Saturday, September 29, 2018

Strong Medicine

Notice: In this article, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Barney and Patricia have consistently warned me against discussing certain topics in my weekly Tied to the Post messages. Politics, religion, and sex, for example, are sure to make them sweat. Money is also high on their censorship list. To be honest, those issues also make me a bit uneasy. Never mind, however, if it gets people thinking, I will generally take it on. Consequences be damned, or darned, as they would have me say. It must be admitted, however, that I may have, on occasion, been guilty of getting our readers thinking too much. Consequently, while I all too often fail to heed their advice, because my actions also affect them, I always try to consider their comments. They just shake their heads, knowing the fallout is coming and there is nothing they can do to avoid it.

About a month ago, as we were discussing this particular topic and they were unsuccessfully attempting to coax me in the proper direction, a telephone call came in from Robby. “Ya’ at’ eeh' Mr. Eagle Nest, my daughter is having a baby and I need a Navajo basket. Wanna' trade?” Robby, who is part Navajo and part Hopi, has innovative names for Barney and me. If he needs something, ready cash maybe, the label is flattering, like Eagle Nest. If he is economically stable and just wants to stir things up, it’s Humpty Dumptewa. Consequently, this time I knew he was serious. “Sure,” I said, “come on in. We can work something out.”

People always ask why Twin Rocks is called a trading post, since they have come to believe we rarely trade anything besides money. There are, however, times when we actually barter. I have often offered to take wampum, feather money, trade beads, and a variety of other objects. Customers just look at me like I’m crazy. Barney and Patricia assure them their assumption is accurate. Additionally, artists frequently want to trade jewelry or turquoise for their work. So, while we are not exactly an old time trading operation, we do have some traditional characteristics.

In any case, a few hours after the call, Robby showed up with his trade goods and we commenced the dialogue. The discussions didn’t take long, because Robby is an excellent silversmith and superb humorist, and Twin Rocks is Navajo Basket Central. In fact, when it comes to that, we are like Baskets R Us. Once he had my basket and my money, he sat down in one of the wooden chairs and began to give us background into his daughter, her family, and her upcoming delivery. As we talked, he mentioned the traditional process involved in ensuring good health, success, and happiness for the new arrival. Much of it we already knew, because Patricia had coached us through it when Kira and Grange were maturing. In that sense, our kids are almost Navajo.

Robby is also a medicine man who administers prayers and other relatively simple rites for people in need. In fact, over the years we have learned he can do just about anything, from bull riding, to healing the halt and lame, to writing and playing country music. He does it all. His arrival at Twin Rocks is always an interesting, and typically comic, experience and we always welcome him in.

On this particular occasion, Robby finished his lecture on traditional healing and moved into contemporary politics. He, like the rest of us, is confounded by the current state of affairs and wondered aloud why we can't just get along better. At that point he looked around the post to see who was listening and, finding there were no customers, agreed to tell us a story. “It was early 2016 and Hillary was ahead in the polls,” he said. One of his customers in Sedona was a Trump supporter and was concerned the race was not shaping up the way he had hoped. Knowing Robby is a medicine man, the customer suggested he do a prayer for Trump. “No,” Robby insisted, “I don’t do that.” They, however, persisted, so he finally gave in and agreed to give it a try. They were extremely good customers, the money was good, and “What could it hurt?” he concluded.

So, when he got home that evening Robby set the wheels in motion. A few days later he noticed the presidential polls beginning to shift, and as election day approached it looked like his prayer might have been answered. His customer was ecstatic. Sure enough, as the numbers came in on election night, Trump was declared the winner. “So, all this is your fault,” Ronnie and Stacy, who were by now listening to the conversation, declared. “Well,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. At that point, Barney emerged from his office with an envelope stuffed with cash and handed it over to Robby, saying, “This is your retainer. We’ll talk about the midterms next time you come in.” A few minutes later, I heard Patricia telephoning the FBI. “Hello. May I speak with Mr. Muller?” 

