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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.


PW Volume II number 1


Click the link below to read the entire issue.


Mike Fiedler, 1947-2020

Mike visited our place in Billings on his way to his brother Kurt’s funeral in Albuquerque.

Michael Lynn Fiedler, 73, died this past week.  His parents were Margaret and Leslie Fiedler.  He had two older brothers, Kurt and Eric.  Both are dead.  He has three living sisters:  Deborah, Jenny, and Memo.  My problem is I don’t know much.  But when I did know them well, we were intimates.  Eric was four years older than Mike and Kurt was nine.  Eric was a theater technician, Kurt was a brain surgeon and educator.  What about Mike?


Dr. Leslie A. Fiedler, noted literary critic and author.

What did Michael do?  As in work?  I usually encountered him between jobs, when he was unoccupied, but traveling.

Michael said my brother Tom wouldn’t speak to him for a long time because “he thought I was a wastrel.”  

Was he?  He traveled all over the world:  N and S America, Europe, Asia, Great Britain, China.  He lived on a modest stipend about which he explained patiently to me several times.  He was frugal.  He was a Macrobiotic cook, a practicing Buddhist, a Jew.  He knew how to raise vegetables and other plants.  He was a consummate poet, hippie, beatnik, bohemian.  He could build a house.  He could sing in the Missoula Mendelssohn Club.  I have a photo of him wearing a tuxedo.  

Michael Lynn Fiedler leaves me mourning and confused, but that’s nothing new.  Why confused? I have to invent some theories.

I think Danny Merchant made this image of Michael.

You know how regular people live in houses?  Michael lived in a house.  But in between times when he stayed put, he traveled by air all over the world.  Every continent.  His words had more meaning than usual, somehow.

He looked like an elf or sprite in ordinary life.  His dad, Leslie the college English professor, was also short — I don’t know — about five feet tall.  But wide!  Both Mike and his father had large heads and stout chests.  I knew Mike best.  Off and on my life long.  High energy, that.

In the late 60s in Missoula, we had some magical summers with Michael.  I think Mike had the mental illness that makes you shout obscenities at strangers.  Only Mike shouted random things he heard in conversation.  I’m thinking of Tourette’s syndrome, although none of us had a name for the behavior then.  Jerry Printz said Mike was permanently spaced out.  I disputed that then and I still do.

Look!  I’m at Kiwanis park on a June morning in Missoula in 1968.  A figure on a 1950s woman’s bicycle is peddling this way, a blue bike with tractor seat and basket on front handlebars.  It’s Michael Fiedler.  He is smiling, rolling his head, clucking.  He has some flowers from someone’s garden. That’s how he appears.  Several times I’ve been tripping along on an idyllic Missoula scene:  green lawns and a creek, a bridge, wildflowers and birds.  An elfin figure wearing a sailors watch cap appears, grabs me by my arms, hugs me.  His smile is huge, his teeth are uneven, one or two missing.  My childhood friend!  Always shaggy long black curly hair and dense beard.  Looked like a pirate!

  He’s wearing sandals, black pants, colorful shirt, colorful scarf.  Does he have any dope?  No, but it’s early yet.  He pulls up and we greet and we hug!  We barge into Peter Koch’s little house, people still asleep in there.  Hungry?  Peter is the ultimate host.

We put on some rice to cook.  Brown rice, whole grain, unpolished.  Peter said he bought the 10 lb bag as insurance against hunger.  Peter spent most of his money on marmalade and expensive coffee from Broadway Market.  You know the place, Cipolato’s grocery.  Peter smoked expensive Balkan Sobranie tobacco.

Michael could come up with some amazing street drugs to share later in the day.  First we had to navigate the crowd of hippies that are wandering around Peter’s house.  They are Peter’s age, about 5 years older than us.  Probably in from Eugene or Seattle.

An outspoken woman in a long hippie dress teases Michael.  She is evidently put off by Michael’s tics and vocal outbursts.  She says she understands him, she said she knows why he blurts out “Fuuuuuuuck!!” and rolls his eyes.  She follows him across the yard as he tries to avoid her.  “I’m alright, Frank,” he blurts breathlessly, in a bass tone somewhat higher than a distant jetliner.  

Yet she teases him.  He finally turns to her and angrily demands she stop.  Mike looks like he could get physical.  She is taken aback, relents.  Yet, Mike does seem to be a bit incapacitated by his Tourette’s, and for some reason, the woman is dissatisfied about its authenticity, his inability to stop the grunts, the tics, the “Jacks and no jacks back!”

Someone said Michael once fell off a bar stool at the Missoula Club.  That episode with Frank Dugan was the source of another tic and repetitive outburst, “I’m alright, Frank!”

I’ve gotten poems and writings from Michael throughout my life, publishing them in our magazine, “The Portable Wall.”   Michael produced one such issue the Summer of 1979, I think. Here’s Mike’s work.

Could draw a kind of portrait.  He is intimately familiar with a variety of modes of thought, many of them hidden away on the planet, places he visited.  Every continent, his belongings in a small pack on his back, his transportation his feet.  His feet shod in whatever local persons are wearing.

Michael’s mind was quicksilver and he could put his thoughts on paper.  Sent them to me, and I have them now.

It was considerable work for someone trained to read handwriting to transcribe a page of Mike Fiedler’s manuscript.

I’m not done with this work. Reader, thank you for bearing with me. I’m still in acute mourning for my friend. I plan to share more. Colleen Kane offered this image of Michael, probably when he visited her and Bob Gesell.

Michael L. Fiedler at Colleen and Bob’s, I think.

Michael L. Fiedler

prelude to an obituary….

Michael Fiedler, 1975, Huntington Beach, California

Michael Lynn Fiedler is dead from a heart attack day before yesterday.  As far as I’m concerned, the universe, God, everything in it, is but a damn shade of what it used to be.  I feel sad. 

In my younger years, I lived a few yards from Michael’s at Fort Missoula (right after I was born.)  Michael loved me and I loved him.

His life was messy, scary even.  But then again, if you looked very closely, his life transmogrified into one that was well-ordered, crystalline.  I like both views. 

He showed up in my plain Montana life in his own way, at his own time.  We shouted, we argued.  I trembled because he seemed to be a wild man!  I swear he wasn’t a wild man. 

In fact, he told me he was writing a book about his experiences with Alan Ginsberg, Philip Roth, other intellectual heavyweights of the 60s-80s.  We can digress later.  Michael’s father, Leslie Fiedler, was the real heavyweight.  We can digress again.  Forgive me while I cry in an ugly way.

At the last, most recently, Michael was living with good friends who looked out for his interests.  I met them a few years ago and I was satisfied that Michael was safe.  We sat in back of his house in Missoula and drank wine.  Michael was fond of the grape.  Me too!  I have pictures.

Let’s go back to the beginning. You can skip ahead if you like.

I met Michael in 1952.  No.  I likely met Michael in 1949, the year I was born, but I don’t recall the meeting.  Michael and probably some of his family members went to Kalispell, Montana, to my grandparent’s house in — 1952?  Certainly not 1953, because my father died that year of cancer.  I remember the time, so I must have been at least two years old?  That would be 1952, in the Fall.

