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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.


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.

Conquest of Patagonian Island

Bertrand Sciboz at the helm of the Ceres

June 19, 2020

From my French friend, the explorer and adventurer Bertrand Sciboz:

Jean Raspail, a high-stolen traveler writer, has just left us. He was fascinated by the history of Patagonia and that of his ephemeral king of which he made the hero of all lost causes, fascinated by their elegance in adversity, admired by their dignity in the final fall.

For those who don’t know, the Patagons have saved St Marcouf.

In 2008, after the refusal to start the work served in six years by 3 consecutive prefects, we decided to throw in the sponge; at the time I did not know the Patagons: Jean Francois Tardiveau and Edmond Thin who have suggested the idea of saying our goodbyes to the island by a patagone ceremony, which would sign the end of the dream, regret not being able to succeed, David’s nose foot against the Administrative Goliath. The operation was reported in Edmond Thin’s book: it was about attacking the island and planting the flag of Patagonia. 

Two wings were needed to achieve this: the North Wing, part of St Vaast, led by Bertrand Sciboz on his powerful professional catamaran of wreck repêcheur, with on board JF Tardiveau, and E Thin and several attack commandos, pockets full of boutreilles de Chablis and the South Wing, on my little semi-rigid, gone from Grandcamp Maisy, charged with my niece Hortense and her two children, another nephew television manager and his equipment, and the dog Upso, still in for the big bullshit. 

The junction was perfect, the lightning attack and the flag flew to the sound of “the Marculfienne” anthem invented on this occasion and has since been ringing on the hunt for the big events. It is also with the same anthem and instrument that I used a few days later, Avenue de Wagram, at the foot of Jean Raspail’s building, putting all the people to the windows in a certain stir. 

I came to pay my respects to the Consul General of Patagonia, to tell him that we had taken possession of St Marcouf Island and pledge allegiance to the King of Patagonia since State french refused to take charge of it. 

We then appointed the main actors of the operation to the responsibilities related to their royal functions, but by saying that it was done under the “secret defense”, since we had acted in full illegitimacy (the flag will be shot down a few days more late by the Conservatoire de Littoral). Jean Raspail taught me that he had been informed of the success of the operation by the Chief of Staff at the Eysées, from the Channel and himself subject to patagon.

Edmond Thin had written a press release with a very nice aerial photo of the island, and the next day, in all the houses of the press of the Cotentin, were in the title and cover cover: ” Two Royal Patagon commandos attack St Marcouf “

And for this reason, the Committee on the sites, finding the exceptional architectural quality of the site and its fragility, asked the prefect to review his position.

Thanks to Jean Raspail, respect to the writer, honor to the traveler.

Used by permission.

Sometimes you don’t know how lucky you are. . .

We had a bulldog puppy named “Ning.” This photo was taken before our second child was born in 1972, when I had been assigned to supply in HMM 265 (later HMM 161), a helicopter squadron at Santa Ana, California. I am wearing the only civilian clothes I owned.

June 13, 2020

I’m reading one of my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, a Scot.  He wrote The Talented Mr. Varg.  My ultra-cool cousin Blaine mailed me his copy.

Mr. Smith reminded me of my own lackluster seven years when I was in the US Marine Corps in the early 1970s.  

I keep saying I left the Marine Corps in better shape than I found it because I, early on, engaged with an officer who was a bully to me when I was a still a private.  I was a private for nearly two years, I think.  The pay was lousy.  I don’t know what became of the officer.  I assume he did well.  Such is life.

But long story short, the officer, Major Waddell, the CO of a training squadron,  asked me how I would improve the Marine Corps.  I think he was being condescending.  I was in earnest, though.  I had formed my opinion during the previous four months when I was in basic training.

No expert in military science, I told him what I had in mind.  (At court martial, he lied under oath, said I used the word “fucking.”)  Anyway, he didn’t like my answer.  He thrust out his jaw and put his face close to mine.  “Maybe you’d like to put me on my back!” he challenged.  Try to imagine that, please.  I thought about it, for what seemed an eternity, before I hit him on his jaw with my fist.  I’m certain most people would have done the same. Well! You have to!

I kept hoping the major’s peers would have seen the folly in challenging a recruit to a fistfight.  Certainly, nobody challenged me to another after that.  Am I good at fistfights?  No.  Never have been.  I should confine myself to nose tweaking.  I am kind of a sissy.  The major had done me a favor.

I ultimately was forgiven for lashing out at the chubby major, by the US Court of Military Appeals.  The judges said they’d have done the same thing.

