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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.

Link

PW Volume II number 1

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Click the link below to read the entire issue.

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Goodbye, Facebook!

I tried deactivating on a phone, but couldn’t figure it out.

1/26/21

Yesterday I deactivated my Facebook account.  I usually spend hours scrolling through my 2500+ friends’ posts, reacting, posting comments, so this is a big deal to me.  I did this to see what will happen.  Also, I’ve been feeling poorly these days, even before I got my Covid immunization, which made me feel a huge amount of fatigue.  I took to my bed for a couple days.  

I felt depressed, so I reached out to my excellent psychiatrist, a football fan, my coach.  He responded with a prescription for an amazingly expensive pill that worked well for me before.  I have a followup appointment in three weeks.

Even getting a speedy reply to my phone message has made me feel pretty good.

If you want to stay in touch with me, follow my blog, insearchofbud.com 

Here are the usual photographs from my morning routine with Gunther, the love of Penny and my lives.  

Cold as hell today, but no snow.
Keeping Gunther on a string keeps him from wolfing down garbage he finds. Old frenchfries, chips. Like that.

Our 50th anniversary is this Saturday.  I bought her a ring and pair of earrings, festooned with Yogo sapphires.  I believe we will stay home, Covid-style.  And go to bed early, 71-year-olds.

I hope to add to this narrative in a regular fashion.

I’m reading The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi; and 600 Generations, by Carl Davis.  I recommend both, especially the one by Carl Davis, a new work about the archaeology of ancient people in Montana.

Gunther: G-Man of Power

Gunther is thinking. Just thinking.

1/20/21

I often take Gunther around the corner to Mrs. Johnson’s yard to relieve himself.  He likes her yard because she feeds birds and squirrels.  Also a cat from across her street poops under one of her bushes.  Yes, I always pick up after Gunther. But yesterday he hurried past Mrs. Johnson’s in order to confront, as usual, the pair of clownish dogs that live midway up the block.  Behind the mustard-colored house.  Behind a fence. One dog stands and howls, almost sings. The other fills in with rhythmic barking, a duet. We’ve come to expect a show.

Gunther taunts the dogs when they are out, barking and running at them.   Then, as we walk ahead, the dogs usually race ahead, around to bark at us from the other side of the mustard-colored house. 

Sometimes we confront the dogs from the alley.  One dog is tan, the other white with black spots.

A couple days ago, we tricked them when they ran up to their fence to bark at us.  Instead of going ahead to the other side of their house, we turned back so the dogs would wait for us in vain.  I thought we were pretty funny.  We fooled them.

The next day when we tried the same stratagem, the dogs split up.  One dog raced ahead.  The other stayed to bark at us, when we turned back.

Yesterday, I was ready for more fun at the dogs’ expense.

Gunther barked and raced at the two big howling dogs.  He charged, feinted, charged again, tearing up the lawn as he went.    He snarled. He growled. He pawed at the ground.

This drove them wild.  I smiled with amusement.  I envisioned many pleasant days ahead.

Then one dog–the white and black–quickly jammed his body beneath and through the chain link fence, racing at Gunther, just three feet away.

Before I could react, the bigger dog had Gunther on his back yelping in pain.  He had rolled him over, like he would kill him.

I grabbed Gunther up and the menacing dog ran away a short distance.   

Gunther cried and yelped in my arms like he was hurt.  I hurried him away and up the sidewalk, but he was in distress, shrieking and yelping.  After walking him 50 feet or so, I looked for blood, but finding none, I put him down.  He trotted up the sidewalk quietly, but began yelping again when I tried carrying him.  Again I put him down and he trotted around the corner and pooped.  When we went past the alley I saw the white and black dog 50 yards away, near his house.

Billings has a non-emergent police number, and I have it on speed dial. This is a holdover from when we took care of homeless people in a local program called “My Backyard.” If we needed an officer, we didn’t want to call 911, necessarily.

So I reported the loose dog in the alley to animal control.  “He lives in a mustard-colored house on Alderson,” I told the dispatcher, who said he’d send an officer.  

I hurried back to the alley and through a passage between two garages to the street, to the mustard-colored house to check its address.  I saw activity there.

