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30 years with Snow Bird

New Nike sneakers

August 16, 2019

In my almost 30 years with Mr. Eddie (Snowbird) Alden, I sometimes said to myself, Wow.  Someone needs to write a book.  He was unique.  Several people remarked on his singularity at his memorial service, that lasted two hours and forty minutes.  Eddie was unique.  I have never seen anyone even remotely similar to him.  His life made sense to him.  He was his own boss, a crime fighter. Like the Green Lantern.

Several times I asked him if I could call him Snowbird.  “Call me Eddie,” he said each time.

Eddie was an iconic figure in Billings.  He weighed more than 300 lbs, always wore a bright yellow fleece, unless the weather was hot, then he wore a clean white tee shirt.  He pedaled slowly across parking lots, across streets.  His hair was always cut short, less than a quarter inch.  He had vertical black stripes on his scalp where his hair was a bit longer.  He wore white Nike sneakers, white cotton socks, black sweat pants, the bright yellow fleece.  He owned perhaps a dozen of those fleeces, which he stored at a unit on the West end of Billings. I helped him take a lot of his belongings from an apartment near 6th Avenue. As we drove away an old guy, perhaps a property manager for the basement apartment, called out to Eddie, “Don’t come back!”

Aside from angry landlords, he was well known, even loved; but sometimes hated.  One Crow man told me as a child he remembered seeing Eddie and was afraid of him because he sometimes lurked at the corner of buildings.

How well known was he?  This blog you are reading typically attracts one or two readers a day, sometimes as many as ten, when I write about picking up my small dog Gunther’s poop in the neighborhood.  

The day I wrote about Eddie’s funeral service I got more than 500 readers!  I think the most I had ever gotten was around 30, when I wrote about being depressed.  I always took for granted that my blog posts are dull.

The day after that, the blog post about Eddie attracted nearly 8,000 readers!  That number was back to about 500 today.

Eddie always liked publicity.  I think he would be thrilled to know how his story attracts people.

Three days ago, Eddie’s memorial service was held at the Spirit of Life Four Square Church, in Crow Agency.  Right around the corner from the old Crow Mercantile, which was across the street from the Post Office.  I’d say 30 people attended, including four or five of us from Billings.  

Eddie’s service was gorgeous, elaborate, beautiful—all those things.  Two of his bikes were on display with his trademark 64-ounce Big Gulp soda holder.  A two-liter Pepsi bottle, some cologne, a couple of radios, tape recorders, yellow fleeces.  Lots of little touches.  Grocery bags hanging from his handlebars.  He didn’t always use plastic bags.  He started out with paper bags, each reinforced with a half-roll of duct tape. Probably that was before he was settled in Billings, complete with lots of bicycles.

Over the years, I often asked Eddie questions and he would answer cryptically, “Yeah?”  Example:  “Eddie, are you coming over for Thanksgiving?”  He would answer, “Yeah?”  Me:  “Is your apartment clean?”  Eddie:  “Yeah?”

The people at Eddie’s funeral extolled his virtues, which are approximately the same as those of any officer in law enforcement, except Eddie invented his own, volunteer, role.  They said Eddie had some sort of disability, but he valued his family’s tradition of police work.  Generations of policemen (and women, perhaps).  Therefore, according to Eddie’s uncle Art Alden, “Snowbird had a siren on his bicycle.” 

I think I’ve gotten ahead of myself again.

Eddie did not say much about himself, unless asked specifically.  Even then, he was often vague.  Example:  “Eddie, what are you doing tonight?”  Answer:  “Oh, you know, routines.”  I learned later that “routines” referred to the route he pedaled his bicycle.  

I was shocked to learn that he had enemies.  Oh yes.  They were often his victims—people he turned in to the police, usually when intoxicated, often when driving.

One year at Crow Fair, which is a huge annual encampment each August of literally hundreds and hundreds of tepees—possibly more than even one or two thousand—I found Eddie pedaling his bike on one of the many curved roads.  Typically, Eddie wouldn’t recognize me right away.  The reason:  non-Indians, like me, all look alike.  But I called out Eddie’s name and he pedaled slowly to me.  I never saw Eddie pedal quickly. I had driven over to Crow Fair early that morning for the annual “Teepee Creeper’s Classic” three mile run.  I was expecting breakfast at a relative’s camp, so I asked one of the women there if I could invite “Snowbird.”  She said, “sure.”  I didn’t know it, but she was just being ultra kind and polite to me!  

She fried up a rasher of bacon, which Eddie ate from a paper plate.  Soon, my son pulled me aside.  He told me that more than a few people in that camp had spent actual time in jail because of Snowbird’s ratting them out.  I was never never NEVER to invite him to breakfast there again!  

That’s when I learned of Eddie’s “zero tolerance” for the crime of possessing alcohol on a dry reservation.  Both the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations are “dry.”  Eddie also had zero tolerance for any natives that crawl out of a bar and get into a motor vehicle in the small hours of the morning when the places closed down.  Eddie would certainly call the cops on them and that might result in going to jail.

But Eddie didn’t mind at all if I drank.  He even provided me with wine the last few years at Christmas.  Always great generous bottles of pink, or this last Christmas, merlot.  He had gone to some trouble to find out what kind I liked.  Last Christmas I sat with Eddie and drank a few glasses of the merlot.  Our conversations went something like this:

Eddie:  Dan?

Me:  Yeah, Eddie?

Eddie: Dan?

Me: What is it, Eddie?  

Eddie: Does Jon want to buy me a gift card for the Holiday station for Christmas?

Me: How would I know?  Why don’t you ask Jon?

Eddie: Yeah?

Sometimes I bought Eddie black sweat pants for Christmas, sometimes shoes and socks.  One time, I bought him a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, which I wrapped in shiny paper with little trees on it.  After he unwrapped it, he put it on the floor.  He looked at it, then at me.  “This is it?”  He didn’t bother to take it with him.

That’s why I often said that I didn’t really know Eddie that well, despite being acquainted with him for almost 30 years.  Part of the problem was that I frequently was critical of him.  I scolded him for teasing the Bureau of Indian Affairs police officers by carrying around pop in a Budweiser beer box at Crow Fair.  

I got perturbed when he got into trouble, usually having to do with his relationship with a landlord, and he asked four or five different people for help, but didn’t tell any of them about the others.  “Eddie, you need someone’s help,” I said.  “But you don’t need four people who each think they are the only ones helping.”

Eddie kept his business to himself.  He frequently lined up several unrelated groups to help him celebrate his birthday.  On the big day he stopped in at one after another:  the police department, legal services, the Billings Gazette, my house, his sister’s house.  When things went well, he couldn’t help exulting.

I didn’t know Eddie 30 years.  I knew Eddie 1 year, 30 times.  I miss him because his independence delighted me. A legend in his own time.

I criticized Eddie for hoarding stuff in his apartment.  That’s one of the reasons he got eviction notices.  His places were frightful.

I didn’t visit the last three places he lived because I felt depressed when I could barely fit through an aisle of plastic trash bags filled with filthy blankets, gray sheets, phones, sweat clothes, socks, batteries, tape recorders, hair clippers, bicycle parts, radios, cameras, new bike helmets (never worn—I don’t know how often I urged him to wear his helmet.  His answer was always, “Yeah?”) 

