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Pay Attention to the Entire Universe Moving Through You
Then let it go....
Boozhoo, indinawemaaganidog! Aaniin! That is to say hello, all of my relatives! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. I’m always a bit envious of folks who compile long and interesting lists of links to articles they’ve read, podcasts they’ve listened to, etc. because it is a sign of a curious and active and knowledgeable intellect. I swear I’m curious and active in my mind-brain as most anyone else, for real! I just don’t read that much online, rarely bother with podcasts, don’t watch shows or YouTube, and etc. At the same time, I don’t always want to burden this space with long essays and diatribes either. Who wants to read that all the time anyway? So what this post is, beyond an effort to sneak one more out in April, is just a hodgepodge of things I’ve done/thought about/experienced lately. Like over the last few days! At least, that’s what I think it’s going to be. We’ll find out in the end if that’s where we get to….
I’m grateful for your time and attention, my friends. Truly. 🦬
I left home early last Wednesday morning to make time to have a saunter through Council Grove on my way in to fulfill my town obligations for the day. Our weather was in the early stages of turning gorgeous and I was eager to take in some fresh air and sunshine. For those people who don’t know, Council Grove is a primitive state park1 west of Missoula that sits on the banks of the Clark Fork River and features abundant wildlife – birds, mostly – and gorgeous stands of old ponderosa pines and less-old cottonwood trees. It is an area that has been used by Indigenous people for centuries and was the location of the signing of the infamous Hellgate Treaty of 1855, an event that shaped the occupation2 of this region ever since and still reverberates today. It is near where I live and remains one of my favorite places to go; it features quite a bit in the essay “Cart Trails” that I wrote for this Field Guide to Western Montana that was published by Wildsam last year. As the debut subject of the Freeflow Podcast a couple years ago, I once guiltily trudged around the place in the snow while the mightily dedicated Rick White walked backwards holding a microphone in my face. A commendable effort!3
Just outside the main area there is a bridge that crosses a slough. Fencing has been constructed to prevent the resident beaver population from damming shut the culvert that passes beneath the road but there is sign of their efforts anyway; not just via construction in the water, but also in the chewed-off remnants of willows and the like in the vicinity. As I coasted slowly over the bridge in my pickup, on the east side I could see signs that someone had passed through the thin layer of algae on the surface of the water. They looked like old contrails of jets passing across the sky high overhead. I wondered who made them; where they were going, and why. A beaver? A muskrat? A mallard? It could have been any of them!
In the parking lot was a school bus from Frenchtown Elementary School, a proud institution a few miles west where I toiled more years ago than I care to try and remember. There was also a smaller bus emblazoned with the logo of the Montana Natural History Center. There were also packs of children clustered about all over, with an adult or two looming over them.4 Same as I would a herd of bison in the Lamar Valley, I didn’t venture too close to the adolescents out of deep respect for their unpredictable wildness.
Clearly this wasn’t just a field trip, it was an actual program, the likes of which the MNHC excels at.5 Several of the trails had little laminated cards along them, asking questions like, “What plants can you see here?” or “Are the mountains visible?” or “How many shades of green do you see?” I love it. I love these efforts. Getting children outdoors is so important and I applaud anyone pitching in on the effort. As my friend Thomas Pluck describes in a post I read earlier today, it is an uphill battle … but one worth facing.
There’s just so much to pay attention to and be excited about out at Council Grove. The first little yellow flowers – buttercups – are out! The mama great horned owl is chilling in her nest cavity in the condominium tree and soon the owlets will be popping their fuzzy little faces out! Hairy woodpeckers, pygmy nuthatches, kingfishers, and herons! Migizi! And this!
I took the preceding picture the day before: obvious sign of beaver activity, and in a spot I’d never seen it before. That was on Tuesday evening. When I passed the same spot on Wednesday morning, the upper span of the tree, which you can see bent over there at the top, was gone! Drag marks in the sand and over the cutbank into the water were evident. I was giddy to know my little relative – Amik, in Ojibwe – had been there getting the job done probably less than a dozen hours since my last visit. This is what I love so much about this place. This is what makes it so holy to me.
I bet there is somewhere near you that fills a similar niche for you, isn’t there? I want to hear about it. And if not, there’s one that probably could be. It just takes some curiousity and imagination and love.
I’ve been thinking about poems a lot. I’ve said more than once that, once Becoming Little Shell finally sees the world, I was looking forward to taking some time to “just be a poet” for a while again. The thing is I never considered myself a poet until people started calling me one. Now I love it. I take the writing of them seriously but I really don’t care what happens with them. They are almost entirely for myself. People don’t go to university for advanced degrees in writing the kinds of poems I do and that’s fine with me.