In the dog’s yard I saw my neighbor Sharon, who lives next door to the two dogs, putting the loose dog back into the yard.  A mother and her child who live on this side of the mustard house cheered and threw a stick.  

I hailed Sharon to show her where the dog got loose.  She said the owner of the two dogs was not home.  She put a cement block where the dog had busted under the fence.  The child’s mother wedged a branch.  The two dogs knew Sharon and acted friendly around her.

Back home I rubbed and pressed all over G-dog’s body; he didn’t show any sign of tenderness or soreness.  His gait was normal.  His appetite was good. I decided he had been scared.

I called back the animal control officer, confessed how Gunther teased the dogs, how the loose dog was back in his yard, and withdrew my complaint.

Today we couldn’t entice Gunther to walk past the mustard-colored house.  

Rest in Power: Rosanne Headswift March 12, 1947 – January 8, 2021

It’s hard to sort out my grief and disbelief when I learned that such a humble and dedicated servant of the Northern Cheyenne tribe has passed away.

As a Community Health Representative, Rosanne Headswift visited our pharmacy at the IHS Clinic in Lame Deer almost every day to deliver medicine to the elders in the area of the reservation she served. She worked tirelessly and faithfully. She was serious, but cheerful and optimistic. When I remember her I see a smiling face. I thought she was excellent. In those days Lynwood Tallbull directed the CHR program. Five or six–maybe more–men and women took care of vulnerable people in various parts of the reservation. Elders, mostly.

She worked quietly, usually behind the scenes, but what she did was vital to the health of the wisest, oldest, and most loved members of the tribe: the young ones called them grandmothers and grandfathers. Many of the elders lived way out in the country and had limited transportation, so clinic outreach by CHRs like Rosanne was vital.

She is gone way too soon, way too young. A hero to me.

Often I’d see her and her husband, Wayne, at some kind of community event, perhaps a powwow or feast. Rosanne would probably be scurrying about, serving food, or perhaps cooking. Every month at diabetic clinic the tribal health people brought the elders together and the joy would show on their faces when they got to see each other.

Covid-19 is destroying the best of the Northern Cheyenne people.

I found the following obituary for Rosanne on line:

Rosanne Killsnight Headswift (Ho’neheevahtoohe’e) Wolf Howling Woman – left us on January 8th, 2021, due to complications of Covid-19, on her journey of life, back to the place where her departed relatives have gone and will prepare her a place within their heavily household.

She came into the world on March 12th, 1947, at the Holy Rosary Hospital in Miles City, Montana. A child of James Francis Killsnight and Regina Long Roach-Killsnight.

She spent her childhood years in the Killsnight Creek Valley, east of Lame Deer.

Rosanne would always reminisce about playing along the hill ridges and picking juneberries along the creek bottoms. Rest of the time, she grew up in the Lame Deer area. She attended Lame Deer Public School Elementary. One year, she attended Chilocco Indian School, one year at St. Labre Indian Mission School, and two years at the Busby High School, where she graduated in May of 1966. She then graduated from Chief Dull Knife College in May of 1998 with an Associate Degree in Applied Science.

Rosanne began working as a Community Health Worker in April 1969. As years passed, the title of the program was changed to the Community Health Representative (CHR). For some time, she also worked as an Optometry assistant. She then applied for the program director position. She was then selected as a Program Director. She held this position until she became ill with Covid-19.

Rosanne was currently serving on the Board of Trustees for Lame Deer Public Schools and also the Board of Directors for Chief Dull Knife College. She enjoyed being on both boards – she encouraged quality education.

Rosanne was always an avid sports fan, she would watch the L.A. Lakers and the K.U. Jaywalks on T.V. She was also an avid fan of her grandson, Tharyn Headswift, as he played baseball, football, and basketball. She followed him on away games, always taping him on her cellphone. The support became intense when Tharyn began playing High School sports.

One of her hallmarks was helping other people, and constantly giving advice to whomever needed additional help. We are going to miss her frybread, and oven bread. She was usually called upon to make her frybread, and she eagerly obliged.

