Saturday, April 25, 2020

Capturing the Recapture

While the trading post has been temporarily closed by the current health crisis, Susie and I have found ourselves with extra time on our hands. We have been using some of our freedom to explore local sites before the summer heat fires up. One of our recent destinations was nearby Recapture Pocket. Located just seven miles east of Twin Rocks Trading Post. This area is a rarely visited environment of rock formations called hoodoos. 

Hoodoos are formed when a soft rock, like sandstone, is capped by a harder substance, such as limestone. Wind, rain, and ice gradually erode the softer substance while the harder capstone protects the underlying column of stone. In some locations, the formations create fantastic spires, some as tall as a ten-story building. The formations in nearby Recapture Pocket are not that massive, but the sheer number and unusual shapes are impressive.

“Recapture” is a local term derived from a pioneer experience. Stories tell of a group of Ute raiders who stole livestock from early ranchers, and this was the place where the cattle were tracked down and reclaimed by their rightful owners. The term is often used around the region and shows up as Recapture Canyon and Recapture Reservoir just north of us near Blanding.

We can drive to Recapture Pocket in about fifteen minutes by following a very bumpy dirt trail heading off from Cow Canyon Road. Taking things slow and easy, you bounce along for about three miles before coming upon this surreal landscape, and directions can be easily found by a simple internet search. Visitors are encouraged to stay off the delicately balanced stone sculptures and take along water and supplies. There is no signage or interpretation for the site, but let the imagination take over and individual formations seem to change shape with the seasons and direction of the sun. Capturing images of the Pocket is a photographer’s dream.

We at the trading post routinely tell visitors about the attractions that lie within a 50-mile radius of Bluff. Places like Cedar Mesa, Hovenweep, Comb Ridge, Sand Island petroglyphs, and Gooseneck State Park are some of our favorite recommendations, but none are as close or as strange as the nearby and seldom-visited grouping of weird rock formations called Recapture Pocket. Next time you are in the neighborhood, stop in, and we will be happy to give you directions. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Wedding Rug

Attached to the cash register at Twin Rocks Trading Post is a piece of tape. On that tape is a handwritten note. The note reads, “Navajo Wedding Rug.” This is the story of that piece of tape, and why it was recently removed.

As a student of Navajo history and the owner of a Southwest trading post for over three decades, I have often considered how challenging it must have been to operate a reservation trading center during the first half of the 1900s. There are countless stories of seclusion, struggle, destitution, and even death that convince me I would not have been well suited for the endeavor. I think it would have taken a lot of what the first Mormon bishop of Bluff, Jens Nielson, referred to as “Stick-ta-toody.” While there may be a modest amount of Jens' determination running through my veins, I am satisfied it would not have been adequate to get me through those extreme challenges.

Notwithstanding the difficulties, commerce between the traders and Navajo people inspired the evolution of several distinctively beautiful Navajo weaving styles. That development has intrigued me since we opened Twin Rocks in 1989, and over the years, I consumed various accounts of Lorenzo Hubbell at Ganado, J.B. Moore at Crystal, the Foutz family at Teec Nos Pos, C. N. Cotton in Gallup, and others, with amazement, wondering how they were able to harness the creative energy of Navajo weavers to design and implement the now well-known patterns.

From 1940 to 1974, during an era known as the Navajo regional rug period, several weaving centers emerged in the Southwest. During that time, Navajo blankets and rugs from one region became distinctly different from those of neighboring territories. Each unique style was infused with its own particular colors and design. By the early 1900s, four areas developed as creative hubs, Crystal, Ganado, Chinle, and Wide Ruins. Two more geographic areas achieved regional status in the 1940s, Two Grey Hills and Shiprock. Subsequently, three additional Navajo weavings styles were recognized in the 1950s, Teec Nos Pos, Lukachukai, and Red Lake Storm.  Lastly, in 1974, Burntwater was embraced as a classic Navajo regional-style rug.

With that history in mind, and knowing there has not been a breakthrough since 1974, we at Twin Rocks Trading Post have made several attempts to add to the historically recognized list. While the Twin Rocks Modern weavings have captured the attention of collectors, they do not have common design characteristics that allow for quick recognition and categorization.

As a result, about 10 years ago, we decided to make another attempt. That is when the tape went on the register as a reminder that we needed to pursue the project and not lose our focus. Since Twin Rocks is known for Navajo wedding baskets, we determined that easily recognized motif should be incorporated as one of the elements. Studying Tree of Life rugs and their relation to fertility and regeneration year over year, we added corn as a symbol of family, children, and fertility. Lastly, we took the sacred Yeis that emerged from the Shiprock portion of the Navajo reservation to represent the parties in the marital contract. While all those details had been utilized before, we hoped to combine them in a unique manner to create something distinctive that would memorialize the union of two people.