Pill box organizers, prescription bottles, envelopes, newspapers, hunters orange gloves, empty soda containers (large) cologne bottles, more envelopes, posters, tools, telephones, more telephones, more bike parts, underwear, camping gear, televisions, fake flowers, food wrappers, bottles of cleaners, vacuum cleaners, neck ties, suits, mattresses, more radios, toy police cars, flashlights, flashlight batteries, a bull horn, a siren, blue and red flashing lights, more toys, hats, hats, more hats, coats, old shoes.  Garbage. Newspapers.  Like 40 copies of the same date.

Fire crackers, bottle rockets, matches, other toys, an empty whisky bottle, pepper.  More pepper.  Thirty cans of black pepper.  And telephones, police scanners, police scanner parts, bicycle seats, bicycle wheels, tires, tubes.  More receipts, paper, a huge pile of bike wheels, bike frames.  A couch, under there somewhere.  ID cards for random people.  Panty hose.  Telephones.  Cooking pan on the stove, with grease.  

I’d ask Eddie the last few years:  “Are you keeping your place pretty clean?”  He answered:  “Yeah?”  

“Really?” I continued.

“Yeah.” He said.  Well, I couldn’t vouch for his honesty in that regard, but I never checked.

Daisy Jacobs and the boy who threw rocks


When Mrs. Daisy Jacobs taught our second grade class she spent time after school with the neighborhood tough kid, Sonny. He threw rocks at our feet. This kept him from getting in trouble because the bruises didn’t show.

Sonny chopped his brother’s index finger off with a hatchet. His brother Raymond was the nice kid in their family, but Mrs. Jacobs didn’t have him in her class.

I don’t know how often we filed home past Mrs. Jacobs and Sonny, who were whispered to be having a heart-to-heart about his behavior.

Mrs. Jacobs bought Sonny gym shoes because his parents couldn’t afford them.

My mother taught second grade also, after Daddy died, but not in the same school. I’m not sure how Mother regarded her, but I thought Mrs. Jacobs was a great teacher because she liked me. She correctly predicted that I’d be a pharmacist some day. Well, she said that my interest in chemistry could help me.

Moreover, she lived just a few blocks away, so I often walked past her house where she and her husband had their store, the “Food Center.” They had no children. She looked in my ears when she caught me walking past. Said she could plant potatoes in my dirty ears.

Mrs. Jacobs was mid-career in the early 1950s when I had her for second grade. I learned that during the 30s and 40s, teachers were exposed to the progressive ideas of a pioneering educator, John Dewey. He taught the concepts of respect for student diversity and student-centered learning, ideas congruent with the methods of Mrs. Jacobs. I learned about Dewey when I Googled “teacher training in the 1920s.”

I also learned teachers then were beginning to form unions. In Montana it was the Montana Education Association and the National Education Association. Mrs. Jacobs expressed pride in her profession and her loyalty to the union.


PW Volume II number 1


Click the link below to read the entire issue.


Fort Missoula: my first home in 1949

The left side of our duplex at Fort Missoula, as it was yesterday.

1947 Fort Missoula

I gleaned some of the following facts from a Wikipedia article and most of the rest from my sister, Carol Hotchkiss Struckman.  She is 84 years old and lives in Nebraska. I was too young to remember anything about Fort Missoula but the location of the refrigerator.  I know that sounds unlikely.

After World War II, the state university in Missoula swelled with ex-GIs who survived the war and were entitled to government education benefits under the GI Bill.  My father, Robert P. Struckman, who had been too old for the military, was one of several who got college teaching jobs.  Housing was in high demand after the war.  In 1946, the new faculty, including our family, lived in tarpaper strip houses at the end of Arthur Avenue in Missoula, walking distance from the university.  The strips were better suited to students who had families, so in 1947 the teachers moved to some housing the university rented from the army at nearby Fort Missoula.

Fort Missoula, a group of buildings a couple miles west of town, was built in 1877 for the 7th Infantry as an army outpost to protect settlers from indigenous tribes.  This unit, along with other soldiers and civilians, fought, and lost, a battle with the non-treaty Nez Perce at the battle of the Big Hole.  The Nez Perce were led by Chief Joseph and Chief Looking Glass.   Later, the fort was home to the 3rd Infantry, and in 1888, the 25th Infantry, composed of Blacks who tested the feasibility of riding bicycles instead of horses.  Fort Missoula had no walls; it was an open fort amidst miles of open spaces.  In the 1930s, the fort housed New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps workers. 

A mile-long straight road connected what is now Reserve Street to the fort.  That road is no longer in use, although I rode my bicycle on it in grade school. 

During World War II the US Department of Justice housed at Fort Missoula 1200 Italian Americans and, for a short time after Pearl Harbor, about 400 Japanese Americans deemed a security risk.  The Japanese were soon relocated to other internment camps, such as the one at Heart Butte in Wyoming.

Today Missoula has grown to surround the fort, with its historic buildings, a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower, a museum, and other attractions, like a streetcar.

Wikipedia’s article about Fort Missoula doesn’t say a word about the university faculty having lived there.  I found no photos of the building that was my first home.

By 1947, Fort Missoula no longer kept Italian Americans interned there, and the fort had some unused officer and enlisted quarters available for faculty housing.  One of the those faculty, long-time family friend, Gordon Browder, told me in 1978 that my father Robert was good with a hammer.  Robert helped refurbish the fort’s NCO quarters that, last time I was there a couple years ago, stood boarded up.  I saw two duplexes.  Gordon told me Robert divided the upstairs room of his apartment into two bedrooms.  The university responded by increasing his rent.

One side of the street had the Struckman and Browder families sharing one duplex; and next door, the Snodgrass and another family that my sister Carol didn’t remember the name of because they had no children.  The Fiedler family lived across the street.

Journalism professors Ed Dugan, Olaf Bue, and their familes lived a block or two away.  Carol said our daddy lowered the Dugan’s 12-foot ceilings to make the rooms easier to heat.

Our neighbor and family friend, Leslie Fiedler, in his 30s, earned his PhD in 1947 and taught English at the university.  He served with the US Navy in the Pacific as an interpreter.  By 1947, he and Margaret had three children: Kurt, Eric, and Michael.  Their house at the fort was across the street from our Struckman/Dugan duplex and had a big garage.  Margaret Fiedler helped the children fix it into a theater with curtains you could open and shut with a rope.  They put on the play, “Peter Pan” without the help of adults.  They charged a penny for admission. Here’s what’s left of the garage, overgrown.

The Fiedler and Struckman families were active in further Missoula theatrical productions.  As a five-year-old I had a walk-on part in “My Heart’s in the Highlands” produced by Missoula County High School.

Carol said Margaret Fiedler sometimes kept a sausage hanging from a string in her kitchen that she shared when the children begged.  

Fort Missoula was a paradise for children ranging from infants to elementary school age.  It had multi-story vacant buildings. Most of the buildings were there yesterday when we visited.

