A new vocabulary

Like most businesses that have survived the global pandemic thus far, at Twin Rocks Trading Post we are constantly attempting to peer into the future, hoping to find a successful path through the fog of COVID-19.

To quote the book Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World, by Simon Winchester, “The future is a foreign land, they speak a different language there.”

That statement seems to accurately capture what we are all living through in Bluff, specifically, and the world, generally.

Attempting to part the coronavirus mist, lately I often find myself asking, shouting, screaming, “Does anybody really know what’s going on?”

Most often, the answer comes back as either complete or a resounding, “No!”

For someone who craves certainty, that is a troubling response.

Sometime after the Great Recession of 2008 began to recede, Jana and I watched the documentary film Inside Job, which was a comprehensive evaluation of what caused that financial crisis.

The catastrophe cost over $20 trillion, put millions of people out of work, and resulted in countless families losing their homes to foreclosure. It became clear that only a handful of experts spoke the language necessary to predict and manage the collapse.

Almost nobody knew how to interpret the signs well enough to make it through the calamity unscathed.

I vividly remember wishing I had known how to decipher the conflicting messages, not just for my own sake, but for the benefit of the artists and craftsmen we see at the trading post each day.

The last two economic cycles have hurt them immeasurably and made us question how they will make it through the present challenge.

Since the pandemic arrived in southeastern Utah over a year and a half ago, the haze has been thick and exceptionally difficult to navigate. Although we have been diligently studying, listening, asking, and strategizing, Priscilla, Rick, Susie, Frances, and I have yet to make any headway deciphering this new vocabulary.

We keep taking the wrong trail and ending up in the wrong place. The maps we used in the past seem to have no relevance, and Google has yet to explore the terrain. So, we are left to wander the wilderness without a guide.

This is a lot like trying to find and decode petroglyphs in southern Utah.

Last year, when the University of Utah closed and Grange came home for several months, he, Jana, and I began a quest to find rock art and ancient pueblo ruins we had heard about for years, but not visited.

In one instance, we decided to hike to the Birthing Panel located somewhere near Muley Point. Thinking we knew approximately where it was, we set out.

After scrambling down escarpments, up and over rocks and boulders, and shimmying through cracks and crevices, we realized there was not enough information in our arsenal.

Readjusting our plan, we gathered additional data and tried again – same result.

Finally, we spoke with those who had successfully located the site and realized our initial assumptions were critically flawed. It took three trips, but finally we succeeded.

The petroglyph is stunning but difficult to interpret. Some say it represents the birth of Jesus, some testify it is a story from the Book of Mormon. Others, like me, are simply confounded by its beauty and mystery.

Confusion seems to be the order of the day these days. Earlier this week, an elderly Navajo couple dropped in, sat down, and began a conversation.

As we discussed how the world had changed in a year and a half and after they determined I had been at the trading post well over 30 years, they inquired, “Why then don’t you speak Navajo?”

I sheepishly explained that Priscilla had tried to teach me, but I am a poor student. I informed them she was eventually forced to abandon the project.

It is clear I do not have an aptitude for language, which has come to concern me more and more as this crisis drags on.

Living and working in Bluff, we are accustomed to linguistic variations. In addition to our Indigenous neighbors, during “normal” times, we see people from almost every corner of the world.

Before the pandemic, we had visitors speaking a variety of exotic languages morning, noon, and night. This virus, however, has added a new wrinkle to our already challenging circumstances; nobody from outside the United States comes through the Kokopelli doors any more.

Mr. Winchester’s text has me hoping to spot somebody from The Future who can help us develop a workable game plan for getting through the next several months.

Although I arrive at the trading post every day full of hope, I will crack the code and unlock the secrets of a post-pandemic landscape, that has yet to happen.

Priscilla recently reminded me of the Navajo Code Talkers and their unbreakable code. These individuals used their native tongue to send battlefield communications that confounded the enemy and helped turn the tide of World War II.

The irony, of course, is that most of them had been forced to attend government and religious boarding schools where they were discouraged from maintaining their cultural values. The goal was to assimilate them into white society.

As it turned out, it was those traditional ways that helped win the war.

I have come to recognize that I, like our adversaries in that conflict, will probably never be able to crack the cipher of the future.

I am hoping someone will develop a Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, or Babble program to help. Until then, we at Twin Rocks will continue groping our way through the fog, hoping for a sign.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday