(Main blog, daily posts)

Heart Butte School, Montana (Non-fiction, the school and its community.)

Robert Macfie Scriver and Art: An archive. Books by Mary Scriver

ON AMAZON: "Bronze Inside and Out: a biographical memoir of Bob Scriver" and "Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke: sermons for the prairie."

Sunday, October 04, 2015

BEAR KNIFE (fiction)

The loud crash of his revolver going off woke him up from the alcoholic stupor he needed in order to sleep.  He really had fired the gun -- he could smell it and it was hot in his hand.  Usually he hid it at suppertime because otherwise he would do exactly what he had just done.  It was PTSD, he understood that, but he hadn’t been able to control it.  The VA was no help.  It was already hard to find a place to live and shooting in the night would get him evicted from any apartment building.  But he must have been too drunk too early to remember to hide it.

Now he heard a thin wail from behind the sofa.  “Don’t kill me, mister!  Please don’t kill me.  I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”  His head swirled, pinwheeling through the realities and fantasies, memories and imaginings, symbols and . . .   What the hell was a child doing in this little old house he had rented?  

“Come outta there,” he shouted, juiced with adrenaline.  A bare-chested and ribby little boy came out, very slowly with his hands up.  Information came to the man like words forming underwater.  This boy was his son, a boy he had never known, who had been born while he was fighting in Afghanistan.  He’d hardly even known the boy’s mother who had died after her own long hard-fought war with health.  Paperwork sent him the boy.  He was the only relative of record.  For a long time the kid had disappeared and he didn’t turn up in a good way.  Actually, in Juvie.  Even after feeding him and taking him home to sleep on the sofa, the man could hardly recognize his son,

What registered with him now was huge eyes with hair falling over his forehead.  He saw that the kid had big ears and his nose was snotty from fear and tears.  “I didn’t do anything, honest,” he said. “Don’t shoot me.”

The man was deeply ashamed.  He threw the gun into the nightstand drawer and slammed it shut.  Sitting on the edge of his bed, also bare-chested but hairy, he rubbed his head and closed his eyes, trying to find some kind of reference point.  Then there were small hands on his knees.  

“I would never hurt you, kid.  You are my son.”

“I know.”

“I can’t even remember your name.  I forgot you were here.  I’m so very sorry.”

“Don’t send me away.  I’ll do whatever you want.”  He ran his small hands over his father’s furry chest.

“What are you doing?”

“I could comfort you, make you forget your troubles.”

The man stared.  The boy hands wandered down over his stomach until they came to the boxer elastic.  “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Men always like this.  I’ve made a lot of money.”

He grabbed the boy’s hands.  “Not me.  I’m your father.  It isn’t right.”  It wasn’t that he hadn’t . . . but the others were adults.

The boy was crying again.  He didn’t make a face, just wept.  There were scars on his little chest.  The man was overcome with pity, very close to being love.  He enfolded the boy and rocked him.

That night changed everything, but slowly.

As the boy grew more accustomed to the man and felt a little more secure, he began to ask questions.  “Is it because you have PTSD?” he asked.  And then he wanted to know about the shot fired.  “Was there someone in the doorway, very big, coming to get you, to make you scream with pain?  That’s the dream that makes me want a gun.”

The man stared.  He said,  “It’s not quite a dream, is it?  A sort of hallucination.”

“Yeah, like drugs,” the boy said matter-of-factly.  He was not like Americans think boys are like.  More like an Afghani boy.  “Everybody knows about drugs.  They make things seen lots better.  Less pain when they go in you.  If you get the right drug.  Afterwards, weed is always good.”

The man had a quick thought that if this kid found his weed stash, he would smoke it.  What really happened was that the kid hid the gun in a place so clever that that the man never could find it again.   The boy promised that he hadn’t ditched it -- after all, the boy might need it himself.  He didn't even look for the weed.  Clearly he was safer if his father used it.

Over the months the pair grew calmer.  The boy tried school, though he sat in the back not saying much.  It wasn't as bad as he remembered.  The man found a group for sharing.

Then one evening, the boy asked, “Are we Indians?”  He’d been watching the trailers for “Jimmy P” and “Winter in the Blood.”  He was sitting cross-legged on the floor with the man’s iPad.  With his head bent forward, the nape of his neck showed, tender and vulnerable.  He had black, straight hair and his skin was fawn-colored.

