Friday, July 16, 2010


Yesterday I went back to Browning to pick up loose ends. I stopped at the Blackfeet Community College to use their always clean and supplied bathroom, and also to admire the place because it has come SO FAR from a crazy idea improvised out of old buildings in a sea of mud -- now a massive “green” classroom building going in (guided by Ron Bloomquist who taught English with me at BHS), a Very Serious Minded student body, and a very respectable campus with parking, an experimental high school on site, a geodesic dome for a green house -- lots of other growth and achievements in spite of all kinds of problems.

Wayne Bruno ran into me. I mentioned I wouldn’t mind teaching there again but at seventy can’t hack the drive. (Neither can the pickiup.) He steered me straight into the Dean of Academics, Julene Kennerly, a buddy from way back, who saved my neck a few times when we were teaching at Heart Butte. I joked about being poor and since I show no signs of solving the problem by marrying a rich rancher, Julene suggested distance teaching. Now I have the catalog and am thinking how to fit into it. You’ll be hearing more about this as I learn more myself. We’re meeting again next week.

Julene is a Pepion, which means she is part of a complex of families with one tendril back to French immigrants in New York and another (the Cobells) tracing to an Italian sailor named Cobelli who came up the Mississippi/Missouri superhighway to Blackfeet country. (Eloise Cobell is a Pepion married to a Cobell.) Julene’s speciality is endurance. Hardship (divorce, cancer, diabetes, many losses) only compresses her, never knocks her off course.

I left for East Glacier where I had a sandwich on the porch of the Youth Hostel where I lived one summer while still in the ministry. The young woman who waited on me was Lithuanian. In summer East Glacier is an international town -- the American Alps. Lovely turkey/swiss/sourdough sandwich. A sedate and composed dog came and sat at my knee. I gave her some bites of sandwich and she said thank you. I went by “my” old house which presently has cow parsley up to its eaves. (It actually belongs to Ramona Wellman who lives across the alley behind me in Valier.)

Next stop was the Bear Paw Gallery on the road between Browning and St. Mary’s, what’s locally called the Duck Lake Road because it’s used by Canadians going ice fishing on Duck Lake and locals headed to the border via the shortcut it offers. If you’re towing something, you want to take this far more gradual and straight road. Highway 89 is all twists, turns, sudden livestock, and maybe a bear. This new little gallery is run by Lila Evans. Lila and Boyd Evans took care of Bob Scriver at the end of his life and organized his funeral, since his family was at a loss. They are former students of mine. Boyd’s dad helped start the Bighorn Foundry and Lila’s grandmother was a classmate of Bob’s in high school. Our lives are all woven together.

Lila is on Facebook if you want to look at her face. I think she’ll start a page for “Bearpaw Gallery.” Her collection of local (very sophisticated) art for sale, country artifacts, and genuine antiques (a LOT of kerosene lamps and vintage bird cages) is excellent, intriguing and unexpected, well worth stopping. She has some bronzes: the one by Gary Schildt of the old woman walking in the wind with a staff and also a charming small-scale pack train by Bob. The house itself, where she and Boyd started housekeeping and brought home their babies, is a treasure. It’s squared-off logs, classic and enduring. I would be delighted to live there forever in spite of no trees. It’s at the turnoff to the boarding school. Every turn, every panorama, every old building on the rez is a story to me. I was going to show Lila how to find and (my blog about Bob Scriver) and point out the page on Facebook that I started for posting my archive of photos of Bob Scriver. Instead she ended up having to coach ME about operating her Dell laptop. Sheesh. I’d have just left the thing in a gopher hole somewhere.

Next stop was Phoebe Magee’s where Diane, her daughter, is currently helping. Phoebe, a Pepion, is ninety years old and was married to Merle Magee who was Bob’s hunting pard back in the days when the Blackfeet scoffed at the sale of Glacier Park since that’s where the elk were. Merle died just a month after Bob. 1999. Merle was on the steady, thoughtful school board that originally hired me. Other members were Robert Bremner, Freddy Cobell, Jerry Rosenberger. The superintendent was Phil Ward. These are the people who laid the foundation for the present prosperity on the reservation. It was before the wave of re-acculturation sent everyone scurrying to acquire ceremonial objects. They didn’t worry about being assimilated: they just did it. As it turned out, they stayed Indian at the same time. They proceeded by inclusion, not rejection.

Phoebe’s house (I had to ask Julene) is where the old original Tribal Offices were along Willow Creek. The offices burned in 1961 or so. I was there. It was snowing and the effect of the huge goosedown feathers floating through smoke and flying-up sparks was phantasmagorical. I was watching with Bert and Sophie Fitzgerald (such characters) and we went to make sandwiches and coffee for the volunteer firefighters, but when we came back, the fire was out and everyone was gone! They took the sandwiches to someone else. There are always hungry people.

When Julene joked that I should marry a rich rancher, I suggested Jack Wood, having just watched “Junior Bonner,” a rodeo movie, and was stunned to hear he had just died. Jack was in the top money at Madison Square Garden on a bucking horse when his arm came down on the pommel of his saddle and snapped in two. It never healed right. When the Big Flood came, the irrigation ditch above his house on Two Med caved out and added mud to water damage. But that was nothing compared to the later cancer death of his wife, Barbara. He never recovered from that. I’ll go back to East Glacier to his funeral. Then he will rejoin that beloved wife in a hilltop cemetery I’ve often visited.

Bob was a longtime friend of the Wood family and we went out to their ranch for something, maybe help with the big Linderman statue. They were down along the water where there was a big patch of chokecherries and Barbara was standing in an old wagon so as to reach the high berries. Jack would pull it along. Nothing better than chokecherry syrup on your sourdough pancakes in midwinter. Unless it’s the mental picture I carry always of the two of them, reaching high up under the boughs of the chokecherries on a brilliant summer day.


bare said...

Wow! Nice post Mary!

Rebecca Clayton said...

I hope to hear more about your teaching possibilities. I do the "distance education" thing here in rural West Virginia in reverse of what you're considering--I carry college classes to nursing students in their hometowns or workplaces. Neither the students nor I go to the actual college campus. The students get their classes close to home, but, unlucky me, I do a lot of long drives late at night on our mountain roads.

The students are a delight. They're LPN's working full time and also studying for RN's and Bachelor of Nursing degrees. Very motivated!