Michael was a chubby kid who liked pickles.  He and I ran around everything there was to run around at my grandparent’s five-acre orchard.

I’ll pursue Michael’s story later.

Northern Cheyenne Chief Anthony Prairiebear

Anthony Prairiebear, (photograph with his obituary).

September 22, 2020

Weeks ago, 62-year-old Anthony “Tony” Prairiebear died of natural causes.  I remember him well and I grieve.   Since then I learned that several others, Isadore Whitewolf and Jay Old Mouse, have also passed.  Although none of these three were close friends of mine, their absence hurts me deeply.  These three were clear thinking, traditional Cheyenne leaders.  None was easy to get to know.  Possibly Isadore would have been if I’d seen him more often.

Where to begin?  The first time I met Tony Prairiebear was on his porch in Billings.  I was delivering his prescription I had filled in Lame Deer to him at his house on Grand Avenue, across from Senior High.  I don’t remember the last time I saw Tony, but I always thought he was a powerful, sincere person.  I think he was attending college when I first met him.  Tony took the prescription, thanked me, and shut the door.

This was probably 1989, or so.  Maybe 1990.  I had never delivered a prescription to anyone before, that I can remember.  At that time I was only about seven years out of school myself. 

I couldn’t take the 200-mile a day commute to Lame Deer so I quit in 1990.

After a five-year hiatus at Crow Agency, I applied to return to Lame Deer.  Highway 212 to Lame Deer had been rebuilt straight and wide.  

My new boss was a Veteran’s Affairs pharmacist, Tim Dodson.  Tim said I had to be acceptable to the tribal Board of Health or he wouldn’t hire me back.

Tim invited me to the Dull Knife Cafeteria to be interviewed by Tom Mexican Cheyenne, Verna Old Mouse, and Tony Prairiebear, among others.  (Glad, I thought, I had once delivered a prescription to Tony and I had earned a reputation at Crow as being kind to people.)  They were mostly interested in whether I would commit to working for years there.

They said I’d be okay.  I stayed 12 years and, thanks to Tony, I learned how to listen to people.  I learned how to say no and take responsibility for saying no.  I learned to dress, behave, and speak decently. I can hear Tony saying, “no more, no less,” for emphasis.

I also learned how to say yes.  I learned to frequently wash my hands, how to apologize, how to look up the answers to questions, how to greet people by name.  I learned how to recruit grade school children to help me properly fold the flag at the end of the day.  

I have to give Tony Prairiebear credit for teaching me these things.  And much, much more.

Here’s Tony’s obituary that I found online:

Maa’heonee’veke’ese HolyBird, Anthony “Tony” Prairiebear began his journey back home on September 16th, 2020 at 10:00 pm. HolyBird was born on January 13, 1957 to Aloysius Prairiebear and Cora Spotted Elk. He was a descendant of Chiefs and also held a position on the Council of the 44 Chiefs.

It is our belief that we are only here for a short time, that our true eternal home is where our ancestors await us. It is with deep sadness that we allow Ma’heo’o to do his work, we understand that his plan is what is best in each of our lives. Tony will be remembered for his kindness, his prayerfulness, his commitment to our youth and his love for his family. Tony was somewhat of a private person always in deep thought and observing situations around him. People respected his opinion and advice. To be in his presence was powerful even if you didn’t know him, you knew he was a man of high respect and honor.

He lived a full life that was full of adventure and accomplishments. He completed his High School career at Busby High School and participated in sports with his favorite being cross country. In his senior year the Busby High School took state championship. He sat on the Tribal Council, worked for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in many capacities such as the Board Of Health Director, NC Tribal Forestry MIIF when they were highly requested all over the US. His most recent job was a Culture Specialist for Rocky Mountain Tribal Indian Leader.

He was a true Cheyenne man, a sun dancer, hunter, provider, always working on himself, and loved his family unconditionally. His first love and mother of his daughters was Anne Numkena.

He loved sweating and praying for everyone as often as he could no matter what the weather was like. He had tremendous respect for our traditional ways and participated in the Sundance. His first painter was Gilbert Littlewolf and his last painter was Ernest Littlemouth Sr also a good friend.

He was instrumental in starting the celebration of the “battle of where the girl saved her brother” and white river days, march against meth, prayer marches through Lame Deer, youth run to Ft. Laramie, has participated in the Ft. Robinson and so many other youth events.

Looking back on his early days at boarding school, he identified how the traditional Cheyenne familial system was damaged through this forced assimilation, largely removing our ability for healthy love and affection. So by his own example and leadership his legacy we hope has made an imprint on all he met.

Tony is preceded by his father Aloysius Prairiebear, his mother Cora Spotted Elk, grandson, Teton Peone, His aunts, Inez (Spotted Elk) Wilson, Alice Yellowplume, Irene (Spotted Elk) Wilson, uncles Abraham Spotted Elk, Kenneth Spotted Elk, Cedric Spotted Elk, Vernon Bullcoming, nephews Alex LittleCoyote, Wamblee Spotted Elk, brothers Clovis Wilson, Clement Wilson, Dino (Spotted Elk) Wilson and Isadore Whitewolf.

He is survived by his daughters Trina Marie Prairiebear & Antonia Lynn (Rudy) Peone, grandsons Jeremiah Prairiebear-Bement & Tyree Prairiebear-Flett, granddaughters Antonetta Prairiebear-Flett, Chenoa Prairiebear-Flett, Giuliana Prairiebear-Bement, LaPetite Aramisa Peone, Trionni Armani Andrew, sisters Renee Prairiebear, Barbara (Ryne) Harris, Diane (Neil) Beartusk, Lisa (John) Just, Kathy (Clinton) Harris, Clementine (Ambrose) Seminole, Cheryl (Merlin) Limpy, Irene Bullcoming, Ida (Robby) Onebear, Mona Bullcoming, Lattona Bullcoming, Carol (Randy) Gordon, Gwen Spotted Elk, brothers Johnny Wilson, Kipp Wilson, William Wilson Jr, Spencer (Michelle) Spotted Elk, Jared Spotted Elk, Sheldon Spotted Elk, Eric Spotted Elk, Lamar Spotted Elk, Lance Spotted Elk, Lane Spotted Elk, Kyle Burns, Truman Spotted Elk, Hadley Shoulderblade, Clint Shoulderblade, Uncles Wesley (Bonnie) Spotted Elk, Navitt Spotted Elk, Aunts Rhoda Bullcoming, Adeline Spotted Elk, Lydia (Frances) Hamilton, Linda Morrison, Earlene Clown, Clyde (Paula) Wolfblack and numerous nieces and nephews.

Tony was a Cultural Specialist for Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders. We would like to mention that he thought highly of his co-workers and the opportunity to work with each of them. He loved his job and did it well and to the best of his ability.