“You are.  I’m not.”

“Then what are you?”


The boy glanced back to see what that meant.  He decided he couldn’t get it.  “Let’s do something Indian,” the boy said. “There’s a pow-wow here on Saturday.”  It was Laura Grizzlypaws, the only woman bear dancer.  Paws -- not claws.  She stood for peace, harmony, belonging.  When she danced, she WAS a bear.  He found the vids and watched them over and over.

They did go.  The man wasn't Indian but he could explain the powwow.  The boy was enchanted.  “I thought bears were scary,” he declared and then his eyes brimmed over.  His father understood and his own eyes welled up.  “Thinking of your mother,” he said and the boy nodded.

That night the man didn’t get drunk, so he lay awake in that twilight state before sleep.  He was sweating and hearing the woman screaming.  The Afghani one who had been raped and decapitated in a small building while he and his comrades were held down behind a wall by gunfire from inside.  They were very close to the house.  An eviscerated man lay by the front door.  It took them a while to realize that the small piles of rags in the yard had been children.  

They could hear her screaming but if they raked the building with gunfire they might kill her.  What they imagined was happening was worse than what they might have seen -- but they could guess because they had seen remains before.  Finally, one of them couldn’t stand it any longer and risked throwing a grenade through the open front door into the house.  After the explosion everyone inside was quiet, both the criminals and the woman.  The silence was paradoxically loud.  "She would have wanted it," declared the man with the good throwing arm.  He was that man.

Through the horror replay in his mind, the man felt the boy’s hand on his shoulder.  He sure could creep around really quiet.  “I’m scared,” admitted the boy. “Can I get in this bed with you.”  The man just swept him under the covers without saying anything.  

They lay side-by-side, not touching while their breathing synchronized.  Then the boy asked, “Do you know any bedtime stories?”

After a bit of thought, his father said,  “I’ll tell you one I learned from your mother.”  He could feel the boy grin.  “It’s about a Bear Knife Bundle and it’s a warrior’s tale.  A Bear Knife is a really big knife and the handle is decorated with a cluster of brass hawk’s bells among other powerful things.  It is kept in a Bundle which is transferred from one man to another.  That means it is Holy and handled with respect.  It carries power which is why it must be properly transferred, or people will die.” 

“In fact, besides the receiver learning certain songs, gestures and taboos, the way it is transferred is by the previous Keeper throwing it at the head of the receiver.  If he can catch it safely by the handle, he is the new Keeper of the Power.  If he cannot catch it, he will be killed.”  The boy sighed with satisfaction.  He admired power. 

The next day when the man came home after his day of looking for work, he found the biggest kitchen knife on the table, decorated with a cluster of Christmas jingle bells and ribbons.  “Hey, dad,” said the boy.  “We’re both kinda dangerous, but I think we’re Keepers.  Like, for keeps.”

“Yeah.  Survivors.”  Their grins were nearly identical.

Saturday, October 03, 2015


I was looking for the stories about the old woman killed in her kitchen by a bear she had been feeding.  Instead I found this vid.  

Laura Grizzlypaws in costume

Laura Grizzlypaws carrying her costume

The dancer is Laura Grizzlypaws.  (Laura Blackwolf) Her costume is created from a bear rug with what looks to be mink hides pendant from her arms.  It IS a grizz, judging from the coat, and seems small, like a female, so it fits her.  The head is glued to a standard taxidermy form made of papier maché, a shell, no skull, adapted.  Her dancing is an uncanny imitation of a real bear, but also includes traditional dance steps.

A friend of mine, white, was impressed by the women who literally supported her, the child who ran out with water, the feeling that she was part of the people there.  Clearly, she was at extreme physical limits because of her heavy costume.  Traditional women’s dances are like those of the splendidly arrayed women around her, very poised, almost dancing in place.

In this vid s

She speaks her language but I couldn’t catch what tribe she is.  Maybe Cree. 

“I walked where the Grizzly Bear dances. I feel his pleasure, excitement and freedom on the earth and in the wind that carries his messages from the past. I dance where the Grizzly Bear danced his steps leaving an ancestral footprint on the land like a cellular memory in my blood. His face is a shadow that calls to me as the wind calls his name “St’alhalam.” The Grizzly Bear he sings his songs as we unite under his skin. I now walk where he left his ancestral footprints. I heard his prayer, I felt his pain, I am his anger, I am his hope, I am his faith. He now dances upon the earth, now, only where I leave my ancestral footprints.”