Rosanne is survived by her husband Wayne, Lew (Carlene), Frank, Langdon, Sonja (Tyrone), and Wally (Diandra) and by Joshua, Gareth, Shanyell, Cianna, Cierra, Abigail, Chloe, Byron, T.J., Shalee, Tharyn, Hayden, Madilynn. And the great grandchildren, Lakel, Amiyah, Adree, Blake, Quintus, Rynleigh, Kaiser, Ansleigh. Survived by brothers Anthony Killsnight Sr, Marcian Killsnight, and sister, Velecia Killsnight. And she leaves numerous nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins, sisters and brothers on the Killsnight and Headswift sides of the family.

She was preceded by sisters, Gertrude, Drucella, and brothers, Xavier, Ferdinand, James Jr.,Clement, and Christopher, and her parents, James Sr. and Regina Killsnight.

Civil War Pistol

1/11/21

Unseasonally warm, dry winter.  I walked Gunther to Mrs. Johnson’s yard, where he dutifully dropped a pair of poops, which I caught with a bagged hand held beneath his little butt.  Mrs. Johnson’s lawn stays pristine, I think. 

“Good boy,” I murmured.  Gunther trotted home.

I noticed Mrs. Johnson’s neighbor’s Trump flag has been removed.  My guess is he’s leery of being blamed for the rioting and insurrection at the Capitol last Wednesday.  Or, more likely, the people who live with the Trump supporter are tired of being advertised as fascist.  Or racist. I think about the American Civil War and how it doesn’t seem over yet. My grandfather’s dad was a Civil War veteran.

George G. Struckman lived in Bartlett, Illinois, during the Civil War.  The village president, he organized citizens for a Union military company to fight the confederacy.  Only the Union army officials would not accept his unit, so they all enlisted instead.  George was commissioned a lieutenant by the Governor of Missouri.  He and his men fought the battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, which was more of a rout than a battle.  Shortly after that, his unit was disbanded and they returned to Illinois.  Civilians again.

I was probably nine or ten years old when my mother decided to show me the “civil war pistol.”  It was great-grandfather’s, and I got to play with it.  Tom made a leather holster for it.  It was too heavy to run around with, and the mainspring that operated the hammer and cylinder was broken.  I took it to school for show and tell.  A fifth grade classmate, Virginia Stewart, took it from my desk and made me chase her around the playground to get it back.  That romance never got far.

That Spring, I enjoyed picking lilacs and leaping ten feet from our back porch roof to the lawn, soon breaking a bone in my foot.  I left a huge bouquet of lilacs on the lawn.

I know.  I think I enjoyed the sensation of sailing through the air. I knew I was hurt, and I couldn’t walk.

I crawled up the cool cement steps from the garage into the house, whimpering and crying in pain.  Mother called Dr. Lowe.

I spent three or four days in the hospital for the swelling to subside before Dr. Lowe put a cast on my leg from toe to knee.  I was out of school the last two weeks of the school year.  Mother brought home my schoolwork and the pistol.  She said Mrs. Jay was disgusted because my desk was a “rat’s nest.” In those days having a real gun (albeit an antique) at school was unremarkable.

I was in agony. Not from pain, but I longed to play outdoors in the warm weather.

Our neighborhood droned with the sound of a lawn mower and I heard shouts of children playing games each evening while I did multiplication and division problems.  I almost always got the wrong answers, and I hated the homework.  My bedroom window was open and the gentle breezes of June with the sweet smell of lilac bushes wafted in. At eight o’clock the sun shone through my window as it set. My brother’s friends trooped through my room to his, remarking how early I had to go to bed.

The Civil War pistol was easy to take apart and put together with a sort of sliding mechanism you could pull out most of the way.  The barrel and charging lever came off, then the cylinder, then the grip and hammer.  Each part had a serial number stamped.  I could take apart the grip and hammer with a screwdriver.  Easy.  Then simple to put back together.  I recall making notches in the wooden grip, and using the pistol to hammer nails when I was too lazy to go to the workbench in the basement.  Luckily the pistol was heavy duty. I chipped a piece of wood from the handle.

In high school I kept the pistol displayed in my room, along with a bunch of magic tricks and handcuffs and other stuff a teenage boy finds compelling.

When our mother died we divided the family heirlooms.  Tom got the pistol.  He took it to a pawnshop and got, like, $50, because he was out of money. He didn’t get the pistol back.

