Friday, August 25, 2017


Twin Rocks Trading Post was packed with people. We had closed the cafe for a couple of hours to honor the wishes of our Navajo employees. Many of them still embrace the traditions of their forefathers and a solar eclipse is a big deal to The People. The Sun, Moon, and Earth are three of the most powerful of all entities and must be shown the proper respect when they, so obviously, interact. Taboos dictate restrictions of activity and viewing the celestial synergy. The idea is to be as unobtrusive as possible during the entire event. Cooking, cleaning, and serving others falls under the heading of “No Can Do!”.

During our temporary closure, many potential customers were standing around waiting for the House-on-Fire burgers and Peaches DeChelly dessert to come back on line. They didn’t mind lingering, but wanted assurances that we would indeed be reopening the cafe soon. While our patient guests dallied, they wandered through the trading post and about the parking lot watching the eclipse and conversing. Because Steve and I are not of the same mindset or constraints, we were working . . . sort of. I was perched on the high stool behind the counter while Steve sat on the porch steps talking to people and checking the progress of the moon’s shadow. Priscilla sat quietly in our office waiting patiently for the whole thing to pass.

I sat there talking to several of the foreign tourists who passed by my perch while milling about the store. There were French, Italian, German, British, and a few others that I couldn’t easily recognize. As usual, it was my goal to learn as much about them and their “American Experience” as I could while they were in the building. Just after I wrapped up a conversation and purchase with a small and adorable Italian family, I looked up to see a Navajo gentleman in black hat and boots standing before me. He smiled brightly and said, “I couldn’t help but hear you speaking with those people about the eclipse, do you know the Navajo perspective?” “A little,” I replied noticing his neatly pressed burgundy shirt and creased Wrangler jeans, “but I am always ready and willing to learn more---if you are offering to educate me, I am listening.”

As he rocked back and forth upon his highly polished boots, the 50-something-year-old gentleman explained, “The Bearer of the Sun is the most magnificent and dynamic being in Navajo mythology. He is youth, vigor, and strength with a temper to match, thus his reputation for being uncontrollable. Mother Earth is the Sun’s partner, his mate. She projects discipline and restraint and is the epitome of affirmative action. She absorbs all negativity and redistributes it in the positive, nourishing, benevolent manner. Mother Earth controls all living things and promotes growth and upward movement. Some Navajo people believe that the Bearer of the Moon is a feminine entity, but most believe him to be male, the opposite of the Sun. He is an elder statesman, is restrained and self-assured, someone who has achieved confidence and projects stability.”

The man continued, “An eclipse is caused by the death of the orb which is revived by the immortal bearers of the Sun and Moon and the positive forces emanated by Mother Earth. During an eclipse, Navajo people must not eat, sleep, play, and interact on a personal level or travel. You are expected to sing or chant traditional songs related to the Blessing Way if you know them or, simply, be quiet and do nothing if you do not. Because the Sun and Moon deities have control over the life and death of humans, it is wise to patiently await the recovery, rebirth of the orb.”

During his explanation the man’s wife, a lovely lady, dressed in a floral print pullover and brown polyester slacks, browsed about the store, stopping and listening a time or two, then moving away. She seemed a trifle agitated or impatient, I couldn’t tell which, but there was something there. As he wrapped up his explanation I thanked him and said, “So you were raised traditional?” “I was,” he replied, “but I don’t believe that stuff now!” “Well,” I replied, “that is a bit of a downer, you had me going there. I was beginning to believe it myself.” Exasperated, I stepped into his trap and asked, “What DO you believe?”

“Well,” he said with a heavy sigh, “I believe that the end of days is near at hand. This eclipse is an ominous reminder to prepare yourself emotionally and spiritually.” His wife stopped her pacing just behind where he stood. She looked as if she might throw him in a headlock and drag him out the door. I thought to myself,  “This must not be a rare occurrence.” As we stood there looking at each other across the counter, he asked me in a matter-of-fact voice, “What do YOU believe?” I just stood there contemplating my reply while he stood there waiting for it.