Carol Struckman and Kurt Fiedler, in grade school, were older than the others by four or five years and mostly unsupervised.  They spent days entering and exploring and vandalizing buildings, including the hospital.  They slid into the hospital basement through a coal chute, then found their way upstairs.  She and Kurt hoped to find medical paraphernalia or corpses, but they didn’t.  They systematically entered every unoccupied building except the explosive powder magazine near the Bitterroot River, although they tried and tried.  They got into the abandoned internees quarters through a trapdoor from a crawl space.   Again, no corpses. Below, the hospital as it appears now.

Instead, they found three mystery novels:  The Mirrors of Castle Doon, and Who Hid the Key? and Who Locked the Door?  When I was older I read these weathered and water-stained books that Carol kept in her bedroom.  I read them more than once.  The “mirrors” book was Scottish and referred to flashlights as “torches.”  All three featured youthful detectives.  The last two featured “Perry Pierce,” set in mysterious warehouses.  

The fort’s officers club was a log building with a swimming pool of icy river water.  The kids swam there, also in the river, but they weren’t supposed to.

The adults didn’t find out the kids broke into the gym by smashing a window in a door and reaching inside to unlatch the door.  Once inside, they walked around on beams high above the floor.  

The kids climbed the fort’s water tower and the 16-foot high guard towers.  Eric Fiedler fell through the floor of one tower and broke his arm. Here’s the water tower.

One day, Carol and Kurt broke windows in the hospital with rocks they threw from a parking lot.  Eventually, a county commissioner came to the Struckman apartment to question our father about who caused the damage. Robert declared that Carol would never do such a thing.  Carol lied and said of course she didn’t.  Adults generally wanted the kids to go play somewhere.

When I came on the scene I remember Kurt had a scar on his forehead.  Eric had a broken tooth.  As teenagers, Eric and Tom wanted to be beatnik Bohemian types.  When Kurt eventually went to medical school Margaret was angry.  Said he sold out for conformity.

Leslie Fiedler insisted the children leave him alone so he could write, so he threatened to “dust their backsides.”  Mike Fiedler told me his dad sometimes shouted that they should go for “vigorous outdoor play!”  Carol said she once timidly knocked on Leslie’s door and in reply a foot crashed through.  She said she was afraid of him.  I wasn’t, though.  He visited our house after our father died and he was kind to me.

Fiedler had become a famous Jewish scholar, author, and literary critic.  He wrote Love and Death in the American Novel at the fort.  After the war came the so-called “red scare,” and he and his children were targeted by Right Wing antisemites.  My brother Tom once told me that his friend Eric Fiedler was hassled on the Higgins Avenue Bridge by toughs who threatened to throw him in the river.  Leslie’s enemies made much of an essay he published, “Montana Face.”

When he left Missoula in the late 1960s Fiedler took the Samuel Clemens endowed chair at SUNY Buffalo, New York.  He and Margaret had three more children: Debbie, Jennie, and Miriam.  

Alfredo Cipolato, later well known in Missoula as a tenor and owner of the Broadway Market, had been one of the Italian internees at the fort during the war.   The Italians called it Bella Vista.  Alfredo met his wife in Missoula during the early years of World War II when he sang in the choir at St. Francis Xavier Church. According to her obituary, she said “che bella voce” when she heard his beautiful voice.  Alfredo and our father were charter members of the Missoula Mendelssohn Club choir in 1950.  Alfredo and I sang in the Mendelssohn Club with in the 1970s.  Michael Fiedler and I sang in the club in the Spring of 1981.  Our son Todd continued the Mendelssohn Club tradition in the 1990s.

Carol said the fort and surrounding country was beautiful and natural in the 1940s.  The kids hiked to a nearby knoll, taking along snacks.  She said the knoll had a cave.  In grade school my friends and I climbed the same knoll.  I remember the cave.

When I suggested it was a miracle the Struckman and Fiedler families survived their free-wheeling childhoods.  She said all the kids at the fort survived, except one.  A horrifying story!

Carol said she was playing with a neighbor boy named Dickie and his dog.   He accidentally tossed a cylindrical tooled leather dog toy into a creek.  He fell in the water trying to retrieve it.  He said he was afraid his dad would be mad.  Dickie couldn’t swim and sank.  Carol, nine years old, ran for help, and the adults searched until they found him, but Dickie was drowned.  

Climbing the water tower, swimming in the Bitterroot River, entering nearly all the buildings—none of that got them in much trouble.  However, playing in the “primal ugguch” (their word for mud near the river) got them in trouble because they spoiled their clothes.

At the end of the era of adventures, I was born at Community Hospital March 28, 1949, spending my first year at the fort.  Carol said the day I was born she ran to the Dugan house, the place with the only telephone, to call our father at the university to tell him to come quickly because I was about to be born.  Carol said I slept in the larger of the two bedrooms upstairs in a crib with my parents and brother Tom.  She said she got the other bedroom.  She said I was a real live doll for her to play with.  When she had bad dreams she’d put me in bed with her.

Michael Fiedler, age three, came to my first birthday party.  Michael had an unusually low voice as a kid.  Carol said Margaret used to put peanut butter sandwiches near the cat food dish to distract him from eating the cat food.  Mike and I saw each other many times throughout my life.  He died a couple years ago, my oldest friend on the planet.

In most cases I think we desire the same results

Daisy Jacobs’ second graders at Washington Grade School, Missoula, Montana in 1957.

January 7, 2019

I am told I spend too much time on Facebook, mostly agreeing with politically charged posts. Trouble is, despite the venom and passion I see expressed by the left and right ends of the political spectrum, I found, mostly from canvassing voters last Summer and Fall, people generally agree on the kind of world they’d like to see.

Spent the time it takes to walk around two city blocks listening and repeating Welsh for a tiny part of the opera Blodwen.  This was the first Welsh opera, composed by Joseph Parry with libretto by Richard Davies.  They did this in the late 1800s.  

I’ll be in the chorus of Blodwen when it opens May 19 this year.  Our director sent us all Drop Box recordings for the 13 opera songs with chorus parts, so I can listen from my iPhone through ear buds.  He carefully pronounced each phrase, then set it to music, then sang it slowly so we can get it right.

This morning I listened to the 11th song.  Then I studied the score at home.  Did I mention we have until May 19?

Turns out those morning walks with Gunther are good for more than just one or two things.  Thanks to the example set by that genius author, David Sedaris, I now pick up the random bits of trash I encounter on my short walks.  An empty water bottle.  Marlboro package.  Things like that.  I make my walks two or three times a day, so I have given myself permission to pass up stuff if I’m not in the mood to stoop down.  I can get them later.

Organic matter like sticks or even frozen dog turds from someone else’s dog get a carefully aimed kick to get them off the sidewalk, of course.  This morning I did that to a chunk of ice that turned out frozen fast to the sidewalk.  Pain in toe.  A couple soccer-style kicks did the trick.

I’m thinking of further trimming low-hanging branches over the sidewalk on our block where I have to duck.  I have a pruning shear in the garage I’ve employed before.  Mrs. Johnson on the far corner or our block has a beautiful tree that hangs too low that I’m reluctant to attack because it is symmetrical.  I avoid its branches by walking near the edge of the walk.  I don’t know what kind of tree it is.

I was amazed at perhaps a dozen low-flying geese, in formation.  They always seem to be in formation.  