And there’s an “iksokapi”  (Blackfeet for “really good”) Profile at

Tomorrow’s post (I hope) will be a story inspired by the dance in the videos above.   I’m going to try to mix it with reading I’m doing about PTSD.

There are two stories I value that are about female bears.  One comes from “Daughters of Copper Woman” by Anne Cameron, which has just been re-edited to include more material, some of it new and some that had been dropped earlier.  Barbara Anne Cameron is a Canadian novelist, poet, screenwriter and short story writer. Cameron legally changed her name from her birth name, Barbara Cameron, to Cam Hubert and later changed her name from Cam Hubert to Anne Cameron.

Her story is about an Indian woman who was independent and liked to live alone away from her British Columbia village.  Pretty soon she began to have the feeling that someone was watching her go through her day as she moved around with firewood, water, and things to hang up.  So she figured out where the person was watching from and surprised her stalker.  Except that it wasn’t a person -- it was a glossy little black bear who had fallen in love with her.

“I would like to come and live with you,” the bear said.  “I could help you and take care of you.  We would be married. There’s just one problem.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m a female bear.”  The Indian woman looked at the bear and considered.  She was an independent thinker.  Finally, she said, “Well, we’re already different species so I don’t see why our same genders should matter.”

I used this story in a sermon about inclusion in the Seattle University Unitarian Church.  Afterwards I overhead a young man saying to his friend,  “I don’t get it.  There was just a bear hanging around.  So?”

The other is Marian Engel’s “Bear”.  I hope you can overlook the salacious cover (the young man probably would not) and take the story in an open way.  In fact, both stories could be called “queer,” which means not conforming to Victorian expectations.  This story came out of a bet among some Canadian writers who were enjoying a relaxed visit in a bar at a conference.  The men thought it would be impossible to convincingly portray a sex act between a human and a bear.  Engel said it could be done, so they dared her. 

Engel took the bet and the resulting book has been a Canadian classic book ever since.  Her strategy was that a lonely and thoughtful woman had been hired to stay on a solitary island to sort and evaluate an eccentric deceased man’s estate, which includes many books and a chained-up miserable old bear.  She tries to get the bear healthy, which means a lot of feeding, bathing and grooming until it is a physical relationship full of hands-on, haptic knowledge, so the sex is the result of nurturing, an element of love.  It is not an imaginary sex act of penetration featuring a bear’s big penis -- a bear, like a gorilla, has a small penis.

What not to do.

In the real world bears are not so benign.  Recently near Kalispell in a rural area where there are lots of old orchards, exhausted gardens, and people who feed birds, there are people who like to feed bears.  One of them was Barbara Paschke, 85, who died in hospital.   It was unclear how the bear got into her kitchen but it smashed its way out the window.  It was still warm weather, so probably it just walked in an open door. 

Food-habituated bears are being hunted and traps are set.  So far two bears have been killed and both had stomach contents indicating that people were continuing to feed them, in spite of the incident, but neither bear could be connected to the victim.  There were no witnesses to the attack.

This bear is tranquilized.

Food-habituation is a different issue than hyperphagia which is a natural change in bears that prepares them for hibernation by making them crazy-hungry.  The attacking bear didn’t eat the woman but badly mauled her, which suggests that she fought it, the way one might chase out an invading dog.   But it was hyperphagic.

It is illegal in Montana to feed bears, partly because they are hunted for their parts, and it is “baiting.”  People who feed bears for the fun of watching them or because they like the idea of being providers or because it makes them feel in control or because they feel they “own” the bears or are particularly compassionate, are probably acting out the way they relate to people.  Sometimes the consequences with people are just as tragic.

Laura wrapped in her costume.

This is not the world of Laura Grizzlypaws, who knows that respect is also an element of love.  Her way is one of understanding elemental seasonal drives like hyperphagia, which is as strong as meth, and letting animals remain wild.  She doesn’t treat bears as children to be fed.  Rather she dances the bear, becomes the bear.

Friday, October 02, 2015


I sometimes frankly say that I’m writing a book about Valier, but I think what that conjures up in minds, esp. the ones here, is quite different than the outline I’ve been developing and will continue to research until it amounts to a book.  Many people here think in terms of stings and tattles, because so many pop books are based on sensationalism in order to sell. 

