Friday, January 27, 2017

The Bears Ears Blues

Lately Barry and I have been spending a great deal of time at Twin Rocks Café. It’s not that we are less interested in turquoise and coral, wool and wood, sumac and silver; it’s that we are short an assistant restaurant manager. As small business owners we, therefore, are required to fill the gap. Consequently slingin’ hash, sweepin’ floors and moppin’ tables have come to occupy a significantly larger portion of our time.

Since we have been our own bosses the vast majority of our adult lives, we intimately understand the situation and accept the responsibility. Although that acceptance is at times grudgingly given, Barry and I intuitively understand we are singularly unemployable by mainstream business. As a result, we have no other alternative but to keep slinging’, sweeping’ and moppin'. At times Barry and I speculate what we might do if we were no longer the Twin Rocks titleholders. We have yet come up with a suitable answer. After the recent election of Donald Trump, Barry thinks he too may be qualified to be leader of the free world. I have reminded him that Momma Rose always says, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” I’m not sure Barry understands.

One of the benefits of this episodic manager situation is that we are at the restaurant early and late, and are therefore witness to many spectacular sunrises and sunsets. In this vast open space there are no high-rise buildings or other tall manmade structures to obscure our horizons. Consequently, like the traveler who stumbles onto a nude beach, we have seen it all. From pink blushes in the morning as illumination spreads to rosy smudges as the day wanes, to rising and falling moons, we are witness to nature’s extraordinary displays.

Nestled in our narrow river valley, we are surrounded by soaring red rock cliffs which at this time of year are highlighted by patches of pristine snow. The pioneers who settled this community in April of 1880, after an arduous journey over some of the most “slantindicular” country known to man, were exhausted and entirely spent. Those same settlers often joked that when God finished making the earth he had a lot of rocks left over, so he parked them here, leaving us with unparalleled geologic formations and extraordinary logistical challenges.

Although much of the world has viewed Monument Valley in person, in print and on film, there are countless mesas and canyons in southeastern Utah that rival and even surpass the valley's scenic wonderment. And so it was that President Obama recently named 1.35 million acres of our back, front and side yard Bears Ears National Monument, setting off a firestorm.

While protests against and rallies supporting the executive order continue, virtually everyone agrees this pristine acreage deserves protection. There is, however, a vast ocean separating us when it comes to how this protective process should proceed. It will take years to sort through the existing issues. Monument supporters feel the opposers simply do not understand their situation, while those opposing the park believe they are similarly misunderstood. We are all self-interested, and each might rightly be accused of not giving adequate attention to the other perspective. “It will enhance my business.” “It will destroy my business.”  “It will preserve the land for future generations.” “I won’t be able to go where I have always gone.” “The federal government has no right to control the land.” “The federal government has the obligation to protect this valuable resource.” Only time will tell who is right and who is wrong.

Like many things in contemporary society, in this debate the middle ground has disappeared. The prevailing sentiment seems to be, “You are either with us or against us." Many who have known and embraced each other for decades are at odds, not speaking. Surely it is time to stop singin’ the Bears Ears Blues and begin working together to find common ground and identify sensible solutions to the persistent economic, political, cultural and environmental questions we face in San Juan County. Thanks to Woodie Guthrie we all know, “This land was made for you and me”, not you or me. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Honey, There is a Spider in Here

“Honey, there is a spider in here, can you come take care of it? It is a monster!" My wife, Laurie, had spotted the creature on our bathroom ceiling and wanted it dispatched, post haste. When a spider, especially a big one, shows itself in our home, it is up to me to dispose of it. I have often tried to impress upon my loving spouse a more compassionate and cohabitational attitude towards our web-weaving friends. Sharing Navajo cultural stories about spiders and gently encouraging her to overcome her personal fear factor concerning these eight-legged creatures has been, as yet, unsuccessful.

Here at the trading post, Steve and I deal with web weavers on a regular basis. In the Navajo culture, there resides a benevolent being known as Spider Woman; she dwells within the psyche of Navajo rug and basket weavers who frequent our establishment. The aura of Spider Woman surrounds them, tenaciously attached by threads of wool and sumac.

It has been a real adventure becoming familiar with our local weavers. Through the hearts and hands of these artists, Spider Woman spins her web of myth and legend, prolongs a fading culture and expresses her opinions. Materials gathered from the earth are artfully reworked into expressions of the ancient Navajo stories. If you look closely and open your mind, the Navajo perspective begins to come together in a tapestry of form and movement.

Through the weavers, the culture begins to unfold in unique and fascinating ways. What once seemed only visually intriguing becomes doubly stimulating when the stories associated with the weaving are told. Interpretations of a practical and functional belief system are expressed through skills passed from hand to hand through the generations. Tradition, ancient ceremonial practices and suggestions of harmony and balance are woven into exceptional works of art. Spider Woman spins and weaves her magic into each creation.

