Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur. The first time I heard the word was during a college business class, and I was certain it indicated something associated with the back half of a bovine. To this day, I am required to consult a dictionary to assure proper spelling of the term and am often reminded of the old joke about the self-employed man who said, "Last week I couldn't even spell entrepreneur, and now I is one." Had I known how profoundly the term, and all it implies, would affect my life, I may have paid more attention to the instructor.

Once I realized entrepreneurs usually have little to do with manure, and that I had in fact been one since the age of seven, I began to envision the concept as a vehicle to take me exotic places, where I would meet wildly interesting people and make gobs of money. I thought of entrepreneurship as a hot rod, with fiery flames scorching its fenders and blasting out its tailpipes, or as a long black Cadillac, with fashionable tail fins, easing with extraordinary class down the freeway of life. Little did I realize my entrepreneurial vehicle would be more like the Datsun pickup I drove during school.

That old yellow truck was once accused of single-handedly polluting the entire Sacramento valley with its belching smoke. Although that was a bit of an exaggeration, there was a grain of truth in the accusation. With all the petroleum products that Datsun consumed, it may have been primarily responsible for keeping the Saudi royal family in positive cash flow throughout the early 1980s. The California Highway Patrol once attempted to eject me and my truck from the state, but since it sported Utah license plates, there was nothing they could do to exorcise me from their jurisdiction.

Whenever I took my truck to the garage to have its annual inspection, my mechanic would just shake his head and paste the new sticker on the window, knowing full well he would be held liable if the truck went wrong and killed or maimed some innocent traveler due to a defective part. My bank representative often reminds me of that mechanic. When I ask the banker for additional financing to fuel my entrepreneurial tank, he shrugs his shoulders, wags his finger at me, and eventually gives in to my request. He, like the mechanic, knows there is a very real possibility he will be held responsible if a catastrophe occurs.

In spite of its immense desire for oil, my old yellow transport took me places a country bumpkin could only imagine and provided experiences that made me what I am today. I learned some very important lessons about life and love lying in the bed of that truck in the Nevada desert, watching as the stars cascaded across the night sky, alone, nursing a broken heart. I explored the California coast and the immense redwoods, feeling the richness of this earth and beginning to understand the beauty of our natural environment.

While driving that truck, I learned the law of the land and the land of the law. I met people who still inhabit the various chambers of my heart. I began to appreciate, rather than fear, differences in individuals, and was saddened when the pickup was retired to a farm in Northern California.

Like that old truck, Twin Rocks Trading Post has become my vehicle for education and new experiences. There is an old African proverb that says, "It takes a village to raise a child." I believe it also takes a village to raise a business. Our trading post community is comprised of numerous artists who produce beautiful creations which are then cast upon the waters for our customers to enjoy. If we, as intermediary between artist and collector, do our jobs correctly, we become a catalyst for change---the fertilizer that brings the soil to a rich, loamy state, suitable for growing and nurturing crops planted by the artists to sate the collectors' hunger for Native beauty. If not, we begin to resemble the entrepreneur pile I originally envisioned during business class.

Twin Rocks has brought me many rich relationships and has given me a window into a rapidly changing culture, one that I worry may not be able to sustain itself many generations into the future. I have seen local artists create weavings I worry my grandchildren will never see replicated. Through those creations I have been exposed to the mythology, sociology, and anthropology of an enduring people.

This trading post has been responsible for teaching me more about living in harmony with divergent people and difficult environments than I could have imagined. It has polished me like a river stone, wearing off many, but certainly not all, of my rough edges as I tumble along. In return, I keep buffing and burnishing that entrepreneurial vehicle, hoping it will one day turn into the comfortable Cadillac or fiery hot rod I once envisioned.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Heart Marries Us

Hoping to be more engaging and informative to those visiting Twin Rocks Trading Post in the future, I have determined to gather additional information about our local Indigenous cultures. Specifically, I hope to better understand and relate to the Navajo people, their culture, and this red-rock land we share.

Kira and Grange have been on their own for some time now, and Jana generally leaves the house early and returns late from her job teaching art at Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek. So, especially during the long winter months when things are slow in Bluff, I am often left to my own devices. That, as those of us at Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe have learned, is a problem. As Donna Summer said in her 1978 hit song Last Dance, “[W]hen I’m bad, I’m so, so bad.” To bring the matter closer to home, as Jana likes to say, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Consequently, those empty hours must be filled, and, at least for now, books about Four Corners art, culture, and history are keeping me from long-term incarceration.