Blodwen.  After I get more familiar with the sounds of the Welsh words I’ll write them out on note cards to memorize, standard practice for opera singers.  

Springtime on the streets of Billings

April 23, 2023

Stories from our homeless shelter.  Some 30-40 people would queue at the front door of the church each afternoon; although some, like Robert, sat at the nearby bus stop bench, bearing the cold weather.  Seating space was scarce near the church.

Five days ago our church’s homeless shelter closed until next Fall.  This, I was told, by order of the Billings Fire Marshal.

I spoke with a fellow, Robert, several times over the past four months when First Congregational in downtown Billings hosted 31 or fewer people nightly.  Lisa Harmon, pastor, said this amounted to a bit more than 3,000 person-nights.  

Robert was a regular at the shelter. Quiet, middle-aged, dressed for the weather.

He often wore a fur cap pulled over his ears, wheeled his belongings in a metal carry-all.  I saw clean clothes stuffed between the wires.  He wore tan overalls, several coats, boots, cloth gloves.

Today I stopped to visit with Robert at his usual bus stop near the church.  I was early, to sing in the choir.  

He wore a wide-brim camo hat this time.  He had several days of stubble on his chin.

After I greeted him, he asked me how my day was going, as he usually does.  

I handed him a banknote that had been a gift to me from Mrs. Johnson, my neighbor who said she wanted me to take my wife out to eat.  She was thanking me for clearing her walk a couple of times last winter.  I told Robert the provenance of the money and he promised to repay me.  I suggested he could pass it along if he felt the need.  He folded the bill, inserting it in his glove.  I said I hoped it would buy him something to give him comfort.  He said he planned to get some macaroni and cheese.  He smacked his lips.

I asked him how his night had been; he had a pained expression and said he spent the night at the Montana Rescue Mission, but he vowed never to return.  He said people “yelled and screamed” and acted mean there.

He said he planned to visit the local Crisis Center after this. I didn’t ask him why he was homeless.

Our conversations usually focused on high school sports, especially for class C schools like his home town Stanford, Montana, a roadside town between Lewistown and Great Falls.  

Robert played basketball for Stanford years ago at a tournament in Havre.  He said they were pretty good, but after he graduated high school the team went downhill.  He played football, too.  

He told me of Stanford’s famous albino wolf in the museum, mounted and displayed in a case.

Several other denizens of the shelter attended church today, including Lavita, a pretty Native who sometimes instigated singing at the shelter with what I called her “sisterly sisters.”  

These folks sometimes sat around the central table in the church narthex, talking, giggling, teasing one another.  

Today she gave me a hug.  She reminded me that as I walked past their table I danced a bit to their tune.  Hard not to.  I loved the sense of ease she and the others displayed, despite the fragile nature of their existence.  (All of our existences?)  Another woman, Brenda, always had a kind word for us volunteer helpers.

Another woman, Amanda, said she was Crow, born in Bozeman when her parents attended Montana State University.  For her, English was a second language.  I only encountered her a couple of evenings at the shelter.

Jim was a volunteer whom I met about once a week.  Sometimes he brought his grandson.  Jim’s daughter supplied a dozen pizzas one evening.  Jim came from Hardin, Montana, but he grew up in Billings, rode his motorcycle to the shelter.

The volunteers were only slightly less interesting than those who came for shelter.  Until you lingered with the group it was hard to tell the volunteers from the homeless guests.


—one woman looked like a middle-aged housewife experiencing life on the street for the first time.  Did she have a fight with her family?

—Jack, an older man with long white hair, looked like an academic.  He was one of several with a notebook sticking from his pack.

—a young man, Johnny, had only the clothes on his back.  He looked barely out of his teens.  When I mentioned that he reminded me of a television actor on “Portlandia,” he replied that he hears that often.

—Randy carried a pack in back and a quilt in front.  The last time I saw him he was nearly incoherent and played with a dental bridge with his tongue.

—Timothy was an ex-Marine from a tribe in central or northern Montana.  He grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go until I promised to pray for him.  I pulled my hand back.  “Right now,” he said, so I did, silently.

—Dean always wore a sports jersey and seemed too chipper for the occasion.

—Tim (different guy than Timothy, above) got around slowly with a walker.  He spoke softly and his clothes were invariably soiled so he daily needed a new set: socks, trousers, shirt.  He had a supply of candy that he enjoyed on the sly.  We stocked up a supply of size 32 waist pants for him.  He seemed well-known and well-liked by volunteers, mental health workers and the other street folks.

—another 10-15 persons each evening perched about the narthex on various chairs.  Some new people, some familiar faces whom I didn’t meet.  Some I met only once and I don’t recall their names.

After the shelter closed for the season a bunch of us volunteers cleaned the sleeping rooms.  It was a “low barrier” shelter, so we often admitted people who were high or drunk, as long as they weren’t too disruptive.  

But we did find a methamphetamine pipe, a syringe, some goldfish crackers complete with mouse droppings.  These things didn’t trouble me, much.  Like I said, we had more than 3,000 person-night stays and mostly trouble-free.

Shelterfirst keeps people from freezing.

March 23, 2023

We’ve been helping get homeless people off the streets at night during the cold weather.

Shelter First is when Billings First Congregational church gives floor sleeping space to street people. 

When I arrived at the church at 6:15pm, I spotted dozens of folks gathered at the church front door.  Most recognized me from previous evenings and seemed welcoming.  Some were wheelchair bound.  Signs on the door requested the folks not crowd and to give way to the disabled.  The folks, in various stages of life, clothed in a variety of ways, mostly seemed patient.

Corey has a walker—the good kind with handle grips and a seat—festooned with his blankets and bags for his belongings.  He was at the head of the line, smoking a cigarette.  The others formed a line behind him that ran down the wheelchair ramp that zigzagged to the sidewalk below.  I heard banter among the mostly men, a few women, with the word “fuck.”   One man asked me in a strained voice, “How long do we have to wait?”  

Turns out the chief of security, a masked and gloved fellow named Dan, didn’t make them wait long.  He got them indoors early before the official opening time on an evening snowy and painfully fucking cold with a wind.

The homeless folk gathered inside the vestibule behind a ribbon barrier, the kind you see in airports when you wait in line.

These would have been known as hobos or hippies or worse names.  Mostly Whites, some Natives, a few Hispanics, two Blacks, old, young, men, women, trans.

One neatly dressed woman had recently started working as a housekeeper at Billings Clinic.  She couldn’t yet afford an apartment, so she came to Shelter First.

Another person told me he preferred Shelter First to the Rescue Mission.  He didn’t say why.

One night they each got a sack lunch (bologna sandwich, bag of chips), a pack of meat sticks, and a bottle of water.  Most of the quiet eaters sat at the periphery of the church lobby on straight-back or easy chairs.  

A few of the more animated, like Henry, a hip-looking dude with long black hair and black beard, sat at a central table, contemplating some of the deeper aspects of existence.  An intoxicated Northern Cheyenne woman, whom I recognized from Lame Deer, is an army veteran.  She was glad to see me, but when I asked her about her circumstances, she told me not to worry about it, so I didn’t pursue the subject.

