Skip to content

The Great North Trail, revisited

December 2, 2019

Thanks to my friend T.j. Gilles who reads carefully, I realized I need to correct an earlier blog post, the one about The Great North Trail, scholarly book by Dan Cushman, edited by A.B. Guthrie, Jr. 

I said Mr. Guthrie helped start the Montana Newspaper Guild in Great Falls.  Well, he probably was a supporter, but I don’t know if he could be called a founder. Perhaps I confused him with another person whose last name was also Guthrie, Charles M. Guthrie. I don’t know if the two were related.

Turns out Dan Cushman helped start the Guild.

Here is a quotation from the University of Montana archivist who cataloged the records from the Guild:

The Great Falls Newspaper Guild held its first recorded meeting on March 22, 1936. Fred Martin and Joseph Kinsey Howard were among those who organized the editorial employees of the Great Falls Leader and the Great Falls Tribune as the Great Falls Press Club. The existence of the Guild was initially secret. Like the American Newspaper Guild, which was founded in 1933, they organized in response to the working conditions common for newspaper reporters: long and irregular work hours with no paid holiday or vacation, poor benefits, and dismissal without cause. The Guild affiliated with the Cascade County American Federation of Labor (AFL) and was officially named the Great Falls Newspaper Guild (Local 81 of the American Newspaper Guild). On November 29, 1936, the guild negotiated its initial contract with the Great Falls Tribune-Leader owners, O.S. Warden and Alex Warden. Other early members were Dan Cushman and Charles M. Guthrie. One of the issues the Guild took on in early negotiations with the Wardens was the gender-segregated wage scale that paid women considerably less than men for the same work; the Guild felt strongly that there should be a single wage scale for all reporters regardless of gender.

Nicotine, addictive alkaloid

Been in recovery for years.

November 28, 2019

Forty years ago if I wanted to feed the fire of literary creativity I’d light up a hand-rolled cigarette.  “Top” tobacco was my favorite brand, in the big yellow can.  Such a smoke seemed to help me concentrate.  Sharpened my focus.  My journalism reporting professor, Jerry Holloron, smoked Tarytons then.  He looked like an intellectual, and I wanted to be like him. Turns out his bar was unreachable, but that’s another story.

In my career as a Public Health Officer I’ve seen first hand what can happen to people who spend years smoking tobacco.  (For a while there, you know, we smoked marijuana, but we didn’t — or at least I didn’t — smoke it long enough to observe its effects over the course of, say, 50 years.)  

I liked the public service ads that noted that smoking doesn’t always cause lung cancer; sometimes they snip off your tongue.  Both my parents smoked and neither lived to be 65, and neither died of lung cancer.  My dad died of brain cancer when I was four years old, my mother died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma when I was 27.  Like that.  

In 2005 Mary Stroble hired me as a pharmacist for a home infusion service, “At Home Solutions” here in Billings. I’d visit sick people in their homes to help them self-administer intravenous medications, such as chemotherapy and intravenous feeding solutions.  Nasogastric feeding suspensions too.  Sometimes liquid feeds through a percutaneous gastric tube.  Often the technical aspects would be the realm of nurses we worked with, but we pharmacists got good at helping patients with their electric pumps.

A sick man who lived about a block from my house had cancer of the tongue, so a surgeon snipped it out.  He was on our service, so I visited.

He was perhaps a week post-op.  His mother said he was bashful.  Something about having his tongue cut off, I guessed.  

He needed cans of feeding suspension pumped from a bag into his stomach because his mouth was in lousy shape from the surgery.  He was self-conscious, so I met him in his backyard with the pump and bags and food in 250 ml cans.  Obviously he couldn’t talk, but he could still smoke.  He had nothing to lose, really, by smoking.  He could have been a great spokesperson for the Surgeon General.  Fortunately he had a friend back there to smoke with him. We got along great. I taught him to feed himself.