Tony’s family is large and includes the Teeths, Wolfblacks, Blackwolfs, Beaverhearts, Clowns, Roundstones, Bearquivers, Seminoles, HIwalkers, Whitedirts,

We would like to thank the ICU Team, Dr. Bigback and the COVID Team at the St. Vincents Hospital and the many people that offered prayers for our brother and family.

Rambling on Big Horn Mountains

September 20, 2020

Life is full of adventures these days, and sorrows.  Covid doesn’t factor in that much this past week, except it’s in its profound constancy.

Adventures:  P, G, and I drove the van to Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area, thence to Greybull, thence to Worland, finally to Ten Sleep.  There we had burgers and fries on a patio.  Only I was repulsed by a galvanized bucket nearly full of water with cigarette butts getting soggy.  Two friendly couples sat far away and we chatted about Gunther and Wisconsin, respectively.  Young man darted in and out of the restaurant periodically to deliver bags of food in his Westfalia VW Vanagon, which we admired.  

Herd of young big horn sheep.

At a nearby RV park P beat me at Scrabble, then at gin rummy.  

We drove the Ten Sleep pass, spending the night six miles off he highway, near the top at Doyle Creek Forest Service Campground for free, because it was closed.  We checked out two other campgrounds, both full.  This was last Tuesday when it was so smokey.  P beat me at Scrabble.

What kind of poop is this? A bear?

We completed Ten Sleep pass at Buffalo.  Bought a cup of coffee with a housefly that I spit out at the last, thinking it was grounds.  Drove North to Sheridan, then to Ranchester then Dayton, then up the Medicine Wheel pass to Sibley Lake FS Campground.  Hiked an easy Nordic ski trail.  P beat me at Scrabble and we spent night at campground.  Dixon and his wife run the campground.

Drove back on US 14 after Burgess Jct. down Shell Creek.

In Billings washed clothes, ate lunch.  Put Mike Cooney campaign literature in the doors of labor union members.  Walked downtown to a RB Ginsburg memorial vigil.

Union guys with campaign literature.

Sorrows:  Old marriages are breaking apart in family (stress from Covid?). Nephew Jon, niece Beth, brother-in-law Vern.  Joe Rohrer’s mom died.  Prinz was in a car wreck that killed his brother and badly hurt him.  Always worried about our daughter’s husband with cancer.  My distant cousin Peter’s wife Julie has cancer.  Western US has horrendous wild fires.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg died day before yesterday.

Saturday I finally beat P at Scrabble.

Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River Canyon

September 3, 2020

Covid gets me down.  Emotionally, I mean, not physically.  Not directly.  I want to be physically active and emotionally connected with friendlies.  Gunther is a good dog, but I miss people.

My dear friend Mark called, the guy in Warm Springs State Mental Hospital last year about this time.  He’s doing okay at home, but is staying in.  He’s high risk of Covid.  He’s 71.  He has emphysema from a lifetime of cigarettes, although he quit.  His depression seems to be under control too.  Meds plus a counselor.  He said he’s been watching a lot of old dvds he gets from the library.  Movies, television series.  Like I said, he’s doing okay.

The isolation makes me feel half crazy and we—P. and I— bicker.  No singing for me, or I should say v. little.  Also no alcohol.  We watch dvds too, and hike around Billings.  To stay healthy.

A couple days ago we drove our conversion van to Clark’s Fork Canyon.  We’d been thinking about going there after a friend went.  I’d not heard of it before, but I heard it was fantastic.

At first I confused Clark’s Fork river with the Clark Fork of the Columbia that runs through Missoula.  However, they are not much related, except in being named after the 1803 explorer.  

The Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone flows east out of Yellowstone Park past Cooke City.  From there it flows through Sunlight Basin out of the mountains to the prairie.  After that it swings north and runs to Montana near the arid towns:  Belfry, then Bridger, then Fromberg, Edgar, Rockvale, Laurel, and joins the Yellowstone River.  It’s a modest size.

A friend told me about how the Clark’s Fork river carved a deep canyon through the Beartooth Mountains.  I saw some photos and a few descriptions of “Chug Water Formation” and the like, so I knew I had to see it too.  Even though I wasn’t sure where it was.

We drove from Billings to Laurel, then south past Belfry toward Cody.  The road to Cody is familiar because we’ve seen Heart Butte off to the left.  You can see Index and Pilot Mountains to the right.

As we cruised south toward Cody we imagined we would head west through one of the big canyons we could see in the Beartooths.  

Sure enough, eventually we came to a highway intersection with US 296 advertising a route to Cooke City.  The route has been designated the Chief Joseph Highway because Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce tribe through what is now Yellowstone Park through Wyoming back to Montana, then north toward Canada, eluding the US army,  Its hard to collect my feelings.  I can’t imagine the stamina, the intimate knowledge of the country.

We did want to visit the Clark’s Fork canyon, though.

The US Forest Service has public campgrounds at each end of the Chief Joseph Highway.  The one closest has the unfortunate name of “Dead Indian Campground.”  I always feel offended.

I expect my grandchildren to eventually have the “Dead Indian” name changed to “Racist Name Campground.”  We will all sleep better for it, I’m confident.

Anyhow, P. and I stayed at the Racist Name, which will be open just one more week, according to a grandmotherly white-haired, but hearty woman, who is the camp host.  She told us how to find the trailhead for a “good long hike into the canyon.”  She said it was a couple miles hike in, although she admitted she hadn’t hiked it yet.  She said to look for a pullout at the bottom of the switchback highway.

We ended up enjoying the hike, but there were no signs along the highway to mark the way!  Just a highway pullout about a mile east of the campground.

The next morning Gunther and we humans packed up some apples and water.  A couple apples apiece.  The trailhead had a Forest Service parking area and some signage that you couldn’t see from the highway.  We started walking about 10am.  

My internist recently prescribed me a water purifier system, a Greyl.  I figured I’d get some water from the Clark’s Fork later.  He also had recently increased me to four blood pressure medications:  metoprolol, amlodipine, hydrochlorothiazide, and olmesartan.  Also tamsulosin, a prostate medication that can also reduce blood pressure.  

The result was I carried a heavy water purification device while under the influence of all those medicines to reduce my blood pressure.  I felt tired and light-headed, but P. and G. and I walked 3.7 miles down canyon, but high up on the rocky plateau overlooking the river, hundreds of feet below.

Why, you might ask, is it a good idea to be on so many blood pressure meds?  

Current medical guidelines call for treatment to obtain a goal of average blood pressure less than 120/80.  My son called it “chasing numbers.”  He’s right, of course.  The numbers are surrogate goals.  The real goal is a happy healthy life.  

In my case the goal was a successful hike to the river and back without getting sick.

We didn’t reach the river, but I got a photograph.  A man we met said the river was at the bottom of a steep switch back trail hundreds of feet long.  We’ll get there another time when we bring lunch and water.

We walked a long dusty hot 3.7 miles back to the van.  We ate sandwiches and drank milk.  Gunther curled up on his bed.

We drove to the west end of the Chief Joseph Highway to Hunter’s Peak Campground where we paid $7.50 to park our van across a road from some guy from Texas who looked to me like a serial murderer.  I kept an eye on him.

