Friday, September 30, 2016

Scout Trip

I drove up to the Scout Hut in a drizzle. Seven boys, aged eleven years, came pouring out of the building to see if we were still going camping. With heads bobbing in the affirmative and eyes wide in anticipation, they waited for my reply. We had been planning this camp out for weeks; it was extremely difficult to find a convenient time for everyone. The boys were psyched about the prospects of getting into the woods. Should we let a little bit of moisture spoil the trip? I thought not. I looked to Ted, the other scout master and said, "I'm up for it, we have camped in rain before." Ted shrugged and said, "Let's do it." The boys went wild, many had been dreaming of this day for quite some time. They are Utah high desert dwellers who flourish in the rain. Ted threw open the door of his camper shell, allowing the boys to toss in their gear.

My first encounter with Scouting was after Daddy Duke and Momma Rosa moved our family out of Bluff to Livermore, California, where dad spent two years at a community college stepping up his game. Upon re-entering Utah, Blanding to be specific, we three boys ran headlong into Bishop Scott Hurst who introduced us to the Boy Scouts of America. Craig and I were slightly older and behind the advancement curve. Because of sports and puberty, this lack of complete focus was the reason why Craig only made it to Second Class and me to First. Steve, being the youngest and least distracted, was fortunate to be associated with a scout master extraordinare. With the help of Gerald Black, he made the difficult climb to the top of the mountain, and became an Eagle Scout.

When our son Spenser turned eleven his goal was to become a high flyer himself and I soon learned that would take a big commitment from his mother and me. Since Laurie was not all that keen about getting smoke in her eyes, I became Spenser's camp fire companion. Laurie became our quartermaster and mop-up crew. I will forever treasure the times Spenser and I spent hiking, camping, cooking and just being outdoors in the name of Scouting. Although he and I now live in different places, we still enjoy getting together and reliving that experience.

After Spenser accomplished his goal and moved-on, I was made advancement chairman and eventually scout master over the eleven-year old boys. These younger scouts are in our troop for one year. With the aid of a calm and collected assistant scout master, it is our duty to help the boys achieve the rank of First class. Since ours is a small town with few conscripts, Bronson and I have joined with Ted's troop and his assistant, Kasper, to gain strength in numbers.

As I mentioned previously, it was raining when we made our way up into Blue Mountain. That day Ted and I were the only leaders available, and yes we were afraid! Managing eleven-year old boys is no easy task, keeping them contained and out of harms way is a full-time job. What with an abundance of knives, axes and saws, along with a raging fire, there is much to worry about. I have never known a boy who was not a pyromaniac at heart. When returned to the wild, young boys go a little crazy. They have a tendency to attempt to conquer their surroundings and will endeavor to climb over, under or through just about any obstacle they bump up against. It is not unusual to find one, or several, high centered, ledged or stuck in one fashion or another. The lesson, for scoutmasters, is to be aware, patient, understanding and carry a powerful antacid.

Speaking of heartburn, the boys eventually managed to get their tents set up, mopped up and bedding set in place before it was time for supper. Because scouts are required to cook all three meals, and their attention span is less than one minute in duration, food service often goes awry.  On these camping trips I have had some of the worst meals ever and some of the most pleasurably memorable. Since those meals were cooked by such young men, I hesitate to say they were some of the best tasting, because burnt offerings are common fare. As scoutmasters we never accomplish as much as we would like, but we generally get more than we give. It is always a happy time when everyone is tented up and down for the count. In this case that time was somewhere around 3:00 a.m.

You have not truly experienced the joy of a camp out until you have fallen onto your bedroll at the end of a long and harrowing day and listened in on a group of boys hurling humorous insults at each other through walls of rip-stop nylon, then laughing merrily at their own dubious creativity. I am certain many a scoutmaster has fallen into a fitful sleep with a smile on his face and doubt in his heart at what stories might be related upon parental cross-examination. To be sure, as scoutmasters, we do hear home related stories from the mouths of those same babes, which we hold in perpetuity until forced into a corner. We have realized that the best defense is a good offense.