If the Marine Corps is a better organization these days, I want to take some of the credit.  You are welcome!  I know a few Marines.  We are friends.  Semper Fi!  

I was either a hero or I should have been shot for insubordination.  I’ve heard arguments from veterans both ways.  I respect both points of view.  In many ways the military remains a mystery for me.  I should say it is a mixture of terror and sadness, and it will remain so.  I have friends.  

Does one learn in his or her heart the meaning of fear?  Does one push ahead through life despite danger?  The idea that someone is trying to kill you is central to being in the armed forces during wartime.  It is depressing.

But I got ahead of myself.  I did not go to Vietnam, I did not go anywhere but Japan and Southern California.  And Millington, Tennessee.

After my experience with the Marine Corps major in Tennessee, things got better for me.  More relaxed.  A certain amount of craziness was expected.

Oh, I got in trouble in 1970 for reporting to duty at El Toro Marine Air Station wearing an incomplete uniform.  I wasn’t wearing a tie.  Why?  I can’t remember.  I also can’t remember what the penalty was.  I do remember having gotten a ride to the base with one of my brother Tom’s friends, Bob McConnell.  Bob lived in Los Angeles, 60 miles north.  Bob liked to ride motorcycles.  He said he met Evel Knevel once, in a hospital in Missoula.  They were both stove in from motorcycle wrecks.  Like that.

At El Toro Air Station, I learned that I would be assigned to supply.  The next five years of my enlistment would be in supplying the Marines with everything from fighter jet tail hooks to tires to field jackets and bayonets.  Supply folks had their own way of talking.  Soon I spoke supply language.  I got shipped to Japan, then back to the states.  I got to choose my stateside station if I re-enlisted.  I picked El Toro.  My family (wife, two boys, two dogs) lived close by in Tustin, in 1973.  In 1974 our daughter Clara was born.  Nixon quit the presidency.

Because of a happy accident involving a misplaced hat, I was assigned to Third Marine Aircraft Wing Supply.  Three years later, I got a package through official channels:  A six-inch-thick stack of microfiche.  

It had every commercial part number crossed to a national stock number and name.  What a goldmine! The initial part number was AAAAA. The last was ZZYZZYZZXY.

Did you pick up on that?  I looked up the part number “s h i t.”  Sure enough, there was an NSN and part name.  A friend of mine, PFC Bailey, wanted to look up “BR-549.”  Certainly.  There it was.  A spray paint, brown.  We looked up the part number t u r d.  It was there!

Best damn thing I ever saw.  Reminded me of the school dictionaries we used to get in grade school, when we’d look up all the bad words we could think of:  “shit,” “fuck,” “cunt.”  Of course, none of those words were in the dictionary.  So we’d dial it back a bit, and look up: “fart,” “ass,” and “gutter.”  Ass and gutter would be in the book.

Being assigned to supply in the Marine Corps was a good thing for me.  I spent a few years at the helicopter station at Santa Ana, learning the ins and outs from one of the best supply officers in the business, Warrant Officer John Robertson.  People were kind to me.  My peers said they thought I’d been through enough trouble in Tennessee, so they sheltered me from stuff like guard duty.  These peers, by the way, had endured hostile fire at Phu Bai in Vietnam.  I’m thinking of Sergeant William Rotert.  He got out of the Marines and enlisted in the Air Force.  Good people.  He was from Indiana, married with a small son.  I did feel like I had a family in the Marines.  

I keep wanting to tell more of my Marine Corps experience. I think I want to hear the experiences of others who found themselves in such a weird environment.

Covid-19 Experiencing an anti-Racism rally

My boughten tee shirt from the rally. Color me “confused.”

June 8, 2020

My teenage granddaughter gave me a hug today, so all is well.  Teenagers are difficult, but not as difficult as grandparents.  Or especially as difficult as my own grandmother was.  Whoa!  She was tough.  Do you know what I mean?  Grandma didn’t just nod her beautiful head at me.  No.  She told me I was rotten to the core!  Why? Because she gave it straight from the shoulder!

She was Norwegian, angry, depressed, a woman sparing of words.  I think she was sad because her son was killed in WW II.  She was orphaned early on, when she was still a teen.  She worked to raise her siblings, a brother and a sister.  She took over her mother’s sewing business in Valley City, North Dakota. Her toddler daughter died in her arms from scarlet fever in 1918 in Kalispell. Who wouldn’t be bitter?

