. If you ever see more than two cars at a time, it means a parade, powwow or rodeo is converging and you better get ready for the party. Indeed, even if we were to become anxious, there are no sidewalks to drive on and few pedestrians to consider. Because of this slow pace, almost every morning Barry and I sit on the wooden chairs scattered about the trading post showroom and discuss the coming day. I can’t say we ever actually get anything resolved, but at least it gets us closer to 6:00 p.m; when we reverse the open sign and go home for the evening. Time has become our companion, and we greatly enjoy her company. I do, however, fear we may one day adopt the practice of sitting there from beginning to end, requiring Priscilla to run the entire show and sweep us out at closing time.

When we opened Twin Rocks in 1989, Duke was in his early 50’s, a little younger than Barry and I are now. His routine was to arrive at the trading post, inspect the premises, give us hell whether we needed it or not and promptly fall asleep; sometimes on a futon set out on the porch and most often in a chair next to my office, where he could keep an eye on my activities. I think Barry and I have evolved a different, but comparable, convention. To ensure tradition is maintained, while we sit discussing important matters I will, at times, give him hell. On alternate days he extends me the same courtesy. Priscilla has been assigned responsibility for watching that things don’t go too far wrong while Barry and I are engaged in this important activity. And so it is that time flows by at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The only thing that seems to change is our appearance, which the few mirrors we allow in the trading post record as significant. A few more pounds, a few more grey hairs and a little slower gait tells us that despite Bluff’s exemption from regular precepts of time, change is afoot. In that respect Mother Time is exacting a slow but steady toll. Otherwise, the artists come and go as usual, bringing turquoise jewelry, Navajo rugs and baskets; the seasons change on a predictable cycle; tourists ebb and flow as one might expect and hungry people show up at Twin Rocks Cafe for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I mentioned the diner’s T-shirt to Priscilla, she thought for a moment and then said, “In dog years, you are . . . extinct.” Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but with Priscilla you always get the unvarnished truth. I think I need more coffee!

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

An Imperfect Storm

Twin Rocks Trading Post is an always interesting and often wonderful place to work. It can be slow as a galloping caterpillar, weird as a corral full of Churro sheep, placid as the Bluff pond or tense as a summer lightening storm. Today it was busy, which was most likely due to the soft, gentle and nourishing female rain caressing our courtyard. While tourists seek shelter, we, as generally parched locals, charge outside to welcome rain drops with open arms and upturned faces. In this huge, wide-open country our museum-esque business is an obvious choice if you need to ride-out a storm.

Navajo people view moisture as a gift from the gods, a life sign that brings regeneration and prosperity. Steve and I believe that because of our close association with many tribal members we benefit as well. An afternoon thunder shower means business to Twin Rocks, that is a rip-roaring fact. Navajo people also believe storms may be bordered by chaos. I can confirm this is true, because as I watched the drops fall I was about to witness a tumultuous, aggressive and dangerous type of male rain, brought on by, of all things, a woman. The storm-front was introduced by a long-time friend and associate. To protect her from embarrassment, I will refer to her as "Marie", our Navajo sister.

Marie called the day before the rain started, reminding me we are family and that, "A brother treats his sister well and pays her a fair price for her weavings." This was intended as a not so subtle reminder that she is special and should be treated accordingly. Through the years we have bought and sold several marvelous rugs from Marie. She creates the double weave, raised outline pattern, and has been extremely successful doing so. It had been well over a year since we last heard from her, so I was happy to receive her call. This, she insisted, would be her last rug because she is now 72 years old, her eyes are growing dim and her hand-strength is failing. She maintained it was doubtful she would ever weave again.

Since I have experienced this line of reasoning before, I recognized it as a sales pitch. I, therefore, let Marie know I would be saddened if this was indeed her last rug and requested she have her grandson send images, including size and price. The information promptly arrived on my phone. After seeing the pictures and calculating what we could afford to pay, I happily advised her to come on in. Marie told me she would do so, but would be catching a ride with her sister. Time was, therefore, of the essence. "You will need to be quick about it", she said. I should have sensed the riotous rumblings right then and there.
Navajo Storm Pattern Rug - Gabriel Benally (#14)