I have never known a scoutmaster that sleeps through the night. I get up several times to circle the camp and make certain all is well. I will keep the campfire burning because the flames seem to calm the hearts and minds of boys who have spent most of the night telling scary stories. I woke, the last time, just before 5:00 a.m., to the sound of coyotes howling and elk bugling. Now that is the perfect wake-up call. I thought the boys would sleep in, but they didn't, they too heard the call of the wild. They were also excited for a hearty breakfast and a good hike. They were hoping to spot a bear, turkey, or anything with fur or feathers.

On this particular camp-out we set up where cows had recently been and we earned another valuable lesson: Any kind of manure is worthy of a bad joke and fresh cow pies are made to splatter with big rocks. Woe is the boy who stands in the way of a shower of shist. I am certain many a parent wonders just how that stuff got on their child's clothing and, even though I witnessed the occurrence myself, it is difficult to explain the why and how of the shituation. On our hike we learned to let one scoutmaster lead the group and the other to follow behind to retrieve lost items and lost boys. Doing so saves a great deal of time and frustration. The boys soon learned that a gang of rowdy, highly vocal campers seldom see much wildlife. Only mule deer hung around to see what the commotion was about.

Too soon it was time to return the boys to their parents. It was difficult to get them loaded and on the road; they were planning another outing before we closed the last gate. I knew we would catch flak for our odoriferous re-entry into society. Wood smoke and fresh dung permeates all things and is not always acceptable to all people. Upon dropping-off one of our scouts, his mother met us on the porch to welcome her son home. As she came out the door, saw us and drew in a welcome breath, she winced visibly and said. "Wow! I can smell you guys from here!" I guessed the distance to be 50 feet. Never underestimate the power of a mother's sensory perception. Laurie too reported knowing just when we hit town from her workplace, which is over a mile away. I suspect she did not actually smell our arrival but, from past experience, knew exactly what to expect.

Friday, September 23, 2016

I May Not Go to Heaven

A few weeks ago I was traveling home from Grand Junction after one of Grange’s races when I got a hankerin’ for country music. I wasn’t looking for the modern stuff that sounds like Britney Spears or the Backstreet Boys with a sinus infection. No, I wanted Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr. and maybe even Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. I needed trains, whisky, bad woman and broken hearts to lift me up. Scanning the FM dial, I finally found what I was looking for and settled in for the ride. A few minutes later Tanya Tucker came across the airwaves, crooning, “When I die I may not go to heaven. I don’t know if they let cowboys in. If they don’t just let me go to Texas, Boy. Texas is as close as I’ve been.”

Although I never understood her relationship with Glen Campbell, I have always enjoyed Tanya’s music in general and this tune in particular. Based upon my experience over the past several years, however, I have begun to question her logic. The reason, of course, is that all the Texans have moved to Colorado, or at least have a second home there. Whenever I visit Durango, Telluride, Salida, Ouray or any of the other mountain towns, there they are, in droves. Texas license plates, tight jeans, big belt buckles and large brimmed hats are everywhere in those communities and I wonder whether anyone is left in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Austin or Lubbock. Things have apparently changed since Tanya's song was released in 1977, and Colorado now seems closer to heaven than the Lone Star State.

The closer I got to Bluff, the more I pondered that northwesterly migration and the corresponding change of celestial circumstances. Arriving home later that evening, I decided to consult Georgiana, the Oracle of Bluff, or at least of the Simpson home. I concluded that if anybody could sort this out, it would be her. Without Georgiana, I reasoned, Kira would be studying astrology instead of astrophysics, and Grange, like his dad, would be interested in monkey business rather than medicine. When I have volunteered to tutor the kids in math, science, history or any one of a variety of other subjects, the Oracle has always advised against it. “Remember when you asked your father about about π and he went to out for ice cream, or when you inquired about Greece and he told the history of Crisco shortening”, she cautions. Thankfully she does not mention the time Grange was studying Latin and I suggested he use Google Translate to decipher his homework. Needless to say, his instructor was not impressed with the results.

When I laid out the facts as I understood them and made my inquiry about the Promised Land and cowpunchers, the Oracle declared, “Well, Indian traders and lawyers don’t go to heaven either, so you have a compound problem.” As Shoni the Server would say, “Right?” That was something they never mentioned in law school, so over the next several days I surveyed various people who rambled through Twin Rocks Trading Post. My goal was to find anyone who knew an attorney they believed had been allowed to enter the Pearly Gates. “Not a single one?”, I queried as I interrogated each individual. The universal response: “Nope. Not even one.”