My plan and goal is to trace out the relationship between the land and the people over millennia from the glaciation intervals over thousands of years and the eruption of the Rockies.  Then after that last withdrawal appear the rain shadow that created grasslands and Chinook winds and the formation of the Old North Trail.   I will NOT be discussing dinosaurs!  Just their bones and the last of the mega-mammals and the people who preyed on them.

Next chapter is the bison-hunters and the beginning of white contact.

Rockies and wheat = irrigation

The real meat of the book will be the effect of industrialization, the beginning of the Anthropocene.  Dams, railroads, sea shipping, the formation of nations, the addressing of population explosions through raising grain to prevent famine, the impact of world wars, the infiltration of the land with manmade molecules (pesticides, herbicides, meds), alfalfa, species extinction, coal mines, oil wells, wind turbines, boom towns, and so on.  Getting order and continuity out of this will take research and time.  I don't know how many chapters that will require.

Valier cherishes its "Belgian" roots, but Belgium is a composite country divided by language and history.  This calls for more research -- WHICH part of Belgium did Valier come from and what impact did the bloody European Thirty Years War have on the people.

The last chapter will be an attempt to project what a sustainable future might be.  What comes AFTER reservations?  What would governance in general look like -- would it go to ecosystems instead of today’s states and counties?  What would the landscape look like?  Should we restore the original animals?

I will NOT be looking for a publisher.  Today’s publisher-based book producing system is a phenomenon of profiteering.  There are consortiums and organizations but even they by now have developed elites that control the others or have let the mass stifle the inspired individual.  Books in libraries are controlled by practical demands and increasingly becoming access points through computers rather than storing information in books.  This is not meant to be criticism.

The bottom line is change and how to survive in the midst of tumultuous new forces.  Part of that is being able to predict at least a few years ahead.  The great institutional stabilizers of schools (including universities), churches, economic systems, and transportation/communication/energy regulation are already rocking and shattering.  We in this small town are already seeing the imbalances from in-coming people who imagine the town other than it is, maybe hoping for a return to an earlier century, or possibly nefarious wayfarers not responsive to local standards.  Health and welfare issues are no longer supported by extended families.

Valier is particularly interesting because some of these newcomers, including the very early written-down historical population, arrived as a group.  An entire Belgian village was imported to tend the new irrigation-based grain growing made possible by the building of Swift Dam.  This is the real spine of the story I’m after, the industrial web of canals/fields/grain elevators/railroads/ocean-going ships/international politics and today’s international ag corporations that control whole countries.


In addition, Hutterites arrived as groups related to a network across countries and time, trying to preserve a different culture supported by religion.  Compare to the Blackfeet, forced to coalesce into a captive nation, but now demanding sovereignty and participation.  They present themselves as issues of culture, even religion, which gives them some protection, but -- in fact -- they are economic phenomena.

Economics is always ecological, meaning many small forces of survival that amount to general prosperity in the luckiest of times.  Human life is short.  The Anthropocene is only a little more than a century old and already we approach the tipping point of climate change, more extreme, warmer, moving insect vectors and vegetal patterns that carry coded diseases already epidemic.  The right to carry guns will do nothing to defend against malaria.

Militarized police

But guns and near-military force and surveillance may become part of the social dynamics as things become more unstable.  I hope to be gone by then, but some predict big trouble will start within five years and others laughingly point out that we’ve got plenty of instability right now, with the US Congress teetering at the edge of chaos after years of gridlock.  

But I don’t think of equality as a good thing.  Too often it is an assumption of uniformity and that every person should have the same sort of desires and sources when it is plain that successful ecologies are those based on interacting variety.  Even the most extreme outliers, surviving on crime or oppression, suffering from stigma, can have their use in terms of the whole.  They may be explorers, they may be secretly providing something the culture denies, they may be necessary counter-actions in the face of crushing forces from inside or outside.  They might be artists.

Ivan Doig

One of the strong forces in Valier is the constant demand for uniformity, “respectability,” even as admiration is awarded to ostentatious wealth.  Another troublesome tendency is to do what every other town does rather than seeking out the uniqueness of this set of circumstances. I talk about high school rules and one-celled cultures, that don’t want to hear about anything except their own way of doing things.  Maybe these demands for what seems like safety are best addressed in fiction.  But the novels of Ivan Doig, which DO address some of these things, is resented in Valier even though it’s about them.

