There Was No Thing On Earth
I wanted to possess
Boozhoo, indinawemaaganidog! Aaniin! That is to say hello, all of my relatives! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. Greetings especially to all the new followers, and welcome. I’m pleased you’ve taken a chance in signing up for whatever this is.
Today’s post is of a sort I don’t do often but am sometimes compelled to on occasion. Announcements, comments on a couple links here and there – not a link roundup like so many other newsletters do, if only because I don’t read enough stuff online to really compile one – and other miscellany. Hopefully it’s not dull. Next up, before the week (and the month!) is out, will be a subscriber-only post featuring photos from inside the boundaries of the Flathead Reservation north of here. If you’re on the fence about signing up as a paid subscriber so you may see all of that, it’s not too late!
Those transcendent days of warm afternoons and starry nights and even clearer, frosty mornings have ended for the year here in Western Montana, at least that particular iteration of them. This past weekend the clouds gathered, temperatures plummeted, and parts of the state saw the first winter storm, enough that some roads were closed, mountain passes were requiring chains, etc. It’s nothing to lament – this is how late October should be – but we sure did have a magnificent few weeks of perfect fall weather. The moon and stars and clear skies will be back, it’s just going to be a lot colder when they arrive.
No snow in the valley I inhabit, though the tops of the mountains are all dusted with it. These recent cool, damp days have been a joy to get out in and I look forward, hopefully, to a winter with significant snow. I’m eager to blow the dust off the snowshoes, see pine boughs laden with snow, look for tracks on the frozen surface of the river, and experience all of those other wintery things that thrill me. We never get the kind of winter cold anymore that I struggle with in the way we get heat in summer, like we had all through July and August, when temperatures seemed to live in the high 90s. You can take me down as low as -20° or so, and as long as the wind isn’t blowing I’m good. As this slide I’ve often used in my Little Shell/Métis presentations describes, it makes it easier to live in my own fantastical head this time of year….
Prowling around on the riverbank, and in the woods and meadows close to home, is often the best way I know to connect and remain connected to my ancestry. With no “traditional” Indigenous community here to interact with, at least not so far as my Anishinaabe people are concerned, much of my lived education I’m doing on my own. Which isn’t so difficult because it is something I’ve been doing my entire life: rambling around in the outdoors. Even in my old job when I would frequently travel to other places around the country, one of the joys was in exploring their landscape. On arrival I would almost always find a place to go saunter and “look at stuff” if opportunity presented itself. As recently as a week ago in Boise, despite all the urban attractions people recommended, I knew with the limited time available to me it was the river I was going to seek out. I didn’t have time to fully immerse myself, but even knee-deep counts as “taking the waters” and it was a thrill to do so.
I’ve come to realize that a large part of why I clung to my Chippewa identity for so many years in the face of my father’s denial of our Indigenous heritage is because I was a dreamy kid lost in books and I wanted to be something larger than the life I was living, and being “Indian” fit that requirement. I really couldn’t be Conan the Barbarian because I most certainly wasn’t Cimmerian. I couldn’t be an elf nor did I really want to be; I wanted to be a ranger like Aragorn, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stories of course, living on the fringes of society and protecting the witless from horrors they didn’t believe in the existence of. The closest I could be to that guy was to be Chippewa, because I was Chippewa1, and that was only exacerbated by the animated 1978 Lord of the Rings film by Ralph Bakshi2. This is Aragorn as portrayed in the film, and he definitely has a Native vibe to him, doesn’t he?
I wanted to be Aragorn and live in the wilds and swing a big sword but in truth I was more like the hobbits – living in comfort, with a breakfast or two every day – as depicted by Bakshi, with big feet, hairy legs, and really bad hair … especially Samwise Gamgee there, second from left, with an expression as if someone just suggested we skip lunch:
I can’t say I’ve changed much as an adult. Still dreamy, still love the fantastic and otherworldly, would still like to be Bakshi’s Aragorn in some ways, and still look for orcs and trolls in the woods now and then just for the fun of it … even if in my adulthood I’m more like Bakshi’s version of Boromir, only sub a buffalo hide hat for the Viking helmet.