In order to improve domestic relations at the old L.H. Redd Jr. house and get crackin' on my goal, I have elected to start with Navajo Ceremonial Baskets: Sacred Symbols, Sacred Space, Jana’s 2003 publication on Navajo basketry. In the intervening years since Jana published her research, Twin Rocks Trading Post has become widely known for carrying work by the Monument Valley basket makers, including the Black family, the Bitsinni crew, and the Rock-Johnson clan. In fact, the post is the epicenter of the contemporary Navajo basket-weaving movement. My knowledge of Navajo ceremony and the usage of baskets in these rites, however, can use some work. As a result, I am studiously plowing through Jana's findings.

The book is chock full of interesting material about the evolution, construction, meaning, and people behind these weavings, which has greatly added to my fluency on the topic. I found one of the most useful nuggets in a chapter discussing the power vested in these sacred objects. In that particular section, Jana quotes widely-respected, and now deceased, medicine man John Holiday. During his interview, John informed Jana that, “Like us, the basket has two spirits. We are both male and female, and our heart marries us.” John’s words relate to the Navajo view that we are all composed of both male and female ingredients: the right side being the male or warrior component and the left being female and compassionate. These disparate parts are joined by the kindness, empathy, and understanding thumping in our chests.

As John Holiday pointed out, traditional Navajo people believe there is duality in all things. It is not just the male/female dichotomy that rings true; what really captivates me is the teaching that all of us are inherently good and bad, positive and negative, right and wrong, cold and hot, darkness and light, and that this multifaceted composition is essential to our existence and growth as individuals. It is that experience which makes us whole, and also gets me off the hook when I go wrong.

When we recently discussed this Navajo custom, Priscilla related the story of the shoe game, a competition that is responsible for our days being half day and half night, half dark and half light. According to her, the story goes something like this: Long ago the Day Animals and the Night Animals played a moccasin game that lasted four days. The Night Animals and Night Birds had Owl as their leader. The Day Animals and Day Birds had Coyote as their captain. Both sides independently determined the game must result in a tie, because if one side won, it would be either all night or all day for everyone ever after, and no one wanted that result. So, a small stone was hidden in one of the four moccasins used in the game. Nighthawk took first guess, and won. Then Big Squirrel won. Then Small Owl. Then Martin. Then Bat. Then Gray Squirrel. Then Prairie Dog. Then, the stone got lost. Gopher and Locust looked underground for it, but they could not find the stone. Then Red Bird struck Owl’s hand and the rock, which Owl had been hiding, dropped out. At that point the game ended in a tie. And that is why we have equal allocations of day and night.

During his recent visit home from the University of Utah where he studies biomedical engineering, Grange’s high school friend Nizhoni invited him to a shoe game that was held on the reservation. As he scooted out the door, I noticed him carrying a Ziplock bag full of shiny new quarters. Upon checking my piggy bank, I noticed it had been relieved of its newly minted coinage. Grange had apparently determined he needed a stake to get involved in the ceremony and the porker got pillaged. During his tenure at Bluff Elementary School, Grange learned the rules of the game during Native Culture class. Consequently, he must have concluded he would return with even more cash and could replace the “borrowed” coins before I noticed they had gone missing.

When I discussed this with Priscilla, she said, “Well, that just proves John Holiday was right. There you have the Navajo and the Anglo; the old tradition and the new coins; the day and the night ceremony; the boy and the girl; the win and the lose. And, they are all together in your heart.” Leave it to Priscilla to sort that one out. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

A Penny Found, A Penny Lost

Not long ago, I was with my wrestling team in the central Utah town of Gunnison, when I noticed a penny lying in a snowy parking lot. As I picked up the coin, I was reminded of a women Jana and I loved and a story I wrote about that Penny many years ago. Having gone back to review the story, I thought it would be fun to reissue the message as a reminder of what it was like at the trading post 15 years ago. So here it is as originally published:

It was January 1, 2005, and I wanted to start the year off right, so I pulled on my running shoes and left the house early. As I walked across the trading post parking lot to begin my run, I spied a penny lying on the ground. Rose always says, "See a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck."

Although I am not generally superstitious, I have a great deal of confidence in Rose and her advice, so I picked up the coin and zipped it into the pocket of my wind breaker. I could not help thinking, "Here it is 7:00 a.m., New Year's Day, and my fortune has just increased dramatically; it's going to be a good year."

Since the year was brand new, I began hoping the penny might have some special power to carry me through the next several months. I had an enjoyable run that day and started to think there might actually be something exceptional in my find. When I returned home, I placed the penny in a safe location and waited to see what would happen. The year progressed nicely, and my faith in Rose and the penny began to grow.

