Saturday, September 23, 2017

Twin Rocks Museum

Visitors to Twin Rocks Trading Post often comment that the shop looks like a museum. Although our primary mission is to sell turquoise jewelry, Navajo baskets, and rugs, the statement is still flattering. A few days ago, a woman walked through the Kokopelli doors, took a quick look around and declared, “This place is just like a museum, and I could live here." After I got over my fear of the store becoming a flophouse and stopped wondering what Barry would look like as a fossil, I gave considerable thought to what we do at Twin Rocks.

Many people view museums as a place to view extraordinary objects and, if you are fortunate, have informative conversations with the attendants. I can certainly appreciate that sentiment, since some of my best museum experiences involve looking at displays while talking with staff members. I have even been invited into a few curation rooms and have seen many unusual artifacts. In most cases, the explanations of curators and docents added more to the relic than I could have imagined.

One thing I have realized is that art is primarily about the artist, and the artist is molded by his or her work. When I look at a rug by Eleanor Yazzie, I see her woven into the fibers. I can hear her voice and remember her children and the family’s yellow pickup truck. In a Tommy Jackson bracelet, I envision him pulling into the gravel parking lot on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, eyes shaded by narrow sunglasses. To me, it is those memories that make Eleanor's weavings and Tommy's jewelry extraordinary. People are clearly the most important part of our operation, and depending on who is in the store at any particular moment, the exhibition can be quite captivating.

Each visitor to the trading post has his or her own story to tell and distinct attributes to reveal. They have all experienced life on their own terms and are like mobile museums. Their demonstrations include culture from around the world, adventure in countless environments, and knowledge about an endless variety of topics.

Yesterday our friend Skip strolled into the trading post after hiking in Cottonwood Wash. That afternoon his focus was on trees. After many years as an architect, Skip decided he was destined to be a fruit grower. As a result, he purchased acreage with a grove of apple trees and began life anew. As he talked about the land and how it changed his life, a smile spread across his face. Skip described his grandfather, a man who allowed his young grandson to work in the elderly man’s extensive garden. That experience sparked a hunger that had lain dormant over 40 years. Unexpectedly, those seeds recently sprouted and Skip's passion blossomed.

Skip told me how he had once come upon a sandstone drain where several juniper saplings had taken root many decades before. He said the trees were huge, twisted and strikingly beautiful. Then he whispered, "I just went over and gave them a hug." I understood his emotion, since that is how I feel about many of the people who visit our trading post. Being a bit shy, I have most often refrained from embracing our patrons. As I grow older, however, I feel less inhibited.

Skip and I talked about a tree Jana recently purchased from a nursery in Moab. After we completed our transaction, the greenhouse attendant helped me put it in the back of our truck and bid us farewell. Before we drove off, I asked whether the unprotected tree would be all right during the 100-mile journey to Bluff. The assistant responded, "No problem, we have pretty strong winds here in Moab." Watching in the rear-view mirror as we drove home, I agonized over every leaf that went skittering down the highway. When we finally pulled over, I saw the damage done.

After I finished relating my story to Skip, he said, "You know Steve, it's going to take a long time, buckets of water, and lots of fertilizer to make that tree feel good again. It will need love to survive." That is the beauty of the human exhibits on display almost every day at Twin Rocks Museum--- you just never know what treasures will be unveiled.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Symphony of Silence

Everyone has a quiet place. My wonderful wife, Laurie, simply walks out into her yard and blends with the flora. When her toes touch the grass and her slender fingers dig into the rich, dark soil, she finds peace. From her touch, flowers bloom and plants spring forth. Priscilla, on the other hand, slips away to an empty trailer near her reservation home which her daughter vacated awhile back. On the rare occasion when she slows, albeit briefly, Priscilla sits on the windswept, sandblasted porch and experiences her world visually. Whether it be a magnificent sunrise or colorfully refracted sunset over her red-desert homeland, she finds harmony just sitting, wondering, and watching.

Steve finds balance through exercise, whether it be with his new walk/run routine or biking along the highways and byways in and around Bluff. His legs and heart pumping away, the bicycle clicking and grinding forward across the blistered and cracked asphalt. Because he is the outspoken and controversial personality in this business partnership, I am constantly amazed that someone with opposing opinions has not yet sideswiped and sent him and his bicycle careening across sand and sage.