Friday, September 21, 2018


A holy man once said, "He who loses his life shall find it." I have often pondered that bit of wisdom and wondered how it applies to me. I am sure, one day, I will understand the depth of the message. For now, I am still trying to understand and fully appreciate the life I chose so many years ago when I decided to go into the family business, to become an Indian trader and restauranteur. Earlier this week, I met an old insurance salesman from Arkansas who had been in the store. As we talked about his agency, the life it allowed him to build, how he hadn't had a real vacation in several years, and his inability to convince himself it was time to retire, he said, "It's hard to kick an old dawg off a gravy train."

For this part of the country, I think Steve and I have engineered a pretty good locomotive. The gravy is thin, but it is gravy. Since our precious children have grown and moved their lives north of here, Laurie has become convinced we need a few more "Tender Vittles" in our doggie dish. My wife doesn't understand how I have gotten so embedded in the trading post and cafe. She recently accused me of spending all my time and energy on the business, thus leaving precious little time for visiting the kids and with her. I gave Laurie all the standard explanations, but she wasn't buying it. My wife sometimes thinks of my chosen profession as "a futile effort.” Sometimes I feel the same and have trouble expressing my passion for the place. Because of the inability to express myself properly, I have a bad habit of redirecting the dialog and attempting senseless abstractions. Laurie, long ago, caught on to my strategy, so she is more difficult to maneuver. In response to a recent distracting discourse, she gave me a harsh look, and said: "As usual you have taken a meaningful discussion and twisted it to suit your needs." "Well that's the way I interpreted it, and isn't it all about interpretation anyway," I pleaded.

My wife rolled her eyes and shook her head in disgust. She picked up her keys and headed towards the door saying, "You are impossible! I have to go to work now." Out the door she went, mumbling to herself in frustration. As I watched her depart, a smile of satisfaction for winning the debate spread across my face. My eyes fell upon our three children, who were home for the weekend and gathered at the kitchen table for breakfast. They had witnessed the entire event. All were shaking their heads and rolling their eyes, just like their mother had done. My middle, sassy child, Alyssa said, "You have got to be kidding! Don't you ever learn?” McKale my baby said, “Wasn’t it you who said: “When it comes to an argument with your spouse, even when you win, you lose?"

Before another “Discussion” ensued, a horn blasted outside making us all jump, and giving the kids a chance to wander off. Noticing Laurie gesturing from the driveway, and thinking I may be in for an apology, I pushed open the window to hear what she had to say. “There will be a class, at the church, on marital communication this Thursday---we should go." I groaned inwardly and waved as she drove off, grumbling under my breath, "What the heck can I learn about communication that I don’t already know? I communicate quite well thank you very much.” The last man standing, my son Spenser, tsked sadly, and walked away.

Later that same morning I was making my daily Postum run to the cafe when I ran into Nicole, a very nice young lady who once worked for us and was back for a visit. Nicole’s father and I went to high school together. I am very fond of him and his family. He had a business in Blanding, so we saw each other quite often. I consider him a good friend and appreciate that he had entrusted his daughter to us for training. I had intended to send my kids his direction when they were old enough to be indentured, but that arrangement never came to fruition.

I asked Nicole how her father was getting along, and she told me that he had become so disenchanted with the struggles of small-town business that he had sold out and moved north to work for someone else. He felt like he had made a wrong turn on the road of life by coming back home when he finished college, that he had done his wife and children a disservice by settling them in such a rural, economically challenged area. His earlier decision had come from the heart, and was based on emotion rather than sound economic principles. He had returned to support his parents as they aged and to give his children the opportunity to enjoy a closely knit extended family. Growing up in a small town had provided Nicole's father with a strong sense of well-being and a solid foundation in a world that does not always provide such fringe benefits. He simply wanted to offer his children the same experience. I know exactly how he felt. I have had the same thoughts. But, he had bowed to the pressure and given up the dream, moving his family upstate. The move had been good for him and his family; he is doing quite well right now.

As I wandered back to the trading post, I found my brother and business partner, Steve, polishing the glass counters to perfection. I don't know what it is with him and Windex. It may be an obsession, perhaps an escape. Anyway, I told him what Nicole had said about her father. Steve nodded his head knowingly and went back to the never-ending chore of removing fingerprints from the showcases. I know he has often contemplated those same issues. When I look back at the reasons my family and I are here, I realize that they are similar to those embraced by Nicole's father to rationalize his coming home. He had to give up on that dream when he moved away.