Our awareness is now forced way out to the near unimaginability of the sedimentary shell of space debris around the planet, molecular saturation of the world’s seas with plastic particles, growing piles of nuclear waste, and the culture of sensational mass communication replacing what was once fitted to an extended family, a local institution, and an embracing ecology.  Some of us will find niches for survival or be able to adapt, many will not survive, and a few may be the beginning of a new species.  I often say that we can’t even find the factors that would allow sorting, and that’s a good thing because we would try to skew it to suit our prejudices, our OWN elements for survival.

Anyway, there is no way to stop the present coming out of the past and zooming on into the future, sort of whacking us in passing as a side effect.  How do we withstand that?  With beauty and pleasure!  Participation, appreciation.  It’s the old Zen story of the monk falling over a cliff and on the way down plucking a raspberry growing in a niche so he knows one last sweet taste.  Much better than balking until one can't hold on any longer.

So much to find out!  So much to do!  Such stories to tell!  Do you  know about Robaire, the town too wicked to survive in spite of the priests living there?  Do you know about the Original Kipp who may have been even more powerful than the Conrad brothers?  Do you know about the decade during which Valier was technically not a town because someone didn’t turn in a document on time?  Do you know why our houses constantly writhe in and out of their original rectangles?  I'll tell you that one.
It's because of the volcanoes in the Cascades.  Sensational after all.   

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Clifford Kicking Woman

Newspaper obituary:

Clifford George Kicking Woman, whose Indian name was “Thunder” (Ksis-si-kohm), was born Dec. 16, 1946, to George Kicking Woman and Mollie Blood. He went home on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, at Benefis Medical Center in Great Falls.

He was raised in Starr School and Browning – Fort Kick, Montana. Clifford earned his Bachelor of Arts degree – social services from San Francisco State University in San Francisco, Calif., in 1983. He lived in San Francisco, Phoenix and Havre for several years where he made many friends.

His employment included Blackfeet Manpower Program, Blackfeet Family Services, assisted with tribal, local, state and national elections – the Obama Campaign. He served on the Siyeh Board of Trustees, Blackfeet Community College Board of Trustees and Glacier County Election Board. He worked in Helena at the State Capitol in education.

He enjoyed playing bingo, listening to music, watching tennis, football, basketball, baseball and reading the newspaper. He was his son Keyhn’s number one fan at his football games. He was very proud of Keyhn. He loved the San Francisco 49ers. He enjoyed joking and laughing with his huge smile. Clifford enjoyed his bingo partners, enjoyed being with his family, being at the family picnics and getting his sports pools going. He sponsored Fort Kick and Jazz baseball teams and enjoyed being in the beer garden at the baseball fields.

Clifford was preceded in death by his parents George and Mollie Kicking Woman. Sisters include Susan Ann Kicking Woman Heavy Runner, Maybelle Kicking Woman Omeasoo, Rita Many Hides Old Chief, Eula Kay Kicking Woman and Irene Last Star. Brothers include Leland Kicking Woman, William James Bear Medicine, Wilbur Lee White Calf, Lawrence No Runner and Aaron Shoots First.

Clifford is survived by his son, Keyhn Long Time Otter Kicking Woman; sisters Doris Kicking Woman, Delores Kicking Woman Iron Shirt and Diane Kicking Woman Dorris; brother Leland Kicking Woman Jr.; and nieces Lissa and Kenland Kicking Woman; adopted mother Margaret Plain Eagle from Brocket, Alberta; aunts Helen No Runner and Hazel Shoots First; and numerous nieces, nephews and relatives from Montana and Canada.

Our family would like to thank everyone who helped our family during this time of sadness and sorrow. It is very difficult without our parents George and Mollie to help us through this challenging time of losing our last brother and uncle.

If we forgot to mention a relative, friend, co-worker or someone that Clifford had a profound impact on, we apologize to you. He touched many lives and had many friends to mention.


I’m one of those people Clifford touched, one of the first of the boys who taught me what it is to be Blackfeet when I came in 1961.  He was assigned a composition about his home so he told about how proud he was that that the family’s Thunder Pipe Bundle was hanging above his bed, an honor and an obligation to protect.  For me it was the first mention of a Sacred Bundle and through the decade this grew deeper and deeper with meaning and connections.