Inside my head, I was thrashing wildly about, trying to determine which way to take this conversation. What I decided was that I wanted it to end. Because it is usually quite easy for me to pull off, I decided to play the crazy card. Going with the first thing that came into my head, I said, “Twinkies, I believe in Twinkies! Every time I dip those golden sponge cakes with creamy filling in milk, I rediscover Nirvana. They are mana from heaven in plastic wrap.” 

The man’s jaw dropped and a twinkle came into the woman’s eye. A look of exasperation covered his countenance and he began to speak, but the woman (Mother Earth?) took him by the hand and led him out of the building.

Friday, August 18, 2017

We Got to Live Together!

Recently I noticed the weeds were pressing in on the trading post. I had put off attending to the ever-increasing patch longer than I should, and they demanded attention. The morning was bright and sunny, so I decided it was time to act. Pulling on my working gloves, I prepared for my assault on the invaders. So there I was, sitting on a milk crate in front of the trading post, extracting goat-heads and cheat grass, when a restored 1969 Chevelle convertible pulled up a few feet away. The stereo, which was set to LOUD, blasted out Sly and the Family Stone’s Everyday People---a song released about the same time the car was manufactured. “There is a yellow one that won’t accept the black one, that won’t accept the red one, that won’t accept the white one,” Sly harmonized.

The driver wore a loose fitting, tie-dyed T-shirt emblazoned with a peace sign, looked a bit like Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, and likely had come of age during the 1960s. He leaned over, gave me a friendly wink, switched off the car, and headed into the cafe for breakfast. As I sat there uprooting noxious plants and scrutinizing this visitor from the era of Viet Nam, free love, and Woodstock, a beat-up Reservation car lurched to a stop just west of where I had seated myself.

Two 60-ish Navajo women got out of the jalopy and headed my way. Sitting down on one of the boulders next to me, they asked, “Do you know where Lena Poyer lives?” “Of course, I do,” I responded, “I used to buy rugs from her.” “She lives over there,” I said, pursing my lips in the Navajo way and indicating south towards the Reservation.

One of the women explained she was Lena’s relative, but had not seen her in decades. She had moved away, to live among the “whites.” Feigning disappointment, I said, “Really, you left us for those guys?” “Yeah,” she said, “I married one, too. My kids are half. Even my nullies (grandchildren from her son) are white.” This time I acted even more disappointed she had traded the Reservation for a stint in the Anglo world.

The woman seemed to have assumed I was serious, and that I was at least partly Navajo. Maybe it was my Portuguese ancestry, which gives me darker skin, or maybe it was the way I indicated direction with my lips. In any case, she looked at me in earnest and said, “Well, they are people, too!”

The Navajo ladies left to continue their search, and a few minutes later my guest from the 60s strolled out to his car and fired it up. As he backed out into the street, the stereo kicked in, and I heard Sly singing, “We got to live together.” I couldn’t help thinking that insight often comes at unexpected times and from uncommon messengers. Now more than ever, we need to listen up.

Friday, August 11, 2017


I was gassed! I had just returned from an evening “stroll” with Laurie. Before that, my wife had put in a full day of work at the college, watered her vegetable garden, mowed the neighbor’s yard, weeded her flower beds, and then wanted to “get some exercise.” Laurie is a 5’9”, 115 lb. Wonder Woman, whose goal is to complete as many tasks and chores as she possibly can from dawn to dusk. Let me assure you, Laurie does not just walk; her pace is more of a lope---she covers a lot of ground in a short period of time. I trail along, just off her right shoulder, listening to how her day went and trying not to fall by the wayside. I try to participate in the conversation, but I am mostly concerned with maintaining oxygen flow.

