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Of Hats, Saddles and the Boot

Of Hats, Saddles and the Boot

A businessman walked into the trading post and said to me, "Can you help me out friend? I have been on the road longer than expected and am worried my wife may be angry and have the door barred when I get home." Looking at him suspiciously and transitioning into my bartender routine, I asked, "Does she have reason to bar the door? Have you misbehaved?" Vigorously shaking his head from side to side, he replied, "Other than being a less than adequate communicator, I am a good and faithful husband. I love my wife, but often forget to keep her updated and informed." "Sounds familiar," I replied. "Step over here. I will show you our line of spousal appeasement merchandise and relate a story or two."

I told him that in the good old days, when communication was fairly simple and straightforward, Navajo men had an uncomplicated way of discovering if they were in the soup or not. If there were any question, a man would walk up to the Hogan, remove his hat and toss it in the door. If his companion were not upset, the hat would return unmolested. The gentleman would pick up his topper, dust it off and step into his home with a feeling of peace and security. On the other hand if his derby came back in a state of disrepair, he would have time to consider the implications and evaluate his options. The more damage done on his headgear, the more dire the state of affairs. It was a great way to divine one's domestic circumstance.

When Steve and I first heard of this solution to comprehending the mood of our spouses we adopted it posthaste. We informed our wives of this system and presented them with hats we had chosen for initiating the process. Since I am well balanced and adept at expressing myself, I figured there would not be much abuse in my future. I therefore chose a hat of straw. When I presented it to Laurie, she accepted it, contemplated the implications of my actions and promptly swatted me with it. I began to question whether I had made the right choice.

Steve, on the other hand . . . well, has a way of arguing a point with what he considers to be rational thinking. It is my opinion Jana and Laurie base their actions on equal parts, rational thought and emotional response. Steve has earned two law degrees and is great at negotiating business deals. Let's just be honest, however, the boy rates poorly when it comes to communicating effectively with Jana. That woman deserves a medal of valor when it comes to debating marital issues with him. I suggested he choose a German pith helmet for his headgear, one of steel that could survive a panzer attack. He foolishly selected a stark white Resistol 10X premium fur felt hat. When he presented it to his significant other, she stomped it flat, tore the edges and sent it sailing out the back door. Based upon historical interaction, Steve rightly considered that was a negative reaction.

While we were on the subject of Navajo life ways, I shared a story of a medicine man that seduced a fair maiden of the high desert. He won over this svelte Native princess by proving to be well versed in the language of love. Although he was an overly large and not so handsome man, the hatathle was wise and worldly. The older man realized the young woman desired to learn and grow in knowledge and understanding. Through persuasive speech and extensive deed he convinced the young woman he loved her beyond measure and would always treat her like the rare and beautiful yucca flower she truly was. Thoroughly convinced, she fell for the conniving suitor.

All was well for a short time, but soon the medicine man began to take the maiden for granted and treat her as a prize mare to be paraded about and managed as if she were his personal property. The woman grew frustrated with her powerful husband because he no longer doted over her and never did anything to help around the house. His new bride came to loathe him and resent the union. In all respects she was nothing more than a slave. The maiden, however, was both bright and beautiful, unwilling to spend her life at the feet of a deceitful and demanding husband.

The little lady was well aware she had the right to divorce her lowly mate. Hers was a matriarchal society, and it was her privilege to expel this worthless cur from her life. One day when the medicine man departed for a traditional ceremony, the beauty placed his prize saddle outside their Hogan. The statement had been made, there was no question, and a split was imminent. Upon his return, his eminence simply picked-up the saddle, strode into their home and returned his property to its usual place. Immediately demanding drink and dinner, he would not concede to an interruption of the relationship.

