This is the first year that I’ve read in the Festival. I’ve been attending since I got back to Montana, which is about the time it started. It has morphed a bit -- I think in a good way by opening up a bit to lesser beings, other then the local gods. This is the first year that I’ve been at a session where a double row of young Indians, complete with well-behaved babies, arrived specifically to listen to the speaker, who was Adolf Hungry-Wolf explaining how he developed “The Blackfoot Papers.” (There have been Indians at the lecturn before, since Jim Welch and Debra Magpie Earling were professional U of M grads.) Adolf spoke eloquently and elegantly for 45 minutes with no notes, then took questions.
Vic Charlo, noted poet and chief of the Flatheads, was the chair of an ensuing panel and some of the audience carried over. Dorothy Patent, who writes scientific children’s books about animals, spoke at length about the wonder of albino buffaloes.
Her cultural advisor, Curley Bear Wagner, then orated a bit about the Blackfeet past. (Curley Bear was in the high school English classes I taught in Browning in the Sixties. He claims I did him the enormous disservice of trying to force him to read “Macbeth” and threw him out of class when he refused. He’s probably right.) His “book” was a CD of him telling the Native American version of the coming of Lewis and Clark, so I suggested that the name of the event ought to be changed to “Montana Festival of the Text.” To my mind, CD’s, DVD’s, and videotapes are as much text as books are. I’d even include music. Maybe art.
I spoke about the novel the 7th grade at Heart Butte wrote in 1990 when we decided the reader they had was patronizing and childish -- we threw the BOOK out, refusing to read it. That tells you the change between 1960 and 1990. The other difference was that we wrote our story on the early Macintoshes, the ones that looked like R2D2, only square. That’s when Penny Hughes-Briant came to visit us.
The truth is that I woke up early for the drive to Missoula -- had set the alarm for 5AM but woke up at 3:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep -- and the effect of the resultant fatigue was about like three stiff drinks: I was loud and funny. This novel, “One Windy Day,” is now on www.lulu.com where anyone can order it, either as a softbound book or as a download, which means you’ll get it on your computer right away, but have to print it yourself, if you want a print version.
My own writing, “Twelve Blackfeet Stories,” is also there on the same terms, but I’ve paid for it to have an ISBN number and be listed with Amazon, etc. after Thanksgiving. It was very hard for people to get their heads around the idea that I was writing modern short stories about Blackfeet. Over and over, convinced that I’d gathered another anthology of legends and myths, they asked, “But who gave you these stories?” When I said, “Nobody -- I just made ‘em up!” they looked shocked, SHOCKED! I handed out a flyer with the two lulu books on it, as well as the list of NA writers that I posted on this blog earlier. I’d made fifty copies of each and didn’t see leftovers, though it’s possible they just got dumped someplace.
We had envisioned a discussion about who was entitled to tell NA stories, why and under what circumstances, but there seemed to be little appetite for argument or even discussion on the panel. The audience was primed to argue and I kept trying to interrupt Curley Bear, but he’s been practicing ignoring me since 1962 and is very good at it. I have no idea what Dorothy thought and Vic was inclined to let things play out as they would. I’ll write a blog on some of my ideas, which I suggested there.
I did manage one pretty good joke. Someone had asked Adolf in a challenging way how Bob Scriver could be allowed to open the Sacred Bundles for photographs in his book, “The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains.” Adolf’s answer was that the Blackfeet way was always to let every man’s conscience be his guide and let him take the consequences of his decisions. (Which, depending upon how you think of it, might have been pretty dire for Bob Scriver, since he had a series of health crises after that.) There was also talk about how Sacred Objects should never be photographed. So when I talked, I noted that on many of the occasions photographed by Adolf, I was there but never in any photos. I quipped, “I must be a Sacred Object.” That was the best laugh of the session.
In the afternoon, I read a short redaction from my book about Bob, “Bronze Inside and Out,” which won’t come out until Spring when it will be published by the University of Calgary Press. I had practiced and timed it and, as I say, I was a little punchy and therefore pretty dramatic. The other two readers were less exciting. One was a closely reasoned argument by Liza Nicholas about the advent of dude ranches, which oxymoronically proved that rich people can play by imitating the work of poor people. (Marie Antoinette as cowgirl.) The other was a rousing and timely account of goose hunting by Buddy Levy. Both are adjunct faculty. There was no discussion.
