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Maasai, Marley or What?

Maasai, Marley or What?

Steve, Marc and I were standing near my office door discussing Twin Rocks Cafe when an interesting character walked through the Kokopelli doors and into the trading post. Since I am fond of meeting new people, I moved away from the casual conference, intending to intercept our visitor. The guest was quite tall, 6'3" at least, and was bundled in winter garb, which consisted of slate colored jeans tucked into ebony snow boots and a deep blue woven sweater overlaid by a coal colored goose down vest. His hair was a mass of dark snakelike dreadlocks, which extended to his broad shoulders and poked out in every direction. A bundle of braids at the back of his neck were encased in a charcoal colored woven pouch that made his head appear elongated. The mystery man's eyes were completely obscured by clouded wrap-around sunglasses. He was a long and well built individual, with a strong face and giant hands. He looked like a snow bound out of place Maasai warrior with a Bob Marley doo.
Navajo Eternity Face Basket - Elsie Holiday (#389)

Sliding behind the counter, I moved in the direction of our new guest. When I passed Priscilla she gave me a warning glance, she and Steve think I all too often speak inappropriately, driving people away with my astute commentary. I believe they are jealous and rather obtuse. The melanoid man saw me coming and turned away as if he did not want to be addressed, but I was having none of that. I wanted to meet him and get to know his story. Coming up from behind, I asked, "Are you doing some traveling today? Having a good trip?" He nodded in the affirmative and said, "I am, thank you. I am on my way to Texas and . . .” His answer began with a high note, but quickly trailed-off into a low mumble. I squinted; focusing on his words, but in the end could not decipher what he had said. I detected a trace of accent, but nothing that might make him difficult to understand.

Looking to Priscilla for interpretation, I received no help. She just shook her head in the negative and shrugged nonchalantly. I glanced at Marc and Steve, but they were locked in conversation about dishpans, dishwashers or something like that. Turning back to the misplaced Maasai, I tried again, "Have you driven far?" "I have", he said, "I have driven for seven . . .” Again his answer tapered-off into that low rumble. I was now suspecting the guy was doing it on purpose, just to throw me off track. Not to be put off, I asked, "How far are you going today?" He turned to me and smiled with his brilliant white teeth. As he headed for the door, he said, "To Albuquerque, and I bett . . .” With a flip of his big right hand, he waved goodbye and passed through the heavy wooden doors, dreadlocks flowing.

Staring after the man, I wondered just what his story really was, and why he spoke the way he did. "Humph!" I said to myself after a short spell. Once again looking to Priscilla for guidance, I started to question her about what had just occurred. Priscilla put-up her hand to stop me and said, "I don't know, with your Bluffoon accents, I can barely understand you and Steve most of the time. How the heck am I supposed to . . . " "Cute", I said, "real cute." Just then Marc headed for the door, on his way back to the cafe. As he too went through the door he said; "All right, I am off to see . . ." At the same time Steve turned and headed for his office, saying, "Me too, I have to wor . . . " "Smooth", I called out to them, "I work with a group of real smart a . . !"

With warm rega Barry Simp and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Traveling the Rez or Point of Reference

Traveling the Rez or Point of Reference

I had an opportunity to travel across Dinetah this weekend. I wanted to attend a trade show in Phoenix so I talked my wife into going with me. There are those that do not enjoy traveling the reservation, but I do. For me it brings the myth and legend to life. Here at the Trading Post we hear the cultural tales, as represented through the art. It is a special treat to see that which inspires the artists in person. Trips such as this allow me the opportunity to take in the high desert scenery and consider the People's interpretation of mountains, mesas and monuments.