Our parents provided us with a safe and secure home when we were young and have supported us in all of our endeavors---as long as those undertakings were honorable. Our sense of family and community runs deep for us in San Juan County. Wasn't it Dorothy who said, "There's no place like home"? The relationships we have developed through the years are more valuable than any material possession we could have acquired. It feels good to be here at the trading post and cafe; the harmony and dynamic of the place are in tune with its surroundings. Here you will find a truly human and friendly atmosphere, not because of Steve and me. We are mostly antagonistic and unpleasant, and getting worse daily (especially Steve). Maybe there is more time and room to grow out here. Maybe our faults are generally overlooked, or just ignored. At any rate, we have made our decision and must live with it.

When Laurie asked me to marry her, I mentioned that she would have to learn to live with imperfection if we got together. She thought I was kidding, but has come to know the truth in those words. Laurie puts up with my nonsense with the patience and love of a Latter-day Saint. She provides me with enough freedom to hang myself on a regular basis, but has always been there to loosen the noose when I begin to choke. She knows in her heart that I would be out of place in any other setting. I believe Nicole’s father made the best decision for his family and that both of us are truly where we should be. Only occasionally does Laurie force her hand, and drag me off to some communication in marriage seminar. I think she feels there is still hope for me.

While the economic rewards may be sparse, the emotional benefits of being on this gravy train are immeasurable. I think I'll stay until I am a very old dawg---God willing and the rocks don't slide.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Art Will Save Us

A while back I was listening to National Public Radio when a piece came on about Camden, New Jersey. Apparently, Camden was once a thriving, bustling, vibrant community. It has, however, fallen on hard times, is blighted and, in many quarters, mostly abandoned. In an effort to revitalize the community, the local parish has embarked on a redevelopment program which focuses on bringing art, performing, visual, and other types, back into the downtown. When asked about this project, the priest who spearheads the program said, “Art will save us!”

That phrase stuck in my mind and I kept repeating it to myself, along with snatches from Paul Simon’s Graceland, as I peddled my bicycle south from White Mesa at about 7:15 a.m. The sun was not long up from its nightly trip around the world and was beginning to create what I like to refer to as God Art. For me, this entire area is one enormous canvas, and I am always excited to see the ever-changing, constantly evolving picture.

As I looked east, I noticed the sun rhythmically poking its rays through the puffy clouds that had accumulated over the plateau the night before, illuminating scattered sections of landscape in pulses of brilliance. Here there were shadows, there colorful patches that burned brightly. The diffused sunlight seemed to skitter over the canyons and mesas like an insect on 100-degree pavement.

To the west awakened Comb Ridge, the sandstone monocline Navajo people believe forms an arm of the female Pollen Mountain. Her head is Navajo Mountain, Black Mesa her body, and her breasts are Tuba Butte and Agathla Peak. As the light moved across the land, Comb Ridge seemed alive, dynamic. God’s palette was nothing short of stunning, and at that moment Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel had nothing on the exterior beauty of southeastern Utah.

Like the sun across the land, I could feel a glow beginning to infuse me. Deep in my being, the color shifting back and forth over the land was growing inside my body, making me smile outwardly and for some unknown reason motivating me to shout out loud. What I would say I did not know, but hallelujah or a deep growl seemed likely.

Some believe our country has become much like Camden; dark and dreary, with an uncertain future. The political climate has left many unsure, and countless plans have been abandoned. Admittedly, there is a great deal to concern us. Day after day reports arrive notifying us of the growing storm. We hear terms like “alternative facts” and “fake news” that make us wonder what is next on the horizon.

Every morning, however, I come into the trading post, feel the power of art and believe it will indeed redeem us. For years I have noted its effect on visitors to Twin Rocks Trading Post. Some are confused, some intrigued, but all are at least mildly enriched by the experience. Never have I had anyone walk away less happy than they were before seeing the rugs, baskets, jewelry, folk art, and paintings created by local artists.

Like the parish priest of Camden, Barry and I have been working on our own project to revitalize and rejuvenate the local artists. We believe art, whether it be the God Art found in the vast cathedral just outside our Kokopelli doors or the artistic creations of local Native Americans, will indeed revitalize us. Hallelujah brother, our faith is strong.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry, and the Team.