Recently, I spoke with Elsie Holiday about her quiet place. According to Elsie, her time of peace and quiet begins when everyone else in her household goes down and out for the night. When they retire she returns to her weaving, picking up her basket and awl and settling into the creative process. Elsie says that when she focuses on her work, she becomes lost in the process and loses all track of time. “Oftentimes,” says Elsie, “the rising sun glaring through my living room window interrupts my work and causes me to realize I have been working all night.” When asked if she is exhausted by the work, she shakes her head from side to side. “Just the opposite,” she said, “I feel revived and invigorated.”

My quiet place is the mountain. I am crazy about discovering high, lonely ridge lines and sitting there to enjoy the symphony of silence. To rest upon the flank of a peak and look out across the vast distance makes me happy. I must have sprung forth from a gushing spring, or popped out of a pine cone, because I am incessantly drawn to the highlands.

The other day I was rousting about the mountain and stepped into a circle of tall, sturdy timber. The topiary towered above me with their heavily textured grey bark, flecked with yellow lichen, and topped with leafy, emerald greenery. The oak trees seemed to embrace each other in fortress-like fashion, their intermingled and intertwined branches attempting to bar intrusion. The sun dappled meadow within was kidney-shaped, somewhere near 100 feet long and 50 feet across. The dark mountain soil within was covered in tall, wispy shoots of golden grass and the stalky remnants of columbine.

I took in this quaintly magical court of honor and heard the shrill cry of blue birds, the tweet of sparrows, and the pounding of a flicker on a nearby quaking aspen. A tufted Abert’s squirrel barked at me from the crotch of one of the trees. The breeze blew through the slender stalks of grass, causing them to sway in a mesmerizing manner. The long, dead stalks of columbine bumped and rattled against each other producing a woodsy wind-chime effect. I sat in silence, absorbing the sunlight and letting the sight and sound of the place enchant me.

If I could talk Laurie into coming along, and our children into visiting on occasion, I believe that I could easily become the old man of the mountain. Laurie will come and stay the night, on occasion, and enjoys the wildlife. The deer, turkey, and squirrels are her friends, but she is leery of the coyotes and bears. She appreciates the peace and quiet of the mountain, but her yard is her sanctuary. 

The thing that really quashes my fantasy is that Laurie is not fond of the title “Old Woman of the Mountain.”

Friday, September 8, 2017


In Navajo culture, there are numerous mythological tales involving individual reinvention, transformation, and rebirth. These missives often include references to Changing Woman, Changing Bear Maiden, the Hero Twins, and Coyote, just to name a few. A reawakening of consciousness and understanding is frequently a central theme. The upward movement sometimes occurs by chance, but is generally a result of someone aggressively seeking knowledge. 

These stories remind me of a wondrous magician who rips a piece of plain white paper into a hundred fragments and miraculously restores it. From the refreshed page, the magician shapes a bird, which he transforms into a beautiful, living white dove. The metaphor of the paper dove, and these mythological stories, is that as individuals we have the power to interrupt our lives and reshape them into something pure and beautiful; the magic comes from within.

The trick in all this is to avoid basing the transformation on greed, jealousy, or other turbulent, misguided wants or needs. The drama can get out of hand and when it does a tumultuous outcome is assured. Coyote teaches us that thinking and acting on personal, selfish desire allows chaos into our lives and generates disastrous repercussions for those we love and care for. Coyote’s message is that a new and improved life includes accountability, valuable not only to the individual, but to those for whom we hold dear.

Reinvention seems logical and necessary as man struggles with reality and truth; a higher plane of understanding becomes desirable, if not essential. In numerous cultures around the globe, Snake is commonly associated with rebirth. Its ability to shed its skin (or past) and grow into something larger and more significant makes a great deal of sense. Human beings are generally tenacious and motivated when it comes to improving their minds and station in life.