On Friday we left the house before dawn. Before departing we said a little prayer to the Great Spirit, geared-up and sped on down the highway. As we traveled across the upper mesa, the Moon was full and bright which lit-up outstanding elements of the countryside with a blue/white fluorescence that charmed us with its winsome elegance. Surfaces perpendicular to the night sky, such as stubble fields and stock ponds, radiated in the magic of moon glow. On the other hand elements back-lit by the orb of night, such as upright Cedar pole fences, lone Juniper trees, out buildings and even a crooked windmill, took on darker, shadowed tones. The bearer of the Moon is considered to be a man of age and wisdom. The Man of the Moon is someone who is calm, collected and compassionate; someone we should all endeavor to emulate.
Navajo Monument Valley or Bust Basket - Lorraine Black (#232)

Before long we passed through Bluff and over the bridge spanning the San Juan river. The San Juan is also considered to be a male, a long and lean antiquarian individual with hair of white foam, who guards and protects Navajoland from hostile invaders. As we thumped and bumped our way across the bridge, I prodded Laurie, "It's a good thing you are not in a contentious mood this morning ", I paused a moment to test her reaction. Seeing none, I trespassed further; "or we would have never made it across the bridge." She inhaled noisily, paused, breathed-out easily and said, "Be a Man like the Moon, be not sarcastic!" She is getting much more difficult to provoke these days, no fair, no fun.

As we gained ground on reservation lands the monuments there offered- up strange and cumbersome shapes. We knew them to be representations of strength and power where supernatural spirits dwell. Navajo people often leave medicine bundles or gifts of precious stones at the base of some of the most unique of these monoliths. They strive to gain blessings similar to those attributed to the deities upon the rocks. I contemplated stopping and contributing some offering of my own, after all remittances of might and magic could prove beneficial. I opted out though because, after that last comment, I thought Laurie might take advantage of any short absence and leave me behind. And truly, as our good friend Kent said, speaking of spirituality and/or cultural beliefs: "You are either in, I mean all the way in or it does you no good--you must believe." So, since I am but a spectator in the ceremonial ritual of the Navajo, I decided against it.

Laurie and I traveled along the southern or backside of Monument Valley, through Kayenta, Tsegi Canyon and Long Squaw Valley. To me the landscape is impressive and varied, to look into those magnificent canyons reminded me of a conversation I had with Robert S. McPherson. Bob is a scholar of Navajo history and The People themselves. He has written several books on these subjects, give him a Google and read his books, you will learn much. Anyway, Bob and I were speaking of how Kit Carson impacted the Navajo and, more specifically, how the U.S. Army motivated the Ute people to impact the Navajo. Much of Bob's interpretation of history was gathered from interviews with individuals with close personal ties to the subject matter. His commentary concerning campaign's and skirmishes rattled around in my head as we passed through the country near where the interactions occurred. Looking at the landscape, I doubt it has changed much.

Before long Laurie and I stopped at a large convenience store in Tuba City. Anyone recall Leroy Van Dyke's, 'Who's gonna run the Truck Stop in Tuba City when I'm gone ...?' Sorry, I digress. Most of you wouldn't remember it anyway, the song is ... old. We stopped-in for a refreshment break, it was Pepsi time! Just as we drove-up the Rez dogs appeared. If you have traveled the reservation you know of what I speak. Emaciated canines that hang around anyplace where they might be favored with a scrap of anything. It is a sad situation at best. As with the landscape, all things have their place in Navajo cultural tales, including animals.

The earliest ancestors of the poor mongrels we saw here are represented in a Navajo Chantway myth. This particular legend revolves around the creation of dogs by the Holy People. The animals were sent out among the Earth Surface People to test whether they could live with humans, or not. Some hounds were treated well and others were abused, which caused dogs, as a whole, to be highly skeptical of humans and in many cases altogether apathetic. "You know", said Laurie as we emerged from the rest stop, hesitating a step to toss a handful of Bugles in the direction of one of the cur's, "It often depends on how you treat others that decides your fate." "Uh-huh", I considered, "point made."

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

In a Hundred Years

In a Hundred Years

 

The other day Elsie Holiday was in the trading post with her latest wonderment. The basket was, as always, a stunning work of art. Although Elsie, Barry and I have been collaborating almost 25 years, her work continues to dazzle us. Over that period we have come to know each other well, and frequently tease about things that might otherwise be uncomfortable. Our banter would certainly make many of the politically correct crowd howl and cause the conservative congregation to blush.

