Friday, November 30, 2018

Up, Up, and Away

I must be getting grumpy from the grind of the summer season because everyone at Twin Rocks, everyone except our sweet-tempered Priscilla that is, has suggested that I take a little more time off. “Go to the cabin, to the mountain,” they suggest. “Just get out of here!” Even Laurie, my trusted and supportive spouse, suggested I go forth and “disperse a little negativity.” I thought that I was one of the most calm and compassionate people around this place. As Rick is fond of saying, “Guess again!” So, leaving the business to Steve, who is much more suited to deal with the nonsense, I grabbed up my ruck sack, my chainsaws, jumped into my battered Toyota pick-up, and sped away. Arriving at our alpine property, Laurie’s treasured inheritance, I felt my worth of worries and frustration drop away. Other than being in direct contact with Laurie, the mountain is where I choose to stay. It is, in a word, my sanctuary.

I have told Laurie and the kids that when I get too old to move around much and too blind to see where I am going that the simple solution would be to place me on the mountain property. “Just maintain the fences,” I tell them. I will wander the land until coming into contact with the four wire then bounce off in an equal and opposite direction. Like the game of Pong (me being the white ball) continually bounding and rebounding, enjoying the land and solitude until someone has the time to come visit and share a meal. I would have plenty of room to maneuver, and if the property boundaries became too great an expanse, move me into the forty square feet of aluminum panels surrounding the shack, 1,600 square feet will suffice in a pinch. “What about wild animals?” asked McKale. “Better to become bear scat, coyote crud, or fox farts than slowly melting away into a mound of man manure,” I told her. 

Breathing in the freshness of the place and appreciating the natural world, I went to work. Because Laurie knew that I would surely cut a load of oak, which we had no need of, she had already promised it to a friend who would put it to good use. While she cared for her mother down the hill in Monticello, I got busy and fired up the Stihl. It didn’t take me long to cut a pickup load of 8-foot logs which had the bed of the truck riding on the frame and the rear shocks overloaded to the point of fatigue. Feeling as if I had accomplished something worthwhile, I took up a lunch of an Arizona Mango Madness and a bag of Jack Link's smoked turkey jerky. Walking further into the forest, I found a small open space, sat back against a fallen Quakie, popped the top on the tallboy, and began to partake. 

Although it may sound silly, but because of the associated colors, refreshing taste of the drink, and spicy kick of the jerky, this slim repast always reminds me of a brilliant early winter sunrise over the mountains, mesas, and monuments of our beloved canyon country. If you are up and out just before dawn and look to the east you may be privileged to see a spectacular, watercolor-scape eruption of light and color upon the skyline. From behind the wildly varied and still deeply shadowed landscape, the resplendent God of the Sun slowly but steadily emerges, bursting forth in all his might and majesty. A light show of radiant orange, passionate pink, and fiery red---along with every shade of purple---ebbs and flows in an ever-evolving tide of diffused and refracted luminescence. The backlit feminine form of majestic mountains and linier staggered and stacked buttes stand out in softened silhouette. Closer in, twisted and gnarled groves of our wind- and weather-formed juniper trees along with bushed-out shapes of yucca, sage, and rabbit brush add depth and dimension to nature’s painted palate.

As I sat there, leaning upon a tree stump amongst a grove of pine, oak, and quaking aspen, enjoying the sounds of silence and smell of cut wood, I heard something scampering through the leaves and underbrush nearby. Opening my eyes, I saw one of the most amazingly attractive sights on our mountain. A glorious Abert's squirrel stood poised on a log only yards away from where I rested. Through my work at the trading post, I was aware that in Native American folklore, squirrels are most noted for their noisy and aggressive behavior; they frequently spread gossip, instigate trouble between other animals, or annoy others with their rude and bossy attitudes. However, as Priscilla often reminds me, cultural stories also attempt to find balance. They speak of an equal and opposite side of everything.  She tells me that squirrels (Hazéí) are praised for their industrious food gathering and courage, and among Southeastern tribes, squirrels are honored as caretakers of the forest. In the story of Changing Bear Maiden, the squirrel guards the maid’s vital organs making her difficult to defeat. 