Speaking of Presentations
I’ve got another Little Shell/Métis presentation looming! It’s this Tuesday, October 25th, 6:30pm via Zoom. It’s free but you have to register first. You may do so by clicking HERE or the image above. I’ll be bloviating. It’ll be fun.
Why Climate Despair is a Luxury
This Rebecca Solnit piece for The New Statesman crossed my radar and was also recommended to me by several people. Here is a point she makes:
If you do not take the long view, you cannot see how campaigns build, how beliefs change, how what was once thought impossible or outlandish comes to be the status quo, and how the last half-century has been an extraordinary period of change for society, beliefs and values. Today may seem the same as yesterday, but this decade is profoundly different from the last.
I like this. I am reminded by a similar statement I read in an interview with the late poet/folksinger/storyteller Utah Phillips more than twenty years ago, easily. In those perilous times he was asked about despair, and hope, and all of those things we wring our hands over, and he proceeded to tick off a list of things that were common then that hadn’t been a couple decades prior: farmers’ markets coast-to-coast, womens’ rights, etc. My memory is foggy as to his specific points, but one could argue that, despite the rolling juggernaut of capitalism and brutal American policy, we are chipping away at moving this thing in a positive direction. Solnit is right, it’s the long game, and if you think you have the luxury of just throwing your hands in the air, you don’t. I don’t. None of us do.
Give the piece a read, you won’t regret it! Rebecca Solnit is one of our absolute best.
A few years ago I wrote a piece for Montana Quarterly about the fight over the Pacific Northwest Trail. More recently my friend Kylie Mohr did one for National Geographic. Here is how she describes it:
The Pacific Northwest Trail is a wild wonder that takes hikers through one of America’s few inland temperate rainforests. For 1,200 miles, it winds along the Canadian border, through rugged mountains and gaping valleys in Montana, Idaho, and Washington, until it meets the Pacific Ocean.
Since it was designated in 2009, the PNT has flown under the radar, compared to other popular long-distance trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. But the roughly 70-mile section of the PNT that runs through Montana’s Yaak Valley is a sore spot, at a time when outdoor spaces across the country have become popular due to the pandemic.
Conservationists and the Kootenai people say that the PNT threatens endangered grizzlies and Native traditions in the area. But to a handful of locals, the trail provides their only source of income.
The Yaak Valley Forest Council is leading the charge in opposing the trail through grizzly territory and re-routing it southward and then westward. I’m in favor of eliminating it completely, frankly, the whole damn trail. But if it has to exist, then re-route it. Any risk at all to that bear population is too great a risk. And the economy of the Yaak? Well, not at the risk of the bears … and they are already at great risk from the “shoot, shovel, and shut-up” ilk that dominates the human population of that region anyway. When I was there to report my piece, the local watering hole was flying a Confederate flag and there was Trump bullshit all over the place. Especially now, with rich out-of-staters buying everything up? Nope.
I know Kylie’s piece mentions the Kootenai tribe. What about the Kalispel people? The Ktunaxa people? They all have a stake in this, and I don’t care what anyone says about “public land” because it is stolen land. Let the Indians say what should be done with it. Then give all that land the hell back. It really is that simple.
But if you want to submit public comment about the issue, you can RIGHT HERE until October 29th. I urge you to do so if you care about grizzly bears. I did. This is what I wrote:
I am writing to express support for changing the current route as proposed for the Pacific Northwest Trail to the southern route, AVOIDING the precious and threatened grizzly bear habitat. There are many human-focused reasons for making this change but my primary concern is for the bears. Haven't we cornered them enough with our infringement on habitat? Leave this community of bear relatives alone. Move the trail, or eliminate it completely.
This beautiful poem:
That’s all for now. Remember, every day is a gift, my relatives. Miigwech for reading, and please don’t despair….
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Grandma said so!
I haven’t seen that version in years though I intend to reconcile that soon. I always loved it, even if it ends abruptly. When I was a kid loving those stories so much, it was magnificent to see, and I suspect I will still love it.