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Ready the Ark


Some time ago I received a telephone call from a man who said he ran an arts and crafts business in the east and wished to learn more about the Twin Rocks Trading Post. The gentleman wanted to know who we are, what we do and what connection we have to local Native Americans. As we talked, I realized his questions indicated an interest in preserving Native culture. He said his name was Leon, that he was from the Micmac and Penacook tribes and that he had become seriously concerned the history of his people, and of Native America in general, was all too quickly being lost.

Over the years many legends had come to him, and he accumulated them for transmission to the members of his tribe and to any other interested party. Leon counseled that we must collect the thoughts of our grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, children and grandchildren, whether or not they are Native American. He told me that of all the stories he had heard, there was one in particular that was most meaningful. The story was about a young man and his journey on the road home.

The legend tells of a group of Native people who lived in an expansive wood. One by one the people passed on, until only the youngest was left. One evening the youth fell asleep and dreamed of traveling a path populated by his relatives. As the boy greeted each one in turn, the elders related their personal stories. Eventually, the young man came to a rainbow with a longhouse on the opposite side. In the longhouse were people of all nations speaking openly about their traditions and living in harmony. Beyond the greathouse stood the Creator with his arms open, welcoming the young man home and telling the boy he had learned much and been given a great gift.

As the story unfolded, I began to think of the youth as an ark in which the history of his people was being invested; a vessel to carry the traditions across the waters of time. I was reminded of my paternal grandfather Woody Simpson singing his Biblical chronology, “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I saw the apple they was eatin’. I’m the man who swore, cause I’m the one who ate the core. Then came Noah stumblin’ in the dark, tryin’ to find a hammer just to build himself an ark. Then came the animals two by two, the hippopotamus, the kick kangaroo, then came the lion, then came the bar, then came the elephant without any har.” I could see Woody bouncing my brothers and sisters on his knee as his tune spilled out into the living room of his small white house in great clumps of irregular harmony.
Navajo Monument Valley or Bust Basket - Lorraine Black (#232)

I distinctly remembered Woody sitting next to me at Blue Mountain Trading Post on an old blue sofa purchased at the Phoenix flea market, relating his experiences as a Marine in the Pacific Theater during World War II. I have since discovered some of his adventures were fiction, but I still love having them. Although I remember him well, I have virtually no stories from my maternal Grandfather Joseph Correia, a quiet, gentle man who worked hard and said little.

As these memories eddied through my mind, I suddenly realized the young man of Leon’s story had died, and with him the stories of his tribe ended; the ark had sunk and the legends of his people were lost. My grandfathers both died many years ago, and with them their family stories. There is much I would now like to know about these two men, but it is too late, that boat sailed without me.

Leon cautioned me we must preserve the past, and practice the traditional ways when possible. He said most of us are not sharing the legends the way our forebears intended. At 56 years of age, Leon had made a commitment to spread the word, so he can help stop the cultural hemorrhage and keep this body of knowledge alive.

For much of Native America, and the rest of us as well, the rain has been falling some time, our culture and traditions are drifting away. Many of our narratives have either not made it into the ark or have been washed overboard and are forever lost. We must build a solid vessel and fill it with the stories of our ancestors, our own stories and the stories of our children and grandchildren. If we don’t, like the unicorn, they will not survive.

With warm regards Barry and the Team.

Who’ll Stop the Rain?


As Bob Dylan once wrote, “The Times They are a Changin’". And they are surely a changin’ round Bluff. After an exceptionally dry winter, which made us wonder whether there would be any water left to drink when summer arrived, and caused some to question whether beer might be our only alternative, the last three months have brought storm after storm to our parched landscape. Indeed, in June the San Juan Record reported a tornado touching down near Bluff, hailstorms, rock slides and precipitation at 439 percent of normal.

Now, I am a desert dweller, I was born in the desert, I have spent the overwhelming majority of my life in the desert and from all indications I will receive my ultimate reward, or final penalty as the case may be, while residing in the desert. As such, rain is sacred to me. Indeed, as a long-term Indian trader and purveyor of Southwest art, I am exceptionally fond of Hopi jewelry. With its clean lines and precise motifs, this artistic movement often communicates clouds, lightening and life-giving moisture. The Hopi, being dryland farmers and sophisticated artists, have developed an entire economy around silver and gold work representing rain. That symbolism speaks to me in a deep, resounding voice.