Elsie Holiday with her Feather Basket


Once Elsie has her greenbacks tucked safely in her trousers, we at times joke about going to K&C Store for a twelve, twenty-four of thirty-six pack and sitting under the Cottonwood Wash bridge for a binge. The size of the suggested haul being dependent on how trying the day has been so far. I always suggest we get Budweiser or other inexpensive brand, and that she pay the tab. With a loud “Bah” and a twisted face, she consistently informs me she does not drink the cheap stuff and that it’s my turn to pay anyway. We have a good laugh, she leaves with a smile and I am left wondering why we all cannot simply enjoy each other on our own terms. Why do we worry so much about what others think is right or wrong?

When we opened Twin Rocks Trading Post, there was a local Navajo folk artist whose work Barry and I enjoyed. It also sold well, so that made things even better. In the early stages of the business relationship, his severe alcoholism made our transactions tense. One of his favorite drinking locations was under the bridge, so that is why Elsie and I tease about going down to the wash.

On hot summer days our associate and his buddies would often be found beneath the abutments, enjoying an icy cold brew. With the ambition of missionaries, Barry and I tried to convince him he was on the wrong track. He, however, would not budge. Once we realized he was what he wanted to be and had no intention of changing, we were forced to accept him on his own terms. It was at that point Barry and I concluded we were not cut out to be saviors. It was also at that point we began to find the true beauty in him and his work. From that day forward we have stuck to selling turquoise, silver and fry bread, abstaining from evangelism.

At the trading post we are often asked or opinion on professional sports teams using Native themes as their mascots, what we think about using the term “Ancient Puebleon” instead of “Anasazi” to identify the ancient ones of this region and what should be done about white folks commandeering Native themes. Barry is a little more cautious, but for me, I think we think a too much. My friend Gerald always asks, “Will it make any difference in 100 years?” In all too many cases the answer is a resounding, “No!”

Several years ago, I received a call from an obviously agitated woman who informed me Bruce Eckhardt, an Anglo artist, had no right to make “Native American beads” and that it was an outrage he was doing so. I happened to be setting in front of my computer, so, using the magic of Google, it did not take long to discover that such beads have been made for thousands of years, long before there were Native Americans. “So”, I asked, “who are we to tell Bruce what he can and cannot make?” And, “Why”, I inquired, “did she feel beads were the exclusive jurisdiction of Native American artists?” As one might guess, she did not have a solid answer.

Recently, one of our best friends was at Twin Rocks expressing agitation about pop stars wearing, “Native” headdresses. “Cultural appropriation”, he called it, and indicated Native Americans should be compensated for such usage. “What about us”, I asked, “we sell Native art all day long. Isn’t that also cultural piracy?” “No”, he argued, “because you pay for it.” “Okay”, I said, taking the easy way out. I still, however, felt uncomfortable about his thesis. So, after he left I once again called upon my best friend Google, and ascertained that feather headdresses were in fact used by Myan, African, Aztec and, you guessed it, countless other cultures around the world.

Having lived more than half a century, I have concluded the best things in life are affected by a great many external factors. At Twin Rocks Trading Post we often see art incorporating Oriental Optical Art themes, Art Deco elements, Hopi motifs, Apache designs, Anglo ingredients and a variety of other influences. In fact, Barry and I view Twin Rocks Trading Post as a confluence of such diverse ideas.

Like the people who make it, we believe art is an amalgam of individual experience. Barry and I have, therefore, developed the opinion that we, whatever our color, should be free to express ourselves openly, with no concern for what is politically correct; without having to consider whether some other group claims an exclusive right to the idea’s origin. After all, in a hundred years will it really matter?

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

A Coyote Tale

A Coyote Tale

The other morning before dawn I found myself driving south to open Twin Rocks Cafe. The air was crisp, registering 26 degrees on the car thermometer, and the sky was dazzling. Since I was slightly ahead of schedule and wanted to prolong the experience, I pulled the car to the shoulder of the road and killed the engine. Looking to the moonless vault of the sky dome, I observed the deep blue/black, almost velvety, background of heaven. Upon that three-dimensional backdrop was a star scape so bright and crystalline the sight drew me in. It was a visual utopia, and I was captivated.