It was at the Kicking Woman’s home that we attended our first Bundle Opening.  Clifford’s parents helped develop Bob Scriver’s ceremonial Badger Tipi.  Bob and I had become the Bundle Keepers for the Long Time Bundle with the little green parrot that was transferred to us by Richard Little Dog

Badger Tipi

Years later I moved into an empty old house where the Little Dog family had once lived and  discovered a cluster of big nails over the location of my bed, clearly where the Bundle had been.  I had no Bundle except in memory (quite vivid), but  when I wallpapered that room, I made an opening for the nails to stick through.  Molly said that since I’d participated in Bundle Opening with Bob after our white man’s legal divorce, in the old-time Indian way we were still married.  Things persist, relationships continue.  But they change.

The Sacred Pipe Bundle at the Scriver Studio

I think it was Charlie Morgan who opened another realization.  He wrote that his family had just moved into a different house away from Moccasin Flats and it had piped water in the house, so he no longer had to carry water from the neighborhood communal hydrant.  Moccasin Flats was just outside my classroom window.  That row of log cabins, originally built at the turn of the 19th century to house aged Blackfeet, was still inhabited by the families of the original Nitsitahpi.  We had thought it was part of trust land, but it turned out to be privately owned, which meant that we were no longer entitled to the tax compensation money the federal bureaucracy was supposed to pay -- a rather big hit for the budget of School District #9.

Another bitter lesson came later from a boy in Heart Butte who was in special ed classes but often hung out in my classroom room before school, tearing off strips of Scotch tape to chew, and generally goofing around.  A few years after he “graduated,” he got high, went to a party, walked up to Clifford Kicking Woman’s mild-mannered, devout and studious cousin whom he didn’t really know, and stabbed him in the gut, killing him.  No one understood it, then or now.

Gabe Grant was in one of my classes.

A mixed memory is in Heart Butte, sitting on the floor, legs straight out and back against the gymnasium wall, monitoring basketball practice.  Sitting next to me was the third generation of Kennedy’s I taught.  I was sitting in my classroom at lunch time with this boy's grandfather in Browning when the word came over the loudspeaker than John F. Kennedy (no relation) had been assassinated.  Decades later this boy in Heart Butte was complaining to me that I had ruined his life by doing something I don’t remember.  Put him on detention at a crucial moment, gave him a bad grade, something like that.  He’s done pretty well since then -- ups and downs like everyone.  I’ve always had a special fondness for this family.  In my mind they WERE somehow related to JFK, who was the instigator of new housing on the rez.

One of the boys did very well indeed, Kenny Scabby Robe, the grandpa who founded the Black Lodge Drum group, was in my eighth grade class once in a while.  Often he was on the road, sometimes in Europe, for competitions and exhibitions.   I’ll try to attach a sample because I particularly love their pow-wow songs for kids.  If it's "Mighty Mouse," I have to get up and dance!

Another boy, a writer of dark stories, I could not help.  He served ten years in a federal penitentiary for manslaughter.  I tried to help him for several reasons, guided in part by his sister.  I sent books, accepted phone calls, and passed family messages.  I read his case file and talked to his public defender.  I had taught his father, worked with his grandfather and great-grandfather, and had the idea that he could be like another of his relatives, Percy Bullchild, author of “The Sun Comes Down.”  When he got out of prison, he didn’t want to speak to me, was not grateful, and soon broke his parole.  Some said his father was a zealot, an AIM type with shamanistic overtones.  The manslaughter was over a quarrel about part of the family that was diverting the old age pension of the great-grandfather.
Later an uncle killed his step-grandmother over money and hid her body under her own house.

Marvin Weatherwax, an intelligent boy, went his quiet way, learning to speak Blackfeet and the foundational myths.  Now he is a respected professor at Blackfeet Community College, teaching Blackfeet.  Gary Foundagun had an IQ about forty points above mine and drive truck for a living for a while, then got a job with the government.

Vietnam veteran Marvin Weatherwax presents an eagle feather to Martin Connelly.

Mike Doane grew up on the ranch Bob Scriver owned for a while, now the Flatiron Blackfeet and Nature Conservancy Consortium for Environmental Study.  He is the only student of mine who died in combat in Vietnam.  I have a rubbing from his name on the memorial wall.