Nature-based or agricultural societies attempt to explain their world through natural occurrences. Wind, rain, lightning, and thunder are minor deities, while Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Fire are more significant. Aboriginal people looked to their surroundings to educate themselves and improve their lot in life. It was all they had, and to be perfectly honest, it served them well. We would all do well to know better the ways of the natural world.

The Navajo people have a legend that refers to an Upward Moving Way. The caterpillar lives near the earth, is of the earth. If this lowly being becomes totally aware and accepting of its surroundings, learns from them and focuses on self-improvement, it has the opportunity to make a change, a metamorphosis. The end result is one of the most beautiful creatures ever created. The butterfly provides us with a striking reminder that each and every one of us has the power to re-create ourselves in beauty. The question is, will we?

Saturday, September 2, 2017


“Yes,” I said to the woman who asked if she might photograph our Navajo baskets. “Yes,” I acquiesced when she wanted to handle a Nancy Chilly-Yazzie pottery vase. “Yes,” I allowed as she requested permission to take our Navajo rugs out into the sunlight to evaluate their quality. “Yes, yes, yes,” I said. “This is a yes-place. We don’t like to say no.” The woman sensed my weakness and pressed her advantage.

At some point in my conversation with the assertive customer, I began to worry what might happen if she asked for money. Barry was traveling, so I wondered whether I would be compelled to give it to her and whether Priscilla would consent. Years ago, Momma Rose claimed I would “argue with the devil.” What that meant I was never completely sure, but she may have felt I was incapable of agreeing with anyone, including Old Scratch himself. Maybe she thought I was unpleasant, or maybe she believed I would simply debate all issues, no matter the subject. In any case, the trading post has apparently diminished my argumentative nature.

Hearing my comments, Priscilla nodded her head knowingly. After almost 30 years at Twin Rocks Trading Post, I have become a “yes-man.” The problem is that Priscilla has the same attribute. While one might question whether a woman has the essential characteristics, defines a yes-man as, “A man or woman who always expresses agreement.” Therefore, according to that imminently reliable resource, Priscilla qualifies. As a result, Barry is the only person on the premises capable of saying “no,” and when he is out of town we are in trouble.

Despite Rose’s assessment, I have always viewed myself as congenial. When I recently mentioned this personal assessment to Jana, she just laughed and said, “Let’s discuss that some other time.” On this point, however, Barry seems to agree with me, since he is forever saying I am too soft on the artists and customers. “No wonder they always ask for Steve,” he frequently comments to Priscilla, “He always gives in.” She just nods sympathetically and wonders whether there is enough left in the checkbook to make payroll.

Barry is more of the old-time-trader type. It is the art of the deal that motivates him. In fact, I think he got Duke’s trader gene, and I was left out of that particular genetic transfer. Indeed, the trait may have run out by the time I arrived. I guess I lean more towards Rose’s side of the family, although how that factors into the equation I do not really know. In any case, I justify our situation by contending that Barry and I balance each other out, and the end result is workable. We will see what happens in the long-term.

When it comes to ace traders, I am often reminded of Bob Slaven, one of Duke’s best trading buddies. Years ago, Duke and Bob would load Bob’s truck with goods and hit the road for weeks at a time, trading for anything they came across. A jar of coins, elk teeth, deer horns, bearskin rugs, saddles, guns, jewelry, turquoise, steer scrotum purses---whatever they stumbled onto was fair game. When they returned, Priscilla and I would marvel at their stories and acquisitions, and from time-to-time bury the newly acquired trade-goods under the counter in hopes they would never again see the light of day. For Bob and Duke, the issue was never yes or no. Instead, it was how they were going to get the deal done; and, they always did.

A few days after our initial encounter the woman returned, and I turned numb with fear. What might she request this time, I wondered. She immediately started in, “May I take your picture?” “Yes, if you don’t fear for your camera.” Spotting Barry, she said, “Who’s that? Can I get his picture, too?” “Okay," I said, shrugging my shoulders. Barry was not so sure, but I had already committed him; there was no way out.

Feeling something had to be done to prevent a catastrophe, Barry recently enrolled Priscilla and me in “No" therapy. While the progress has been slow, we are getting better. “No, no, no,” Priscilla and I chant several times each morning, confident we will one day overcome our handicap.