I too had put in a full day at the Trading Post and Cafe, then worked with the Boy Scouts on a service project. Because the three other Scoutmasters I generally share duties with were either out of town, down for the count, or overloaded with other responsibilities, I thought that I was going to have to postpone our project. At the last minute, Scouter extraordinaire Robert Turk and his wife Valarie came into the cafe for dinner. I recruited his services on the spot. Robert and I had survived a raucous crew of eleven-year-old boys wielding chainsaws, axes, and mauls for over an hour and, amazingly, had come away with all our digits. The boys were alive and well and not one parent had phoned to complain, so I was ready to call it a night---but Laurie was not!
As the sun dipped below the horizon, Laurie and I set out upon our trek. We toured the town, waving, shouting greetings and good-natured jests at friends and neighbors as we went. It was a gorgeous evening; the temperature was in the mid-seventies and deep purple cloud formations with frothy peach edges colored by the bent rays of the setting sun raced by overhead. A huge, dark thunderhead flashed and threatened to overtake us from the southeast. The smell of rain, summer barbecue, and freshly cut grass carried on a velvety breeze. Crickets chirped, Katydid’s did their thing, and dogs barked as we passed. Other than the pace Laurie was setting, all was well with the world. By the time we made it back to the house I was worn out, but thoroughly contented.

I fell into the folding chase lounge on our back porch and wiped the sweat from my brow. Laurie went into the house to dry some fruit or can something, while I relaxed back into the woven fabric. I took out my phone and contemplated texting Steve to tell him I was all in and would not be to work on the morrow. He would have to manage the managers, engage the employees, and coax customers all by himself. Nah! I thought again. Twin Rocks is a wonderful place to work and play, and the people there are great and always interesting. I turned to my Instagram account and began checking up on my connections there. As I scanned through the people I follow, I heard a crunching sound. Looking up, I witnessed, not 8 feet from where I rested, a young skunk munching away at the kibbles Laurie puts out for her cats.

“Oh my, my, oh my, my, can you boogie, can you slide?” I thought to myself, “What would Ringo do in this situation?” I considered raising myself up and out of that chair, then vaulting the brick wall which surrounds the porch, but thought again because doing so might scare and set the darn thing off. The house was wide open and the stink would last for weeks. I was cornered. What came into my head was, “Ringo would coo a melody.” So, I croaked out a coarse, whispered, “Pepe', Pepe' LaPew, please do not cause a stink.” The adorable little fellow looked up and saw me there, raised his tail a fraction, stepped back, and considered me carefully, stepped forward and took another nibble then bounded away, exiting stage left through the carport, leaving not a drop of scent behind. Whew, too close!

In the culture of the Navajo, Skunk is an uncommonly bright fellow, he outsmarted all of the smaller creatures and the wily and chaotic Coyote who tried to steal his supper. I was lucky to have escaped unscathed from the odiferous beastie, but I have to admit I was a bit miffed with my wife for leaving cat food out because it attracts these foul critters and is easy to access. I went inside and showed Laurie the video I had taken of my encounter and expressed my frustration at her lack of consideration for my safety and well-being.

I told Laurie that if that skunk had of let loose on me I would have searched her out and shared that omnipotent “ode de cologne” with her. “I thought you’re smarter than that,’” quipped my wife casually. “That would not have been a wise move.” Stepping back and peering into the seriousness of those sage green eyes and considering my options, I thought it best to exit, as did the skunk, stage left. The lesson here is that both skunks and exceptional women have a way of keeping you in your place (AND being real stinkers.) Oh my, my.

Friday, August 4, 2017


Division is defined as, “The act or process of dividing; the state of being divided,” which most of us associate with mathematics. On many levels, this topic has perplexed me throughout childhood and into my adult life. For example, when Kira and Grange were in grammar school, I had to cede jurisdiction over their math education to Jana. Once they got past basic addition and subtraction, I was wholly and irretrievably useless. Geometry, trigonometry, and calculus are Greek to me, so when Kira decided on astrophysics and Grange biomedical engineering, I blessed them with all the power I had at my disposal, which was not much, and sent them on their way. Like trout in a mountain stream, once released into the intellectual current they skittered away, never to return for assistance or advice. I concluded they inherited the math gene from their mother or some distant and unidentified relative. Surely, it did not come from my side of the family.