I don’t hate tobacco, for all the losses I’ve had.  I always thought it afforded an avenue to the spiritual.  It is also powerfully addicting.

These days I can’t smoke because I love my children and grandchildren.  My grandfather smoked and he died of emphysema at age 72. I would hate to see my children or grandchildren get addicted.

More than a few people I’ve met have had their tongues cut out because of mouth cancer.  I think they often felt surprised that the cure was to have someone snip off their tongue.  One particularly wonderful man wrote me a note that, because his tongue had been cut off, he thought he could get a job in an airport as an announcer.  Somehow I don’t think his cancer was caused by tobacco.  He did have a superb sense of humor.

However, there’s chewing tobacco.  I smoked from 1968, when my brother told me it was a bad idea, to 1972 when I was a Jesus freak.  

In 1972, I became an obnoxiously fundamental Christian in Southern California, one of those who answers the altar call and “gets saved.”  I quit smoking abruptly for more than a year.  Then I got orders to go, unaccompanied by family, overseas.  Vietnam was still ongoing.

I was in the Marines in Japan, First Air Wing.  I was still an obnoxious Christian, the butt of many a joke from my fellow Marines in supply.  Most of the guys in my squadron were blacks.  Junior to me.  There was Lance Corporal Thigpen and Corporal Ragsdale.  They didn’t cotton to my brand of Christianity, but even as they kept me at a distance, they told me that my taking up smoking again was ill-advised.  PFC Humphreys was white, but he didn’t offer his opinion.  Staff Sergeant Ortega drank way too much to engage with us.  He said he thought my Christian ways were over the top.

My brand of Christianity kept me insulated from the tailor shops, restaurants, whores and bars of Iwakuni, Japan.  I had a year to serve there before I could return to my family in Southern California.  Oh yes, I also ran 7 or 8 miles every day, even on Christmas.  I got hollered at on Christmas for running.  I missed my family.  Several dogs, P. and Bob and Todd.  I stayed occupied.

I was a smoker when I returned to California, and because of a mix-up that involved hats, I ended up working at the Third Marine Air Wing headquarters at El Toro Marine Air Base.  I could type.  Thanks to Evelyn Stauffer, my Dillon, Montana, high school typing teacher, I could type more than 80 words a minute on a manual typewriter.  Even faster on an electric.  Like 100+.  

Third MAW Headquarters was a smokers haven.  We smoked cigars.  All the time. And drank lots of coffee.

My little family lived in Tustin, California.  That’s where our daughter Clara was born. We lived in a duplex at the end of C Street.  The other duplex denizens were old people, Mr. and Mrs. Denny,  He was on oxygen because of intense cigar smoking.  We moved before the poor old dude died.

In 1976, I managed to get out of the Marines to return to Missoula to the University of Montana.  My aim was to finish my bachelors in journalism, which I did.  I remember Nathan Blumberg telling me he was disappointed that I smoked.  My problem was I couldn’t find a job as a reporter.

By some miracle I landed a Forest Service job in Northern Idaho on a Fire Lookout in the summer of 1978.  Obviously smoking is incompatiblewith forestry, so I quit smoking and learned to chew Copenhagen tobacco.

I couldn’t write well enough to make a living.  I entered pharmacy school and learned to do the things a pharmacist does.  Solve problems, mostly.

I chewed Copenhagen until 1982, when I got a job as a pharmacy apprentice at Billings Deaconess Hospital.  I quit chewing tobacco abruptly, but for three days I became a screaming bitch before the nicotine addiction lost its pull.

The next phase of nicotine usage didn’t kick in until 1995, the year of the Oklahoma bomber.  I had worked about five years at the Indian Health Service Hospital at Crow Agency and returned to the IHS clinic in Lame Deer.  My boss, Tim Dodson, chewed tobacco.  So did Frank Ridgebear, pharmacy technician.  So did retired smoke jumper-turned pharmacist Bill Neumeister.  I tried dipping again.