Never will I forget the man, who professed to be the grandson of visionary Lakota holy man Sitting Bull, leading me outside during a particularly heavy thunderstorm and instructing me to wet my hands and rub the falling droplets over my face, arms and chest. Not only did Stormy's exercise refresh me, it also left me feeling cleansed in body and spirit. Eventually Stormy ran off with two; that’s right, not one but two, German women. Notwithstanding his errant exit from southern Utah, from that moment forward, when raindrops begin falling I uniformly rush outside to repeat the ceremony Stormy taught me that afternoon. Always, that is, until this year.

Hopi Clouds and Rain Symbols Bracelet (Look for the bracelet in next weeks mailer)  

When the storms initially began rolling in during May, I was, as usual, the first out the Kokopelli doors and into the deluge. After first reinvigorating myself in the downpour, I would retrieve a metal bucket and water the plants arrayed in clay pots along the trading post porch. They too seemed regenerated and appeared to dance with delight. I imagined them saying, “Nuts to tap water with its chemicals and artificial additives, this is the real thing.” During that time Priscilla tutored me on legends relating to thunder, the evolution of rainbows, coyote and To’ Neinilii, the Navajo chief of wet things. Life was good, my knowledge of local culture expanding and my thirst sated.

Then the next and the next and the next thundershower hurtled Comb Ridge or circumnavigated Blue Mountain and inundated our small valley, causing the river to rise and the weeds to spontaneously sprout. Once the ground became saturated, however, water began to seep under the back wall of Twin Rocks Cafe and percolate through the basement of the old Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. home in which Jana, Grange and I have taken up residence; Kira having abandoned us in favor of college and various other high adventures. The first few times that happened, we happily mopped up the mess and went about our business, happy in the knowledge the gods had finally smiled upon us. Comfortable our personal appeals had not been acted upon, Barry and I speculated whether it was Native rituals or Mormon fasting and prayer that eventually opened the floodgates. We desired clarification and proper documentation, so we would know how to precede and whom to contact in the event future dry spells occurred.

But the rains kept falling and we began to wonder whether someone had requested a larger allocation than was actually required. We questioned whether the experience was similar to that of a hungry man who finally finds food; once he gets started it is impossible to stop. All too late he realizes he has overdone it and must bear the consequences of his unrestrained exuberance. In our case excess water saturated our carpets, moistened our mats and whetted our weeds to the point they grew into forests. Like John Fogerty, we found ourselves asking, “Who’ll stop the rain?” While we realized our inquiry was heresy for people of the desert and that we risked being excommunicated from our red rock sanctuary, we could not restrain ourselves.

Something had to be done. So, in an effort to moderate the flow without terminating it altogether, Barry was dispatched to discuss our dilemma with the deacons and Priscilla hastened to hunt down the hataalii. For my part, I reluctantly cancelled the beer order and stood by with the shop vac. Priscilla, realizing I was feeling overwhelmed by the additional responsibilities and depressed about having to redirect the Budweiser truck, reminded me of a quote I once read to her, “Rain clouds come floating in, not to muddy our days, but to make us calm, happy and hopeful."

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

Blame it on Barry

Blame it on Barry

This morning Fannie King stopped by Twin Rocks Trading Post with a beautiful basket, one might rightly say another beautiful basket. Fannie was born and raised in Monument Valley, a member of the Bitsinnie clan. Early on, however, she married a Paiute man and moved to Navajo Mountain to live among his people. Likely due to her relocation, she weaves in the Paiute style, rounded coils, flat bottom, interesting shapes, tight stitching and such. Barry, Priscilla and I unanimously admire her work. Indeed, Jana and I have some of her pieces in our own home, and I recommend Fanny's work to all serious collectors of contemporary Navajo basketry.