Since I turned my latest edits to BLS in a few weeks ago I’ve had a chance, while I wait to hear back what the status is, to work, guilt free, on a couple other projects. Like the endless effort involved in transcribing more that 300 draft poems from my notebooks into a digital form I might tinker with. I’ve been working on this project off and on for more than two years. It’s slow but I like it. I’ve been particularly enjoying the trip down memory lane that comes with it; what my life was like (most were written during the pandemic), the bittersweet flavor of nostalgia, etc. Not to mention encountering stuff that came out of my brain that I’ve completely forgotten. There are parts of myself I recognize I’ve turned away from and I’m pleased to be reintroduced again. We’ve all had a hard couple years, haven’t we? We’ve all struggled to be good friends to ourselves in many ways too, I imagine.
The other day I found myself alone in the locker room post-workout with a guy who is probably the friendliest dude in that gym. He always has a smile and a hello for everyone he passes and it all seems pretty genuine. We got to chatting, introducing ourselves, etc. Long story short, we got to talking about poems. He writes them as song lyrics because he is a musician. I write them … well, I write them. When he asked how I was going to spend the rest of the day, I told him I was planning to transcribe a bunch of draft poems to decide which ones would be worth revisiting with some edits.
He got pretty excited. He asked if I’d ever tried using AI to transcribe them. I said no, that they are written in long hand and the task of actually rewriting them to the computer was part of the process. He told me I could probably read them aloud into my computer and AI could translate to text for me, and it would be so much faster.
Now, you probably know (or can at least guess) that I think AI is an unholy complication to the hellscape already unfolding before us. I would rather glue all of those notebooks with some highly flammable epoxy to 80s-era pajamas stretched over my body like a sausage casing and then roll myself onto a bed of red hot coals than use AI for anything. But I didn’t feel the need to say so. What was to be gained by trying to shoulder my loudmouth opinion into this perfectly friendly interaction? I’ll do that here, in my house. This guy was just being friendly, and earnest, and I thought it was sweet. It made me like him even more. He doesn’t need to know how obnoxious I actually am when it comes to tech solutions to slow processes I absolutely adore just the way they are.
I like slow. I also actually like when people are nice to me too, and I try and return the favor.
Poetry as Spiritual Practice
You’re probably tired of me talking about this. I’m tired of me talking about it. I’m pretty sure the in-person Yellowstone workshop is going to be cancelled, which means the event (and the meager pay check) I’ve scheduled my month around is kaput. So to make the rent (and help pay the windfall of vehicle repairs I’ve been lucky enough to be gifted with this month) I’m thinking of doing an online version on my own and I’m curious to know if anyone would be interested in it. These are the details I’m thinking of:
Class would comprise four Tuesday evenings in June (6, 13, 20, 27)
Each class would be 6:30pm – 8:00pm (MDT) via Zoom
Payment: sliding scale based on your ability to afford it. I’m thinking tiers of $50/$75/$100/$150 (payment via PayPal or Venmo or something)
If you can’t afford anything, I’ll happily take your name and make room for you so long as things don’t get too crowded
Speaking of crowded, I’d set the cap at probably 25 people.
What do you think? I’d still do the Poetry as Spiritual Practice workshop because I don’t have time to put together something different, but if this worked out I certainly would for the future. I have other ideas, including those already pending that will likely collapse under the weight of their own extravagance, and if enough people are into it it could be fun.
If you think this kind of thing is something you’d be interested in, CONTACT ME and let me know. If there is enough interest, I’ll do it. Miigwech in advance!
Here is a poem I recently transcribed. When I do this, I note what number the poem is in the series, the date, what the prompt was (in this case “Anaphora”) which, quite often, the poem has nothing to do with, and then the raw lines right from the notebook. Ones I like I copy to another folder to go back to at some point to edit. Or not. This one … I don’t know. I just liked it when I transcribed it. You might like it too.
Wait, One More Thing!
When I arrived home this afternoon after being out in the sun all day, the first Lewis’s Woodpecker of the year was in the willow tree right outside my house. This is so exciting! They are usually here in May so I was planning to start keeping my eyes open. Here’s a shot of one in the little tree outside my window from a couple years ago. Don’t be fooled! They are of decent size, at least as big as a burlier robin. Council Grove will be positively lousy with them in the coming weeks….
Miigwech, as ever, my friends. I hope you are getting by.
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All that basically means is that, besides a pit toilet and a couple picnic tables around the parking lot, it doesn’t have any resident staff nor will there be further “improvements.”’
I mean this quite literally: the Missoula Valley is Indigenous land occupied by an invading foreign culture and little has been done to make it seem any way otherwise for more than 200 years and counting.
If you follow that link, you’ll note some of the info is a bit … um, dated. BLS still isn’t out. And I’m not on Twitter or Instagram anymore, just so you know….
Just the night before in the final installment of my “Rewilding” workshop for Freeflow, one of the participants remarked that she had just taken a job leading naturalist classes for children. She lives about 60+ miles north of Missoula though, so it didn’t occur to me that she might be there, even though I thought of her. But she was! Our paths didn’t cross beyond exchanging emails about my visit, but I love the serendipity of it so much….
Not just for kids either. My mom is an avid supporter and has taken a class or two from them, and I attained a Master Naturalist certification through them during Covid. Want to know something else weird? My mom and I both have MNHC license plates on our vehicles, and THEY ARE CONSECUTIVE NUMBERS! What?!