May 4th, 2018
It’s amazing how quickly memories can fade. I left Tyler and Gilbert three weeks ago, and already it’s hard to remember details of our interactions. It’s true that I didn’t know those guys for very long. I was only with Tyler for two weeks, and with Gilbert for less than that. However, they both made an impression on me. They made me think.
My first exposure to Tyler was when he picked me up at the Amtrak station in Havre. His first comment to me was,
“Yeah, I heard about you.”
That statement can mean so many things.
It took us a while to feel each other out. We are different in many ways. Tyler is twenty-five years younger than me. He’s from San Francisco. I’m from the Midwest. He has a full head of hair. I don’t. (Tyler made a joke about that once. He got worried that I took offense. I didn’t.)
Tyler joined the Longest Walk the day I left it to go home the first time. We missed each other by a matter of hours. During the time I was away from the walk, Tyler found his niche as the group’s photographer and media guy. He also received a carved wooden staff from the tribe in Yakima. He was very proud of the staff, and that bothered Bobby. During our move from Fort Belknap to Billings, Tyler misplaced the staff. I think he left it behind at Fort Belknap. Bobby saw this as a kind of karmic reckoning. Tyler got the staff back, but it seemed like he held it differently.
Tyler drove the F250 one day. He did the entire stretch from western Nebraska to central Missouri. I sat and talked with him for hours. He told me about being a carpenter in San Francisco. He told me about his studies in herbal-ism and acupuncture. Tyler and I discussed religion. He follows his version of Native American spirituality. In his own family, there are Christians, atheists, and Buddhists. They must have interesting holiday get-togethers.
Tyler is a very talented young man. Besides his other skills, he writes and performs his own music on the guitar. He is a good cook. He is curious about the world around him, and he is very thoughtful. He has a good heart.
Gilbert is a Native American from the Sacramento area of California. He is twenty-three years old. When Karin first met Gilbert, she remarked,
“He seems like such a gentle soul.”
I think that is an accurate description.
Gilbert and I had some long conversations, mostly while I was driving the ill-fated Nissan through Montana and Wyoming. He has done a number of things already in his life. Without a doubt, the most important thing to him has been his participation in the demonstration at Standing Rock.
Standing Rock means everything to Gilbert. It marks his coming of age. He was involved in an confrontation that was both meaningful and dangerous at times. In a sense, he is a veteran. When he spoke with other people about Standing Rock, it was like I was listening to my oldest son talk about being in Iraq. For Gilbert, the time he spent at Standing Rock is the defining moment in his life. Anything he does in the future will be measured against that experience.
Gilbert likes to smoke (both tobacco and weed). He gave up weed for the walk. He was happy to do that. He told me that he never had dreams while he used weed. He was grateful to have dreams again.
Gilbert rolled his own cigarettes. My father-in-law used to do that too. Gilbert burned one every chance he had. He quickly ran short on tobacco. Oddly enough, I had a full pack of tobacco. Bob, one of the other walkers, had given it to me during my first iteration of the journey. So, I gave the whole package to Gilbert. He was delighted. He wanted to repay me, but I told him it didn’t matter. It all evens out in the end. Gilbert was okay with that.
Gilbert walked with me one time while we at Greg’s place in southern Illinois. He was fascinated by the trees and animals in the area. He especially liked to watch the hawks in the sky. Gilbert has a deep love on nature.
I wish that I had been able to spend more time with Tyler and Gilbert. We never exchanged contact information, so it is unlikely that I will see them again. I am grateful for the time that I did have with them.