Fanny’s baskets are traditional by nature, which is a departure from the innovative geometric and pictorial Navajo baskets Twin Rocks has become known for. For several years Barry and I have speculated just how many traditional ceremonial baskets one might collect before discovering he or she had an adequate supply. One, two, three, maybe as many as five we estimated. After wondering for such a long time, we finally decided to stop questioning and take action Accepting the challenge, we began encouraging local Navajo weavers to make what are commonly referred to as ceremonial basket variations. It wasn’t long before the artists began flooding in with their creations. Our goal was to fill the space above the trading post’s large picture windows, which, depending on their size, we estimated would require 60 to 80 baskets. We believed the project might take at least five years to complete. Two years and almost 100 specimens later, however, we already have more than enough baskets to satisfy our original ambitions and are wondering, “What do we do now?"
Feather Modified Ceremonial-Part of Twin Rocks Basket Collection

We have kitty baskets, goat baskets, eclipse baskets, sunflower baskets, positive baskets, negative baskets, positive-negative baskets, kinaalda baskets, old baskets, new baskets, placing the stars baskets, feather baskets, needlepoint baskets, emergence baskets, and some we cannot even describe. The creativity shown by the weavers has been, well, revolutionary. Fannie’s latest was an old style ceremonial, so I decided it should be added to the evolving collection. As I rummaged around the store for a hammer to nail our new acquisition to the wall, a habit that drives museum curators absolutely crazy, I could not locate the necessary implement. Priscilla, who is usually in charge of such tools, had no insight into the hammer's whereabouts, so I was stumped. “Probably Barry’s fault”, I muttered, echoing my common refrain when something goes haywire at the trading post. “Barry has been gone almost two months”, Priscilla reminded me, “maybe it was you this time."

When Rose and Duke recently decided it was time to retire from Blue Mountain Trading Post and RV Park, they shanghaied Barry and me into taking over their holdings. Consequently, Barry was reassigned to Blanding and given the title, “Tyrant of Turquoise Trading and Top Man of Travel Trailers”. Although he received an impressive title, and argued he should receive combat pay for having to survive Duke and Rose, there was no raise in salary associated with his new responsibilities. He now lords over that entire empire and only consults Priscilla and me when there is a crisis. That of course means we are in constant contact. That also means Priscilla and I are forever in the stew, since we only have each other to blame when things go wrong.

For all too long, when we couldn't find the loop to scrutinize a turquoise specimen, we knew Barry must have misplaced it. If the checkbook was empty, we were sure Barry had spent the cash. If reports were not timely filed, that was probably Barry. Tools gone missing, surely Barry. The door left open overnight, likely Barry. Anything else Priscilla and I did not want to accept responsibility for, Barry was fingered. Now don’t get me wrong, Priscilla is astute enough to play both sides of this game, so when I was gone or out of earshot, all those things became my fault and Barry readily agreed. Correspondingly, when Priscilla was out of sight . . . well you get the picture. At the end of the day, everyone got his or her turn in the barrel and nobody felt left out, except Danny.

Now that Priscilla and I only have each other to blame for the infinite number of things that go wrong around this joint, we are in desperate need of a scapegoat. Our trading post tapestry has come unraveled. Not knowing exactly what to do, we have begun soliciting applications for a full-time patsy. Since there is no shortage of blame to assign, the pay is pretty good. Necessary skills include, broad shoulders, forgiving nature, easy-going character and patience, lots of patience.

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



At 10:00 a.m. it was already hot. Summer had finally arrived in Bluff, and that combined with the effects of global warming had pushed temperatures into the extreme range. Even the lizards were scared. As I ambled across the porch to Twin Rocks Cafe in search of my second iced tea of the young morning he sat stoically at a metal table situated just outside the entry door. Looking southeast towards the old Jones hay farm, he didn’t say anything as I approached, did not even acknowledge my advance. “Hey, Bud”, I said, startling him, “how 'bout a soda to cool you off? I’m buyin'.” “Iced tea would be fine,” he replied with a barely perceptible smile. He seemed surprised I had spoken to him at all, let alone offered a free drink. He was obviously expecting a less congenial reception. His response made me think of all the stories I have read and been told about Native people being treated badly in border towns. Bluff is not like that and Twin Rocks is definitely not.