I have a photo I took when I was in high school.

71-year-old tries to write some damn shit.

12/28/20

Two months ago I hired a life coach to guide me to write a piece about the hippie era of my misspent youth.  Three of the most important hipsters died this year, so I’m sad.  It’s hard to lose Jerry Printz, Frank Sonnenberg, and Michael Fiedler.  These join the ones we lost years before: Dana Graham, John Herman, Grant Lamport, Sally Mullen, Tom Struckman, Bill Reynolds, Mary Reynolds, and Gordon Simard.  The list goes on.

John Hayden Herman (left) and his friend play guitar in Seattle on the porch of the place Larry Felton and Bill Yenne rented.

Although I paid my coach $50 for each weekly session, I “laid about” for a fortnight without writing.  Except a a couple thousand words of how depressed I was, at first, during the time I enlisted in the Marines.  I keep getting more and more depressed the more and more I write.  

You missed out if you are younger than 40.  

The Vietnam war years (1964-73) had two important aspects as I recall:  unspeakable stupidity, pain and cruelty in Southeast Asia amid guns, helicopters, rice paddies, red gritty dirt, and jungles, on the one hand; and stateside the glorious psychedelic drugs, striped bell bottom pants and bearded, long-haired drug- and sex-crazed hippies on the other.  I forgot to mention the arts.  Rock groups.  Big amplifiers, electric guitars, bands in every town.  Also underground comics, newspapers, vinyl records, and head shops.  Did I mention civil rights?  Black Panthers, women’s liberation.  Heroes, martyrs.

Michael Lynn Fiedler, when he visited me in Billings a few years ago.

I couldn’t make myself write.  My depression made me want to crawl under the wool blanket I keep on a chair in our room.  

Looking back on the late 1960s in Montana, I see more clearly how four beautiful hip women each, in turn, kissed me before kicking me out of their beds and lives forever.  At the time I thought I was ugly, an artist.  Those thoughts made me crazy.  The thought of war made me crazy.

Depression is a deadly disease and I was never the hippie I thought I was.  The one I wanted to be.  It was fun to strive, though!  In good weather we played outdoors.  In winter we made music indoors.  

Anyway, writing for at least thirty minutes daily is good.  Might help me redeem value for my $50.  

Today, I’ve come to believe walking 4-5 miles outdoors with wife and dog will give me energy for writing.  

Fortunately, my wife was not among the four women who gave me the boot.  She had the wisdom to see past my vanity, my pretense.

Instead, she took a chance on me, married me, and relocated to live with me in Orange County, California.  I was in the Marines there, learning to thrive in a strange environment with other, equally inexperienced, men and women.

We newly married California people were optimistic, strong, young, and we spawned three children before returning to Missoula.  

Next month we will have been married 50 years.  

Today, still shy of our anniversary, we walked nearly five miles, giving me the energy to write this, thus.

12/29/20

Gunther the smiling dog

Not mistaken for a farmer’s hog

Or the pig that the farmer haaaas

The piggy wig of the farmer’s laaaass

Stay back little Gunther, don’t get in my way

When I ask you to stay you must mind right away

Don’t inconvenience me when indoors you must stay

Because outdoors I am going to bring in some wood

The fire is indoors and is heating us good

So stay inside Gunther, as you know that you should

Don’t bark little Gunther it bothers my ears!

You yap at the mail carrier we’ve had all these years

You harp on the same old refrain that you know

And jump on the windowsill from the armchair below.

Truth is, I’m a disabled veteran.  I have hemorrhoids, hearing loss and high blood pressure.  This is 30% disability.  Piles, “huh?” and “psh psh psh.”

All that, because I enlisted in 1969 in Missoula.  A hippie who no longer had a railroad job on a steel gang.  An ex-gandy-dancer.  

12/20/20

Early March, 1970.  Old dirty snow.  I’m in my Marine dress green uniform, a Private, driving to Butte, Montana.   I was returning to duty after 30 days of leave.

Now I’m driving my mother and me about 60 miles from Dillon, Montana, to the Butte airport for me to go to Memphis for Avionics training. I feel hopeless and it takes an effort for me to not s

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.