Grandma’s son Carl had turned 21 in September, 1944, after he had been drafted into the army.  Then, while deployed to England, then to France, he died Christmas Eve, 1944, when Oberlutnant Gerhard Meyer of U-boat 486, fired two torpedoes at his troopship, the SS Leopoldville.  The first torpedo missed, according to a friend of his, but the second pierced the ship’s compartment where Carl was trying to get comfortable on a pile of duffle bags.  Some of his buddies, who told me they had gone topside to watch for the lights of Cherbourg, said Carl died instantly.  Several of these survivors noted that the torpedo detonation made a distinctive burnt gunpowder smell.  It stank of Nazism, I thought.  Remembering the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” by Erich Maria Remarque, the survivors always say the loved one died instantly without pain.  I take it all with a grain of salt.  I sure hope my uncle died quickly.

The American soldiers I interviewed who survived the torpedo jumped or climbed down to safety, or were picked out of the English Channel by rescuers.  Like that.  Books have been written.  Movies made.  

When I was a kid at my grandparents’ house in Kalispell I found the purple heart medal of my uncle Carl.  Also his flag.  I have a 48-star flag downstairs in my darkroom, but no medal.  I’ve gone to some lengths to learn Carl’s story, still incomplete.  I’m learning.

None of the adults told us about Carl when we dug out the memorabilia in Kalispell in the 1950s.  We also found a chess set and a couple of photographs of soldiers, packed into rows, they all looked alike, nearly.  We knew which of the soldiers was Carl because his face had been circled by a pencil.  You had to tilt the photo, just right to see it.  

My mother doted on Carl, her little brother, a very good soldier, she said.  Private First Class. My mother told me this when I was ready to go to sleep in my bed upstairs.

War is never over.  The Nazis have not been vanquished once and for all. I fear the current president is pro-Nazi.

Witness the recent occurrences in our own country.  Things couldn’t be weirder, could they?  We see marijuana legal in a list of states, and we have a fascist president.  Well, he claims to be a nationalist, if not a white nationalist, or racist.  We could quibble about definitions.  I was interviewed on television a few years ago when Trump visited Billings.  The interviewer, an asian man, asked me on camera why I protested his visit.  The question seemed ridiculous.  I thought it was self-evident that everyone should be against a fascist, a racist, so I said so.  I guess everyone didn’t learn history as I had. A friend of mine, Charles Lechner, phoned me to ask me about my labeling Trump as a racist. I affirmed my labeling.

Blacks are being lynched, same as they have been for many years.  George Floyd was murdered by a grinning policeman who strangled him with his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes while three other police officers watched.  Like that.  This provoked great sorrow throughout our land.

The national, even international, outrage inspired many protest rallies, including one in Billings yesterday.  Our fascist president threatened to shoot people, then tear-gassed and sent riot police to clear an area so he could pose with a Bible.

Our daughter in San Diego has been protesting and marching with other concerned Americans who value justice.  

We had a mass protest here in Billings yesterday.  However, now we have an odd wrinkle, the appearance of heavily armed people who mingle with the protesters.  Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Trump warned that “Antifa” would be designated an enemy terrorist organization.

“Antifa” is an acronym, or maybe it is a portmanteau(?), for “anti-fascist.”  Supposedly “antifa” is a militia that would oppose … well, fascists.  Sort of like, but not quite like, the people who showed up at yesterday’s Billings anti-racist rally with military assault rifles and big handguns.

Kind of murky, isn’t it?  Near as I can tell, “antifa” is a fabrication, a straw man or fake adversary that the gun-lovers among us can use as a reason to show up armed at regular people’s rallies.  To “protect.” ???

In Minneapolis, the mayor said outsiders came to protests to wreak havoc, break windows.  Same thing in Washington DC.  The AFL-CIO headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue was broken into and swasticas were spray-painted on the tile in the lobby, according to my son Bob, who is a regional representative for the AFL-CIO.  Racial equality protesters would be unlikely to leave Nazi graffiti, he said.  

Our experience in Billings was decidedly non-violent.  Because it was in Montana, where almost everyone knows everyone else.

I wish I could reassure my grandchildren. Truth will win! You will win! Don’t be fooled by those who tell you that white people are better than any other people. They are not. We are all wonderful!

Can one sing during Covid-19 pandemic?

The early years. I was probably learning to light farts.

June 3, 2020


My earliest recollection of singing was mimicking my big brother who sang an Olympia beer jingle:  “It’s the water, the water, the water, the water that MAKES Olympia beer…so reFRESHing refreshing refreshing refreshing, so light, Olympia beer.”  

Television advertisement

Only Tom inserted the word “shit” for “water.”  Tom had been in Kalispell with his cousin Dick Judd, who taught him a few forbidden words, including “shit.” Well, it was scandalous.

