Intersections and the best path
Lately, Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken has been on my mind.
In that verse, two roads diverged in the yellow wood and, as it turns out, the poet had the good sense to choose the best path.
In my case, two roads converged in a small town on the high desert.
Unlike Frost, however, I, being uncertain what track to take and remembering my Boy Scout training, sat down and waited.
My scouting experience began when I was about 10 years old, in Troup 311 in Blanding.
The scout leaders were firm in their conviction that anyone becoming lost or disoriented was to sit down and wait for the rescue party. Wandering around without direction was not advised.
It is that training that has kept me hanging around this location so long.
Geographically, my post is situated where U.S. Highway 191 meets Bluff’s Navajo Twins Drive, immediately beneath the majestic Twin Rocks formation.
After so much time, I have begun to think of this place as an intersection, maybe a confluence.
Having discussed this circumstance with Rick and Priscilla, they identified applicable combinations too numerous to mention.
To name just a few, however, we are at the intersection of tradition and innovation, of Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures, of urban travelers and rural inhabitants, of artists, traders, and collectors, and of art and culture.
To be sure, these interchanges exist in countless other settings.
However, in Bluff, this isolated outpost in the wilds of southeastern Utah, the combinations seem accentuated, larger, and more unique than might otherwise be expected.
Of course, in Bluff we all think everything is large and unique. We are like Texas, without the cattle.
Egos notwithstanding, the convergence of several seemingly distinct elements under one roof has proved the right formula for Twin Rocks Trading Post’s continued existence.
Make no mistake, we have never had a firm business plan or relied on a defined recipe. Instead, we simply keep adding as we go along, turning the crank to see what comes out the other side.
In a way, the trading post’s evolution reminds me of an experience we had several years ago with Marie Sheppard.
At that time, Marie was making abstract raised-outline rugs that were getting a lot of attention. In fact, one year Marie won first, second, and third in the innovative design category at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial. It was a clean sweep.
Marie’s rugs were the perfect illustration of how unique designs, combined with traditional techniques, can disrupt an art form, in that case, Navajo weaving.
Marie created an explosion of colors, ingenious techniques, and acute angles that mystified and captivated us.
The rugs were a perfect combination of tradition and innovation, an exciting place we were busily exploring.
The colors Marie used were often from natural plants gathered on the Navajo Nation.
Having noticed that Bruce Burnham at Sanders Trading Post was also doing well selling naturally dyed wool, I began to think we might imitate what he was doing, and make a buck or two.
To that end, I asked Marie if she was willing to dye some yarn. She agreed, so I purchased a large quantity of white wool from a mill near Philadelphia and gave it to her.
About two months later, she returned with that same cardboard box filled with skeins of wool in a veritable cacophony of colors.
As I sorted through Marie’s box, asking what she had used to get a specific color, she repeatedly said, “I DON’T KNOW!”
Seeing my consternation, Marie eventually explained she had simply put water in a large vat outside her house and built a fire under it.
When the water boiled, she threw in a number of local plants and added an armload of wool.
When the yarn seemed suitably colored, she removed it. If a batch was not what she wanted, she put the yarn back in for another session and added something else; maybe strawberries from the freezer, blueberries from the supermarket, sumac from the backyard, rabbit brush from the Hopi mesas, and even old AA batteries.
This process continued several days as she kept the fire burning and threw more things into the pot to see what came out.
As a result, she could not account for any particular color. It was a mash-up of historic proportions.
This process of simply adding ingredients as you go has been one of our guiding principles.
I have learned that no matter what I plan at Twin Rocks Trading Post, it does not turn out as expected.
While many might find that frustrating, I have adjusted. Like Marie, I just mix in a little more color and hope everything turns out.
So, to paraphrase Frost, somewhere ages and ages past, two roads converged in a high desert and I chose to sit tight. And that has made all the difference to this Boy Scout.