I didn’t get the full name of Mark, a short-haired fellow who declined a proffered heavy winter coat, protesting that he is a minimalist—doesn’t want any extra stuff beyond what he wears on his back.

Lita Pepion, the general manager of Shelter First, voiced appreciation for his minimalist way.  Lita is Blackfoot, cheerful, thoughtful.  She said she often helps provide used shoes, mostly, from a large closet, labeled “Free Store.”  The store has new underwear, socks, used pants and shirts.  Demand is high for sweat pants and sweatshirts.

Let me start over.

P. and I have been volunteering at Shelter First this past month, or so.  Some nights the cold temps out there were brutal:  17 below with strong winds.  Another day the temp was about 40 degrees.  

One severely cold night I helped a guy get a ham sandwich whose hands were so cold and frostbitten he could hardly hold it.  The only other fare that night was granola bars, vanilla custard cups, and water.  Our pastor, Lisa Harmon, helped me get the young man the ham sandwich.

Despite the scant food offering, one of the men insisted someone say grace.

As I said, the two sleeping rooms barely hold 31 sleeping mats, with about a foot, or less, of floor separating them.  Perhaps a half-dozen cots line the walls, reserved for the sickest and oldest.  One man had been hit by a car and had a crushed knee.  He got a cot, but moaned in pain.  He thanked me when I turned down the room light.

Two rooms:  the one with mostly (but not all) women and girls held about 14 mats.  The larger room held 16.  One person slept in the hallway.

The routine:  everyone enters the church, but waits near the doorway until they are checked in, one by one.  Some of them are married couples.  At first we made them separate to sleep in separate rooms, but that practice was abandoned after a few weeks.  

Each person gets checked for weapons, then screened by a Crisis Center social worker for COVID symptoms.  

Dan, who has a remarkable way of communicating with and remembering each individual’s name, has them put their personal effects (often a backpack and coat) in a numbered tote.  A few carry loads of blankets.  Another has an army duffel bag.

A one-eyed blonde woman with hair cut short is denied entry for an unknown reason.  She said her belongings had been stolen.  Dan helped her get a coat and boots.  Only the boots didn’t fit.  She was shuttled off to the Crisis Center later.

Another woman, a transgender person, refused to let a security guard named Gary screen her for weapons.  She screamed that her rights were being violated and that we should all burn in the fires of hell.  I looked away and heard a crash when one of the stanchions got knocked over.  She continued screaming, sitting on the floor.  Our pastor phoned the police and two bearded plainclothes officers took her away in cuffs.  The rest of us in the lobby of the church sat in stunned silence.

When the door closed as the trio departed the church, the room erupted in applause.  I don’t know if any of us felt truly cursed by the transgender woman, but I sensed a general relief that the commotion had resolved.

A legless man in a wheelchair was wheeled in by his helper.  The wheelchair-bound man was obviously intoxicated—so much so, that Dan told him that he wouldn’t let him stay if he were that drunk the next day.  I was there the next evening, and the legless man was in much better condition.  Dan prepared a fairly thick camping mattress for him, with pillows and blankets.  I think the man’s helper left after wheeling him in.

Some evenings the suppers—hamburgers and fries—came from a west-end mega-church, another night, a caterer brought in pulled pork sandwiches with baked beans on the side.  The 31 diners seemed to feel well.  At least they were talking quietly.

Super Bowl Sunday Lita treated the “houseless neighbors” to a big-screen TV and lots of pizza.

The most important thing to give is respect.  

Freshman hippie wannabe

In 1968 I was a fake hippie at the University of Montana in Missoula.

September, 1967, University of Montana in Missoula

My mother insisted on helping me make my bed to get me settled. I was a freshman in 1967. Mortified that my mother was there, helping me move into Craig Hall. Then it was a men’s dormitory.

“Please mother, don’t,” I begged her. “Just leave me here!”

For background, I must note that there are grand old dormitories at the university. But Craig Hall doesn’t come close. It is ugly, plain and square, like it has a military crewcut. It stunk like a locker room. Sweat, only mingled with the odors of shoe polish and Brasso. The R.O.T.C. guys were always shining their brass belt buckles. Lots of guys didn’t change their underwear very often. They used cheap cologne and underarm deodorant.

I was familiar with all of the dormitories because, as an adolescent growing up in Missoula, I explored the university buildings every night after school. I did so for at least two years, hundreds of forays into the unknown. I knew secrets about the buildings. I had crawled through tunnels connecting the buildings.

But God! in 1967, as a freshman in college, I was lonesome! We lived in Dillon since the seventh grade and I didn’t much know anyone in Missoula except a few of my uncool friends from high school. I looked for some hippies around campus, but I couldn’t find any. At least none the first day I looked.

My dorm room had a grimy ground-level picture window, a marvel of architecture. Marvelous because it had been designed as if to eliminate any possible grace or beauty.

It was closest to the north outside door of the building, where countless feet tromped past my door to class every morning. The sound of anxious feet made me feel anxious too, like I had to join in the rush. My accommodations: Unsatisfactory. Just like my roommate, can’t remember his name, the super straight college freshman. Not artistic. Not cool. Not rebellious. Totally beat down by the establishment.

He had bad habits: he kept his hair short, he shaved, he didn’t like me, he talked in a loud voice, like someone from New Jersey. He had learned these habits at a military academy where his parents had sent him.

He had been a teenage criminal. Like me, he majored in journalism, one thing we had in common, although he said he didn’t care about journalism.

We treated each other politely, at first. He suggested I sleep on the bottom bunk, so I did. After all, my covers were neatly tucked in there.

I laid down on the bottom bunk and he climbed up to the top. I pushed my feet up against the springs overhead to jog him up and down. He responded by threatening me with a shocking surprise that would be quite painful if I did that again, so I didn’t.

He told me that he didn’t like me. He said he rejected all my values. Hippie values. Peace, love, drugs, rock and roll, sexual adventures.

One day, entering the room, he told me, “You are a nihilist. That’s right, a nihilist.”

He laughed. I had no idea what he meant. He said we had nothing in common. He didn’t like illegal drugs. He said he lost a good friend from a heroin overdose. Of course he was lying. Wasn’t he? I told him that hippies don’t take heroin. Just psychedelic drugs. For recreation and introspection. For scientific purposes. Like getting high.

Even more disgusting, each morning my roomie (his word) brushed his head briskly for about 15 seconds with a pair of brushes he kept on his well-organized dresser. In turn, I snubbed him and typically rolled out of bed chanting some secret hippie stuff. I often put on yesterday’s clothes and headed to breakfast. Or else I rolled over and skipped my 8 o’clock class. Or both.

After the first quarter I saw the military man roommate maybe once more, between classes. He was friendly. Said he got just one B, the rest A’s. Hell, I did just as well as he did. Well, not quite. But pretty good anyway. Good enough.

Missoula had always had beatniks, now it had hippies. Trouble is, I didn’t know any. At least not in Missoula. My brother and his friends in Eugene, Oregon, turned me onto pot when I ran away to visit them during the previous summer.

I wanted to find some hippies. Some dope-smoking people willing to share with me.