I was living my kid life, in Missoula, across the street from my childhood home, singing to my younger friend, Stevie Little.  I sang the Olympia beer song, but in order to inject some panache, I used the word “shit.”  His mother came out of his house and threatened to not let me play with Stevie if I used bad language.  Hurt my feelings.  She didn’t complain about the quality of my singing, just the naughty word. I didn’t play with Stevie much after that. He was a great kid. Kids my age were more robust, they could take the foul language better. We had to be careful not to let grownups overhear us.


I think I sang a lot as a child.  I listened to my sister’s radio.  One of my favorite songs, back in 1953, was “I”m Never Satisfied.”  Tom told me later the woman who owned the Sunshine Store asked me after I’d done some sort of bad thing, “Well, are you satisfied NOW?”

I answered, singing “I’m Never Satisfied, I’m Never Satisfied…”  Rosemary Clooney was my favorite singer. Tom thought my answer was funny.

Not Dinah Shore.  No.  We had a television when I was five.  An announcer said the Dinah Shore show would be that night.  I thought it would be a dinosaur show, so I made myself stay awake so I could sneak behind a couch in the living room to see the dinosaurs.  No dinosaurs, obviously, just a woman singing.  Bore-ing!

My second earliest singing experience was in the Spring in Missoula when I crawled out my window in the morning onto our back porch roof to sing for the little girl next door, Kathy Lou Bass.  I had listened to the radio, so I knew how to sing a medley of favorites, starting with “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy!”  They tell me I sang in the nude, wearing only a pair of slippers.  I don’t know if the lovely Kathy Lou was in the audience, but someone was, because I heard about it later.


I liked pirate songs as other children did.  I could sing “Blow the Man Down,” as heard on TV.  I was singing at a table at Mrs. Bloom’s kindergarten in the morning, and she hushed the other kids.  I sang as many verses as I could before my self-consciousness took over.

Our kindergarten teacher had each student make a phonograph record.  I still have mine.  One side of the record I sang, “I’m the happiest child alive, I had a birthday and now I’m six.”  The other side was, “Four little chickadees sitting in a row, one flew away and then there were ……  Chickadee chickadee happy and gay.  Chickadee chickadee fly away.  I didn’t do well with this song.  Couldn’t remember the words.


We had a singing unit in school daily, all through grade school.  Things went well until the sixth grade when my voice began changing.  My teacher noted my odd sounds, so she expelled me from class.  She said I was clowning. I don’t know where I went, probably the principal’s office. I wasn’t clowning.

Seventh grade I learned to lay low.  I quit piano lessons to deliver the Missoulian Sentinel, an evening newspaper.

I managed to avoid detection musically when we moved to Dillon, Montana in 1962.  I went out for sports.  I did poorly, but I stuck it out.


Our senior year I was asked by the band director to sing a tenor solo, so I did.  I also went out for plays and did comedy.  Could be the pinnacle of my acting.  I remember the audience laughed, but I think there were stooges who helped out. I wanted to be a weirdo.

In Missoula, 1967.  I learned how to smoke cigarettes.

No singing in my hippie years, except to sing folk songs, then Beatle songs.  Didn’t everyone sing?  I bought one cheap guitar after another, until I landed a 200 dollar Gibson hollow body electric.  Suddenly I was in demand to play in Missoula rock groups. The guitar had its own life.

It probably cost me my journalism education.  I ended up quitting school.  I quit my girlfriend.  I moved to Seattle with a bunch of buddies.

I didn’t sing.  In Seattle I smoked really good hashish instead.  I wandered around the parks of Seattle, playing in drumming groups that formed spontaneously.  I tried to make a living selling hippie newspapers.  I think I earned upwards of $1.10 a day.  Then I sold tickets to the Shrine Circus by telephone.  I didn’t cut it.  Couldn’t raise the $40/month rent.  I talked my brother into moving back to Missoula.

No singing until I joined the Marine Corps, went to jail, got out of jail, went to a small base in California.  Got married.  Couldn’t find any entertainment we could afford.  Started going to the base chapel.  MSgt Amos Cadiente helped me learn the tenor part of the choral introit.

I liked singing with Amos.  I hadn’t heard a tenor part before and it intrigued me.  It went high above the other parts and was fancy.  Made musical sense. All was well until the neck injury.

I played some flag football with Cpl Larry Neu in our squadron.  Larry was an “officer in a non-commissioned status.”  Trouble was, I got hit in the neck by another player.  Right in the adam’s apple.  Suddenly I couldn’t sing tenor. Sort of a gravelly bass sound.