The Navajo princess was not, however, dissuaded. The next time her spouse departed to practice his craft, the lonesome dove asked her brothers for assistance. The three siblings did a fast and furious, but altogether serviceable, remodel on her abode, one they hoped would repel the beast. Once again, the healer discovered his prize saddle resting in the dust. As before, he picked it up and headed for the door. This time, however, the entryway was but a narrow slit, slim enough to allow his new ex- wife ingress and egress, but far to small to allow his bulky frame to enter the Hogan. He had been resoundingly rebuffed and finally admitted defeat. Packing up, he remounted his fine steed and left the country in search of a more submissive mate.

"A few lessons we might learn from this mishmash of information", I said to the man, "are that: (a) communication is key to successful relationships, (b) a good and durable hat may be an fair indicator of your marital status, and (c) finding your saddle outside may demonstrate you are not paying close enough attention to your spouse's desires. Hopefully you do not learn these lessons too late to repair a bad situation. Be advised, narrow doors banish narrow minds, and being outwitted by an intelligent woman is all too common."

The businessman absorbed the metaphor admirably, purchasing a pair of earrings to validate his marital love and buying himself a woven palm cowboy hat from the gift shop next door to reopen the lines of communication. I hoped it would be enough to mitigate her frustration. As for Steve's attempts . . . well, that is a work in progress!

With warm regards Barry Simpson.

Compared to the Bicycle

Compared to the Bicycle


My friend and internist, Dr. Roy, has promised to take me on his annual cycling tour if I get in shape. I am sure he thinks it’s good motivation for me to shed a few unhealthy pounds. What he doesn’t realize is that I long ago discovered I can eat and cycle at the same time.

Based upon Roy’s commitment, I dusted off the bike and went to work. Last Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed, strapped on my shoes and hit the road. Thinking of my early cycling career, when every ounce added precious time, I left the socks in the drawer and put the shoes directly on my bare feet. I briefly thought about shaving my legs to make myself more aerodynamic, but decided that would take too long. Shaving a few cookies from my diet would surely be more effective.

It was about 7:00 a.m. when I finally got things in order, the sun was climbing but the air was cool. I rode west from Bluff, towards Monument Valley. As I turned to make the return trip, the sunlit cliffs reminded me why I love this naturally walled village nestled in the San Juan River drainage. The sandstone bluffs, for which the community is named, were glowing a misty pink, and the various formations faded into shades of gray as they receded into the distance. I searched the eastern horizon for Sleeping Ute Mountain and finally noticed his nose protruding just above the southeastern cliffs. The valley was coming alive.

Bluff Utah

My bicycle is about 8 years old, which makes it a dinosaur in terms of modern bicycling technology. In its time it was a marvel of cycling engineering, but times have changed. The tires are worn and the tubes tend to lose a little air. I carefully watched the wheels to ensure they were remaining inflated and began to consider the parallels between the old bicycle and me. That started me thinking about how I tend to lose a little air myself, which is, at times, embarrassing.

When I first moved back to San Juan County, the trading post was still under construction so I lived in Blanding. Every day I rode to Bluff with a bicycle in back of the truck. After working all day with the building contractor, digging trenches and pounding nails, I climbed on the bike and ride to Blanding. The bike and I worked in tandem, like a well oiled machine. We would make the 25-mile trip in just over an hour. The bicycle was tuned to perfection, and my legs like pistons.

The business, family and a daughter distracted me over the next few years. Then one day I was diagnosed with a terrible illness - the dreaded furniture disease. The tire around my waist began to inflate, and Duke, who is a renowned expert in this field, pointed it out to me. Of course I knew all along I was manifesting symptoms. I attempted to hide it and slow the effects with protein concoctions and low-cal foods, but nothing worked. For a time I considered wearing moo moos, but couldn’t find patterns or tones to compliment my skin.

In the more progressive medical texts, furniture disease is described as the condition where, “One’s chest falls into one’s drawers”. As in my case, onset generally begins in the early to mid thirties, and serious disfigurement can occur. Once trim bodies begin to sag, and physical performance declines in direct proportion to the droop. Cycling efficiency declines, and it becomes hard to work the pedals. Actually, the down stroke is fairly easy; it’s the upstroke, which requires lifting all those extra pounds that can be difficult. Balance is greatly affected, accumulating cellulite results in a less aerodynamic configuration and airflow is interrupted.

