I remember back to early November. Holly and I were new to nomadic life, and we were planning on spending Thanksgiving week with friends-to-be in Georgia. I had no idea what to expect from that experience, save one thing: I knew I would be humbled. The generosity of spirit was overwhelming then, and it remains so. It may be that the people described below are that uplifting – they’re not really; they’re regular folks – or it may be that simple human interactions stand in such stark relief to the wave of violence washing over our country. Whatever the cause, the effect stands. Holly and I continue to grow in ourselves and in our love for this land and its people.
Below are five write-ups and four portraits. There is no portrait for Rory, a gentleman we befriended alongside the Yellowstone River. That’s my oversight. All of these people share basic humanity with us, but the differences are like threads in an ongoing tapestry. Some of them share stories of loss with us. I won’t relay those, except to say that the tapestry of Holly’s and my life keeps growing. In the words of poet Naomi Shihab Nye, in the poem ”Kindness”
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.
Holly plans on showing these, and other portraits, sponsored by the Branford Cultural and Arts Alliance when we are back in Connecticut in September.
We met Ian and Jules in a Cracker Barrel parking lot in Salt Lake City. We invited them over, and were quickly won over with their charm and zeal for nomadic life. In fact, they are on their second bus, having had to abandon their first. For young folks to take the difficulties that bus life will throw at you speaks volumes about their character. Jules is a health professional and has a vision to use her professional knowledge and a sensitive view of humanity to develop a unique healing practice. Even more, we were bowled over with how they adore one another.
I met Rod while Holly was away in Connecticut for Natalie’s baby shower. I spent a couple days in Liberty Park, where Rod was selling handmade leather goods. We struck up excellent conversation. Like so many people we are drawn to, Rod is a selfless person. His job is about helping others get jobs. He finds solace in that, and in the cutting and tanning and dying and hammering that go into his leather. We talked about writing, and I hope I was encouraging about the power of telling one’s own story. Rod gave me a gift of a leather key fob I use daily. I find my hand going to the leather almost ritualistically, as if I’ve had it forever.
We met Rory while camping along the Yellowstone River in Big Timber, Montana. He was starting his second one-year sabbatical, in which he is now learning what it takes to live full time with a vehicle and a tent. His soft-spoken tone and genuine care for our story made him an instant friend. We were camped for five days – longer than usual. We shared the ins and out of nomadic life, and the course that landed us exactly there and then. It is my oversight that I didn’t get Rory’s picture. I suspect we’ll see him again.
Along a different river – the Boulder River – we ran into Bill and Clare. Bill is a rancher in Big Timber, and Clare works for the Dry Creek Canal Company, est. 1898. The two embodied the work that Western life entails. They were inspecting a 100-year-old irrigation ditch, dug off the Boulder River. Clare was iconic in waxed canvas vest, writing with exactitude in his red leather journal. His notes and observations are used to regulate and legislate the use of water in Montana and beyond.
Steve is a ranger, volunteering for the past 25 years with the National Park Service as a presenter at the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument. I was hesitant to visit another historical site, as the Trinity Site in New Mexico was a letdown. I felt that Trinity Site lacked context and gravitas – it was mired in detail, but lacked context, the essence of historical understanding. Steve, though, was mesmerizing. His storytelling was world-class, pivoting seamlessly from the bloody details of that day’s battle, to the broader and deeper picture of who these warring human beings were – where they came from, what that day meant. Even the horses of the battle came to life in Steve’s telling. I had a chance to ask Steve a question after his talk. I asked for his view on the moral authority that white men had to do battle for that land, and I left satisfied that he offered no justification for the bloodshed, but rather helped me understand the greater picture of how these men came to die on the grassy plain.
The featured image of this blog post is the Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, dedicated in 2003, following the renaming of the National Monument.