Though I didn’t get to attend my quota of sessions this time, but I did get to touch base with a lot of people. Sue Hart was at the entrance when I came in and we had a few minutes to talk. A big Western male friend of hers and Richard Wheeler’s approached and Sue introduced us. The guy (I didn’t get his name) was peering at the name tag slung around my neck and said, “I’m just trying to see your name, not staring at your bosom!” I said, “Well, why not? Is there something wrong with it?” Later Richard attended the panel, so I got to give him a big hug.
Dale Burk and his wife were setting up their book table for Stoneydale Press, and we talked for a second about touchy Ernie Kraft and his excellent book about the Bison Range where Bob and I used to ride in the roundup. Stan Lynde, incredibly handsome and beautifully turned-out as usual, was crossing the parking lot so there was time for a howdy. (Sharon Brogan was with me and was rendered breathless!) Russell Chatham was deep in conversation with an intense man, but I interrupted for a second, confident that Russ would rather talk to a female. I wanted to tell him that we were born on the same day, me in Portland and him in California, so we were twins delivered on the same “stork flight” and he should think of me if he needed a twin. He said he liked that idea a lot! Stephen Bodio’s name was mentioned and his book was on the table for Chatham’s press.
But the funniest encounter was at the U of Nebraska Press table where the man looked at my nametag and got a strange look on his face. I’m sure the same happened when I looked at his tag: he was Gary Dunham, the editor at the Press who turned down my book about Bob Scriver, saying it was trivial and of regional interest only. We fenced for a few minutes and then softened. He says his real love is sci-fi! He also said that thanks to digital technology now NO BOOK at U of N. Press will ever be out of print again. They have shed their physical inventory for the least likely books to be sold, switching to Print On Demand, which gives them a big financial boost. I was very relieved because I’ve dreaded the day some of the Bison Books go out of print. Incidentally, the U of Neb. Press is co-selling Mary Eggermont-Molanar’s “Montana 1911” at one-third the price it is through the U of Calgary Press!
Rex and Judy Reike were tearing their hair out because they badly wanted to buy a copy, but by then Gary had gone off to receptions and auctions so there was no one to sell the books. I told Rex to just write a check and take the display copy, but he’s far more law-abiding than I am. They bought me supper. I obeyed all the rules for diabetics and he, having been diabetic for ten years, broke them. So that shows that books are more sacred than food.
Rex and Judy Rieke, Dale Burk and his wife, Stan Lynde, Adolf Hungry-Wolf, Cyn Davis/Kipp and Curley Bear Wagner have been good friends of mine for almost half a century now. Penny Hughes-Briant, whom I sat next to at Adolf’s session, has been a friend since she wrote a glowing review of my teaching for the NCTE in Heart Butte in 1990. The Wheeler/Harts have been friends for several years. And I made a terrific new friend, who has been an email and blog friend for a year or so: Sharon Brogan. excellent poet and extraordinary photographer who lives in a condo a few blocks away. (
When there was a bit of a gap in time, Sharon and I went for a little Mexican pick-me-up snack and established a lot of wave-length connections. Whisker quivers. Nose touchings. For lunch, I have to admit, I had ducked out on everyone and ate the PB sandwich I brought in my pocket, quietly and alone for the half-hour there was. Otherwise, I might not have made it through. It’s a long time since I spoke and campaigned like this. A lot of people needed to be connected. I never did talk to any of those young Indians. Or give Richard Wheeler a couple more hugs.
The four hour drive over was uneventful except for an egg and toast in Lincoln. The four hours back was the same, except that it was unusually warm so I could drive with my elbow out the window. The moon was first an apricot-colored satin shoe and then went nearly red as clouds moved in, torn, smelling of smoke and windrows down-but-not-dry. There were female mountain sheep along the Blackfoot River!
When I got home, my big fat cats were alert and explained that they were abandoned all day and that Caspar, that rotten cat, came over and threatened them again and that they MUST have treats immediately. Then we collapsed in a heap and the next thing was morning. I have no glamor tales about the major events.