Each night P. and I played Scrabble (R) and she beat me both times.  

We had no cell phone reception until we reached Red Lodge at the bottom of the Beartooth Pass.

We stopped at Red Lodge Pizza for a hamburger and a chicken salad.  I gave Gunther several French fries.

Semper Fi, Henry Charles Harmoning

‘I was proud to be Harry and Lola’s son.  I was proud to be a Marine.  I was proud of my 35 years of service with the water treatment plant.  Most of all, I was proud to be ‘dad’ to my two sons, Andy and Eli.

Henry ‘Chopper’ Charles Haarmoning passed away August 15, 2020.  Henry was born in Billings on Sept. 5, 1951, to Harry and Lola Harmoning, joining three sisters.  He was later joined by three more sisters and a brother.  He graduated from Billings Senior High School in 1969 and joined the Marine Corps, serving from 1969-1971.  After leaving the military, he worked a variety of jobs before joining the city water department in 1974, where he worked until retirement in 2009.  For several years he was also the ‘maintenance man’ at Pioneer School.  Henry married Gail That in 1984; divorcing in 2006.  Together they were blessed with two boys who are an extreme source of pride.

Fall was Henry’s favorite time of year.  He loved hunting, both in his youth with his father and good friend Leon, and later with his son; and football, especially the UM Griz.  He was extremely handy and spent many hours building outdoor ornaments for family and friends.  If Chopper couldn’t fix it, you might as well throw it away!

Henry was preceded in death by his parents and his sisters Nancy Johnson and Beverly Comer.  He is survived by his sons Andrew and Eli (Brenda); siblings Judy (Ron) Williams, Betty (Mike) Ready, Carol (Robert) Sen, Gene Harmoning, Elaine Harmoning;; grandsons Hunter and Braxton; numerous nieces and nephews; and his beloved friend Zoe.

A Memorial Service will be held Saturday, August 22, at 10 a.m. at Heights Family Funeral Home.

Billings Gazette 8/19/2020

I wondered if this was the same Private Harmoning from USMC boot camp more than 50 years ago?  I reached for my bright red copy of “1969 San Diego California Marine Corps Recruit Depot.”  This book, published in hard back by Jostens Military Publications, was always mostly disappointing to me, still is.  Most of its un-numbered pages have stock photos of Marine Corps basic training life:  yellow footprints, mess hall, drill instructors, uniforms, close order drill, rifle range, hair cuts, graduation.  The good stuff is at the back, photos of our Platoon 3213, hastily snapped.  Last and best, photos of each recruit and our instructors.

We lined up for photos.  We each took a turn with a fake dress-blue uniform blouse that had been cut at the back so we could wear it by sticking our arms through the sleeves; and a white hat perched on our head.  Our instructor told us we would be in a world of hurt if we smiled at the camera.

Anyway, I quickly confirmed that the Henry Harmoning in the obituary was the same as my fellow private from long ago.  He even had a Facebook page.  I didn’t delve into his personal information, but I did write a note on the website of the mortuary where his service will be held Saturday.  To my sorrow, I will not be in town Saturday because we are attending a memorial service for my sister-in-law in Big Timber the same morning.

I felt remorse he and I hadn’t known we lived in the same town for nearly 40 years.  

Therefore, I resolved to reach out to all of the other men in my basic training platoon.  So far, I’ve gotten in touch with one, Dennis Grisawald, of Helena.  Dennis was my squad leader, and an excellent one too.

We entered the Marine Corps in November 1969 during Vietnam.  Some of us ended up getting the 0310 MOS, infantry rifleman.  Others, like me, got an MOS for aviation.  That’s another story.  Every Marine was a basic rifleman, we were told.

I didn’t know anything about the Marine Corps when we filed through AFEES Butte for our physicals and tests.  We got on a school bus in downtown Butte and they took us to the airport for a direct flight to San Diego.  The pilot announced our presence.  He said we would be flying over Camp Pendleton where we could look down to see night operations under flares that lit up the mock battlefield like day.  Before we went home on leave months later we had our turn with the night flares.  I thought I’d freeze that February.

I don’t remember the first time I saw Henry Harmoning.  Could have been after we stood on the yellow footprints and were made to read about the UCMJ:  the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the law under which we had to abide.  We filed into a room with individually numbered tables, were made to strip and pack up all our civilian clothes to send home by mail.  We each received a service number.  Haircuts. Showers and shaving.  I nicked myself.  Shaving cream in a tube.  Barber missed one long hair near my ear during my one-minute haircut.  We got some basic clothing and sneakers and a big green sea bag to carry everything.  If we accidentally touched any furniture while we filed through the supply depot someone would curse at us.  I got called a “hippie,” but I don’t know how they knew.

Eventually we ended up with our bag of military stuff in the room with the numbered tables.  My number was 43.  Or perhaps 47.  I was starting to go schizophrenic and decided the number was important and indicative of my place in eternal madness.  

I also decided (1) I didn’t like the Marine Corps, and (2) I would do my best work.  A voice commanded us all to “sit at attention with our hands on our knees and our butts on the floor.”

We sat for a long time.  Hours.  Some of the others eventually quit sitting at attention and stretched out their legs or lay down on their sides.  After another couple of hours just about everyone but me was kicking back.  

I decided that, as much as it sucked, I would stay at attention, hands on knees.  Perhaps I would be the last of my family members ever to endure this (by now) painful position.  I felt I was in an alien place and I didn’t want to get used to it.

I spoke with a fellow recruit later whose way of coping was to adopt a “soft look.”  He explained he would make a wrinkle or some other purposeful imperfection in his uniform in order to thumb his nose at the Marine Corps.  I sort of liked his idea, but by the time I learned of it I was finished with training. 

Without warning, while sitting on the floor, we heard the loud voice of one of our drill instructors, SSgt Feyerchak.  He hollered and swore at us because we got him up in the middle of the night to babysit us.  I thought it ironic that he blamed us.  Perhaps he was trying to be funny?  No.  He acted like he despised us.  And, moreover, turns out he was the nice one.  

Took me weeks and weeks to realize the drill instructors didn’t hate us personally, but acted like they did.  The other one was Sgt Moser.  He was cold hearted, but good at teaching us how to march, make up our beds, clean things up.  

Our senior drill instructor, whose name I can’t remember except he was a gunnery sergeant, early on disappeared for no apparent reason, replaced by SSgt Feyerchak, who became a couple degrees warmer once promoted.  He’s the one who told us he wanted things done “neat.”

We started calling him “the grand old man of the corps” when he wasn’t listening.  Most evenings, if he was on duty, he’d give us a “daddy talk.”  He allowed us to ask  him questions and he’d swear at us and throw things.  Like our mail.  Or packages, if one of us got one.  I think those evenings were called “commander’s time.”

Three days in Duluth

Todd, Susanna, Cyrus, Roland and two rats live in Duluth.