My car rested on the asphalt highway along the bench just above Bluff. To the east, the undulating mesa was slightly backlit with the promise of sunrise. Wispy, striated clouds waited patiently on the horizon for the Sun God to paint them with tones of rose and tangerine. Sagebrush, Navajo tea and rabbit brush appeared skeletal and menacing upon what I knew to be rusty red hillocks of compacted blow sand. A dusting of frost accentuated by starlight crystallized the roadway, the surrounding terrain and the stunted vegetation.

Standing there for a while, I took in the beauty of my surroundings and watched as the cliff tops slowly began to take their hump-backed shape in the first blush of approaching dawn. Realizing my staff would be waiting for me to turn the key, I re-seated myself in the car, started her up and switched on the headlights. On my right, something caught my attention as I pulled onto the roadway. Squinting into the darkness, I again saw movement. I could see something low to the ground, of a dark amber color, trotting fluidly in my direction. In an instant I realized it was a large coyote, an old dog looking to box me in. I have associated with our Navajo neighbors long enough to know that, if you can help it, you do not allow a coyote to cross in front of you. If you do or it does, you are stuck in place until four vehicles pass by and clear the path. You then have to sprinkle corn pollen and pray to the four directions. If you ignore this customary wisdom, all sorts of bad and ugly things may befall you. Coyote is a chaotic creature, and it is best not to upset his, which becomes your, unstable balance.
Navajo Star-light Star-bright Basket Set - Elsie Holiday (#084)

The cussed canine was ignoring me, the noise of the car and the bright lights, acting as if I were of no consequence. I realized that if he crossed my path I would have to make an offering and wait until other travelers obliterated his tracks, making it safe to continue. If that chaotic creature crossed me, I would be sorry-out-of-luck, and way late for work. The only offerings I had were corn chips, pinion nuts, hummus, and cranberry juice. My bag of corn pollen was . . . well . . . nonexistent. The chances of four vehicles traveling from the north in the next half hour was unlikely, and I could not, would not be late for work. Our lead cook, Jenelia, gets a kick out of arriving earlier than anyone else. If she does, she will sit there in her giant white Dodge Ram pick-up truck with the red hand print on the right rear fender and tsk tsk tsk, while shaking her head. "You should just give me the key,” she says every time. "Not a chance,” I tell her, "then you will want to be the boss." "I already am,” she says, "you just haven't figured that out yet."

All that was incentive to hit the gas, honk the horn and flash the lights in order to cut Hasteen Coyote off at the pass. The coyote was still 30' off the road when he decided to let me go ahead. Instead of turning tail and running however, that old dog just sat back on his hairy haunches and watched me proceed. That surprised me, because coyotes are generally skittish when it comes to humans and their mechanical wonders, they usually skedaddle at the first sign of anyone or anything that might present a threat. Not this old boy, he rested there on the frosted sand and watched as I eased on down the road. When I realized he was settling in for the show, I slowed down and coasted on in. I popped open the bag of corn chips and fingered the right passenger side window to the down position.

Reaching deeply into the bag of chips, I withdrew a large handful. As I drove by, I looked directly into his citrine colored eyes and tossed my offering in his direction. I had the distinct impression the coyote was thinking, "Doo 'aha'shjaa'i" (How stupid). Something Jenelia might say if I told her about this encounter. Not a chance! I moved past the coyote and glanced into the rearview mirror where I saw him in the red glow of my taillights. He moved to the edge of the highway and paused. Maybe Ma,'ii had accepted my offering, forgiving my awkward approach. I should have been pleased with my successful avoidance of being jinxed by that bad boy beastie, but I just felt a little silly. When I finally made my way down Cow Canyon and rounded the corner to Twin Rocks Cafe, I saw Jenelia waiting. Our own chaotic character stood at the door, impatiently tapping her foot, awaiting my arrival. She was not, however, going to get any of my snacks, I had already offered-up enough.

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

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