Just as I was becoming despondent, I remembered Bennion Redd, the San Juan County Attorney, federal magistrate and all around good guy. Surely Bennion had been allowed passage into Paradise when he crossed over in 2009, I reassured myself. When I was a young lawyer trying to scratch out a living in this dusty Utah backwater, I always looked forward to my telephone calls or meetings with this gentle man. Bennion was an old-time lawyer and, paraphrasing the Evangical Christians, whenever I got into a tight spot and did not know what to do, I asked myself, “What would Bennion do?” Answering that question consistently pointed me in the right direction and helped solve my dilemma. Bennion never steered me wrong. Surely Bennion made it, I concluded, even though the Oracle has, to my knowledge, always been correct. Maybe early retirement from the practice had saved him, or possibly there were special circumstances I could not identify. In any case, I resolved to take this up with the Oracle.

Despite the challenges associated with attorneys, Indian traders in heaven turned out to be an even bigger challenge, and all my canvassing left me convinced the Oracle was spot on when it came to this particular group. A through reading of the literature did not turn up a single reference to that realm. There was, however, no shortage a hell raising mentioned. Once again, this issue was not addressed during my tenure at Trader Technical College, so, like those enrolled in Trump University, I considered litigation. Eternity, after all, is a serious issue which should not be overlooked when considering one’s career choices. As Jamie Olson would say, “I’m just sayin’.”

What the the Oracle could not, however, know is that, being the experienced Indian trader I am, I have an ace in the hole. Several years ago Corrine Roring, a philanthropist and local legend approached me about acquiring sandstone from one of our properties to help rebuild the old Bluff Coop. “Okay”, I readily agreed. “How much is it going to cost me?”, she warily asked. After pretending to ponder the question several minutes, I replied, “Nothing.” “Nothing?”, she repeated cautiously. “Nothing”, I confirmed, saying "I do, however, have a request.” “Ahh”, she said, expecting the worst. Knowing her place in in the afterworld had long ago been secured, I said, “If you get ‘there' before I do, just put in a good word for me.” I figured I had struck a sensible bargain and that my odds were good because she was in her late 70s and I in my early 50s. “Deal”, she agreed, shaking my hand to confirm the arrangement and turning toward the door with a sly smile. The stone was later harvested, the Coop restored and Corrine moved on to her great reward. When I mentioned this situation to the Oracle, saying, “Guess I don't have to go to Texas after all”, she responded, “Well, that will be a first! You better hope the admissions committee doesn’t get wind of this before you get through."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Goat Head

Last Saturday morning I found myself walking across the broad Twin Rocks Café porch.  It was time to open the store, and I was reveling in the beauty of the day, enjoying the crisp, clean morning air and the calming atmosphere of our small community.  Just as I rounded Sunbonnet Rock and made my way onto the trading post veranda, an orange and white 1970s Volkswagen Vanagon came blasting through the parking lot and raced through the double row of cars and people milling about.  "Goat Head!" I muttered.  This is a term we Bluffoon's use to reference someone with little or no common sense; a person with a prickly, pointy personality and contentious nature.

The windows of the van were a mess and looked as if someone had tried to contain a bus load of pre-schoolers gooped-up with jaw breaker juice.  As the vehicle flashed past, I caught sight of the driver with what looked like a hulking figure with a butch haircut in the passenger seat.  Every window in the vehicle was fouled beyond filthy.  As the van skidded to a stop, a stocky woman with a military bearing hopped out and marched around the Vanagon.  She wore beat-up, once black combat boots, khaki green fatigue pants and a black and white striped tank top.

The Military Momma came around the vehicle and pulled open the passenger door.  Out jumped what looked like a cross between Marmaduke and Beethoven-- the huge love child of a Great Dane and a Saint Bernard. The creature was the size of a small pony.  The burly driver then slid open the side door and out jumped the most unusual mingling of canine DNA one might imagine.  Five more dogs piled out of the paddy wagon and made a mad dash for the weeds.  There was a modified German Sheperd, a joke of a Jack Russell terrier, an abbreviated version of a Golden Retriever, a scary looking Scottie and a maniacally barking cross between a Chihuahua and a miniature Doberman Pinscher.

