Holy Family Mission Churchyard
Clifford Repair has made my pickiup safe again, replacing all hoses and installing new spark plugs. There are still things that need to be done, but this is the “big bite.” Throwing caution to the winds, I set out for Browning to donate a box of books to the Blackfeet Community College library.
Wind was right. When Great Falls says “breezy,” that means just outside Browning there is a big roadside sign that flashes “extreme danger for high profile vehicles.” I had already noted the high “storm shelf” of clouds rearing up behind the Rockies, which always means wind and precip. It’s Pacific air off the ocean, traveling on the jet stream, climbing over the mountains, then dropping on us.
The prairie up that way is still pied with snow patches. We’re beginning to get little tints of green down here on the “flats.” Otherwise, the prairie is not pretty — dun and done with winter. Aren’t we all.
What I hadn’t considered was the date: this is spring break. The BCC campus was locked up tight — not a soul anywhere, no vehicles except the ones that belong to the school, not even a dog wandering around. The Town Pump, on the other hand, was crammed. It was just before lunch and customers were shouldering past employees to get lunch food put out and bought. I went on down to Faughts where there were three older clerks and one three-year-old female speed demon using the empty aisles for a race track. She was winning.
What I wanted was ribbon, but they only carry beads. Well, along with a lot of interesting stuff: CD’s, books, Pendleton blankets, and so forth. They directed me on up the highway to a fabric shop which also quilts with a machine. I found what I wanted and visited for a few minutes. She belonged to the Spotted Eagle family, but I didn’t know her branch. She knew who I was, but we hadn’t met before.
It’s hard to convey my roiling sorrowing feeling when I pass the little studio house I helped to build with Bob Scriver. The big plateglass window is busted now in spite of the roll-down steel cover that used to be lowered over it. A big window like that is broken as soon as it’s installed — you just try to get as much interval as you can before it’s smashed. This time, decades. Barely longer than Bob’s active sculpture career.
At the Cuts Wood School, the kids were on the playground, running and yelling and throwing a ball. Next door is the house where T.E. Scriver brought his bride from Quebec, still in use. Across the street is the rental where Bob lived when I met him and two doors over is where his fourth wife was living then with a different husband. The Browning Mercantile is long gone, building and all. On every street are buildings re-purposed, buildings newly created, and empty lots where the ghosts of buildings persist for those of us who are old enough to remember.
On the way I passed two highway death memorials. One has been there for a long time: it’s made of welded-together horseshoes and this time, along with the usual plastic flowers, there were freshly tied ribbons — no, blood red wide streamers of some kind, writhing violently in the high wind.. The other one was wooden with flowers and some other decoration I couldn’t decipher as I drove. The state has stopped putting up the metal white crosses because they interfere with roadside maintenance.
The prairie, esp. in these transition times, is a long complex of intersecting curves, hard to decipher if one has no history here and has no sense of the ten thousand year ago melt of the great North American glaciers. It is a dissociation, a floating monotony, a nagual. Stegner used to say there was no need to fall on your knees with awe at this open, vast, scraped world because you were already small enough. Of course, you might get blown over.
But if you are around for a while, you begin to write a history on this space. Then it is wiped away, flooded, worn off, built over. I met a little band of horses, half-a dozen assorted four-leggeds. Sid Gustafson would say they know three things: travel along, graze, and stick together. In this instance, add stay out of the wind. In the process, they were crossing the road, a risk, an asphalt interrupting overlay of the prairie created by time.
I’ve been reading about the epigenome, the over-writing of the genome by events that “methylate” or mute the influence of individual genes with consequences that can persist for several generations. Body development and regulation is subtly changed in detectable ways. Much of the research has been in terms of the Jewish holocaust victims, but is now beginning to extend to indigenous populations. Persecution has sent Jews scattering over the planet and since they were — in their concentrated form — highly educated, intensely connected, still in touch with their original oldest-son-of-Abraham destiny — they never stop asking.
Often they ally with survivors of the American holocaust triggered by European invaders carrying disease and relentless greed. Thus, we are just beginning to figure out that the third generations (maybe more) of trauma caused by confinement, starvation, and stigma, create specific tiny physical changes that can either make them victims or can be made into innovations. But Jewish people are almost always urban. American indigenous people can be urban, but I don’t know about that. I know about the ones who stayed on the prairie. (That is, those who were prairie people in the first place — not the corn growers or fish catchers.) Something is beginning here.
A cross with red banners dancing in the wind is a Methodist symbol. It’s a reference to the Pentecost when witnesses were unified by the power of the Holy Spirit and saw "tongues, as of fire" in Acts 2:3. “The Cross and Flame was birthed following the formation of the United Methodist Church by the union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968.” Christians are always dancing around crossed sticks and thinking about burning at the stake. They want to mark deaths. I consider it another European intrusion into an indigenous world that was about creatures and skies. But what do tongues mean? More than words, I think.
So — Kenner’s Question: “What does it mean?” Just drive on — against the wind. Careful. It’s grizzly country now.