The real, old-time thing
After many years searching for true meaning in my life, I finally realized one element I universally need is texture. I am like a child who explores things by touching, smelling, and occasionally putting them in his mouth.
At Twin Rocks Trading Post, I constantly run my hands over the Navajo rugs. I close my eyes and let my fingers wander across the weavings, feeling patterns change, exploring irregularities, and imagining the artist at work.
And I love holding Navajo baskets, feeling the roundness of their coils and firmness of their weave.
At times, it almost seems my fingertips can decipher the pattern independent of my eyes. I visualize basket makers harvesting sumac in the washes and along the riverbanks, I see them preparing and dying the splints, and I imagine their evolving designs spiraling out from the center.
Turquoise also fascinates me. During warm summer days, I enjoy the coolness of the cabochons. As temperatures soar, the stones remain temperate, soothing.
On difficult days, I rub the pieces on my forehead to ease my troubles and wear away the worries.
Years ago, at the home above the trading post, Grange would ask me to make him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He, like his dad, is capable of existing almost exclusively on peanut butter.
His mother prefers the smooth variety. Grange and I, however, want texture and opt for extra crunchy.
When it came to making sandwiches, I always asked him, “Hey Buddy, do you want the super-extra-crunchy, yummy, delicious peanut butter, or the smooth?”
You can guess what he chose. I was easing him into the world of texture.
Now, almost two decades later, I see the results of my teaching. Grange always looks beneath the surface of people and possessions to find their genuine character.
Because of my fundamental need for texture, the artists, visitors, and guests are what I most enjoy about the trading post.
The art is beautiful, sometimes sublime, but what makes this place truly unique is the underlying culture, its structure.
When you look at a weaving and realize there are generations of patient training woven into every piece, when you feel an artist’s connection to the land in its construction, and when you see his or her tradition in its pattern, you know the rug is something real, something meaningful.
Many years ago as I was mulling over a newly acquired weaving, wondering whether I needed to give it a bite to get the best context, John, an Anglo who worked on the Navajo Nation, came striding through the Kokopelli doors with his Navajo friend in tow.
As John and I talked about circumstances on the reservation, the receding culture, the loss of language, the diminishing crafts, John turned toward his friend and, with a jerk of his thumb, said, “Well, I am more Navajo than he is.”
What John meant was that he believed he had a better grasp of Navajo culture and tradition than his friend, a full-blooded Navajo. John felt strongly about his statement and also firmly believed it was true, even though he was not a “real” Navajo.
John had spent enough time living among his friend’s people, learning their language, and trying to understand their nuances, that he clearly understood more about academic Navajo history and culture than his friend.
A few days later, Bruce Burnham from Sanders, AZ called and said he wanted to bring some friends into the trading post.
It was a Sunday evening and the store had closed, but I could not pass up the opportunity to see Bruce and his wife Virginia, so I agreed to meet them.
The visitors and I talked about the Germantown revivals Bruce’s weavers were creating, about Billy Malone – the trader who had been at Ganado – and about recent events at Hubbell Trading Post.
Afterwards, Bruce shrugged his shoulders, sighed a big, deep sigh and said, “You know, there just aren’t many real, old-time traders like us left.”
I was flattered to be included in the pantheon of “old-time traders” and smiled broadly. My mind, however, jumped back to John’s comment about his Navajo friend.
In my opinion, the “real” both Bruce and John were referring to represents a person’s texture, the fiber of the individual, and the strings that combine as a result of living in a certain environment.
I could tell John’s friend had been raised on the reservation; he had real Southwest sand between toes and he had watched Grandma herd sheep and spin wool.
He was really real and Navajo was in his soul, in his mind, in his heart, and pulsing through his veins.
Why Bruce had included me within his collection of real, old-time traders, however, continued to confound me. I was not from a well-known trading family and was not really very old at the time. Indeed, I was, for the most part, a Johnny-come-lately.
After rolling the thought around several days, I finally decided the answer was once again...texture.
After a few years of trading post experience, I had somehow been incorporated into a trader tapestry.
My fiber, the very essence of my being, had become comprised of the same material that makes up old-timers like Bruce: a love of the people, a love of their art, and a love of this scorched, red land in which we all live.