So there I was, wrestling the old bike back into our small community. A slight grinding of the gears reminded me how I often wear on the residents of this town. A little lubricant may be in order. As I pedaled up to the house, I realized the bike and I were lucky to be functioning at current levels. Neither the tires nor I had lost any air. This was a relief, because the pump doesn’t perform the way it once did either.

With warm regards Steve Simpson.

I Saw the Light

I Saw the Light


It was early morning in the south-facing dining room of Twin Rocks Cafe and I was feeling quiet and introspective. As I wandered among the tables looking for smudges and smears missed during the prior evening's cleanup, I felt something singularly compelling. It could have been the sanctity of Sunday morning, or maybe the almost paralyzing peace of that particular moment. Whatever the reason, I felt an overarching sense of calm that was unbroken even as the dishwasher, cooks and servers began rattling round in the kitchen behind me.

Before the sun crests the eastern horizon and our corner of the world becomes fully enlightened, Bluff stands almost motionless in the semi-darkness, cars don't cruise, the wind doesn't whine and even hares don't hop. To people accustomed to an urban setting, this lack of movement might be unnerving, but for those of us raised in rural America, "out in the sticks", it is the norm. The kinetic energy of our country's larger cities has no presence in our daily lives, so we move slower and are more directly connected to the natural world. Out here we have time to communicate with Mother Earth and Father Sky and absorb the lessons they advocate. Not that we always listen, fully comprehend the message or follow the advice.

Navajo Mother Earth and Father Sky Handmade Weaving - Luana Tso (#54)

The previous night I had been at the restaurant when three twenty-somethings came in for beer and a bite to eat. Like most young people, they were more interested in what was happening on their phones than what was going on in the next booth. As I walked past their table, however, I noticed them scrolling through photographs and gasping at the shots and selfies they had taken of themselves in the surrounding geography. Apparently they were transfixed by their journey through this land, because one suddenly blurted out, "I must show the world! I must show the world!" Soon they were all shuffling in their seats and softly chanting the same mantra. It was late and they were the only patrons in the restaurant or they might have sparked a movement. While it could have been the alcohol, I concluded they were instead infected with a form of red rock, high desert fever and had decided they should share it with the rest of the population, or at least those within their personal electronic sphere. I guessed what they were feeling was a little like the Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu; difficult to diagnose, life changing at times, but never fatal.

With memories of the prior evening's young trio and thoughts of Johnny Rivers meandering through my mind, I watched the crystal rays illuminate the line of trees established as a windbreak on the westerly side of the old Curtis Jones hay farm. I am terrible with plant typology, so I have never determined what kind of stock they are. All I know is they are thin, grayish and extremely tall. As a result, these lanky timbers turn a whiter shade of pale and look almost apparitional as the sun rises, highlighting them against the glowing coral colored cliffs embracing Bluff.

Watching the sunbeams creep slowly across the valley, I could not help thinking, "I saw the light!" Now I realize that term is generally associated with having some type of revelation, or finally grasping the true meaning of a topic, which I likely was not experiencing. For me, it literally meant witnessing the birth of this new day, with all its possibilities and potential. I have never been good at practicing institutionalized religion; churches and chapels leave me yearning for the great outdoors, and parsons preaching morality or mores find me distracted, disinterested. Consequently, I long ago discovered my God in nature. I sense the presence of a higher power when I watch the seasons change, see waterfalls cascading over desert varnished sandstone or witness the sun and moon travel across the sky each day. Bluff is, of course, the perfect place to be if that is your philosophy, your theology. I believe outside is where God wants to be, not held captive in some building, no matter how splendid or swanky it may be.

