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Emerging Back Into Hell
Most days my first cup of coffee is poured while it's dark outside. It sits steaming beside me at the window in my office while I meditate, say a brief prayer—to the Great Mother, the Great Mystery, the Great Creative Spirit—then crank out some push-ups. This first cup is a gift I receive from past me: he of the night before, who prepared the pot and auto-timer for the disheveled me who will come to it, full of gratitude, just a few hours later.
By the time I'm ready for a second cup I've done some reading and, hopefully, some writing. Even just a few sentences. A poem maybe. The horizon to the east has gone light, at least as viewed from my kitchen window. I always linger to watch. Is this moment, this dawn, ever not breathtaking? The way it spreads from my vantage point over the backs of Mounts Sentinel and Jumbo, the cut between them a canyon dubbed Hell's Gate by my intrepid ancestors nearly three centuries ago? It is magnificent.
I reflect on that canyon, rife as it is with the spirits of Blackfeet, Salish, and Métis people. My mother lives there now, as does my son. Other dear friends. I never look that way and don’t think of them. They are first among the people I ask to be looked-after in those prayers I mentioned, prayers to whoever and whatever may be listening.
This relaxed morning ritual is a key element of a slowing down with purpose. I pause to watch that glorious light, whenever and wherever it breaks. When I hike I take my time, watch birds, poke around in bushes. Sometimes when I encounter other folks out like me I even talk to them, point things out if they ask. I’m halfway friendly! It's all stuff I started doing before the events of this horrific pandemic began to unfold, so when The Changes started happening, my life didn't change much. I like solitude. I like quiet. I've said for years that if more of us made it a practice to see both sunrise and sunset every day, the latter of which is happening just beyond the window to my left, in all its pastel glory, the world would be a better place.
For a time, it seemed like other people were starting to wake to that possibility. That maybe the high-speed/high-anxiety/go-go-go-to-get-ahead! pursuit of the "American Dream" is a nightmare. That a better life is possible. But now, as we make every desperate effort to return the world to a pre-COVID-19 "normal" I fear all of that good intention is being shoved back into the same kind of fantasy world from which entities and ideas like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Jesus emerge only at specific times of the year. It's disappointing.
I sat down to write about how since the Little Shell were finally recognized by the federal government, which initiated this entire newsletter in its debut post, I've been disappointed. Disillusioned. How the sluggish pace of the feds in helping us take the next step is holding us back. How the attitude of so many of our members seemed more a feeling of entitlement and desire for money, for gifts, rather than a desire to make something beautiful for ourselves. (I saw one tribal member from another state say something like, "Why should I care about a school or a healthcare facility near Great Falls when I live somewhere else?"). How I feel powerless to do much to turn the tide. How disconnected I've felt from the tribe after abandoning Facebook completely, feeling that they—Facebook and Amazon and the like—are just the latest version of the long arm of our eternal enemy: the rich white guy exploiting us for every bit of soul we have. I don't want to be part of any of that.
But I’ve gotten distracted because what is playing out in the Little Shell community is just a microcosm for the wider world. That the racism being magnified against Black folks is mirrored in the Indian community and always has been.
What a time to be alive. Republicans are suggesting we sacrifice our elders for the good of the almighty economy. Meanwhile, "U.S. billionaires saw their fortunes soar by $434 billion during the nation’s lockdown between mid-March and mid-May, according to a new report, with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos ($34.6 billion) and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg ($25 billion) the biggest winners." Racism is flexing its muscles and the streets are on fire as a result. They should be! White privilege shows no signs of going away and all of this is absolutely connected.
Meanwhile Trump remains the worst possible person to be in charge of anything during this time, or any time for that matter. I don’t think I’ll make any effort to watch a news channel again until I know I’m going to see the image of a hearse with his friggin’ coffin in it, hopefully traversing a Pennsylvania Avenue choked with people throwing garbage.
I don’t want to dwell on it today, though, but it’s hard. It all sucks and I hate it. I wish I was in Minneapolis showing real solidarity in the streets, because what good does another gathering of people in a place like Missoula really do? We are mostly coddled and privileged here, and when something does happen—a nice, polite protest march down the sidewalks so as to not disrupt traffic, ending in an earnest little gathering at Caras Park—who really cares? What local media exists to cover it in the first place? As long as we are still pumping money into billionaire pockets, still binging on Netflix (doesn’t pay federal income taxes), still streaming music on Spotify (screws the artists), we are all complicit. If you don’t see the connections between our capitalist addictions and the knee on that poor man’s neck in Minnesota, then your head is neck deep in the sand or you just don’t give enough of a damn because you are—we are—addicted to our own convenience. Until we push back on these sons a bitches, nothing is going to change.
So to escape it all for awhile I got out and exercised some of my own privilege that comes with living where I do. I went for a saunter in a little-known area not far from my house, near where I grew up. I saw birds. The flowers are in bloom and everything is green and lush. I luxuriated in two shady stands of western redcedars. I saw a bunch of deer and some wild turkeys. I came eyeball-to-eyeball with a black bear. And, most importantly, I didn’t encounter a single other human; a sign of the return to “normal,” as during quarantine there were certainly more, though never many, people out enjoying the area too.
Today I’ll try and get along better, maybe do one or two things that seem meaningful. Who knows what could happen. At this point nothing will surprise me.