Never before have I seen a more mongrel mix of mutts. When the pack disembarked I thought to myself; "I hope that woman brought her own pooper-scooper, because I am NOT cleaning-up after that rat pack."  Then I realized where they were going. The entire group was heading right into the weed patch!  "Now THIS should be interesting!" I said out loud.

Although we have battled Puncture Weed for decades it has proven to be the single most persistent remnant of Fire Gods pre-burn era.  Let me explain: In Navajo myth and legend, there were once two main groups of Native peoples living in this area of the Great American Southwest.  These two opposing forces differed in philosophy, perspective, politics and every other aspect one might imagine.  Sound familiar?  Anyway, these polar opposites fought and bickered to the point where their surroundings began to emulate their actions.  The natural world became pointed, barbed, poisonous and bitter.  In a nutshell, the world became ugly.

At some point Fire God lost patience-- he had enough!  The super-duper deity sent one group south, they became the Apache tribe, and those that remained are known as the Dine', the People.  To cleanse the earth of the negativity and stickery remnants left behind, he lit up things and burned them to a crisp. Remaining reminders of those derisive times are such things as Datura (aka; Jimson Weed or  Poisonous Vespertine), Puncture Vine (aka; Goat Head, Devils Popcorn and Demon Head) and what some people believe to be Desert Varnish, which can be seen  upon the face of the Bluff's surrounding our little river valley community.  Those dark stains are not varnish at all, they are fire clouds left behind from the heat of a mighty flame.

As I mentioned previously, like an unsupervised band of hoodlums the dogs ran pell-mell into the patch of Puncture Vine!  It took those beasties a second or two to realize this place was unfriendly. They had raced into a thorn-fest.  The dogs were in trouble, some froze in place, others shook and shimmied in an attempt to rid themselves of the Goat Heads.   The seeds of Puncture Vine imbed themselves and they were in too deep; the pup parade only succeeded in setting the seeds more firmly and to attract more stickers to their toesies.   It took the big-booted babe awhile to discover that there was a problem.   She yelled after the dogs, "Hurry-up guys, do your business and lets go!"  "Seriously!", I thought to myself. "It should be you out there, mired in the brier patch, but minus those giant clod- hoppers."

Momma Muttley soon realized the dilemma her pets were in and waded into the demon weeds to rescue her pack.  One by one she recovered the curs from their thorny trap.  Upon each return trip to the van she would pluck the stickers from their pads and place them back into the relative security of the dingy bus.  The big dog looked like it might prove to be too much for her, so I started down the steps to help, but the woman proved to be as strong as she looked and heaved the huge hound into her arms and walked out with him.  After placing the big dog back in the passenger seat, she gathered a hand full of the stickers and headed my way.

As she came, the mad woman reminded me of Pig Pen of the Peanuts cartoon series.  Dog hair coated her clothes and caused an aura of doggy dander to emanate from her form as she moved.  She huffed across the parking lot, hustled up the steps and approached me with attitude.  The aroma of living with that many dogs preceded her arrival.   "Is this your place?" she demanded.  "It is!"  I replied firmly.  The Dog Woman gave me a hard look, held out a hand full of Demon Head and growled, "You should clean-up your parking lot, these stickers nearly ruined my dogs."  "And you," I replied," you should know better than to let your dogs do their business on my parking lot!"  We stood there staring and making faces at each other.

I thought about her speedy and careless entry onto our parking lot and how she intended to use our property as a dump station and showed my frustration.  That was until I looked over her shoulder and saw the black stain on the cliffs across the valley.  Remembering the lesson of Fire God and realizing she must really love that pack of dogs, I sighed and said, "I am sorry for your dogs. That had to hurt."  The woman growled and turned away leaving behind a bitter oath in her wake.  "Oh!"  I called after her, "and now you are angry at me?" 

"Now that," I mumbled to myself, "was, for sure and certain, the epitome of a Goat Head!"