Dipping Copenhagen after so many years made me queasy.  Therefore, I used nicotine patches in a step up fashion to habituate myself so that I could chew again.  Bill said it was a bad idea to chew tobacco.

Why do all of the addicted people say it is a bad idea to use nicotine products?

Lastly, I used nicotine gum and nicotine patches to wean myself off nicotine. I don’t know how long I’ve been “clean,” and it doesn’t matter much to me.

I’m mad at the Gazette

Mad dude. With dog.

I’m mad at the owner(s) of the Billings Gazette:

  • For the most expensive paper I’ve ever seen, with what used to be the largest circulation in the region, it’s now got hardly any pages and fewer news articles.  In fact the Gazette has been shriveling for years but the goddamn subscription price keeps going up.  The latest cuts are outrageous, in view of our growing city.
  • The goddamn Gazette subscription schedule is a bewildering system of silver, gold, and platinum (the last listed includes home delivery and unfettered on-line offerings that start at $64/month).  This exorbitant price is for a skinny paper that keeps shrinking its already-shrunken editorial staff.  
  • Someone from the goddamn Gazette circulation department goes around our neighborhood throwing samples in front of houses up and down our public sidewalk.  I walk my dog around the block every day and every few weeks I’ve kicked three or four of the goddamn Gazettes out of the walkway.  We hates them!  Stop it!
  • The goddamn Gazette keeps reducing its number of editors and reporters including two more laid off this time.  Hire them back!  Hire additional reporters!  Say you’re sorry!
  • The owner(s) of the goddamn Gazette act like a tyrant with no competitor, no sense of mission to publish news.
  • Remember?  Reporters and editors are the important “fourth estate,” our eyes and ears, independent professionals to keep us informed.  Television and radio stations don’t report the activities of the cops and courts like the newspaper does.  We need the newspaper!
  • The goddamn Gazette  is derelict in its duty, despite the valiant efforts of fewer and fewer reporters and editors. 

Jerry Printz, real prince

Jerry Printz’ photo from the Missoulian obituary

November 18, 2019

Got sad news on Facebook from Dirk Lee and Luana Ross:  Our friend Jerry Printz died.  I googled Jerry’s name and got the following poetic, tersely worded obituary, probably written by one of his twin sons, published online in the Missoulian four days ago:

MISSOULA — Gerald Lynn Printz left to be with his ancestors on Nov. 8, 2019. Born in 1948 in Hamilton to Bud and Mamie Printz, his family moved to Missoula in 1954. Early life was a hardscrabble existence of logging camps, subsistence farming, hunting and fishing. This life instilled in him a hard work ethic and a profound love of wilderness and animals. Dad was a jack-of-all-trades: a road master for the railroad, co-founder of Mammyth Bakery in Missoula, manager of a 120-acre ranch in Eureka, welder of MRI’s all over the USA, and finally a Forest Service ranger leading a mule train in the Scapegoat Wilderness.

Jerry suffered many major injuries over the course of his life, including from an attack by a grizzly bear sow with cubs, but he was a tough old bugger who persevered through intense pain for decades. A proud member of the Crow Tribe, dad was a complex man…very intelligent, well-read, gregarious, and charming. He traveled the world extensively and was a great storyteller beloved by many. A piece of “Old Montana” dies with Jerry, and he will be dearly missed.

He is survived by his twin sons Jason (Stacy) and Dov (Meredith) Printz, his grandchildren Olive and Kai Printz, his brother Ron Printz and sister Jo Cumley (all of Missoula) and sister Peggy Printz of Las Vegas.

____________

I first saw Jerry in 1967 in the basement of the University Congregational Church, an erstwhile coffeehouse filled with smoking, coffee-drinking hippies and college kids.  He was a member of Einstein Intersection, a rock band that performed a song with the lyric “girl you’re . . . out of sight.”  Jerry was the lead singer.  I don’t remember the names of the others, but the group was tight.  Jerry owned his own PA system, a big deal in those days.  He later let me plug my guitar into it when I stayed with my brother across the river on Hartman street.