How to define hip? I’ll tell you. A hip person wasn’t straight. Straight people caved into the pressure from the town folk, their high school teachers, their adult relatives, their jock friends. These people made them get a short haircut and wear regular straight clothes and abstain from pot and drink plenty of alcoholic beverages and smoke tobacco cigarettes. Also watch TV. In short, straights were conformists.

Straight people were well-groomed and cared about television and sports and didn’t question the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. Straight people were mean. Straight people were knee-jerk patriotic and were allied with the old guys who belonged to the Elks or Masons or some other organization. They were the problem. Hippies were part of the solution, the revolution for peace and justice and harmony.

When I got up I did my best to act naturally. My hair was growing long, same with my beard. In that way I hoped to attract persons of like interests. Interest in being a part of the counterculture. You see, the counterculture people dressed in glorious colors, exercised the freedom to seek self-gratification. Freedom to shun the military and war. In those days all young men had to register for the draft in their hometown.

Eventually I made some friends with like-minded people, but it took weeks.

My friends spoke honestly and kindly, mostly. Unless angry. We were rebel men and women who hung out together wherever we could.

We were not locked into having to ask for dates to get together for university-sanctioned social events. Like in sororities and fraternities. Frat boys were not cool. They reeked of sexism, alcoholism, and underarm deodorant and aftershave cologne. My friends shunned all that. We looked and smelled naturally. Of sweat, of tobacco and incense. Sometimes of marijuana.

Those days were the nascent time of hard rock and electric blues music. I know that’s hard to believe now, but it was.

The folk music scene was drawing to a close in 1967. It had been reviled by the anti-communist John Birch Society that spread propaganda lies like, “buying a Bob Dylan album puts money in the hands of communists; even buys the bullets that kill our soldiers in Vietnam.”

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were some of the pioneer musicians prior to 1967, followed closely by the “summer of love” psychedelic San Francisco bands: The Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. I almost forgot Procol Harum, which also started out in 1967. From the east coast came Velvet Underground. Frank Zappa came in that first wave. Creedence Clearwater Revival came in later. Also about a year later was Cream and a list of newer bands. Raw energy, message of freedom, anti-war, anti-establishment.

The straights in Missoula, on the other hand, listened to top 40 hits: A few big stars making music highly processed with violins and horns. Pabulum.

We didn’t shun all responsibility, although the straights often tried to portray us that way.

It always boiled down to hairstyle.

We hippies bravely fought the pressure to conform to “straight values.” Someone yelled at me from a car to “Get a haircut!” My mother told me to get a haircut. My track coach in high school threatened to pull my beard out with a pair of pliers. My sister’s adult friend told me in a forceful way that my long hair was unacceptable. There was a song on the radio with the lyrics” “…are you a boy or are you a girl? With your long brown hair you look like a girl?” Anti-hip songs with messages opposing marijuana, other psychedelic drugs, mocking the anti-war movement. We had to stand up tall for our values.

That’s what we were about. Freedom to be hip, to have hip friends, to be members of an underground culture that could fulfill the American dream of self-determination.

University Student in Missoula

Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr.

His scratchy sweater his mom had given him smelled sour like wool, all the more from the cigarette smoke where he and his friends gathered at the dormitory and talked about women, about ultimate reality, about where to get beer.  The air was ripe with possibilities, yet forces were in place to deny them any of the desirables.  The girls were locked up.  Dormitory rules.  Stern blue-haired dean of women.  Drinking age was 21.

No shortage of women — women their age, more than willing to socialize with them, even slip out the back door to love them up.  Carl licked his lips.  He loved how they smelled.  College was nothing but good.  Frustrating, but good, because hope was always alive.  Hell, he knew how to get a fake ID card.

Of course he had a mid-term exam in Botany 101 Monday.  He and a couple other guys would have to pull an all-nighter Sunday if they were to do well.  Hmmm.  Let’s see:  Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.  He ticked them off.  Plants, vascular plants, and so on right down to gymnosperms, pines, ponderosa.  He had gotten this from a different all-nighter in the dry winter air with its throat-scratching freezing temperatures.  A friend and he had sat up in the basement laundry of South Hall.

Missoula was a party town for college kids.  Had a reputation.  Come to think of it, Carl wasn’t sure about the order and family of the P. Pine.  He’d have to look that up before the exam Monday.  His shoes were not adequate for the cold weather.  Feet would freeze before he and his friends could make it downtown across the bridge to Eddy’s Club.  They’d shoot pool, maybe run into some older women who had been emancipated from the tyranny of dorm life.  Maybe he could get some pussy.  He was still a virgin.

In just one week everything would change.  The Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor and the United States would declare war and just about every healthy young man would be drafted into the army or navy.

Meanwhile, Carl ticked off the kinds of fungi:  basidiospore . . . . In seven days he would have taken the mid-terms, but neither he nor any of the other guys would care about any of that any more.

News of no importance here

Weather is forecast to plunge from about 60 degrees to 26 tonight, so I’m practicing staying busy indoors.  Whoa!  Those who know me might tell how often I nap, but the secret is out.  Weather is going to change.  Our Hymer has been put to bed, dressed up from ground to roof a/c in a cloak of gore tex fabric.

A Hymer, my friends, is a 2016 Dodge Promaster van that was converted into an RV, albeit small.  

The odometer has gone from about 4,000 to nearly 60,000 the past four years.  We bought it prior to the COVID pandemic, but we had the excellent fortune to pick it up in Anchorage.  

Picture P., me, and Gunther landing in Anchorage in late August to be met by Ted Palmer, who handled all the paperwork and took our money in exchange for a two-week adventure.  We drove south and east through Canada to Lake Superior that time, alternating driving duty with reading about Louis Riel, great leader of Metis tribesmen.  We gobbled up the kilometers of highway while reading Joseph Kinsey Howard’s huge book, “Strange Empire.” 

In Winnipeg, we drove about the city in search of Saint Boniface Cathedral and Louis Riel’s grave.  A wee medicine bundle, tied with yarn or ribbon, lay on the ground near the marker.  This is a sign of reverence and respect for an indigenous martyr whom the Canadian government killed by hanging in 1885, age 40.

How is everyone? you may ask.  Gunther is advancing in years, and shows it.  His voracious appetite!  I estimate his weight at forty pounds.  A year ago he weighed two stone (28 lb).  We’ve been too involved in his diet, frying him eggs, making dog food from table scraps, giving him treats for being a “good dog.”  Excuse me while I hold him while standing on the bathroom scale:  245 lb vs 215 without the dog.  Okay. He gained only two, so excuse me.

I feel better, knowing Gunther’s weight.  His rabies shot is due this month; I’ll call Dr. Root for an appointment.  Otherwise, I don’t think the G-Man has any medical complaints.  Sometimes he looks bored, but I consider that a social prob.

P.  is in fine fettle. Her birthday is the 23rd of the month.  She seems tireless compared to me.

She and I start the day with Wordle, competing via text with our children and spouses and grandchildren.  Then we dig into crossword puzzles and Spelling Bee from the Times.

Having drunk the requisite three cups of coffee, we dig into a bowl of cereal, most days, Grape Nuts brand.  The old ways are best.

Today I brushed Gunther for about a half hour.  He digs it!  He looks good, even if he never quite loses that doggy smell that we enjoy.