Going inside to retrieve our drinks, I encountered the cashier and manager who advised me, “We think he’s drunk.” “Any problem”, I asked. “No”, they responded, “He’s just waiting for a ride." As I put the to-go cup, straw and sugar caddy in front of him, he said, “Sit down.” “Got a lot to do”, I countered, beginning to turn away. “Sit down”, he reiterated, gently, but firmly. “Allrighty then,” I acquiesced and pulled up a chair, curious what this encounter might bring. If Twin Rocks is anything, it is interesting, and one never knows what to expect. “Another adventure”, I counseled myself.

He was a past middle age Navajo man, tall, maybe 6’2”, strongly built, still somewhat handsome, although a difficult life had clearly exacted its toll. He wore a black three-button golf shirt and blue denim jeans. Functional cowboy boots covered his feet and a worn, sweat-stained cowboy hat sporting a woven horsetail band sat nearby. His eyes were weary, and, as the staff had speculated, a tad bleary. I guessed he might have seen things most of us studiously avoid. “I’m a veteran, Marines”, he said. “Vietnam?” I probed, noting his age. “Yea.” “How many tours?” “One. Sometimes it makes me sad”, he said, tears welling up. Quickly controlling his emotions, he continued, “My name is Lee.” No last name, just Lee. “Where you from Lee?” “Monument Valley. I know those basket weavers, the Blacks. They’re my cousin sisters."

Having known my share of Vietnam veterans, I felt a special affinity for this world-worn stranger. Politics aside, those who served in that conflict deserve special consideration from the rest of us who were spared the trauma. Because I fear they may not grasp the significance of the 1960s, I often speak with Kira and Grange about the events of that era, including the war. For most young people their age, the 1960s are insignificant, too far gone to be meaningful, ancient history. Like the old men of my youth who wanted to ensure I understood WWII, I worry Kira and Grange may not grasp the enormity of those years and how they continue to impact our lives.

After a time he said, “I know you, I read those stories you write.” Surprised, embarrassed and flattered all at the same time, I gave him a startled look. “Yeah, they make me feel like home”, he continued, “You have a lot of Navajo brothers and sisters, don’t you?” “Yeah, guess I do”, I acknowledged, looking around at the Navajo staff I consider my extended family. At that point he began regaling me with stories of the Bluff he knew from his early years. “That place was an ice cream shop”, he said pointing to a small shack across the street. Indicating the Historic Loop, he said, “That was the old highway, before the new one was built. I rode my horse from Montrose, Colorado to Monument Valley one time. Deputy Dufur threatened to shoot me when I got here. I didn’t pay any attention to him, so he turned on his lights and escorted me out of town. Kept me safe. Looked after me.”

“My grandfather taught me that you talk with your eyes”, he said, looking directly at me. “That’s how you get lots of girlfriends” he joked. “Be kind with your eyes,” he advised. I couldn’t help thinking that if someone had taught me that lesson 40 years earlier I might have been awash in adolescent dates. "Too late for girlfriends now, but maybe I can try it on my wife”, I said, "test your theory, pass it on to my teenage son if it works." Kindness did seem like an exceptionally good idea. “Maybe if we were all nice to each other we wouldn’t need wars”, he said. “It makes me sad”, he said, repeating his earlier comment, his tired eyes watering once again.

“Gotta go get my son at White Mesa”, I said, "wanna ride?" “Sure”, he nodded, so I walked over to my old red pickup truck, fired it up, drove to the cafe steps and shouted, “Saddle up cowboy.” He climbed into the cab and fell silent. As we crested Cow Canyon heading north he asked, “You want poetry, Navajo poetry?” “Sure”, I said. “I’ll bring it to you”, he assured me, “bring it to you at Twin Rocks." At that point it struck me that I could have easily passed up my encounter with this exceptional man. All too often, we move past, circumnavigate, avoid those who seem different, those we don’t immediately comprehend and those who look like a problem waiting to consume our time. In the right light, however, these unusual individuals are opportunities rather than difficulties. As it turned out, that was the case with Lee. “Sit down”, he said, so I had and was all the better for having done so. Strange how you never know.

Looking back as he climbed out of the truck, he said, “Maybe you’ll write a story about me.” “Yeah” I said, “maybe.”

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


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