Mountains, mesas and monuments are stylistically and lovingly portrayed; geometric red rock canyons and scattered juniper trees come alive on these textural canvases. Subtle images such as lizard tracks across a desert sand dune, wispy cloud formations and lively displays of early morning light find their way onto the two dimensional art forms. Their portrayal brings forth depth of field and a feeling of experience that tempts the senses into loftier realms of reality.

Spider Woman lives in the art of those who believe and welcome her into their world. She provides her followers with skill in gathering necessary materials, the patience required for proper preparation and the ability to incorporate singular mental images into the art. With her aid, Navajo weaving becomes more than warp, weft and design. Spider Woman provides the motivation and creativity to produce exceptional art pieces.

It wasn't long after the spider incident with Laurie that her mother and three sisters came to visit. Somehow the fact that I had an affinity for spiders came up, and I was chastised for tolerating their presence for any reason (The spiders, not the sisters-in-law). Laurie and her siblings are sticklers for a clean house, and arachnids do not blend well with that philosophy.

Before I knew it my in-laws had formed a posse and rounded up three more of my crawly associates. Much to my dismay the "tidy team of bug bashers" banished the creatures to the rich earth of the flower garden. I am having trouble convincing my family that spiders are good and beneficial allies. I may have to weave a web of deceit and liberate those spiders from their snowy exile. I know the perfect little corner where they will have the opportunity to grow and prosper.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Melvin the Man, Melvin the Cat

I am not sure when it started. What I do know, however, is that it has reached epic proportions and had begun to threaten the security of Twin Rocks Trading Post and Twin Rocks Cafe. “It” is the herd, horde, mob, the veritable clowder propagated by our neighbor to the south. Melvin the Man loves cats, and in this small town there is no shortage of feral felines. So, when Melvin the Man began putting out food, the build-up commenced in earnest. From tomcat to tabby, the throng converged on this gentle man’s home.

Now, Barry, Priscilla and I love Melvin the Man at least as much as he loves cats. We have, however, become concerned with his propagation project. Indeed, Barry and I have known Melvin and his wife Betty longer than we have known anyone besides Momma Rose and Daddy Duke. In our early days of running through the dirt streets of Bluff like renegades, it was Melvin and Betty who watched out for us and tried to ensure we did not fall from a cliff, get lodged on a ledge or go too far wrong when we wandered outside our parents’ influence.

When I returned to Bluff in 1989, I was comforted to learn Melvin and Betty were still there in the same house, still as stable as the sandstone walls surrounding and embracing this town. Not much besides their age had changed. Melvin the Man still wore his trademark Highway Orange safety shirts and tinkered with every machine and gadget known to humans. Betty was, as always, right by his side. Like our paternal grandfather Woody, Melvin the Man is of the generation that can repair or patch together with bailing wire any object or article ever invented. Tractors, farm implements or household appliances are no match for this repairman. Leaving aside contemporary cars, with their computers and indecipherable code, from semi-tractor to syrup dispenser, Melvin the Man can fix it.

At approximately 85 years of age, Melvin the Man is also of the generation that accumulates many items others typically cast off. When Barry and I are heading for the parts or hardware store, Melvin is going to his boneyard to find exactly what he needs. He has it all, and all he has makes for great cat houses. And so, as one might guess, cats of all stripe have moved in next door.

Not long after they began feeding at Melvin the Man’s trough, the menagerie decided a little variety would be a good thing and commenced invading the trash cans and dumpsters of Twin Rocks Café. We would see them massing for the attack, plotting their strategy and sneaking across the gravel parking lot. Barry, Priscilla and I headed them off whenever our intelligence indicated an imminent assault, scattering the furry fury like wheat in the wind. They, however, are persistent and ultimately win many battles.

So it was one day when Jana the Animal Accumulator and her trusty associate Grange paid a visit to Twin Rocks Trading Post. Since Barry, Priscilla and I were engaged in selling turquoise and silver and Navajo rugs and baskets, we did not notice five kittens had infiltrated the boulders between the businesses When Jana went to get coffee, most of the quinary took flight, leaving only one pussy to curl around her leg and purr its way into our possession. Before I knew it Melvin the Man was minus a mouser and “Skinny” was comfortably ensconced on the porch at 420 E. Mulberry Avenue.

It was not long, however, before Skinny was not at all skinny, and Jana the Animal Accumulator and her teenage accomplice decided to rename him in honor of his prior patron. Thus, Melvin the Cat was initiated. When my conscience began to trouble me, I disclosed the theft to our neighbor. Melvin the Man, however, had not noticed his loss and ultimately determined Melvin the Cat could not possibly have been part of his tribe. “All mine are wild”, he declared. “They would never let you pet them. I would like to have a pussy cat to pet, but they just scatter, won’t let you touch them. No, can’t be mine.”

And so, as the balance of Melvin the Man’s battalions continue to assault our beachhead and sort through our refuse like undercover agents for the FBI, at least one soldier has been captured and converted. Melvin the Man does not miss his former charge, and Melvin the Cat has easily made the transition from Guardian of the Garbage to Prince of the Portico.