(Port Ludlow, Washington. Sept. 4, 2018) – A confluence of events and problems ranging from a very ambitious travel schedule between Montana and Washington State, and the loss of Internet connectivity temporarily in Washington, has put me behind in my columns. But I’m back!
Meeting colorful and incredible characters is one of my favorite experiences as I travel the U.S.
I visited the Little Bighorn battlefield on August 19 shortly after getting into Montana. The Battle of Little Bighorn was the high point of the Indians’ attempt to fight for their way of life. It was a huge victory for them, and also the scene of a very poignant reconciliation between U.S. and Indian veterans of the fight years later.
After touring the field I went to have lunch at a small restaurant/store (kind of a local version of a Cracker Barrel). It was extraordinarily crowded, and I figured that was just because it was a Sunday in August. The hostess asked if I would mind sitting with a young man and his two children because there were so few tables available and so many people waiting. I thought it be a neat experience to eat with a random stranger and his kids, so I said yes.
Thus I made the acquaintance of Adam Sings In The Timber and his children. Adam is a stay-at-home dad who freelances as a photographer. We spent a good deal of the conversation sharing stories about different equipment we’ve used, different techniques that we’ve developed, and different experiences having to improvise on the spot in order to get a shot. He specializes in photojournalism, but has a very strong talent for portraiture as well. As a member of the Crow nation, Adam is dedicated to photographing indigenous peoples and trying to put a face to these populations that are still very much alive and thriving in the United States. (Check out his amazing photography at https://www.singsinthetimber.com/)
As Adam I and talked, I realized I had once more stumbled into an incredible opportunity. The crowd in the restaurant was not the tourist crowd of a summer Sunday as I thought. Nope; the crowd was there because the 100th Crow Fair and Rodeo was going on just down the road. This is the centennial celebration and powwow of the Crow nation. It’s one of the biggest Native American events in the country, and the biggest event on the Crow nation’s calendar.
I drove over and spent the next few hours watching these magnificent people dance and sing and celebrate their culture. Much like the Cherokee I visited in Oklahoma earlier in the year, these people have managed to overcome incredible difficulties to thrive, and it was very moving to see many of them sporting veterans hats and jackets and proudly talking of their service to the United States.
Turning south, my entry to Yellowstone National Park on August 23 landed me in the company of Christopher Wight and his mother, an intriguing woman who goes by the name of “Kansas.” They were at the trail head to Mallard Lake Trail in Yellowstone. As there were only two of them, they were debating whether they should head into the back country or not.
Backcountry hiking alone can be dangerous, but as I don’t have anybody with me I have to either be as safe as I can and risk it, or else sit in a hotel and do nothing. I geared up with compass, hiking stick, food, bug repellant, and bear spray and was ready to head out when I met Chris and Kansas. They were delighted to have me join them, so the three of us did a seven mile round trip hike over some pretty amazing (and difficult) terrain.
Chris works for the state of Wyoming and specializes in tracking and trying to eliminate native invasive species. Kansas is from Massachusetts, and has raised three boys, of whom Chris is the oldest. Chris’ wife was actually running a job fair for people doing seasonal work at Yellowstone, so he and his mom decided to go hiking while waiting for her to finish when I met them.
Chris introduced me to the marmot, a rodent I had never even heard of but we saw chirping away on a rock above us as we trekked toward the lake. We even had a close encounter with a mule deer who stared at us through the brush, evidently thinking that if she didn’t move, we wouldn’t see her. Obviously we did see her, and she finally moved off into the woods after we started at each other for several minutes.
Chris and his mom’s company made this difficult, seven-mile hike go very smoothly. I would have had a great time doing it alone, but getting to see this amazing place and share this amazing experience with hiking companions only doubled the joy.
The final character that comes to mind is Christina, whom I met in Virginia City, Montana, back August 22 (a little time travel going on here!). Virginia City is a ghost town in southern Montana. Rescued from falling apart, it is now a living museum that gives you a real feel for the Old West.
Christina is an Austrian immigrant who maintains a little artisan shop and introduces herself to you as a psychic. She is a very gentle soul, and loves the United States because in America women are allowed to be creative and free and not hold a to traditional roles. She comes from a very rural part of Austria, were farming is the livelihood and everybody has to work the land. She is an artist at heart, not a farmer, so she traveled west to the U.S. Her paintings are really, really good. One of her pieces that really struck me is the painting is of a bear standing up in front of a full moon that Christina did on an old, salvaged door. I was rather stunned by her use of light and brush strokes; the bear seemed to come alive and looked every bit capable of walking off that door and into the real world.
Christine is a traveling soul. She lives in Texas and drives up to Virginia City to run the shop for her co-op during the summer months. She drives a different route up every year just so she can see different parts of the country and meet different people. We swapped stories of the people we’ve met on our various adventures, and even talked of different hole-in-the-wall diners we’ve had the fun eating at.
This is one of the great joys of getting on the road and exploring. Even if you are unable to spend a years seeing all 50 states, there are thousands of people in your neck of the woods that you’ve never met. Get off the interstate and go find a local diner or artisan shop. Go somewhere you’ve never been and just start talking to the people you run into. You will be amazed at the stories you encounter.
Get off your usual track, even in the local area where you live, and go find new people. Some days you won’t meet anybody. Other days you’ll meet remarkable people like Adam sings in the timber, or Christina the psychic and Virginia City. Wonderful people who will truly enrich your life.
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