It was not long before the automobiles began to ambulate and the bunnies bounce. In that moment between darkness and light I once again witnessed my own personal Paradise. And then there they were, the twenty-something threesome, hungry for bacon and eggs and keen for coffee. They too must have seen the light, because they were overtly and environmentally enraptured.

With warm regards from Steve and the team: Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Fart Tax

Fart Tax


It was a slow February morning, the day after the Iowa Caucus, and Barry and I were loitering around Twin Rocks Trading Post discussing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Barry did not have anything good to say about either the Democratic or Republican candidates, and I was in full agreement. This cycle has left us disenchanted with the election process, and we are considering a draft Ronald Reagan movement. We figure having a dead president would be better than electing any of the current contenders.

As Barry devolved deeper and deeper into a political funk, a Mercedes SUV pulled into the gravel parking lot and a middle-aged couple exited the vehicle. Since these were the first customers we have seen at the store since early January, Barry and I got a little excited. If nothing else, this would be an opportunity to communicate with somebody besides Priscilla and Danny. If our visitors were talkative, maybe we could gather fresh intelligence about what is happening outside the Kokopelli doors, thereby broadening our perspective. At times, living in this isolated corner of the world leaves Barry and me feeling somewhat detached. Revenue aside, we get starved for human interaction.

As it turns out, the pair originated in New Zealand. As many who have spent time around my family know, my son was named for Bill and Penny Grange. Bill discovered Penny in Christchurch during his LDS mission. It was likely love at first sight, and they never again separated until Penny entered the next realm approximately six decades later. When we met, Penny was in her middle 60s, and Bill a couple years younger. I readily admit I was madly and irretrievably in love with Penny, and exceptionally fond of Bill too. Despite our age differences, which amounted to about 30 years, we formed a natural and lasting bond. As a result of my attachment to Bill and Penny, I developed an unrestrained interest in Kiwis and the land in which they live.

As is my habit when New Zealanders arrive at the post, I began interrogating the couple about the islands. One day I will travel to their homeland and be armed with volumes of information essential to an exhaustive exploration of the country. The gentleman seemed sophisticated about the economics of dairy and sheep production, so we launched into a discussion about cows, water rights, grazing and waterways contaminated by animal waste. About that time Barry commented on the volume of methane gas produced by bovines and its effects on the natural environment. The man chuckled and said, “Yes, our politicians even tried to enact a fart tax.”

Cow backpack methane measuring device

Barry, who had apparently been studying this particular issue by watching several episodes on the Discovery Channel, said, “Do you know, according to new research, livestock’s noxious emissions account for a large portion of the methane gas being released into the atmosphere. Some researchers say cows are producing twice as much methane as scientists previously believed. While carbon dioxide is still the primary greenhouse gas, methane is certainly a formidable contender. Do you know the EPA has recognized the contribution cow farts are making to the Earth’s greenhouse gases? A single cow can produce between 250 and 500 liters, or about 66 to 132 gallons, of methane a day.”

The Kiwis and I were startled by Barry’s vast knowledge of issues relating to cattle emissions. Barry, realizing he had captivated us, and wanting to burnish his reputation as an expert in the field, proclaimed, “You should know, however, it is a common misconception that the cow’s rear end emits the methane; the vast majority is produced orally. It’s bovine burps that really matter. A fart tax would therefore be misapplied and generate precious little cash.” We all had a good laugh, and soon the travelers decided it was time to continue their journey.

A short while later I was sitting at my desk, reviewing the economics of trading posts and mulling over the concept of a fart tax. I began to wonder whether we could assess one ourselves and make a few dollars to shore up our ongoing operations. We won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say we might generate a significant income stream when the tour busses begin arriving this spring. Barry, Danny and Priscilla questioned what the tax rate should be and how to collect the assessment. As for me, I am most concerned with the ill effect those tourists are having on our physical and emotional well-being and our immediate environment. As we can all attest, cows have nothing on that herd of travelers.

With warm regards, Steve and the team: Barry, Priscilla and Danny.



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