Thursday, 5 June 2014

Ghost Riders in the Sky 1


   Woodrow F. Call: Why not go up to Montana? It's a cattleman's
                                paradise to hear Jake tell it.
    Gus McCrae: Sounds like a damn wilderness if you ask me. And we're
                         a shade old to start fightin' Indians all over again, don't
                         you think?
    Woodrow F. Call: I wanna do it, Gus. I wanna see that country, before
                               the bankers and  lawyers all git it.
                                                                        Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

Lead. We did get an early start next morning, but not a well-rested one. The castle lights had been on all night outside our window, the plumbing had made weird castle noises, the concrete castle floors had been cold, the toilet paper too far away from the bog and, downstairs in the open kitchen, Babylon boy had been playing happy landings with the ceramic plates and the granite countertops. Aaargh. The scream that came out of the downstairs bathroom, from the young girl I surprised on opening the door, could have been prevented, if she had locked it. Goodbye, Talus Rock.
The road took us down, past several garage sales signs. There were others. First Church Christ. Accepting new patients- same day appointments. Beyond Hope Resort.
“I haven’t been down this street.” Robyn said.
“You have now.” I said, turning onto the causeway north.
Another long Great Northern train came out of nowhere, and bore down on us, before diverting into the sky.
“He’s going over.” Said Robyn. And three locomotives and their iron horses sailed over the bridge above us. Our own path rose into the mountains, and through another warning. Game Crossing.
“You game?” Asked Robyn.
“Better to be a has-been than a never-was.” I said. And all the mountainous magnificence of Lake Pend Oreille emerged through the pines on our right. After a few miles, we came to a pullout, with a teepee, and a marker.
“The Upper Pend d’Oreilles camped here before it was paved.” I said. “Thirty to forty teepees every summer. They caught big three-foot squawfish and built willow frames, to smoke them on. They made cedar baskets, and filled them with huckleberries collected off the mountain trails. Stallions and mares and new foals were pastured down there on the bottom, because their horses could eat the rush hay when it was green.”
“Where did they come from?” Robyn asked.
“Originally from British Columbia.” I said. “Before they were pushed onto the Flathead Reservation in Montana. They made their clothing from rabbit pelts and deer hides, embellished with dyes and beads and porcupine quills, and traded buffalo hides for other things they could use. Their weapons and tools were made of flint, shaped by rocks. In the winter they lived in lodges constructed from cattails, woven into ‘tule mats’ which were attached to a branch frame, to form huts. That’s why they called themselves the Ql̓ispé, the Camas People (after the wild hyacinth bulbs which provided the carbs in their diet), which we anglicized to Kalispel.”
“What did their French name mean?” asked Robyn.
“Pend d’Oreille meant ‘hanging from ears,’ a reference to the large shell earrings they wore. There are a lot of French names where we’re going. Coeur d’Alene means ‘lonely heart,’ Chief Joseph’s Nez Percés over yonder had ‘pierced noses,’ and the Grands Tetons reminded the early French trappers of large breasts.
“The French seemed to have had an obsession with anatomy.” Robyn said.
“Mais, bien sûr.” I said. “As you’d expect.”
“Whatever happened to the Indians here?” Asked Robyn.
“There was this little matter of the Swan River Massacre in 1908.” I said.
“As you’d expect.” Said Robyn.
“As you’d expect.” I said.
Lake Pend Oreille ran into the Pend Oreille River, which ran into Spirit Lake. Past the Squeeze Inn, we encountered other subtle signs of Idaho receding, and Montana approaching. Full Gospel Fellowship. Cash for guns. Do not even think about it.
The only traffic consisted of four vehicles, three of which were stuck together. The RV dragging the half-ton truck with the three-wheel ATV in its bed, tailgated a old Ford pickup, whose driver had a straw hat and a strand in his mouth, and wasn’t in any hurry to face the morning.
“He should have washed his face before he got on the highway.” I said. Robyn blew past them, hell-bent for Mon-taw-na. The pines turned to aspens and birch, and the road grew uneven, and narrow.
“God, a corner.” She said, taking her first of many. The kind of rocks she always spoke about loading in the back for her garden began to mock her from beyond the gravel. She asked why the fences had disappeared.
“They have guns instead.” I said. There were animals, real and imaginary- wild turkeys and deer, and a fake owl.
“Go back.” I said. “I want a photo.” But there was no stopping her.
“You have those deer in your garden.” She said. “Get over it.”
“OK.” I said. “No problem. I’ll just dwell on it all day.” But I didn’t, because our Wagon Days had just crossed the inflection point. Welcome to Montana.
Thompson Falls, named after our one-eyed stargazing Canadian mapmaker, had the Hotel Black Bear, the Mangy Moose, the Mother Lode Casino, and the Rex Theatre. More shows coming soon. It was Robyn’s turn to want to stop.
“You can see rivers, or you can see shops.” I said. We kept going. Watch for bighorn sheep ahead… Welcome to Wild Horse Plains…Dew Duck Inn…Congregation of God... Welcome to Paradise. Among the signs were roadside grave markers.
A long train of three locomotives, and graffiti on every boxcar, pulled ahead of us. Dingdingdingdingdingding…
Robyn and I entered the Flathead Indian Reservation. It was dry, and treeless, and hot.
“So this is where they forced them to move.” Said Robyn.
“Long way from huckleberry pie.” I said. The road tasted of blood and salt.
It led to Dixon, and a parade. The firetruck, and a rust and gunmetal pickup, with a missing grille and punched-in bumper and buffalo skull hood ornament, blocked the route. A red and white Dodge Ram 250 rolled by, with bald tires, saddle and stirrups and sombrero on the cab roof, and shy young Indian kids and a commemorative banner, hanging off the back and sides. Douglas Morigeau 1951-2012. I Drive Your Truck.
The Mission Valley Honor Guard marched by the ICE and Miller High Life signs of the Dixon Bar, wearing white gloves and belts, red cravats and shoulder braids, and blue pants and baseball caps or berets, the bald eagles on their white shirts clutching two American flags each.
A half-ton bed of spherical white and peach and tan and green-striped orbs- cantaloupe and honeydew and cassava and watermelon, was honor-guarded by a bald old man, with a potbelly and a cane. Dixon Melons.
Old wooden pallets lay strewn in front of the derelict and abandoned square western storefront, which looked like it had been constructed out of old wooden pallets. New and Used. Two rusted gas pumps spoke of fuel challenges in Dixon. I asked the brown man next to me.
“There’s a gas pump about five miles up the road, at the Mercantile in Moiese.” He said. He pronounced it moy-EESE, where I had always imagined it as MOY-zee, but he had the reservation where I had made the mistake.
Back on Vancouver Island, we often treated natives from further north. One day a patient of a buddy of mine arrived in town, and offered to take him out to dinner. He asked is there were any good restaurants. My friend suggested a place called Montana’s. Which was about where the silence began.
“Montana’s.” He said. “That’s a cowboy place. I’m an Indian.”
But here, in a place called Montana, the Indians wore moustaches and sunglasses and boots and chaps and cowboy hats, and lived in long dry grass, and second-hand trailers. The cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man or take unfair advantage.

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