August 1, 2020

Returned Friday from traveling to Duluth and back.  P. and me, and our granddaughter, Olivia.  She’s a peach, 13 years old.  I love her more than life itself.  She got her cousins Cyrus and Roland to stand with her in a row and stare blankly at me as I parked the RV.  Anyway, they were teasing me, overtly, and I had an emotion.  Olivia gave me a hug.  Awww.

We left several days ago from Billings, stopped at Miles City for food.  Fast-food from a drive through.  That’s the trouble with traveling with a 13-year-old. She has opinions about the drive throughs.

Stopped again in North Dakota, at the Painted Rocks Overlook.  We always stop there.  High nature, low commercialism.  Gunther likes to romp around.  Oops.  I forgot to mention we took Gunther.  Saw no charismatic animals.  Saw no non-charismatic animals either.  Except Gunther.

I love Eastern Montana.  People were good to us.  I also love North Dakota.  People were good to us there, too.

We’ve gotten to know a few places.  This time we stopped at a Good Sam RV park at Jamestown, ND.  P. didn’t like it because the toilets were closed and it was near noisy I-94.  We had electricity and water, also sewage dump.  No toilets, no showers.  I liked the proprietor, because he rode his bicycle around his park to lead us to the camping spot.  We had no fireplace, however.  (I wasn’t about to build a fire anyway.)  Olivia and P. cooked hot dogs over our Coleman stove flame.  Because I was busy trying to test our electrical connection, P. cooked two for me.  Bugs were starting to get fierce.  P. said she never wanted to stay there again.  Olivia said the man fell off his bike twice.  I liked the man, who wore a mask.  In making decisions, Olivia and P. formed a voting bloc to defeat me.

The man had a pair of lawn chairs situated at the edge of his park, overlooking a field of soybeans. He encouraged us to watch the sun set.

Next day we roared through North Dakota and Minnesota to Duluth to the arms of our son, Todd, his wife and two boys.  I misstated. I walked up to Todd and I asked him if he’d been exposed to Covid. “Every day!” he replied. We touched elbows. Todd works in a hospital ER.

We immediately drove to one of the many creeks that trickles through Duluth to Lake Superior.  Todd, the children, and I swam in a great pool that was brown from tannins that got in the water from the hardwood trees, I presume.  Cyrus and Roland swung from a rope to drop 10-15 feet into a deep pool.  The water was pleasantly cool.  Olivia is a good swimmer like Cyrus and Roland.  Todd noted that people have been getting hurt there for thousands of years.  Other youths also jumped into the pool from a variety of rocky ledges.

We emptied the water out of our ears, Gunther jogged up the steep hillside.  In my worried haste to climb up the rocks and to help Gunther I left my wet swimsuit and bag of gear.  I didn’t remember until we had returned to the cars.  Grandson Cyrus jogged back for those.

An amazing coincidence occurred.

A man and woman walking by noticed the license plate on our RV.  “Billings Montana?”  He said.

“Yes,” I replied.  “How did you know?”  

“Saw your ‘3’ license plate.  We lived in Missoula 11 years.”

“I’m from Missoula, originally,” I said.

“I taught at the University of Montana,” he said.  “Pharmacy.”

“I am a retired pharmacist,” I said.

“Where did you retire from?”

“Mostly Lame Deer, I was with the Indian Health Service.”

“I’ve done pharmacy in Lame Deer,” he said.  “In fact, I did TDY at the new clinic there one Summer.”

He said his name was Tim Stratton.  I remember he filled in for me when I attended our daughter’s wedding in Southern California.  He remembered that I had people’s photographs on my walls in my office in Lame Deer.  I didn’t meet him then, because he arrived after I left and he departed before I returned, so we wouldn’t recognize each other.

Tim left Missoula and now teaches pharmacy at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

We marveled at the coincidence, keeping socially distanced. I honked at him and his wife as we pulled away from the parking place.

Back at Todd’s, Olivia, Cyrus, and Roland played with Roland’s two pet rats. That night we slept soundly, like the rats.  

Next day we all went East along the Lake Superior North Shore to somewhere where we could join the hiking trail.  We hiked 3.5 miles to Bear Lake. I was soaked with sweat because it was 80 degrees and humid.  We also climbed about 1,300 feet elevation.  P. was concerned because I wrung a few cups of sweat from my shirt.  However, we all swam, except Todd’s wife Susanna.  She didn’t need to swim.  She was cool about hiking.

I thought it was a “death march.”  Everyone else thought it was a pleasant walk.

We slept well again.  Especially Gunther, I noticed.  The next day Gunther napped most of the day.  So did I.  However we came alive in the evening and went swimming in Lake Superior.  Not me, but most everyone else, including Gunther.  I think he swims.  I’m not quite sure.  Dog paddles.  We ate sandwiches Todd bought.  We drank some kind of carbonated beverage.  It was mostly water, but delicious.

That night we shared wine.  Well, I didn’t have much.  The women shared most of it.  The kids had none, of course.  We ate left over pizza.  The three cousins played with the rats again, that were getting kind of stinky in their dirty cage.  We didn’t allow Gunther to menace the rats.  Or for them to menace Gunther, either.

Friday P., Olivia, and I got up early to drive back to Billings in one day.

Because Todd said he was disappointed we left Duluth so soon, he threw eggs at our RV.  One struck the hinge on the back door.  The other hit the window behind the driver’s seat.  In the morning I used a toilet bowl brush to scrub off the egg white and yolk.

Todd said he threw the eggs, but I’m not sure.  Cyrus might have been the thrower.  Roland would be more apt to do it, then blame Cyrus.

We drove all day through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana.  We got a lot of bugs on our windshield.  I love the route, the people we met.  I like those folks.

Covid-19 in Billings, Montana, these days. . .

My friend Josiah Mo Hugs and his friendlies at a recent rally for Black Lives Matter.

July 20, 2020

What day is it?

National gummy worm day, according to Google.  

Because I asked “what day is it?”  It told me the date, plus a few irrelevant facts.

The trouble here in Billings, Montana, with being in lockdown during Covid-19:  I often forget the date.  I forget just about everything.  I have worries!  Cares!  But each day is like the last.  P. had us watch “Groundhog Day” last night.  I’m lucky!  My cute spouse tells me stuff.  Stuff to do.  I always do what she says.  Almost always.  Most of the time, because she’s right.  Most of the time.

A good thing:  My neighbors and friends are safely in their respective homes, houses, lairs.  I imagine I know their situations.  Much like mine.

Some, like my next door neighbor, work in health care.  She’s a pharmacist, working in the emergency department of Billings Clinic, just as I did at the start of my pharmacy career, 38 years ago.  She and her spouse are an adorable, youthful couple with chickens in their back yard.  A couple of reddish hens.  The other day, one of the hens was in our driveway.  We were headed out somewhere in the car.  I walked toward the red hen, automatically muttering, “here chick chick chick.”

To my delight, the chicken turned like a marching Marine and strutted toward me!  So I repeated in a louder voice, “chick chick chick.”  Soon the chicken was standing at my feet.  I leaned forward and it dutifully hunkered down to be picked up.  I obliged.  I carried it around to its home, opened the gate, put the chicken in.  I felt the glow of righteous action!  I’m good!  I thought.  I told my spouse, but she was less impressed with me.

