Friday, July 01, 2016


We’re in early summer now, that lull between Valier’s Homesteader Days and the Fourth of July  — only a few weeks to North American Indian Days in Browning.   As the prairie warms, the great white seemingly-marble cumulus clouds tower into the sky and this year’s newborn horses run as fast as they can for the sheer joy of it.  Sometimes just before dawn the drum thunder and fancy-dancing lightning put on a dramatic sky battle, and other times it happens late in the day — a surprising chill and then a hullabaloo downpour. 

 "A lightning bolt is 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than the sun, and contains up to a billion volts of electricity. A single lightning bolt can stretch for miles as it tears apart the sky with its power.
"The unbridled energy of lightning shatters the nitrogen molecules in the air. Some of the free nitrogen atoms combine with oxygen to form compounds called nitrates that mix with the rain.
"These nitrates are a powerful natural fertilizer. Raindrops carry the nitrates to the ground in a soluble form that plants can absorb. This process is called atmospheric nitrogen fixation, where lightning creates fertilizer in the sky. " ( 

Finnegan, the skinny striped cat, is gone, as mysteriously as he came.  The uninvited dark calico and her three kittens still hang around, the little ones barely steady enough on their feet to practice pouncing.  The white mommacat is bulging, bulging.  Bunny the half-wit doesn’t know what to do without Finnegan.

Much of Blackfeet ritual was attached to the spring storms that constantly and without warning strike lightning into the prairie.  When the first thunder sounds, then it’s time to open the Medicine Pipe Bundle to get aligned with the land and beg for mercy.  Originally “Indian Days” was a few weeks earlier to coincide with the early thunderstorms, but when Fred Campbell was the agent, he managed to persuade the People to wait until the hay was cut because it was so crucial to the welfare of the horses over the winter.  Nevertheless, there have been Indian Days when it snowed.

The grass in my backyard is unusually high and green, but now is turning to yellow lacework with heads that nod in the slightest breeze.  The string mower is overwhelmed so I’ll tackle it with a weed whip, which is a sort of slender version of a scythe.  The Valier response to spring is feverish lawn-mowing, not as a sign to the weather gods but as a signal of prosperity and respectability: suburbia on the prairie.

After all the consternation about grizzlies on the East Slope, the first death has struck on the West Side, near a campground and the Glacier Park headquarters -- not children on a ranch, but a mature Forest Service law officer trail-biking with someone else, we don't yet know whom, but that person was unharmed.  The first really big forest fire is called "Observation" and is at 1,000 acres in the Bitterroot Valley with wind and storm cells in the forecast.

A certain kind of person is hiking now, cautiously, and some of them will be going through the Two Medicine/Badger area that has been so hard-fought to protect.  I looked to Google for confirmation of the story I knew about the name of “Two Medicine,” but found that many accounts were garbled and wrong.  One had the solitary vigils of a dream-chaser mixed up with the Sun Lodge and another had the Sweetgrass Hills in the middle of the Rockies. The earlier and more connected with Glacier Park the entries were, the more likely they were to be wrong.

This Canadian version is probably as authentic as one can get, so much so that it’s actually in Blackfoot, an oral story.  It’s a good chance to hear the sounds of the language.  You are more likely to spell “alloisseuss” as “Aloysius,” a familiar name around here on the rez.

The version of the story that sticks with me is one of the few about the old Holy Women on whom the ceremony depends.  In this one longago year there were two women who claimed to be the proper celebrant and the families and clans took sides, argued, and failed to prepare properly, much less get into the proper frame of mind.  Finally, they put up two sun lodges, the big frames with a Y-shaped center pole and then a circle of poles to support pole rafters that are the foundation for leafy shade branches.

It was bad karma, to borrow a word from another religious system, and the lodges were struck by lightning, killing the women.  Something has gone wrong with this traditional moral curb on human behavior or a lot more buildings around here would be hit with thunderbolts.

Life is complex, overlapping, full of surprises.  The “Umbra” perfume sample I got in the mail was intense, almost a drug, even though the atomizer had sprung a leak and there was very little of it.  The replacement I was sent is “Field Notes from Paris” which turns out to be code for a woman in San Francisco who imagines lingering in a cafe in Paris.  The fragrance house is Ineke.  All very girly.  If you think green hair is “cute,” you’ll probably enjoy this video review of Ineke scents.  The bottom line is that you can buy a sample set for $25.

sweet clover

You cannot buy a sample set of June days on the high prairie, which is too bad since there is a variety of kinds.  The Sweet Clover is in bloom — so that the coumadin scent margins all the roads.  The barrow pits that have been sprayed for weeds are now being cut for hay which has a smell of its own minus the composite-bloom weeds that used to be mixed in.  The sharper reek of irrigated alfalfa is just beginning.

Country Haven, Valier’s greenhouse which is a luxury many small towns don’t have, is clearing out the last of the petunias at two-for-one prices.  I’m mixing shades of purple with the giant red geraniums I carry over the winter.  But I miss the nicotiana I would have to drive to Great Falls to get.  In my early years here that’s what I always put on my doorstep for the sake of their scent.

Last summer began cool and wet like this one.  I never did need my air-conditioner.  Anyway, I have enough country in me to know how to open up the rooms at night to let in cool air and then pull shades and curtains through the day to keep it cool.  Even so, if the temp goes up and stays up, the house walls get heated and then the only thing to do is change the order of the day since the narcosis of sleep in front of a fan is the only option.  At night it’s cool enough to keyboard, feeling like the only person awake in the town, hearing small animals move around outside.

In fact, at first light the prairie air comes cold and moving through the bedroom window next to the bed.  The unsleeping birds -- are they those collared Eurasian pigeons? -- pulse their toneless call until one gives up being irritated and just considers them background.  Somehow the light is dusty or smoky this summer, but there is no fire I've heard of.  Maybe this is a planetary condition.  [Late news: 2 fires, one in the Bitterroot Valley and one near St. Ignatius.]

Now I have to stop writing because it's July 1.

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