"Turk" Cobell married Eloise Pepion, so then she was Eloise Cobell, but I can't claim her because she went away to school.

Curly Bear Wagner became an official heritage rep of the tribe.  

Since Curly Bear's death, John Murray has become the historical preservationist.
Background is the Badger-Two Medicine country that is sacred.

All the boys are grown up now.  Corky comes to save my house from complete collapse.  Francis Wall is a successful abstract painter in Helena who graduated from American Indian Art Institute.  His brother Thomas says he went to a lot of trouble to learn how to paint like a child.

"Prairie Home" by Francis Wall. "

I wonder where Pat Fields is now.  He was Milo and Irene Fields' son and Milo was the owner-editor of the Glacier Reporter.  In 1966  Pat had his boot heel shot off by Charles Whitman at the U of Texas clock tower.  Whitman is considered the first mass shooter/domestic terrorist.

I’ve always felt that I failed these kids (girls, too), that I didn’t teach well enough, didn’t try hard enough.  Maybe remembering them is really all I can do.  So I do it.  How can I not?


Actually, South Deer Creek

Roseburg, OR, was a magical town when I was little, because that’s where my mother’s sisters had married ranchers.  In a time of tragedy I want to summon up some different images just to rest hearts.

First, my cousins and I, little guys, were packed into my aunt’s car and she was trying to parallel park in a space not quite big enough.  She was no good at parallel parking because on a ranch there’s no need.  It was hot, sweat ran down her face, we kids were being awful, and then a big old lumberjack stepped up to the driver’s window.  

“Are you trying to park this car?” he asked, stooping a little and giving we kids the eye, which made us suddenly quiet.

My aunt, a very pretty and rather small aunt, couldn’t talk for puffing, but she nodded.  “Just step out,” said Paul Bunyan,”And let me do it.”

He made it look easy as pie.  If we’d had a pie with us, we’d have given it to him.  He grinned and left.  Later my mother, the city sister, reflected that he could have kidnapped the lot of us.  My aunt declared that at that moment she would have been grateful if he had.  That was in the last of the forties, a time that taught us to cope with emergencies and a lot of men were not anxious to see a gun again since they knew the limitations of weapons very well.

The other incident was in 1989 when a semi-truck with a load of fertilizer and dynamite blew up downtown.  It was night and my grandfather was sleeping on a sofa beneath a picture window, which blew in on him.  He wasn’t hurt by that, but he died later of a heart attack.  He had thought it was WW3 and The Bomb had dropped.

Here’s the pay-off to the story.  Another of these timber people was sleeping in the hotel, wearing only his boxers.  He ran out barefoot, heedless of broken glass and debris.  When the first cop got there, he asked, “What can I do to help?”

“Stand on the corner and don’t let anyone in the street except emergency responders.”  This version of Bunyan did that for the rest of the night.  No one argued with a nearly naked and bleeding man, though he didn’t have a gun, a badge, nor so much as a flashlight.  No one died.  I don't know what happened to the driver of the accidental bomb.  

I’m not sure what the moral of these stories is, but I like to think about them in emergencies.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

DON MCKAY Explains Geopoetry

Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

The first challenges to Xian dogma as it had evolved by the 19th century were from geology.  One of those who struggled to keep science and religion in relationship was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a Jesuit priest trained as a paleontologist and geologist.  (Francis I is a trained chemist.)  He tried to develop a concept called the Omega Point which he related NOT to the punishing apocalypse, but the progressive notion that “the increasing complexity of matter has not only led to higher forms of consciousness, but accordingly to more personalization, of which human beings are the highest attained form in the known universe.”  Narcissistic, but sincere.

He’s worth reading but he didn’t escape the idea that there was one goal instead of an endlessly on-going process with multiple “Omega Points” nor the idea that human beings are just a stream of changes always leading to something beyond that was different, which may or may not feel “ideal” depending on the consequences to the sensate human.  Still, he WAS considering science and evidence even as he insisted on ideas as old as bones, cultural fossils.

The idea of God is gone.  Jesus, who can be seen as a interlocutor between God and humans, is also gone, along with the father/son nexus of ownership and sacrifice.  Now we think of the female Gaia.