With the help of Theresa Breznau, a local graphic artist, we put together a sketch and started asking weavers if they could execute the pattern. It took years, but finally Luanna Tso, who is well known for her large single Yeis, agreed to take on the challenge, and finally, earlier this week, the first Twin Rocks Wedding Rug arrived. 

In Luanna’s weaving, the outer red border evokes the inner rings of a Navajo wedding basket, representing the mixing of your blood with the blood of your spouse, creating children and building family. A spirit line is distinctively set on the eastern side, referencing the dawn, a new beginning, the future. Inside that design band are the alternating mountain and cloud symbols of the ceremonial basket, calling forth Mother Earth and Father Sky. Contained within the outer bands are a male and a female Yei, which are separated by a fruitful stock of corn. The weaving is intended to showcase two people coming together to build a future generation, a marital celebration.

Rick, Susie, Priscilla, and I are hopeful this new design will launch many successful unions and also inspire a new generation of youngsters to appreciate Native American and Southwest art.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Covid-19 Testing

Recently I overheard a young child asking her mother when school would reopen. The youngster had apparently grown tired of being home with her older and overly controlling siblings and wanted to reengage with her classmates. After unsuccessfully trying to explain recent events to her inexperienced offspring, the sympathetic parent finally said, “Honey, we don’t know when the situation will return to normal, because . . . well, this just isn’t normal.” For me, that summed it up. Nothing is as it has been, it looks like things will be chaotic for a long time, and we will just have to muddle through the madness.

Day-to-day routines at Twin Rocks specifically, and the town of Bluff generally, are, in a word, unsettled. The trading post and cafĂ© have been shuttered long enough that I feel much like the child, I am ready to get back to “normal.” Yes, I know I complained a lot before we discovered Covid-19 was loose among us: not enough cashflow, too many hours at work, no time off, low pay, etcetera, etcetera. I am, however, a changed man. Like an atheist in his foxhole, I have seen the light and have promised to never again protest my circumstances. At least until this viral shelling ends.

While coronavirus kits are in short supply, there is another type of testing currently happening in abundance: the testing of our character, the testing of our inner strength, and the testing of our fundamental humanity. The recent difficulties are bringing out the best, and in some cases the worst, in us. I am convinced the legacy of these challenges, and how we manage them, will be with us far longer than the plague. These are the times when honesty, integrity, and generosity are most needed, and when simple acts of kindness are most appreciated.

Yesterday I was reminded how such acts can change the course of your day. Because the virus infects a victim's lungs, and frankly because it takes more creativity to fill the hours between dawn and dusk, I have been riding my bicycle up and down Highway 191 more often. The hope is to make myself stronger in the event of infection and also stay actively engaged. This exercise has reinforced that I should have been more diligent about my conditioning over the winter, and also reminded me just how important it is to be generous with each other.

Having begun my journey north that evening, I came to an extended uphill section. Shifting down to the small chainring to make peddling easier, I began spinning the crank, grinding away at the hill. Approaching midway of the approximately mile and a half section, I noticed two thirty-something Navajo men in a big black Buick speeding south. I have gotten in the habit of waving to travelers and truckers, so I gave these guys a grin and a nod. They proceeded about a mile further down the pavement and abruptly reversed course, eventually stopping on the shoulder about a quarter mile ahead of me.

As they pulled over, I wondered what this new development might mean. While I briefly considered abduction as a possibility, I decided that wasn’t a serious concern, since everybody knows there would be no ransom forthcoming if I were kidnapped. I am a "no deposit, no return" kind of guy, and my wife, kids, and coworkers would never pay to get me back. In fact, the more likely scenario would be that my captors would have to go out of pocket before being allowed to release me back into the general population. I would surely be a net loss for anyone snatching me.

As I got closer to the travelers, instead of threats and menacing comments, I could hear the driver and his passenger shouting encouragement. “Come on man, you can do it. You’re looking good. Keep it up buddy.” When I came abreast of the Buick, the driver stuck out his hand, holding up a frosty bottle of Sunny Delight orange-strawberry juice. “Here you go bro, nice job,” they cheered as I took the handoff.

As Albert Einstein once observed, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” So, while I can’t know what motivated these commuters to support me, I imagined it was a need to express their character during these tumultuous times. Whatever the purpose, they kept me smiling and laughing out loud the rest of my ride.

For the past few weeks, all of us in and around this small town have also been more friendly, more open, and more concerned about the welfare of our neighbors. My being “juiced” on the highway is just one example of how we are watching out for each other. There is a saying circulating around Bluff recently that goes something like this, “While the rest of the world goes crazy, Bluff is still insane.” Despite the recent madness, Bluff’s residents have become insanely caring. As the young mother assured her child, the circumstances just aren't normal, and one day we will return to school, business, church, and our other regular activities. In the interim, we should know that our character is being tested, and the results will be remembered for a very long time.