Just got a call from Niece Becky.  It’s her birthday tomorrow.  We’re going to host a bunch of Meakins’ nieces and nephewlings tomorrow for supper of homemade noodles and chicken.  I’ll be responsible for two pies.  She will furnish beverages and potatoes.

Quest for Pickle Lake

Oct. 21, 2022

Tuesday P. and I returned from a Canadian adventure in the Hymer, our RV from a modified Dodge van.

We left town the day after I learned I would not be kept as a juror for a case of domestic violence and witness tampering.  I wasn’t interviewed; dismissed after four hours.  A $13 check for my services was waiting at the post office where our mail was being held.

Day 1:  Drove from Billings to Malta, then to Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs RV Park and Resort.  Early October, not many people in the RV Park, even fewer at the beautiful hot springs pools.  The woman in charge showed us how to let ourselves out of the storefront office, because she didn’t want to stay up so late. We saw a murmuration of some kind of little birds at a nearby swamp.

Day 2:  I gobbled up my last three cannabis gummies early that morning because I realized the Canadian Border Officer would ask me if we had any in the car.  Thus I was able to say no.  A good thing, too, because they searched the van with a dog anyhow.  They found the bear spray that I declared we had.  She asked me why I had bear spray!  I patiently explained the use in case of a charging grizzly encounter.

A stranger once gave me his bear spray when he caught me hiking in the Beartooth Wilderness without it.  Yes, this happened to me.  The guy who handed me his bear spray said I could keep it or turn it in at a place called “Silvergate” in Red Lodge. Of course I turned it in. Soon we were in Canada!

We crossed into Canada a few miles north of Opheim, Montana. We took a highway going east.

We found a town called Stauton that first day to camp at a city park.  We called a phone number inside the bathroom that advised us to not clog the toilet, but to plunge the toilet if we should clog it.  Soon Greg came driving up to our Hymer to collect $15 fee for a night of camping and use of the showers.

The shower was simple.  A copper pipe had a shower head soldered on it.  The valve was a simple ball-cock that had two settings: Off and on.  Half the water simply ran across the floor, but it was possible to avoid the river. Nonetheless, it was a warm shower and I appreciated that.

Day 3: We rolled across miles of land with oil pumpjacks around us until we got to Winnipeg, and thence to Birds Hill Provincial Park.  $25/night, and some hiking trails out to a pond with birds and coyotes.  We thought we heard wolves two or three years ago when we stayed a night at the same place, but the ranger said wolves have not been seen there recently.

Day 4:  Oilfields gave way to mixed coniferous and deciduous forest and frequent lakes.  We saw a few deer but no other big game animals.  We saw numerous instances of places where a tree fell against a power line.

We got to Ignace, Manitoba, north on 599 to camp at a trailhead across the highway from Sand Bar Lake.  We drove fifty yards on a sketchy dirt road to a clearing where Spruce Grouse ran and flew out of our way.  In the morning the water for the sink wouldn’t run because some of the hoses must have frozen in the night.  This frightened us until the water began running later as the day warmed. We told our experience to a Fb group of Hymer owners and wannabes. We were quickly reassured nothing bad was apt to happen.

Day 5: Drove from Sand Bar north on highway 599 several hundred kilometers to Pickle Lake, as far north as one can drive on pavement in Manitoba.  We saw helicopter pilots and women in traditional dress.

Pickle Lake proved to be touristy, despite its remote location.  Looks to be populated by Indigenous folk, and we had lunch at a hotel. 

Patty melt and poutine, proved to be too much food.  Remember poutine is french fries with beef gravy and cheese curds.  Deliciousness.

Pickle Lake was our ostensible reason to visit Canada this Fall. Location is everything. I was delighted to see pavement instead of deep mud and not too many of the giant shipping containers emblazoned with words like “Cosco.” I didn’t spy a single 55 gallon drum or pile of old tires, but I saw people crossing the road.

We picked up a young lady hitchhiker, dropped her off with a few bucks and a prayer in Ignace.  We found Davy Lake RV Park.  A beautiful park, great showers, laundromat.

Day 6: made it to Bekakaka Falls campground near Thunder Bay.  Huge campground, somewhat sparsely inhabited, despite it being near Canadian Thanksgiving. We spied a 20-30 adult get-together around a big campfire.

Day 7: Back in the USA, roll down Highway 61 to Duluth, to Todd’s house to help him build some fence. Well, set a couple of fence posts using a “Dingo” with 6” auger, a shovel, a wrecking bar, and 7 sacks of Quickcrete brand cement mix.

Days later: Headed west, camped at the Jamestown RV Park.  Sweet deal for $35. Had the park to ourselves, nearly.

Back in Billings to replace the cover of the air conditioner (probably dislodged when we drove in the Sand Bar trailhead road).

Also, to rent a place to store the Hymer, winterize it, purchase a canvas cover for storage.

On the bum. . . .

Writing is hard work, make no mistake.  One might think it is easy work, but those would be mere appearances.  One might see a writer staring vacantly into space, probably giving birth to an intense murder mystery.  Moments later the writer may flip open the laptop to type furiously into a word-processing program.  Fingers are moving quickly, but the rest of the writer appears to be quiescently existing.  This is hard work?

Yes.  But so is building a fence.  Well, the fence might be as hard a job, so the argument loses some of its punch.  I didn’t really want to get into the pros and cons of fence building here.  So I won’t.

Lucy is sleeping on the arm of my chair.  Gunther is asleep five or six feet away.

I was hitching rides across Canada in early 1969 when I fell in with a young man who knew people in common with me from Missoula.  I smoked tobacco in those days, so I gave him one of my cigarettes and we compared our list of folks.  I remember he remarked of Peter Koch:  “He is mysterious.”

Today I read that Peter is moving his printing press to new quarters in Berkeley, California.  Of course, that means the press, the type, the typesetting tables with imposing stone, and the press.  These machines weigh thousands of pounds.  

Peter was in his early twenties when I met him at his door in Missoula.  

Peter lived in a log, low-slung shake-covered house, on the edge of Kiwanis Park on the Missoula River.

Tom was in front of me, asking Peter if we could stay with him in his back room.  “You are welcome to stay, Tom,” Peter said, and I pushed in right behind Tom into P.’s back room, floor to ceiling with every esoteric book about Eastern religions and scholarly works by all of the great thinkers of the world.  We were fortunate to own a couple of mattresses and some bedding, and soon we were sound asleep.  We’d travelled all the previous day and night to arrive from Seattle in Tom’s 1953 Chevy sedan he’d gotten from his uncle Norman Ackley, a lawyer with lots of friends.

We tried to find lodging on our own, but Tom and I had little money and many of the landlords of Missoula had been previously burned by students with antisocial habits and who were not apt to pay rent in a timely way.

A potential landlord said it best:  “I don’t know what your habits are.”

Peter knew what our habits were.  We liked to take mind-expanding drugs, we enjoyed making music for hours on end, we enjoyed the Spring Missoula weather.  We didn’t worry too much about food to eat or clothes to wear.  If things got bad enough we figured we could find a job doing something to earn some money.  