Friday, September 9, 2016

Jamie on the Porch

It had been a quiet morning, so as lunchtime approached I pulled up the high stool which stands behind the sales counter, sat down and began reading the local news in our regional rag.  Apparently not much worth covering had happened over the past week, so the paper was thin.  To use a double negative, that was not unusual.  The Kokopelli doors were flung wide open and the sun streamed in through the entrance.  It was a laid-back day in Bluff, which was also not unusual.

As I fidgeted on my trading post throne, wondering how the residents of San Juan County, Utah got by without generating more news for the reporters to report, I noticed an individual climb the stairs and approach the threshold.  Backlit by the afternoon rays, he appeared as a tall and rail thin silhouette.  For some reason I envisioned Joe Schemie, bass player for the band Three Dog Night. The words to their number one hit  Joy to the World ran through my mind and I began to question why that bullfrog always had mighty fine wine.  It could have been the wrap-around Ray Ban sunglasses, the longish dark hair and bushy mustache or maybe even the swagger that brought that particular group and that particular song to mind.  Or, it may have been just another flashback to my earlier years with no actual relevance to the individual entering the store. Whatever the case, this man in his late thirties or early forties reminded me of the Seventies.

Stepping just inside the entrance, the visitor placed his hands resolutely on his hips and in a smoky, gravelly voice demanded, "You buy from white guys?"  Looking at my inquisitor, I sized him up briefly and replied, "I don't care if you are purple, pink or aquamarine, let's see what you have."  He was taken aback by my response and stood unmoving for a moment, clearly contemplating the comment.  I was pleased as punch I had come up with such a creative retort and silently congratulated myself.  In any case, the man soon trotted out to his old Ford pick-up truck and retrieved a small package.  As he unwrapped the parcel, the peddler explained he had been in several stores from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah and had been consistently told, "We only buy from Native Americans", which he clearly was not.  He had not even been allowed to show his work.  That, as you may guess, put him in a mean mood.  And that, as you may also guess, was the source of his agitation.

He introduced himself as James "Jamie" Olson and placed his work on the counter.  I was speechless.  His figurative "wearable sculpture", the likes of which I had never seen, was set with a variety of exotic stones and shards of legally collected prehistoric pottery.  The work was literally stunning.  Needless to say, we quickly arrived at an accommodation and I purchased his entire inventory.  That was almost 20 years ago, and Jamie and his art have been permanent fixtures at Twin Rocks Trading Post from that moment to this.  Because of our initial encounter, when people ask if Jamie is Native, we reply, "No, but we don't discriminate against white folks."

Jamie was born and raised in Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, but immigrated to Colorado shortly after graduating high school in the early 1970s.  It was in 1994 that he started making jewelry.  As he likes to say, "Before that I mostly poured concrete and abused alcohol."  In May of that year he quit his job as a cement worker and gave up the hooch.  He has been sober ever since.  He now lives in and works out of a 1965 Winnebago, which is 7'x15', all inclusive.  The trailer serves as home, workshop and entertainment center.  To say Jamie likes things simple would be an understatement.  To say he has a few good stories would be a gross understatement.

Recently Barry and I convinced Jamie to lapse briefly back into concrete.  Although alcohol is strictly forbidden, cement is grudgingly allowed, from time-to-time.  When Twin Rocks Trading Post was built, the porch posts were improperly set and, as with a few Twin Rocks Trading Post employees, there has been some sagging.  Jamie agreed to saw off the poles, evacuate the old wood, fill the voids with cement and replace the beams.  "The employees", he said, "were on their own."

As Jamie has prosecuted his construction project to completion, an unending stream of admirers and interested parties has engaged him.  This has caused Jamie to offer his services on the porch for an extended term.  He is having such a grand time he even said he would work without pay if necessary.  According to Jamie, he has received overtures from numerous European ladies, both young and old, attractive and otherwise; employment offers from prospective employers  across the nation; and even a few opportunities he will not openly discuss.  "I love Bluff too much to leave", he explains when asked why he has not accepted any of the proposals.

The other day I came back to work after attending one of Grange's high school cross country meets to find Barry and Jamie designing a heating grate similar to the ones homeless people in New York City seek out during cold months.  "What's that?" I inquired. "It might get chilly this winter", Barry explained, "and we have to keep Jamie warm."  Jamie has apparently discovered the magic of Twin Rocks, and I have consequently begun to worry what happens if the word gets out.  If it does we may have to build a few more grates.