Gunther, our intrepid Brussels Griffon, is wary of the hens.  He didn’t menace them, even when confined with them in the back yard.

I love summer.  The days get hot, about 100 F, but we don’t have air conditioning.  We don’t because we’re older persons.  Older than 70, anyway, having lived in the same house 35 years, we’ve taken plenty of opportunities to beef up the thermal insulation in our walls and ceiling.  Even our foundation.  We open our house during the nights to let things cool.  We close all the doors and windows during the hot times.  Many of our neighbors have air conditioners.  I can hear ‘em running.  I’ve thought about getting one of those, but I’m satisfied with doing without.  My grandparents didn’t have A/C.  Grandpa died in 1957.  Grandma died in 1967.  I don’t recall either one of them uttering the words “air conditioning.”

None for me either, thanks.  Humidity is low in Montana.

Instead, about 20 years ago I installed an attic fan in our house.  Controlled by a thermostat, it runs nearly constantly during the summer.  I made sure it gets plenty of hot air to expel through the roof.  I cut five 1-square-foot holes in the attic ceiling for the fan.  Thus, cooler air from the basement can eventually displace air on the first floor, then displace hot air upstairs.

Sometimes people—friends or relatives— stay temporarily with us upstairs in our attic.  Usually not in the summer because it’s hot.  I’d fix them up with a tent in the backyard, or they can sweat.

Do you feel guilty?  Nathaniel Blumberg, Professor of Journalism at the University of Montana in Missoula, told us to eschew guilt.  I remember him saying that, but I’ve never quite gotten a grip on what that means.  Because I’m chronically, clinically depressed, diagnosed by a board-certified psychiatrist, guilt is a cardinal symptom.  Frequent guilt.

I have guilty secrets, described by a brilliant woman like one of those fish found at the extreme deeps of an ocean trench.  A black skeleton with enormous mouth.

One guilty memory is of hosting Charlotte and Earl Bonde at our house maybe 30 years ago, in the summer.  They visited us and I asked them to sleep upstairs on a mattress on the floor.  “Are you putting us to bed?” Earl asked.  I answered in the affirmative.  Must have been 75 degrees up there and the sun was still shining, but they spent the night.  They were in good spirits throughout.

How I love the memories!  In the morning Penny made pancakes and Earl kept forking the cakes onto his plate.  I loved him!  He remarked at how long our house was, front to back.  That’s when Earl told me a joke.  “In North Dakota, they outlawed round hay bales.”  Why? I asked.  “Because the cows can’t get a square meal.”

I miss Earl.  I miss Charlotte, too.  She’s still in Nerstrand, Minnesota, but this summer there’ll be no Bonde reunion.  Earl and his sister Helen were the driving force but he’s gone.  Also, because of Covid-19.

Another God Damned try for Granite Peak. It triumphs again!!

Froze-to-Death Plateau in 2019

July 6, 2020

My oldest son Todd brought his family from Duluth to Billings last week to climb Granite Peak.  I joined them.  I pretended it was no big deal.

My favorite activity these Covid-19 days, is napping.  I like to take one after breakfast, then another after lunch.  The governor asked all of us to shelter in place.  I feel patriotic sheltering in place twice a day, praying like I always do.

My dear P. and I like to hike a mile or more each day, usually in the afternoons or evenings.  Our dog Gunther loves to hike in undeveloped parks and down by the Yellowstone River.  He is four years old, energetic.  I love Gunther.  

I’m 71 now, and this would be my fifth or sixth try for the summit of Granite Peak, a place I have little prospect of reaching.  

In fact, last August, as I descended the 26 switch backs from Froze-to-Death Plateau I made a solemn promise to God that if I ever returned to Billings alive I wouldn’t try to exceed my limits again.  I wanted to ugly cry, but of course, it wouldn’t help.

The next day, after my return to Billings, I was laughing and jesting and proclaiming how tough I was.  My toenails were black!

My oldest son Todd, on the other hand, summited Granite at least three times and he wanted to give his sons Cyrus, 14; and Roland, 12, a shot at the prize.  

Here’s my history of attempts.

My way of climbing Granite had always been to take the shortest route carrying the least amount of gear.  

The Mystic Lake trailhead to the Froze-to-Death Plateau is about six miles, but you climb maybe 3,000 feet.  Add another six across the plateau and clamber 800 feet up the rocks and you’re at the highest point in Montana.  Officially, it’s 12,799 feet, but more recent measurement has it just over 12,800 feet.  Granite has a reputation for being difficult.  It is for someone like me.  In other words, one doesn’t necessarily require ropes and other hardware if one finds the easiest route, but having equipment is wise, depending on several factors.  There’s lots of good stuff to read.

I didn’t know about altitude sickness when I was perhaps 40 years old and trying for the top.  I had gotten across the Froze-to-Death plateau, but I felt too light-headed to stand erect.  I was also dehydrated and out of water.  I can’t remember who I was climbing with, but they went on ahead of me and I lay down and took a nap.  When I woke I had a hellish, itchy, sunburn on one side of my nose and we quickly headed back to lower elevation.  The nauseating light headedness subsided on the zigzag trail back to Mystic Lake.  

A couple years later Todd and I tried again.  This time I was armed with extra water bottles and I had taken medicine—Diamox—to counter the altitude sickness.  We got across Froze-to-Death in good time, but we were running short of time.  We chimneyed up some vertical places near the summit, then followed a ledge to the right across the north face that got sketchier and turned into more of a crack than a ledge.

We debated the next move.  A slip would mean falling several hundred feet to death.  It was close to 2:30 p.m.  We retreated perhaps 50-100 feet shy of the summit.  I think we made a wrong choice in routes.

The following week we decided to try again, and we got up at 2:30.  We set out from Billings at a little before 3 a.m.  It was late August, no moon.  We knew we had to be returning on the switchbacks off the plateau by nightfall because it would be damn near impossible to find our way in the dark.

A light snow had fallen and it slowed us down enough to prevent us from reaching the summit again.  We did make it back to the zigzag and down to Mystic, then to the car.  Then home.

The next time we tried I got altitude sick.  We headed down to Avalanche Lake north of Granite.  We followed Huckleberry Creek until it was too dark and rainy to continue.  We had no gear.  Todd and I cuddled before a fire I started with Clif Bar wrappers.  We had one jacket between us, and one hat.  In the wee hours of the morning we made it to Mystic Lake, then back to the trailhead, then back to Billings.  I drove to Lame Deer and worked in the pharmacy that day.  When I got back to Billings that night I was so tired I pulled in to the driveway next door, but I backed out and got it right the next time.

Seems like several years later that Todd wanted to try again.  I was shot, but I offered to go with him part way.

Todd made it to the top that time, when I made a camp at Mystic to wait for him.  Took Todd all day.  He got sick and vomited on the plateau while I waited, lonesome, below.  I remember watching a super strong young man without a shirt carrying an ice chest on his shoulder to Mystic Lake.