Peter’s back room connected to his kitchen by a hallway with access to a bathroom.  The kitchen accommodated about one butt at a time, and Peter’s living room, which he had converted to a generous bed with some chairs around it.  Peter slept on the bed.  The rest of us sat on the edge of the bed and played our guitars.  I’d drum or play blues chords, Tom used to turn his Gibson classical guitar over and drum on the wooden back.  Peter supplied the dope and papers and we toked freely.

Days passed, Peter, Tom and I went fishing up Gold Creek, then cooked the trout in Peter’s kitchen, serving brown rice along with.  

One remarkable evening two women arrived at Peter’s house:  Penny and Dana.  That was the first I’d met Penny, but I’d seen Dana among the hippies at the UM food service where we always put a bunch of tables together and feasted as a group of bearded and long-haired men, and equally long-haired women.  Our meetings on weekdays lasted until the food service personnel ushered us out.  Women had strict curfews at their residence halls.  Men didn’t, so we’d follow the women home, planting ourselves inside in front of the blaring televisions.  We’d claim to be waiting for specific individuals.  I got kicked out because I insisted on entertaining one of the women by letting her sit on my lap.

We dressed like clowns because our government was turning the men into soldiers, shipping them off to Vietnam to be traumatized or killed.  Or both.  We’d rather get stoned and get thrown out of the women’s dormitory.

Once liberated we walked down to the University Congregational Church to their downstairs coffee house for a few hours, then we’d be back to the dorm rooms to listen to heavy acid rock:  Rolling Stones, Beatles, Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendryx, Blue Cheer.  We sat on the edge of beds, toked weed, and smoked regular tobacco cigarettes.

Looking back, the worst drug experiences I had were with the legal drugs:  tobacco cigarettes and alcohol.  Alcohol wouldn’t have been much of a problem, because none of us bought it very often.  We were too young.  But a friend of Mark’s, a hispanic youth named Raol, got caught with a six-pack of beer and was expelled from the university.  The rest of us smoked marijuana in plain view of the RAs, and we got no punishment.  In fact we jeered at the RAs and called them tyrants.  Gary, a bearded hippie from New York, called our RA a tyrant.  

I got in trouble for typing late into the night.  I wrote some of my most enlightened pieces in those days of youth, of innocence, of freakishness.  I put a carpet up on the wall and put the typewriter on a stack of towels to deaden the noise, but the clacking typewriter got me into trouble.  The following term I was moved into a corner room on the first floor, over the laundry facility.  That facility proved to be a meeting place when I didn’t return home for the holidays my sophomore year.  There I spent time with the guys from the East Coast, such as Steve Franklin from Philly.  I didn’t wash my clothes often, but during the holidays when the residence hall was empty there wasn’t much else to do.  I don’t remember how I ate, but I did have a sausage or two hanging out my dorm room window.  A friend, Steve Spoja, visited me in my room and I shared the sausage with him.  Steve used to show up with some good dope.  I don’t know where he got it, but he and Larry Felton often talked about making some money on the side dealing dope.  Suited me, as long as the dope was of good quality.  That last requirement wasn’t always easy to fulfill, although Larry Felton denied that he had dope that was tainted.  I thought he did, though.

Smoking weed did not help me write my assignments for journalism school, so I elected to change my major to English, despite my lack of any knowledge of what a degree in English would entail, as far as academic work.

By the end of my second calendar year at Missoula, I was ready to quit school.  That in itself was a thrill because I wrote my final exam in world literature as a personal attack and critique of the professor who taught us.  I let him have it, his sniveling ways, his apologetic demeanor.  I ended up with a B, much to my surprise.

I thought I was a rock and roll star because of a brief stint with a band we named “Water.”  It was Gordon Simard on vocals, me on my electric Gibson hollow body, John Herman as a drummer, I don’t remember our bass guitarist, but he was our manager and got busted for selling weed to high school kids.  His lawyer was expensive, so he had to move to Idaho and work in the silver mines of Kellogg to get out of debt.

Our band “Water” played perhaps three or four gigs before we disbanded.  We did one in Missoula at a roller rink, another in the Copper Commons ball room, and one in Helena at a community center.  “Water” had a repertoire of three songs:  “Keep on Chooglin’” and “Slow blues.”  The third song was “I ain’t superstitious,” by Jimmy Reed.  We played these songs for extended sets to satisfy the time requirement to play for a high school shindig.

I had such a guitar!  Got it from Eliel’s department store in Dillon, Montana.  I believe someone from the local railroad street bar gave it up when he was in debt, or else he got shot.  Such was the underground population in Dillon.  Consisted of alcoholic railroad riders and ranch hands, all of whom were out of my hands.  I was glad to buy an incredible guitar, well broken in.  Came in a brown case and the amplifier I was able to rent from Hansen’s Music in Missoula was also brown, not a modern solid-state like Jerry Prinz’s public address system.  Still I could play loudly and fat.  In those days, the good bands had a big sound, so we did the best with the gear we could rent or borrow.

I thought the guitar was my ticket to playing with a good band. . .like I might find in Seattle.  I left a notice on a bulletin board at the ID bookstore on hippie hill in Seattle, but it got one inquiry, and although I promised him an insane experience to hear me play, the person on the other end of the line would have none of it.  Guitar pretty much stayed in its case in Seattle while I tried to make a living selling hippie newspapers:  “The Helix.”  I don’t know how long it stayed in print, but I think several years is a fair estimate.

My friend Bill Yenne made friends with the publisher of “The Helix” and sold him lots of illustrations done with pen and ink.  I’m talking Rapidograph pens and fine white board.  Bill has gone on to publish many books and he had made himself a nice living, still friends with Larry Felton in Sacramento, California.

Bill Yenne captured many photos during our hip years.

Cemetery tour in 2023

May 23, 2022

Wednesday we drove to Lewistown Cemetery to decorate graves.  

Then to Fort Benton to camp in our camper van.  Weather was bad, so we stayed an extra day in Fort Benton.  Stayed at the fairgrounds for $22/night.  Close to the river, wildlife, mule deer, crows, a robin.  

Gunther was listless, even though he got to run free because there were just one or two other camps set up, so we had the area to ourselves, almost.  The wind blew all day.

Outhouse was exemplary for a pit toilet.  Replaced a roll of t-paper.

High wind warnings up by Browning, hence the extra day at Ft. B.  

We got a pretty good rainstorm.

Friday we left Ft. B, drove to Chester on a back road.  

Joined highway two, drove through Cut Bank, Browning, East Glacier, then had lunch at Izaak Walton Inn.  Food was terrific.  I love that place for its railroad memorabilia and vintage charm.

We continued to Kalispell.  We’ve tried getting flowers at many stores, but Rosauer’s on Kalispell’s southern edge is our only reliable source of pots of chrysanthemums.  We bought 8 at $6 ea.  

Finding the Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell is damned hard.  We always end up driving all around looking for it.  We were lucky, and gaining experience.  Next year I plan to use the GPS.

We continued from Kalispell to Missoula.  First, spent $100 at the Good Food Store on granola, dog treats, bread, and wine (chateau-neuf du Pape).  

Next day we decorated graves at the Missoula Cemetery.  Then it was off to Hall, Montana to Valley View Cemetery for —you guessed it.  More graves.

We took turns driving back to Billings.