I went to the Marine base infirmary.  A doctor looked at my vocal chords with a hand mirror.  He said I had a bruise.  He also wondered why I bothered going in for that.  I told him the body has important and unimportant parts.  If one takes care of the unimportant instead of the important parts, then one is an inferior man.

The doctor heaved a sigh.  He sent me away.

From that day forth I sang the bass part in the church choir, nowhere near as interesting a line as that of the tenors.

Nobody believes the wonderful singing parts I’ve had since then. Therefore I’ll keep them to myself. Hell, I’m ready to forget them too.

Preaching. Skip if you don’t like preaching.

Yup, it’s me again.

June 1, 2020

These are evil times in our country and I feel physically ill.  

I see our president acting like a clueless, bungling bully, threatening to have our protesting citizens shot.  Who the hell does he think he is?

I see a huge racial divide with police hassling and murdering people of color.  I hear about the rise of armed white supremacist racist nazis and fascist groups who fantasize about a race war.

Locally, I see pickups with confederate flags.  These signify racism to me because the civil war was fought over slavery and the South was pro-slavery.  People, armed with military rifles resembling M-16s, are in news photographs, parading around our state capitol.  They say they are protesting the pandemic restrictions.  I think they are trying to scare people.

These days people of good will appear to be marginalized.  Us citizens, obeying the health experts, are staying home, socially distancing.  By contrast, the non-mask-wearing Great Boaster occupies the news headlines, along with his hand-selected sycophants and toadies.  

The Covid-19 pandemic is killing two to three thousand of our citizens every day, while infecting many times that number. The whitehouse blowhard doesn’t seem to care enough.

A record number of citizens are in financial ruin, jobless, hungry, in danger of losing their businesses, their homes.

Meanwhile, Summer will start this month and the weather is already hot.  It will get hotter, thanks to global weather disruption from fossil fuel burning.  People need to cool off, so they will go to the beaches, to the mountains, to air-conditioned places.  All of these places will attract people, some infected with the corona virus.  More people will get infected, get sick, more will die.

One may want to give up and call our situation hopeless.

That would be sad and wouldn’t help.

What will we do?

I believe we, as individuals, must stay in place and admit this is a bad time.  The time to act will come, but that may not be soon.  We must not be fooled by these desperate times to break out of isolation.  Difficult to do, I know.  

I have faith, not religious, per se.  Here’s what I have faith in:

*Reality is indestructible.  Think about it.  Despite the disagreement between the president and the traditional press, things are the way they are.  Personally, I side with the reputable news sources, like the NY Times.  It has stood the test of time before, mostly.

*Time will reveal the reality of our situation.  Comfort and help those you can. Many people of good will continue to work tirelessly for us all.

*The universe is benevolent.  Look at the natural world.  All those plants and birds thrive without any tending or help from us.  We can also thrive naturally.  With a little help from our friends.

*Friendship is more powerful than animosity.  It is even nicer.

*Evil will eventually destroy whatever good thing it devours, but then the evil itself will also perish.  The universe will persist despite that.

*We may eventually be required to sacrifice our selves for a greater good.  But there are more important things than life.

*Things are often not what they seem. Look around.

These lessons are in the Bible, but also in other religious traditions, other writings.  We can derive strength and comfort.

Remembering Walter Blackwolf tell about his father

Seven years ago this month when he was still alive, Walter Blackwolf told me several stories about his father, James Blackwolf, Hat Keeper for the Northern Cheyenne.

Walter had health problems and phoned me from St. Vincent Hospital once in a while. I went up to visit him.

Walter’s grandfather was Ben Blackwolf and his great grandpa was Joseph Blackwolf (I’m not 100% sure about this last name. Oh, Walter told me correctly, but I’m not sure my memory is quite right.)

Example of story about Hat Keeper James Blackwolf: A van with a Sioux drum and drummers visited James at his house. The Sioux had had many people die prematurely recently and they sought help.

The Sioux medicine man saw James from a distance, and the people in the van gave James gifts. When they got out their big drum James told them to leave it outdoors!

“Don’t bring that drum into my home,” he said.

The reason? The drum had an image of a buffalo head. James told the group that their people would stop dying prematurely if they would wash the image off the drum head with a cloth and water from a coffee can. After washing the drum head, they should place the cloth into the water in the can, put on the lid, and bury the can in a certain way. After they did these things they could bring the drum into his house.

Walter said that after a long time–months–the people in the van returned and brought even more gifts to James. They said after they had done what he said to do, the people stopped dying prematurely. Walter explained that when the drummers drummed they had insulted the buffalo by banging on its image with their drum sticks.