When Marie entered the trading post, the proverbial storm broke upon the rocks, the Twin Rocks. For some unknown reason, Marie was uptight, irritable and in a fighting mood. I knew her to be a tough negotiator, but the deal had been struck before she entered through the Kokopelli doors. This was not like her. Then I saw the rug. It was, well . . . far less than I had anticipated. At that point I knew Brother Barry was about to be abused. Marie's rug, if it was in fact hers, was what I refer to as a dish rag, meaning it was loosely woven, the ends were uneven, it curled and it was asymmetric. "Dangit!", I thought. Because of so many previously positive experiences with Marie and her rugs, I had assumed too much. I had completely given up my opportunity to do a hands-on examination and made the valuation based upon a one dimensional image on my cell phone. The problem was I had agreed to buy it and was obligated to keep my word. The weaving was not, however, what we had come to expect; not by any stretch of the imagination. I was frustrated with my breakdown in protocol, and wondered why this weaving was so bad.

When Priscilla saw the offering, she knew a bad moon was rising and beat a hasty retreat to our office. She did not shut the door, but intentionally took herself out of the game. When it comes to Navajo rugs and spotting problems Priscilla is our go-to girl. She, however, dislikes confrontation. Steve was away at a wrestling camp with Grange, so I found myself staring into the raging storm without a life preserver. Marie is a force to be reckoned with. Outside the rain fell, the thunder roared and the lightning flashed. Inside I found myself caught-up in a downspout with no avenue out. I wrote a check for the agreed upon price and handed it to Marie. She refused, saying, "The price has gone-up, I need more money."

"More money", I stammered, "for what?" "It's a good rug and I need more", Marie shot back. I knew it would be pointless to argue. I looked to Priscilla for a reaction, but she turned away. Priscilla was not getting caught-up in this emotional flash flood. Marie and I stood toe-to-toe as the gulf between us widened. Danny, our Internet guy, had come down for a picture of Marie with the rug, but she was having none of it. Her new price was half again what we had agreed, and I was balking. Marie's eyes began to flash fire. Her ire was up and I was the source of her irritation. She wanted more money, period, end of discussion. She handed the weaving to her sister and said, "Take the picture with her."

At this point I asked Marie if her sibling had woven the rug. She did not answer and her level of agitation spiked. She tossed the weaving on the floor and said, almost shouting, "Take the picture down there!" I was struggling to understand what was happening. Big Thunder was in the room, and I might be flayed and fried by him/her. What I did know was this weaving was not consistent with Marie's high standard. I needed to know the truth, because we provide a certificate of authenticity and signed photograph with pieces like this. We have built a reputation for honesty and I was not about to let that be destroyed by Marie's lightning strike. On the other hand, an important relationship with my self-described sister was on the line.

Either Marie was struggling to maintain her weaving abilities or attempting to help her sister. Family comes first to Navajo people, and even though Marie refers to Steve and me brothers, we are not of the same blood. We have seen this happen before; an artist develops a solid reputation and strong demand for their product and their immediate family begins to lean on them for assistance. Family members do not have the market they need to sell their less desirable creations, so they pressure the one who does to help-out in a pinch. Was this such a situation? Was that why Marie was causing a disruption in the upper atmosphere? Was that the reason she increased the price and became upset with me and the world around her? Steve and I do not see this as being dishonest. Instead, we recognize it as the Navajo response to family pressure. That does not mean we are unaffected by it.

Whatever the case, I was being buffeted and began seeking shelter. Steve and Laurie constantly remind me I am a stubborn soul and will hold my ground whenever I believe I am being abused. I was standing there, looking into the eye of the storm and sinking fast. Willing to swallow my pride, I would pay the price Marie and I agreed upon, but that was as far as I would be tossed about. I wanted to help, but did not want to loose my shirt AND britches in the process. While we stood face-to-face, Marie gave-up, grabbed the rug, wrapped it in her towel and said, "I'm angry brother, this is bad for both of us." I tried to get Marie to accept the original check, but she was checking-out.

It is times like these I wish I had a better grip on human psychology. I watched Marie and her sister stalk out the door and wondered at the cause of the emotional occurrence. Priscilla reemerged from her hideout and I chided her about placing herself in a, "protected state". Her reply was, "I didn't cause that disturbance, you did. I know when to get in out of the storm. What you need to understand is that Marie sees you as extended family member, and when she settles down, she'll be back. What you might consider is what you will do if she brings that ratty rug with her when she returns."

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