I don’t remember when I became close friends with Jerry Printz.  He was a year older than I.  He wasn’t a college student then.  We did have lots of friends in common, though, including Mike Fiedler.  Jerry and I argued about Mike.  He said Mike used a ton of drugs and as a result, acted crazy.  I said Mike didn’t act crazy at all.  Well, Mike simply rolled his eyes back into his head and murmured, “Jacks and no jacks back,” and “I’ll have what the boys in the backroom will have,” and “No fibbling or bibbling out.”  Our arguments always ended when Jerry asserted that he knew Mike better than I did.  True.

But I was sure Mike spoke the truth:  i.e., no fibbling or bibbling out, even though I later argued that point with my mother who assured me that “of course there is fibbling and bibbling out.”  

One time a bunch of us, including Jerry, loaded Printz’ PA system into my brother Tom’s 1953 Chevy and went to Peter Koch’s cabin at Seeley Lake to noodle out some music.  Jerry said he admired Jerry Lee Lewis.   We all admired Jerry Printz, but he was always in pain.  I mean anguish. He hurt from his heart because a girlfriend dumped him.  Yet he always had a good sense of humor, a ready smile.  He was a true outdoorsman, he had experience in the Montana wilderness way before many people ever went there.  He knew how to live in a mummy bag before you could even find a mummy bag in a store.

Jerry loved to camp.  I remember another trip when we stopped in Bonner at a store to buy some fishing lures and pickled peppers.  Jerry called the peppers, simply, “pickles.”  Tom and I rented a tent and four or six of us hiked about a half mile in the rain to a little lake in the Seeley Swan valley.  Jerry caught some cutthroat trout right away.  He showed me the fish so I could know about that kind of trout.  I remember he opened the fish’s gut to see what it had been eating.  I was wide-eyed.

Whenever I saw Jerry I’d ask him how he was doing.  His answer was “the best I can.  The more you do, the more you do.”  Not earthshaking, but true.  Jerry spoke truth.

When I left Montana in 1969 to join the Marines Jerry found a home for our dog, Pig.  Pig was a yellow lab, mostly.  My brother said Pig was “servile and meek.”  I always thought the dog was servile and meek because of his unfortunate name.  We named him Pig because, as a puppy, he sort of looked like a piglet.  Anyway, I always knew Pig was in good hands after Jerry took him to some friends of his in the country.  Jerry knew people — lots more people than I did.  He knew people who had land.  People up the Bitterroot River valley.

In the early Summer of 1969 a bunch of us got jobs on a railroad steel gang.  Jerry was one of the more experienced workers on the crew that included John Herman and me.  John and I were the youngest guys, and we got the worst job, setting spikes for a pneumatic hammer operator.  I forget what Jerry’s job was, but we always had time to socialize after the day’s work.  We lived in “outfit cars,” old wooden railroad boxcars that had a couple of little beds at one end and a table and coal stove and icebox at the other end.  Our car had beds for us with springs and no mattresses. 

All the outfit cars and coal car and ice cars and equipment cars were on a siding.  We walked to the coal and ice cars and fetched fuel for our stove and ice for the icebox.  This all seems so quaint now, but it wasn’t then.  Sometimes we made music in the evening.  Guitar, harp, drumming.

The train’s outfit cars were on a siding in Arlee and Jerry and I walked to a bar and bought some Thunderbird wine.  I remember buying it, well, someone bought it for us, probably Jerry, but I sure don’t remember drinking it.  I don’t think any of us drank alcohol much in those days.  We preferred to smoke weed, but it was kind of hard to get.  I think it was more of trying to fit into what I thought the image of a railroad gandy dancer was.  Gritty, creosote-smelling, wine guzzling.  I wanted to wear stinky coveralls and live the part, without actually drinking the T-bird wine.