A few months after my discovery, as Jana, Kira, Grange, and I climbed into the car to attend Kira's spelling bee competition, she stopped mid-step and said, "Dad, I need a lucky penny." Instantly, I thought of my special coin. Although I was a little worried it may be lost, Kira had gone from school champion, to district winner, and was now competing on the regional level; under the circumstances, I figured she might really need the magic coin. It also seemed a good test for the penny, so I trotted back up to the house, dug it out of its hiding place, and gave it to Kira.

As I sat in the audience, nervously watching Kira spell her way into another first place finish, my mind drifted back to a time before she was born. I smiled to myself, thinking about another Penny with unusual magic and a beautiful spring day in May of 1996. At that time, Jana and I had been married just over a year, and her stomach was swollen with our first child, which was due to arrive any day. We had stolen time away from the trading post to see a movie in Cortez, Colorado, and were meandering south on Highway 666.

For the past eight and one-half months, Jana and I had been trying to agree on a name for the new addition to our family. In spite of what I thought were very practical arguments to the contrary, Jana did not want to know ahead of time whether the baby would be male or female. As a result, we needed names to address both possibilities. After lengthy discussions, we agreed on Kira if the child was a girl, but had not decided on a boy's name.

Just north of Cortez, we passed the small town of Lewis. A picture of Barry, Craig, and me sitting at a silversmith bench, making "Indian" jewelry, and listening to the radio popped into my mind. I could almost hear the DJ at KUTA-AM 790 announcing a dance to be held at the Lewis Grange. "Grange!" I thought. "Now that's interesting." I liked the name because it reminded me of our friends Bill and Penny Grange, but thought Jana might object; she had vetoed all my previous suggestions. I was still smarting from her rejection of the name Santiago, which I thought was a masterstroke.

Bill and Penny had stopped into the trading post shortly after we opened in 1989, and I liked them immediately. They were a wonderful sixty-something couple in a Chevrolet Suburban and Airstream trailer. Penny was cantankerous enough to be interesting, and Bill was independent enough to enjoy the challenge. I think it was their character and unwavering commitment to one another that endeared me to them. It may also have been that they were extremely encouraging at a time I needed support.

Bill was interested in Navajo weaving and wanted to learn all Priscilla and I knew about the subject. It did not take long for him to realize Priscilla was the real source of knowledge, and I was a shallow well. Year after year they returned to the trading post, and my affection for them grew.

Penny had been raised in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Bill was a Utah boy who had met her while doing church work. Although Penny was a few years older than Bill, they had fallen hard for each other. Penny was pretty and petite and Bill was tall, handsome, and gentlemanly. Although they seemed a physical mismatch, emotionally they were genuinely cohesive. Not that they always agreed, because they quite often did not. That never seemed to matter to either of them. They respected one another even when their opinions diverged.

During their visits, Priscilla tutored Bill, and he eventually became an accomplished "Navajo" weaver. Penny began to sketch designs for Bill to execute. They were a good team, except when Penny sketched angular designs, which she argued Bill could execute and he insisted he could not.

As I watched them age, I knew they would eventually be lost to me, and I also knew I would miss them greatly when they were gone. As Jana and I sat in the darkness of the movie theater, I said, "What about Grange?" She seemed confused, so I explained that I had been thinking about the Lewis Grange and Bill and Penny. If our child is a boy, I continued, I wanted to name him Grange. To my surprise she agreed. Although we had to wait another three years, because Kira arrived first, when our son was born, he was named for Bill and Penny.

When Penny's health began to decline, their trips from Boise, Idaho, to southern Utah slowed. I am reminded of them each day, however, as our son skitters in and out of the trading post. When I look into his freckled face, I see the reflection of those dear friends. The last time I telephoned Penny, she seemed excited to speak with me. As she handed the phone to Bill, however, I heard her ask, "Who was that?" At that moment, I knew Penny had begun to cross the Rubicon, and my heart broke.

After our telephone conversation, I frequently envisioned Penny's journey through the winter of her life as I ran through the cold, inky-black mornings. I could often see only a few feet ahead and had to be careful where I placed my next step, just as Penny also had to be cautious. As I have learned, and as Penny must have known, certain things are more profound and more easily understood in the darkness. With spring on its way, there is better light during my runs. Penny recently made her journey north to the Spiritland, and I am sure she has also found additional light. I have lost my favorite Penny, but her memory continues to reside in a special corner of my heart.

Steve and the Twin Rocks Team