Overdrive

10B595FD-7954-4EE4-9D25-9AE674A5B5FFOne of the things I remember Michael saying to me on many occasions was that he thought I was the most singularly unchanged person that he ever knew. I was forever trying to decide if I should take that as a compliment or not. Since I was only 20 when we met, I figured that in the 46 years we knew each other he probably had a fair view of my behavior. In the end, I agreed with him and viewed “unchanged” not in a pejorative manner, but in a positive one. I’m consistent. My belief system has been in place for a very long time. Of course, I’ve grown, developed, evolved. But my core, my fundamental self is pretty much the same as it was when I was teenager. For people who know me well, that means I’m predictable. And complicated.A68B9921-3D9D-4096-B4CD-6B5E2414A558
My brain speeds along at a rapid clip. I’m always processing. As yet, my motherboard hasn’t failed me. Which means nothing is ever just simple for me. I remember when I saw the movie, The Last Samurai. At a moment when the Tom Cruise character was getting his rear end kicked over and over during sparring practice, a friendly warrior came up to him, tapped him on the forehead and said, “too many mind.” I can relate. I’ve been working on slowing down and adopting practices that to help me
when my start spinning too fast.2813888F-C597-4CB0-852C-8ADD714AFEF7

I learned how to do revitalizing meditations to help me stay calm and cerebral when Michael was sick and needed my help. I have the Calm app on my phone and I use it regularly. I’m pretty zen when I swim. Still, a lot of my time is spent thinking, analyzing and considering, often about multiple topics simultaneously. It’s just how I roll. I think all this began when I was really young because I remember these same feelings and thoughts from my childhood.

 

 

And so it was on my long-desired trip to Glacier National Park, which in its essence was everything I dreamed of and more. I’ve been to a good number of national parks, Acadia just last month. Certain ones had more impact than others. I’ll never forget Bryce Canyon, Zion and Arches. I got to experience those with Michael which enhanced their majesty and spiritual power for me. Being on my own in Glacier, it was all about me, with my forever bond with Michael, tucked into my most interior self, like an extra vital organ. But I saw and felt Glacier through the lens I bring to everything, the one when I am simultaneously in my moment while my mind is zipping along, connecting that moment to how I perceive the world.

 

 

I went to Glacier by train which is a great way to travel and really see parts of the country that are off the main road and certainly hidden when flying. I spent almost all my waking hours staring out the window. I don’t want to miss anything. I’ve never tired of seeing cattle and horses, not since I was a little kid traveling up and back between Iowa and Chicago. On an overnight rail trip, there is so much more as you travel from state to state. I saw buffaloes and donkeys.

 

 

Numerous white tailed deer grazing and springing through the fields right next to the domestic animals. I saw a swift fox. I saw American white pelicans, great blue herons, American kestrels, a ring necked pheasant and lots of red winged blackbirds, mallard ducks and rabbits.

 

 

I saw fields planted with beans and wheat and other crops I can’t identify by sight.

 

 

The vistas are endless and impressive.

 

 

But I also saw small towns that looked economically ravished. Aging buildings and others that have already fallen. There’d be this gorgeous green landscape and suddenly piles of junked cars and garbage would appear.

 

 

The shabbiness was a stark contrast to the surrounding lush earth. And then came big sky. Endless miles of beautiful land, absolutely empty. In my mind I was envisioning herds of buffalo and tipis and the native people who made their lives here for countless years before being decimated by the relentless move west by settlers and power brokers. I’m sure that much of the land I saw was owned by big ranching concerns. But it felt so wrong. All the beauty tarnished for me. I can appreciate it but not without thinking of the cost to the people who lived here. Then the reservation appears.EF2BDA0B-4EAE-4BB6-9DAC-6E89B51CAFAE

The Blackfeet  reservation is actually a conglomeration of tribes whose general name is Niitsitapi which means “the real people.” I saw buildings with the words “no meth” painter boldly across the walls. The very idea of reservations appalls me. Would you like to live with your people in a designated area? Me neither.

 

 

The Blackfeet tribe has rights to parts of Glacier National Park which include their most spiritual locations such as Two Medicine. Ceremonies are still performed there such as sun dances, while sweat lodges are built for the transitions and rituals of native life. I took a boat ride on Two Medicine Lake and went through their valley. You can feel a powerful spiritual presence there. I opened myself up to let it blend in with me and Michael and my own belief system. Certainly not the same as theirs but nonetheless connected if by nothing other than the surrounding natural majesty. The natives call some of the mountains the backbone of the earth. It’s not hard to understand why.

 

 

I stayed in East Glacier Lodge which is a beautiful old building with no televisions and sketchy internet. It lends itself well to getting in touch with what this place is supposed to mean to human beings. Their staff all seem to share a common attitude of preserving the nature of the park and its mystical energy. There are tributes to the natives throughout the lodge and the park although for me, it wasn’t enough. Keeping a piece of your ancestral land rings hollow to me. I saw a tall Native American man tending flowers at another lodge. He resembled Will Sampson who played the chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He seemed to enjoy what he was doing and had positive interactions with a few people working with him. Maybe his life is happy. Maybe I’m the one with the problem.

 

 

Let me stop and say that I felt everything I hoped to feel at Glacier. As I stood before mountains that are estimated to be between 1600 and 800 million years old, I felt my smallness and the tiny place that I know I occupy, even when things feel huge. I felt the fabric of connection that still binds me to Michael and my love for the earth and its marvels. But then the guide told us that the remaining 20-odd glaciers are expected to be gone by 2030. Unimaginable. Was this destined to happen over a long period of time or isn’t it part of the upheaval we’re seeing all over the world. Climate change. I’ve heard all the arguments from people who say it’s been hot before, we’ve had hurricanes before, we’ve had fires before. Blah-blah-blah. Our planet is threatened. I have no doubt. Blazing hot temperatures in Alaska. Water supplies in India drying up. Europe sweltering. The hottest June on record. Ever. I’m not capable of simply enjoying my good fortune without thinking about all these frightening things. I’ll be dead before the worst stuff happens. But what about all the children and grandchildren? I have hope that brilliant people will find ways to turn some of this around. That we’ll stop burning fossil fuels. That we’ll get rid of plastic in the oceans. That a place like Glacier will still have snowy peaks in the summer. But to ignore it for my own mental well-being? No can do. I had the privilege of seeing so much wildlife in the park. I saw a black bear, a moose, long horned sheep, elk and mountain goats. They’re just doing their thing. But a lot can threaten the ecosystem that supports them and I worry.

 

 

Through the train window I saw the amount of flooding that occurred when the Mississippi overflowed its banks, not to mention the smaller rivers nearby. The wooded area and retaining ponds along the tracks are filled with mile after mile of algae bloom. That can’t be a good thing. As I watched animals drinking from this green pea soup I wondered about the chemical runoff from farms into the water table. Not to mention what can happen to people’s drinking water. Still thinking of Flint over here.

 

 

So yes, I am thrilled that I got to see this incredible wonder for what is likely the only time in my life. I think that inner city kids from everywhere should be brought on field trips to experience this magnificent place or others like it so they can make an early commitment to trying to rescue the earth and each other. I can’t go back and undo the genocide that happened long before I arrived. But I think it should be remembered and never ignored. Another thing Michael said to me frequently was this: “ Great. So as long as you know that somewhere someone might be having a problem or that there are systemic issues, you’re going to be bummed out. Living with you will sure be fun.” Well, we did have fun. But there’s more to life than that.AE3448B9-98D4-430E-AB32-4271169FAE8D

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