Toni, the Twin Rocks Cafe cashier and chief weekday opener, had received a notice to appear for jury duty last week. This particular judge does not brook any dissent when it comes to doing your civic duty, so it was up to Barry or me to unlock the doors and welcome the morning crew. I had drawn the short straw, so I arose early and began stumbling around the old L.H. Redd, Jr. house about 5:00 a.m., bumping into walls and falling over stray chairs as I prepared for the day. The situation was not, however, extraordinary, I frequently stumble over, bump into and fall against a variety of things, including words and phrases. Such is the life of an aspiring entrepreneur in rural America.
Despite immense challenges, the advantages of living in this tiny community, on the northern edge of the Navajo Reservation, in the middle of miles and miles of open land, are monumental, literally. The benefits are, however, subtle, internal and felt most strongly at the gut level. As I often hear school teachers say when they discuss their work, “It’s not about the money!” My brain intuitively understands what I feel for this red rock sanctuary cannot be accounted for in financial terms, its value is not subject to numeric appraisal.
At 7:00 a.m. I switched on the “Open” sign and noticed a school bus as it crept round the curve just east of La Posada Pintada. Lights from the lethargic carrier and the still drowsy business penetrated the inky blackness. An early morning commuter trailed behind the large yellow transport, taking his or her time, waiting patiently as red lights blinked and the pupil ascended the steps into its warm interior.
The scene reminded me how the pace of society is so very much slower and more considerate outside the larger metropolitan complexes of our United States. I had recently returned from a trip to the East, where there are far more people in any of the many buildings I visited than reside in all of Bluff, and at times more per structure than the entire population of San Juan County. Standing on the Washington D.C. curb at 6:00 a.m., waiting for a cab to haul me to Reagan National, I could not help measure the contrast between my hometown and the governmental megaplex.
At 7:15 a.m. I peered out the plate glass windows of Twin Rocks Café and commented to Samantha, known to us as “Sam”, how dark it remained. Needing to feel the embrace of Mother Earth, I stepped outside onto the broad porch and felt the slight chill of a late October morning envelop me. Although the sun still hid beneath the horizon, the desert varnish on vertical cliffs shadowed pinkish hues of ancient sandstone and golden leaves of riverbank cottonwoods sparkled in diffused light that presaged the coming day. Quiet calm was the overwhelming emotion. The bus having moved on, there was nothing but stillness over the valley. A lonely “honk” arose from the old Jones Hay Farm, piercing the solitude. Even the geese struggled to rouse themselves before the dawn.
It is hard to put into words the sense of peace and place I feel at times like that. I recently read an article that discussed how people who are constantly exposed to new experiences are more open, and embrace fresh ideas faster than most. That may explain the way I have evolved over the past several years, in ways that surprise even me. Surely one must spend time here to understand how it affects the senses and softens the rough edges. While Bluff may be a quiet port in an otherwise chaotic world, each day a varied and distinctly diverse group of people tramp through Twin Rocks, shining their lights on us, illuminating our understanding, divulging their personal stories and making our existence as golden as cottonwood leaves in fall.