I made a fire on the trail where I waited for Todd, my hiking boots in the dust and soot, I wrapped up in a quilted space blanket.  I fell into a fitful sleep.  About midnight, or so, Todd jogged up.  I stopped sobbing. 

Jump ahead thirty years.  I eventually retired from working in Lame Deer.  My grandson Josiah wanted to try Granite.  Hell yes!!

Josiah’s father Bob and I planned the climb.  I was only 70 years old.  The first afternoon we hiked to Mystic, then up the 26 switchbacks to the plateau where we camped on a nice flat place with trees.  I had a day pack with water and fig newtons, but Josiah carried my kapok-filled sleeping bag.  We had a great conversation while watching the night sky.  Clear, black, many stars, some satellites.  The next day, while Josiah and Bob hurried across the plateau, I followed at a slower pace, stopping for water.  I found many streams, but I used a rivulet with a spider dangling.  I dipped my Rubbermaid(TM) bottle and drank some ice cold water and ate fig newtons.  By 10 a.m., the weather was changing, so I headed back to our camp near the top of the switchbacks.  There I napped until the others returned.  They said they turned back short of the summit because of a lightning storm.  

The trip took a lot out of me, but I limped back down the trail to the car.  

My toenails were black and eventually fell off after five or six months.

This year was different.  

I knew I couldn’t count on anyone carrying my equipment, so I bought an ultra-light sleeping bag and a one-person tent with a total weight of a little over three pounds.  I took minimal clothing, including a down-filled coat with hood, long-sleeve shirt, trousers with zip-off pant legs.  I took the Rubbermaid(TM) 750 ml water bottle and a Grayl brand 750ml water purifier.  Here’s why:

I asked my doctor if he would prescribe me some metronidazole if I got diarrhea from drinking water in the Beartooth.  Instead, he urged me to buy a water filter.

I also a got bunch of Clif bars and three dehydrated meals.  I brought two wag bags to carry out human waste.  This all fit into my day pack.

P.  camped at Emerald Lake campground with Gunther.  Turns out she got lonesome.  She got into a row with another camper.  She returned to Billings before we returned two days later.

Roland, Cyrus, Susanna, Todd, and I walked the three miles to Mystic where we found a place to camp perhaps 200 yards from the lake.  That night I was cold.  Turns out the light sleeping bag was good for 40 degrees Fahrenheit, no colder.  The ground was cold, a few pine cones poked up beneath.  Longest night ever.  All I had was my tee shirt, my long-sleeve shirt, and my hooded jacket.  I couldn’t get warm.

I couldn’t think of any nice way to leave the group and return to the trailhead, so I packed up my meager stuff.  Susanna gave me a second light sleeping bag, and she left our group.  I continued with the group.

Todd wanted us to approach Granite from the north along brushy Huckleberry Creek.  That way the lofty summit is visible for several miles.  On the way we encountered Todd’s cousin Jon who joined us on our quest.  Up the creek we went.  Now steep, now bouldery, now clear and sunny, now rainy.  About a mile toward Granite we found a campsite, rare in the rocky jumble near the creek itself.

Soon Josiah and Bob caught up with us.  

While we ate supper a stranger showed himself, asking if we had a satellite phone to call for help.  A climber had broken his foot near the summit of Granite.  Jon had one.  It was late, so we all went to bed.  This time I had a bag inside a bag for sleeping.  I missed P.  I missed Gunther.

I was marginally warmer that night, although the ground was still cold.  No pinecones, I picked them up.  It rained most of the night.  Much thunder and lightning.  Lots of condensation on the inside of my one-person tent.

About 7:30 the next morning a medical helicopter flew up the valley toward Granite.  Several other flights came around, including a couple that circled our camp.  We had a small smoky fire.  We pointed our arms in unison up the valley to tell the pilot where the injured person was.  Some hours later we saw a chopper with an attached litter fly out, apparently with the injured person.

Bob, Josiah, Todd, and the two smaller boys went on toward Granite, while Jon and I walked back to Mystic and then to the trailhead.  Todd said the weather was bad, so they spent one more night at the foot of the mountain before returning.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Late August is the best time to attempt Granite’s summit.  Get there before the first snow of autumn.
  • A twenty degree bag is a must. So is an insulated sleeping pad.
  • Three days is ideal for the trek.  It’s the only way to deal with the altitude.
  • Use a water filter and perhaps one extra water bottle.  Giardia can be difficult to treat.
  • A light-weight tent is good for staying dry at night.
  • Attempt the summit before noon, before the afternoon storms.
  • Have a satellite phone, just in case.
  • Three people minimum is safest if someone gets badly hurt.
  • No need for ropes or other protection if you can find a good route.  A good route exists.  Find it.
  • Boulders are a bitch.  Take extreme care.  They tip, they rock.  Be patient.
  • Don’t scrimp on rain gear, pants and parka.  They will also keep you warm if the weather is really bad.
  • Rain makes the boulders as slippery as grease.  Don’t try to walk after a rain.

Frank Lloyd Sonnenberg

Frank Sonnenberg

June 21, 2020

Tim Irwin, one of my Facebook friends who said he was best friends with Frank, reposted this obituary. For me, Frank Lloyd Sonnenberg was one of the iconic Missoula hippies of 1967.  I understand that Missoula poet Dave Thomas and Frank collaborated to write it.

Here it is:

MISSOULA – Early in the morning on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008, after a lifelong struggle with chronic illness, Frank got his wish of delocking the 324 cubic inch engine of his beloved 1954 Oldsmobile Super 88 and burned rubber down the dragstrip of the Great Beyond and thereby blended his love of the Montana landscape and its health into the spirit that animates us all. His old friend, the artist, Jay Rummel, once said of him, “Frankie’s out mulching eastern Montana.”

Frank was born Jan. 21, 1948, at Mrs. Braddock’s boarding house in Chinook, during a blizzard that made it too tough to get to Havre and Sacred Heart Hospital. Upon his birth, his father, Lloyd, danced a German jig with his Aunt Marie (Bill) Miller.

Frank grew up on the old Blackstone Place, Paradise Valley, North Fork School District, Blaine County. He enjoyed the home place and northcountry grazing land of his grandfather, John Tilleman, on bikes, horses, scooters and, of course, his Olds. He claimed to know every coulee, spring, cross fence and lone tree of that ranch and most of the neighbors, too. He attended country school and then Chinook High School, graduating in 1965. During his high school years brucellosis struck his parents’ herd and put an end to his ranching dreams and made a college education more attractive. While in high school he also became a charter member and officer of the Eliminators Car Club and held the distinction of being the only member to win trophies at Lewistown’s King Kam dragstrip.

After high school, Frank attended the University of Montana, working his way with the Food Service and helping out with the Grizzly football team training table. While at the university, Frank was diligent in his studies but also active in the anti-war movement focused on ending the Vietnam War. News of the death of his friend and fellow car club member, Ronnie Ewing, in Vietnam, led him to desire to take a more active role in the events of the day and he moved to Bremerton, Wash., to live with his beloved sister, Myrna (Max) Hayes. Frank said he’d had four mothers, Lena, Juliette Archer, Myrna and his pinto mare.