What have we got now?  It’s not quite geology, because the “geo” is so expanded.  Again it is a narcissism.  We’re only one planet in an huge swirling gyre of interacting molecules, but geology is still the best replacement for theology that we have, because it is what we know, what we are part of.  We are, as one author put it, "walking rocks" who evolved out of the substance of the earth itself, following along an extremely long trajectory of evolution that began in clay, as the old legends suggest.  Or you could also legitimately say that we are stardust. We go deeper and deeper into time and cosmos but we don’t lose meaning -- only expand and vary the connections.

When I found Punctum Books with their openness to these ideas and their willingness to share ideas online, I got so excited that I downloaded two books at the same time and my downloads got mixed up with each other, which caused an interesting dialogue while I tried to figure out which pages belonged together.

“Making the Geologic Now”  was edited by Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse.  They say, “The idea for this book came from our sense that there is an increasingly widespread turn toward the geologic as source of explanation, motivation and inspiration for cultural and aesthetic responses to conditions of the present moment.”  Some of the essays are in terms of photographs, art and poetry.  

The other book is On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy” by Ben Woodard, who speaks of “Wormed Earths” and “Black Suns.”  This is written by a single author, a philosopher, whose introduction, “Abyss Lessons,”  has two epigraphs.  The first one is from Nicola Masciandaro and begins “The geophilosopher is one who philosophically experiences rather than flees the earth . . .”  This is a MAJOR difference because philosophy has always built cloud castles of thought through introspection.  While claiming that logic keeps it honest, this is often untrue, so it easily becomes theology, which I consider an abyss.

I’m reassured when he quotes Deleuze and Guattari, “Thinking takes place in the relationship of territory and the earth.”  My caveat here is that the city casts the rural into the abyss.  But research shows that the brain thinks in terms of territory -- up and down, in and out, back and forth.  Diagrams.  Maps.  I am ideally situated to explore the land less settled.  I’m here.

But I have spent time going to and fro over the earth, as a child with family and then as a UU minister who served a circuit of four congregations in Montana, a hundred miles between the four, each with its unique geologically based ecology.  I am a boundary person, who lives on the border between the Blackfeet reservation and a little irrigation town just over the river; very near the border with Canada.  I have served congregations in Canada.  Therefore, I welcome the Canadian voices from deeper and higher on the continent.

Don McKay

One of the strong and beloved voices up there is that of Don McKay (1942 and ongoing), a poet who contemplates rather than philosophizing.  His essay juxtaposes the Anthropecene with the Ediacaran eras, which are spans of time justified by geological evidence.  The Ediacaran is named for South Australia where the oldest rocks on the planet (that we know of so far) formed between 575 and 542 million years ago.  McKay says he is writing “geopoetry.”  In fact, he’s looking at “the crucial concept of a dynamic planet” that led to the understanding of plate tectonics that created this place where I live.   Probably where you are as well. (He credits Harry Hess. 1906-1969)  I never met McKay, but knew lots of people who knew him well.  I bought a little cache of books by him to read “later.”  I guess that’s “now.”

The chapter he wrote is called “ Ediacaran and Anthropocene: Poetry as a Reader of Deep Time.”  Before I go deeper in the thought there in a day or so (some reading to do), here’s a poem McKay quotes:

By Earle Birney  (written in 1951)

He invented a rainbow but lightning struck it
shattered it into the lake-lap of a mountain
so big his mind slowed when he looked at it

Yet he built a shack on the shore
learned to roast porcupine belly and
wore the quills on his hatband

At first he was out with the dawn
whether it yellowed bright as wood-columbine
or was only a fuzzed moth in a flannel of storm

But he found the mountain was clearly alive
sent messages whizzing down every hot morning
boomed proclamations at noon and spread out
a white guard of goat
before falling asleep on its feet at sundown

When he tried his eyes on the lake    ospreys
would fall like valkyries
choosing the cut-throat
he took then to waiting
till the night smoke rose from the boil of the sunset

But the moon carved unknown totems
out of the lakeshore
owls in the beardusky woods derided him
moosehorned cedars circled his swamps and tossed
their antlers up to the stars
Then he knew    though the mountain slept    the winds
were shaping its peak to an arrowhead

And now he could only 
bar himself in and wait
for the great flint to come singing into his heart 


And here’s a vid about the poem made by an English class:

There are a ton of discussions and interpretations, but I’ll just note that a flint is a rock, a geopoetic quote, you might say.  Probably in McKay's essay location, pink feldspar, which crystallizes out of magma and is related to the more familiar black obsidian.