Rocky Boy

March 30th, 2018

The Amtrak station in Havre, Montana, is underwhelming. It is only open from 10:15 AM until 6:15 PM. The station consists of one small waiting room, with a tiny adjoining office. The waiting room contains several uncomfortable benches, some sickly plants, three vending machines (one of which is inoperable), and a variety of outdated magazines.  When I arrived at the station, there was one woman working in the office. She was accompanied by two small children. Apparently, she doesn’t need daycare. She lets her son and daughter run wild as she attends to her infrequent customers. Only two trains come into Havre each day: the Empire Builder as it rolls west to Seattle, and the Empire Builder that runs east toward Chicago.

I had been on the westbound Empire Builder for twenty-four hours. I was tired and paranoid. I had been texting Tony concerning my arrival time in this godforsaken Montana town, but he had not been responding. That bothered me. When I got off the train, there was no one there to greet me. My immediate reaction was to silently swear, “You fuckers.” I knew that the Longest Walkers were at the nearby Rocky Boy rez, and they knew that I was on my way to join them. So, where were these guys?

I made some calls. Bobby answered, and he told me that Tony was on his way. I relaxed a bit. I went outside of the station and I could feel the bite of the cold wind. I began to regret my decision to rejoin this ragtag group that was wandering from reservation to reservation.

Havre looked uninviting. The was plenty of snow and dirt, and a statue of some forgotten pioneer stood in front of the train station. It’s one of those western towns were every business establishment also doubles as a casino.

I saw a car pull up. It was Jeremiah’s Nissan, but Jeremiah wasn’t driving it. Some other guy was behind the wheel. I recognized Ferdinand (aka Fern) in the passenger seat. Fern saw me and they parked in front of the station. I threw my sleeping bag and other gear into the back of the car. The driver was Tyler, an acupuncture student/carpenter from San Francisco. He had joined the walk the day after I went home. The two of them were on their way to a local Indian craft store. Then they were going to pick up laundry.

I found out from Fern and Tyler that the group had just finished a massive walk/run with about three hundred school children. It was a rousing success, and it had gone on longer than expected. I was relieved that they hadn’t just forgotten about me. I was sorry that I missed that walk. It sounded very cool.

Rocky Boy is a Chippewa Cree reservation not far from the Canadian border. It is about a forty-five minute drive from Havre. The land is hilly with deep creek beds. In the distance are the Bear Paws mountains. The Bear Paws actually look like a bear reclining on the earth, with his head and paws facing to the west. The mountains are partially tree-covered. The rest of the rez is not.

There is a college campus on the reservation. It is called “Stone Child”. The name made me think of Jim Hendrix. I think I was conflating “Stone Free” with “Voodoo Child”. Hey, I hadn’t slept much. Rocky Boy and Stone Child are both translations of the same Indian name. We were staying in a common room in a part of the college building. Another night of sleeping bags on the floor. I was good with that.

The tribe had a party going on that evening in the school gymnasium next to the college. They were planning to honor their outstanding students and school athletes. I met the other walkers at the gym. We quickly caught up on recent events. I had been gone for nearly a month, so I had missed their journey from Puget Sound to central Montana. They had already covered a lot of miles, and they had visited eight more reservations in my absence.

The tribal members started drumming in a circle in the middle of the gym. They sang their traditional songs. People left the bleachers to join together for a round dance. I got up too. I am generally not a dancer, but this was pretty simple. We all joined hands and kind of shuffled around the drummers. There were old people dancing, and little kids, and everybody from the ages in between. Lots of smiles. The children were laughing. It was fun.

The tribe recognized the kids from the school. They also mentioned our visit to their land. Bobby made sure that surveys went out to collect data on drug abuse and domestic violence. Then we all ate fried chicken and noodle salad.

I walked outside just before sunset. The sun was shining on Bear Paws, and making the bear’s head glow gold and green. The western sky was bright orange. The sun dipped below the horizon, and I could just make out the evening star. The mountains still shown in the twilight. The trees were too dark to see, but the white patches of snow were visible. Then the stars came out.





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