The extraordinarily outfitted little beastie saw my movement and sprinted up the nearest tree in a flash of grey and white. It leapt from tree to tree with the ease and grace of being born to the heights, then stopped some thirty yards away and began chastising my intrusion from on high. The sighting made me smile in delight. I would never see the Abert as rude or bossy, but I do consider it a guide and protector. I appreciate their beauty and place in the world. The next time you are in need of a few moments of meditative refreshment, grab yourself a can of Mango Madness and a package of smoked turkey jerky. Then find a quiet, peaceful place to sit back, close your eyes, and think of the most magnificent sunrise or sunset you have ever witnessed. I hope you, too, will catch a glimpse of the tufted Abert’s squirrel. See if that doesn’t calm your nerves and make life easier for others within your circle.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

On the Web

Long, long ago, I took Grange to Bluff Elementary School to conclude his Student Education Plan. Every year, parents convene with their child’s instructors to set goals for the upcoming term. Upon our arrival, Grange’s teacher, Mrs. Hart, informed us it would be about ten minutes before she finished the current round of interviews and could see us. As a result, Grange rounded up his old buddy Trevor, who had been eagerly standing by, and out to the playground we headed.

Upon exiting the easterly door, we spotted an adolescent lizard scampering up the side of the building. The reptile was only about three inches long and had an unusually beautiful blue tail. Apparently, it was new to the location and had not previously been harassed by the school yard population, because it was fully intact and not overly skittish.

All that was about to change, because Grange and Trevor could not resist the challenge of catching the small beast. The kids whooped and yelled, as I directed the creature towards them by stamping my feet, all the time cautioning the boys not to harm it. At one point, the harried reptile sought sanctuary beneath my shoe, and, as Grange and Trevor dropped to their stomachs to peer under my Nike, I carefully lifted the sneaker.

Realizing it was once again in danger and hearing the excited war shrieks of the children, the lizard took a flying leap off the stairs and onto the playground. As it raced among the drawings of various chalk masters, darting from side to side in short, quick bursts, Grange and Trevor did the same, albeit more slowly and awkwardly.

A few days earlier, a French woman had browsed the trading post. Trying to explain her Southwest vacation and searching for the English word “memories,” she had described her recent experiences as “pictures of the brain.” The sight of Grange and Trevor chasing the illusive racer provided me some truly memorable brain pictures.

Although the lizard was getting a good workout, he did not appear in any danger of being caught; Grange and Trevor were having too much fun to actually capture him. All of the sudden, the lizard’s fortunes changed. It decided to climb straight up a cement corner, which at first appeared to be a good decision. The snag, however, was a large spider web suspended in the nook.

As the creature dashed vertically up the concrete, he all too quickly became ensnared in the web and was irretrievably lost in a completely unexpected and unforeseen impediment. Grange snatched him up as Trevor and I looked on. The boys thoroughly inspected the reptile and gently scratched his tummy to make him a little more comfortable in his captivity.

Holding the lizard gently but firmly, Grange and Trevor marched him into their classroom to get Mrs. Hart’s impressions. “What a beautiful tail,” she said, and encouraged the boys not to harm him. By that time Mrs. Hart was ready to meet with us, so I asked them to liberate their hostage. When they returned from their mission, a little later than I expected, I inquired into the status of the lizard. “Oh, he’s all right,” they reported, “but his tail is a little bent.”

At the trading post, we often feel our experiences are much like that of the lizard; as we scurry from one project to the next, we sometimes feel there is a larger power dictating our movements. Just when we think we are on top of things, we realize we have been tripped up by an unexpected snag. There are times when we get our tummy scratched, but usually at the cost of a bent tail.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

“Don’t touch it!”

I have hesitated to tell this story because the circumstances were embarrassing and have disturbed me a great deal. So much so that I have long since adapted a few bars from Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio” lyrics to fit the “facts." Although completely out of context and rigorously rearranged, they are, The mama looked down and spit on the ground every time this thing gets mentioned.” The reason I have chosen to relate the incident at this time is that I am attempting to heal emotionally, and hopefully let the air out of Steve and Rick’s insistence on bringing it up every time an Airstream trailer is towed into the Twin Rocks parking lot. The following tale is the reason Airstream travel trailers, trout, and mean girls in coveralls make me anxious and why now, more than ever, I try to keep my hands to myself.

It was a midsummer morning. Steve, Rick, Priscilla, and I were standing around talking about the goings on in our little world and speculating what the day might bring. Just then a heavy-duty, silver Dodge Ram pickup truck with matching camper shell pulling a 30’ Airstream trailer rolled onto the gravel parking lot. The lower two-thirds of the trailer was graphically painted with a beautifully pastoral scene of a roiling, boulder-strewn mountain stream and gorgeous rainbow trout rising to a mayfly.

We talked about the attractive artwork for a while and watched as a slightly bent and frumpily dressed older man of maybe 80 years and a buff, 30-something woman with a distinctly military bearing emerged from the truck. She was dressed in a white tank top under Dickie overalls and black army boots. The woman moved with a swagger and wore her hair in a closely cropped crew cut. Just watching the pair make their way across the parking lot to the cafe was a lesson in contrast. He shuffled while she strutted. We all wondered at their connection.