One might rightly ask how someone gets to my station in life with only the most rudimentary skills. In answer, all I can say is, “That is a very good question.” My solution has been to surround myself with smart people, and finding more intelligent people has for some reason not been challenging. Despite their superior math skills, one thing Grange, Kira, and Jana do have in common with me is that none of us is good at division, of the racial, political, or religious type. I was recently reminded of this situation as I sat in an airliner on my way to Philadelphia. Grange and Jana had gone to Vail, Colorado, so Grange could run his first half-marathon. The plan was they would fly from Denver after the race, and we would all converge at Kira’s college dorm. Once together, we intended to move Kira’s meager belongings into storage and send her off on her Chilean semester abroad. I was therefore left on my own to navigate airport gates and the TSA between Durango, Colorado; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Philly. To ensure nothing went too far wrong, Jana put a tag around my neck and a note inside my shirt pocket which read, “If lost, please return to Twin Rocks Trading Post, Bluff, Utah, USA." Apparently, she wanted to cover all the bases, possibly worrying I might even go so far wrong that I found myself in a foreign country.

Having successfully navigated the small regional airport, I stowed my carry-on in the overhead compartment and settled in for the first leg of the day-long journey. I sat in the coach section, sandwiched between two other tightly packed travelers who munched pretzels and sipped soda. Once the aircraft lifted off, I noticed the flight attendant extend a mesh curtain between our cattle compartment and first class. While it seemed a thin barrier between the huddled masses and the elite, throughout the flight it proved effective and no revolution or conflict ensued. Not a single commoner breached the barrier to use their bathroom facilities or to trouble those of the privileged class. That started me thinking about my experience in Bluff generally and the trading post specifically, something I often do.

While many border towns draw distinct racial divisions, Bluff has always been more commingled, less fractious, more open. Here people of different races work together in “hozho,” which is the Navajo term for balance and harmony. When Kira and Grange attended Bluff Elementary School, my own alma mater, they participated in Navajo Song and Dance, a program intended to introduce children, both Native and non-Native, to indigenous culture. The class taught pupils Navajo language skills and showed them a variety of ancient traditions. Every year Kira, Grange, and their classmates participated in competitions to illustrate what they had learned. Seeing my red-headed, fair-skinned children performing on small stages like that of Rock Point Demonstration School in full Navajo costume, including turquoise and silver, always made me swell with pride. I am the emotional type.

Kira was so good she often won the competitions in her category. As a result, her friends at times inquired whether Kira was actually Navajo. Jana assured them our kids were from the Pasta, Potato, and Spicy Portuguese Sausage Clans, and not the Frybread and Mutton Stew group. They seemed unconvinced. The Yei-be-chei, an age-old healing and initiation rite, was Grange’s specialty. In their headbands, moccasins, medicine pouches, and velvet shirts, he and his buddies chanted, rattled, and pranced through the ceremony as though they were experts. They performed at many venues and events, including Ms. Broken Trail, where they mingled with prospective princesses from across the Navajo Nation.

As a result, Kira and Grange grew up drawing no distinction between themselves and their Navajo associates. Priscilla, our trusty sidekick, also taught us a lot about being inclusive rather than divisive. During one recent conversation about living and dying, Priscilla noted the Navajo perspective is that nobody owns anything, and there is, therefore, no reason to divide things up, be selfish, or act as though you are the exclusive possessor. Everything, she cautioned, is temporary, and possession illusory. She indicated that only when you pass on and your shell goes back to the earth is there ownership of any type, and at that point, it is you who are possessed by Mother Earth, mixed back together with all the others who have shared this world; red, yellow, black, and white; tall, skinny, fat, and short; intelligent and otherwise. “You fall into the ‘otherwise’ category, but that’s okay,” she said.

So, having fretted about addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division all those years, it turns out my shortcoming is not such a great handicap after all. I just wish I could convince my accountant of that when she calls with questions about my monthly reports.