Medically unfit for service, he became a counselor for poor black kids working in a program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He was chosen by the Navy for this position because of his ability to communicate with disadvantaged people and understand their concerns, such as the statistically high number of blacks killed in Vietnam. As he worked with the kids, he gradually came to understand that thirty percent of them could not afford an alarm clock and became part of a group that persuaded prominent Seattle natives like rock star Jimi Hendrix to donate money for clocks and ferry tickets so the kids could cross Puget Sound and be on time for work. He also worked to improve their nutrition. He was always proud that this program, sponsored by the Navy and Job Corps, played a part in keeping Seattle calm during a summer when riots exploded in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Newark, N.J.

During this time, Frank also had major surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which resulted in a six week stay at the Methodist Hospital there. He remained deeply grateful to the citizens of Chinook for the huge blood drive they held on his behalf and regretted not being able to thank them in some substantial way.

Frank eventually returned to the University of Montana and graduated with a degree in political science in 1971.

Frank worked in the cooking profession as a student and later, after attempting other employment, graduated from the culinary arts program at the UM College of Technology. He then worked as cook and manager at various Missoula area establishments, including the Florence Hotel, Perkin’s (now Finnegan’s), The Silvertip Lounge, and The Rocking Horse (now The Mustard Seed) and at one point, owned and operated Wild West Pizza in the basement of Luke’s Bar (like mother, like son). He left The Rocking Horse to join the faculty of the culinary arts program at the College of Technology as an instructor. He became chairman of that department and a certified master chef and earned an M.S. degree in vocational education from MSU-Northern. His cooking career spanned 36 years, the last 16 at the College of Technology before his medical condition forced him to retire.

He was very close to his two sons, Chris and Max, and loved them dearly. He coached them in Little League and Kiwanis Quality Supply basketball. He loved to take them out in the woods to explore and hike, often in areas he had researched for their geographical and historical aspects and that were due to be logged, mined or subdivided. He wanted them to share his love of the land and be aware of its fragility. Something he also shared with his friends on river floats, car camping trips and Penguin parties (“Quack!”).

He also had a keen appreciation of art, music, automobiles and the history of Montana.

In his later years, Frank became interested in genealogy and updated the Sonnenberg/Miller family tree to 2008. In doing so he renewed acquaintances with relatives and discovered half of Wisconsin seemed to be Sonnenbergs.

Frank was preceded in death by his father Lloyd; his mother Lena; and his sister Myrna.

He is survived by his sons, Christopher (Krista) and Max; and grandchildren, Caleb and Berlyn; and a host of relatives in Blaine County and around Montana and many friends who will miss his quick wit and big heart.

Cremation has taken place and a service is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 1, details to be announced later.


Here’s how my life intersected with Frank’s. I had been going to high school in Dillon, quickly becoming disenchanted with the hard-core right-wing ideologies of the Southwest corner of Montana.

I started the University of Montana in 1967 so, of course, fought with my roommate, a straight kid out of a New York military school.  Thus rejected by most college freshmen and women, I gravitated toward the hipper, geekier, looser, pot-smoking types who frequented the food service dining room.  Frank Sonnenberg served us food and washed our dishes. This was the beginning of his profound influence.

I remember seeing Frank at the outdoor anti-war rallies that fall.  He had a charismatic, intense, but friendly look.  When the time was right for demonstrating solidarity, Frank was a leader.  This wasn’t new for him.  He started attending international relations functions sponsored by UM political science instructor Barclay Kuhn before he got out of high school.

Frank was easy to get to know, easy to talk with.  He was friendly, like you’d expect a rural kid from Chinook to be.  He wasn’t a huge person, physically, in fact it was common knowledge that he’d been ill.  But he was genuinely kind, and people gravitated to him.

A bunch of us quit school in 1968 to move to Seattle.  Most of us got jobs on fishing boats.  I refused to cut my hair or beard, so the captain wouldn’t hire me. Only thing left: I could sell hippie newspapers in the University District.  I ended up moving in with my brother Tom for a while, then I got my own place.  Then I sort of bounced back and forth between Missoula and Seattle.  Made a trip to Alaska, too, for a few months.  I lost touch with many of my hippie friends.  I learned to stay only short periods here and there, so I wouldn’t wear out my welcome.

I ran into Frank on the street in Seattle, and he said we could crash at a friend’s house across the bridge from the university.  I don’t remember who the generous soul was, but his floor was large enough to accommodate me for a few days.  He got me a job selling circus tickets by phone for a few bucks an hour. Frank knew how to survive.

Frank was politically active in the Seattle scene, so I went with him to several protests.

He and I were hiking across town one sunny day and he stopped.  “Isn’t that mary jane?”  Frank pointed at a spindly plant growing from a flower bed.

“Sure enough!” I said, snatching it up.  “Let’s smoke it!”  It wasn’t fully mature, but it had some fine leaves.  We were rewarded with a buzz.

It wasn’t bad weed at all.  I still smoked tobacco in those days and I always had some papers and matches handy.  As Frank and I made our way to “hippie hill” at the University of Washington, he told me that he used to broadcast marijuana seeds in the vacant lots around Missoula.  That’s when I first learned he knew about agriculture.

Frank was the kind of friend you could have a conversation with that might last five or ten years, picking up the thread the next time one of you was in town.  His generosity in planting the seeds went right along with his generous personality.  Frank and I got separated at an anti-war protest amid clouds of teargas and I didn’t see him again until years later. Well, I had a penchant for hopping freight trains in those days.

However, I heard about Frank’s whereabouts because he and some others from his hometown of Chinook formed a psychedelic band, called “The Golden Floaters.”  I think they operated on an astral plane that included more than guitars and drums.  

I, in the mean time, had gone into the Marine Corps, thinking to improve it.  A couple of my girl friends crashed at the home of the Floaters.  In talking to them I later learned that Frank was ill, had to poop out of colostomy.  

When I was in Missoula on leave from the Marines, I visited Dave Thomas and some of the other Floaters.  That’s when I learned a little about poetry, about alchemistry.  About the cosmos of the Floaters.

I forgot to mention the “Golden Floaters” were descriptive of the excretia of those who followed the zen way of macrobiotics.

Frank Sonnenberg was an important, profound presence.  He had a charisma, a modesty, a true friendship mind. He gathered friends like a clasp gathers hair.

I didn’t see Frank again until I was out of the service, married with children.  I saw him at Perkins restaurant. Much joy!  And months later at Luke’s Bar on Front Street.  I was in Luke’s, deafening hubbub, Frank Dugan was gesturing to me like he was shooting with his fingers.  More joyful reunion!  Then I saw Frank Sonnenberg when he brought forth from the basement kitchen some pizza.  More joy!

We moved to Billings to work. To raise our kids.

I attended the funeral for Grant Lamport in Missoula about 10 years after that and Frank Sonnenberg was there.  Another great moment.  

But that was the last time I got to enjoy his company.