It was getting busy at the cafe, so, thinking Miss Frances and the crew might need my help I headed out the Kokopelli doors. Walking outside, I was drawn down the porch steps and across the lot toward the rig. I was curious what might be painted on the other side. Walking close to the Airstream, I inspected the artwork and came around the front of the Dodge, passing near the front of the RV to the opposite side. As I did, I thought I noticed a break in the wind screen over the wrap around window. I raised my hand to inspect the crack, then realized the entire cover had a golden flecked and swirl pattern running inside and through the cover. Recognizing the illusion, I lowered my hand and continued circling the trailer.

As I came around the rear of the Airstream, I noticed the woman in overalls striding in my direction. By her aggressive body language, I figured there might be something amiss. I smiled as she came near and commented on how attractive the trailer was. The woman walked right up to me, placed her face within inches of mine and growled, “Is there a problem?” I looked into her angry blue eyes and wondered just what had caused the obvious animosity. As she leaned in and stared me down, I replied, “Not unless you have one.” 

The angry woman was literally frothing at the mouth. She unleashed a tirade about how I had touched her trailer, how it was protected by a German Sheppard, how it had a security system and a video camera which had captured me, “touching [her] property!” I stood there, amazed by her wrath, then came to the understanding that there was much more going on here than simple trespass. This woman had far greater issues disrupting her life than my simple indiscretion. Although I was beginning to understand that there was underlying pain in her actions, I did not appreciate her verbal assault and veiled threats at physical abuse. When she threatened to get the local sheriff involved, I lost patience. I had tolerated about as much as I intended.

When Miss Angry Pants stopped to breathe, I calmly said, “All right, how about this? I have the sheriff’s number right here in my phone. I am certain he will be interested in what you have to say. Let’s give him a holler.” Also, knowing Steve would not mind being left out of this sticky wicket, I continued, “I own the property you are parked on, from the highway to the byway in back of us. From those Twin Rocks to ten feet on the other side of the road there. Either call the cops or gather up your friend and pull out. Either way, that solves our problem!”

Miss Bad Attitude considered what I had said. Realizing I was calling her bluff, she reconsidered. “We just want to have a quiet breakfast!” she blurted out, then turned on her boot heels and hustled back toward the cafe. Wondering at her bad behavior and hasty retreat, I followed her up the steps of the restaurant and saw her re-seat herself next to her aged companion. Walking up to the table, I received a hostile look from the woman, which caused me to direct my comments to the elderly man. He bowed his head, turned away slightly and ignored my approach. I shrugged and turned away, it was time to let bygones be bygones. I was still agitated, but thought it best to cool down, so I went to the register to check on Toni, our cashier.

The next thing I knew the woman was sticking her phone in my face and taking my picture. Now, I was angry and told her it was time for her to leave, “Right Now!” The woman smiled smugly, gathered her hesitant companion and drove away. I thought not, but hoped that was the last I would see or hear from her. It wasn’t!

Since Steve knew how much the encounter had upset me, he withheld the fact that the Angry Woman was sending him e-mail messages threatening a lawsuit. She had a cousin who she claimed was a long-time and successful attorney who would bring us to our knees, and we had upset her uncle who had been a postal employee and was protected by the U.S. Government. The lawyer in Steve was not intimidated. He told her that he had a few years’ experience as well and that if she felt so strongly about it to file the suit. After a few days, when her anger abated, or she realized her hollow threats were falling on deaf ears, the Angry Woman faded away. I eventually discovered Steve's interaction with the woman when he and Rick began giving me grief every time an Airstream pulled into the parking lot. “Don’t touch it, Barry!” became their common and frequently repeated refrain.

Steve once said that because of the changing times, and our attempts to maintain local traditions, Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe sits at the crossroad between tradition and innovation, the future and the past. It seems to me it is much more than that. With our businesses, we attempt to maintain a consistent and positive presence and support our community, employees, artists, and guests.

Because of our expansive and open parking lot, we draw large groups of vehicles and people. It is not unusual to see it packed from end to end, front to back with everything from motor homes to motorcycles, collector cars of every description, and processions of floats and beauty queens gathering for celebration. We are pleased to meet people from every country in the world, and we do our best to accept them for who and what they are. Rarely do we get someone we don’t understand---a wounded warrior or a disagreeable sort with a prickly personality, but not often. Because we focus on the positive, our experiences are mostly good. With Steve and Rick, however, the verdict is still out.

(Editor’s Note: Barry’s family, friends, and co-workers have been so concerned they held a Crisis Intervention. We are pleased to report that Barry has entered a 12-step program designed to discourage random touching of other people’s Airstreams and he has advanced to the 5th Stage already. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.)