With warm regards from the Twin Rocks Trading Post staff.

Friday, September 2, 2016

On the Lot

Most of the stories Steve and I share concern what goes on inside the Kokopelli doors of the trading post or the glass doors of the cafe.  Some of the most interesting and amusing people we see never cross our threshold. Today I believe we shall share some of what goes on upon the graveled parking lot, outside those busy portals. Steve, Priscilla and I have made a habit of keeping a close eye on what might be going-on out there because the happenings can be quite entertaining. Unlike Vegas, much of what goes-on in Bluff has a way of making its way into the headlines.  We are not as discreet as our Nevada neighbors.

The other day I opened the cafe for our staff at 6:00 a.m.  As we hustled about to get the cafe open to the public, we noticed daybreak coming fast and concluded the sun would soon make its way above the roiled tops of the cliffs.  It was one of the most glorious mornings you can imagine.  The night had been cool and there was the barest hint of fall in the air.  The light was amazing and the textures of the earth fascinating.  All told, the promise of a brilliant, warm, sunny day seemed assured.

As we worked, we noticed a rental car resting on the far west side of the parking lot.  It is not unusual for travelers to overnight there if all the rooms in town are full.  Twilight was fading and the couple who spent the night soon emerged from their restless slumber.  Toni, our head cashier and all around great gal, called me over, pointed in the direction of the couple and queried; "Is that girl standing there in a bikini?"

Squinting hard and realizing the facts I replied, "Yup, her bikini briefs!"  As we stood chuckling to ourselves at the audacity of the girl, the young man rounded the car, joining his companion at the back of the vehicle and popped the hatch.  He was bare to the waist, wearing only a pair of khaki colored shorts and flip-flops.  He reached into the car and extracted a pair of turquoise colored shorts.  Then, all in the same instant, the sun broke through Gaines'  crack, which is a giant cleft in the cliff high above the cafe.  This allowed a shaft of pure, unadulterated sunlight to streak across the parking lot and highlight the couple.  The young man dropped his Khaki shorts to the ground which left him fully exposed.  Toni gasped and turned away while the young man stretched luxuriously.  Before long he slowly stepped into the turquoise trunks, hiked them up and donned a white tank top.  The girl followed suit, dressing quickly.  They then hopped in their car and motored away.  "That," I said to Toni laughing," is what some would call a glorious sunrise!"  "More like a rude awakening",  she mumbled.

If it is not someone shamelessly changing in the parking lot, it is some kid whizzing on the rocks with his family cheering him on.  We once had a bus full of foreign tourists pull up where all of its female passengers bailed-out and high-tailed it to the nearest restroom.  The men, however, took a more direct approach; they simply  stepped-off the carry-all and began watering nearby plants and trees.  It was great! Not because of what they were doing, but because of how Steve reacted. He went-off like a grenade.  When we realized what was happening he exploded across the counter, blew through the Kokopelli doors and began hollering and gesticulating in an animated fashion from our raised porch. The men didn't budge. I guess the bus driver had kept them on the bus far too long, instantaneous relief was of greater concern than some crazy guy screaming hostile maledictions from on high. Ever since then Steve has petitioned for the purchase of a laser guided water cannon to mount on top of the trading post to, "Hose down those stinkin' hosers!"  Toni supports him wholeheartedly.

The mighty Twin Rocks formation and accompanying red rock cliffs are what draw the people.  With those bad boy behemoths as a backdrop,  we get folks from all over the world taking pictures.  From drive-by shooters to picture perfect perfectionists, we receive people armed with everything from cell phones, to tablets, to highly sophisticated camera equipment in an attempt to capture themselves, family or friends in just the right pose.  We have had full grown men  attempting jump shots, hoppin and boppin' on the cobble-stone. One young girl plopped herself down in the middle of the parking lot during lunch hour traffic.  Armed with a selfie stick, she seemed determined to get just the right image or become road kill in the attempt.  Priscilla and I have learned not to inform Steve when it involves folks who might be prone to indiscretion.  Because of his emotional incontinence, when it comes to indecent exposure, we prefer to keep him off the porch.