If I remember right, Jerry and his roommate — maybe it was my brother Tom — lived in a real nice outfit car, with a rug on the floor and mattresses on the beds, and a kerosene lamp or two for light.  John and I had no lamps, no rug, no mattresses.  We had sleeping bags for our bare springs beds.  Also a nice hot coal fire in the stove.  We’d start the fire in the stove with kindling and kerosene, then add coal.  Amazing how a coal stove can make life seem better and brighter.

The last time I saw Jerry was in Kalispell at the airport, just by coincidence, waiting for a flight the same time I was.  This was probably 1982.  Jerry said he was working with a team of horses.  I knew Jerry could haul logs with work horses.  

Started out at ringing rocks. . .

P. is hammering on the ringing rocks. . .

October 28, 2019

I’ve been to visit Mark in Warm Springs three times, now.  I am discouraged.  Once, forty years ago, Mark told me not to get disco-uraged, in the Portable Wall probably back in 1976.  Now I am discouraged.  Down.  Got the blues.  Don’t know what to do.  Hey!

It’s fun to travel in Montana, if the weather is fair.  When it’s foul it’s fun to travel in Montana. You might die, though.

Thursday, we went to Norris Hot Springs.  Spent the night at a gas station parking lot.  Slept really well after bathing, despite the intense wind.  

Friday, went to the ringing rocks close to I-90 on the Homestake pass into Butte.  You take the Pipestone exit and drive on about 3-3/4 miles on dirt roads.  We had to park our RV and walk about half a mile up a rough road.  I recommend it, depending on how dry the road is.

P. and I visited Warm Springs State Hospital.  I went in to see Mark for about two and a half hours, while she took Gunther to a nearby fishing access at Warm Springs Ponds.  That was Friday, while the storm was brewing.

Surprise, a nurse brought Mark into a hallway announcing he had a 30-minute pass to go outdoors.  We made our way past a secure door, then through the dining area, to the vending machines, around to the long hallway with pictures all along, to the front desk.  Two workers sat behind the deskworks.  Mark’s patient ID had a circle with “1/2” written.  I figured that meant 1/2 hour.  They smiled and gestured toward the front door.  We went through and Mark told me this was the first time he had not been under constant surveillance, his every move and speech being recorded.  I looked at his face.  It looked drawn, deeply creased.  Intensely sad.  Mark’s words chilled me. When I tried to pooh-pooh his fears, he said, “Listen! I’m telling you!”

Mark told me things “couldn’t be worse.”  He said “they either hate me or they will soon hate me.”  He said the patients and staff have almost nothing.  No financial assets.  Not much money.  They are all poor and barely scraping by.  He told me the patients are destitute.  The Warm Springs Hospital is so poorly funded they can hardly afford to feed the patients and staff.  He said the staff eat the same tiny portions as the patients.  Breakfast is a tiny amount of oatmeal, he said, making his hands into a small amount.  Snacks are a banana, maybe, or a tiny container of fruit sauce.  He described inmates having to wait in a long line for a tiny container of some sort of snack.  He said he heard the staff shouting at a man who was going through the trash looking for something to eat.  Mark said he was scared.  His friends had sent him snacks and food.  One of the employees told him he could get the food “discreetly,” but Mark said he couldn’t get the extra food at all.  “Once they find out I have money and friends and food, they will jump me,” he said.

Our friend Kim Thompson Irons and I went to a Rescue Mission Bargain Center and bought Mark some used cold weather clothing for like a dollar each, including socks, a jacket, and a hat.  We placed all of those things in a red gym bag for Mark.  He was horrified.  “Once they see me with that ritzy North Face jacket and Woolrich socks they will think I’m wealthy,” he said.  “They will know I have assets.”  That’s why Mark said he thinks the others, including the staff, will hate him.

That’s why I feel blue.  I don’t know what to do for Mark.  I said as much to him, and he agreed that he doesn’t know what his friends can do for him.

I kept telling myself that I could listen to his sad opinions, perhaps they would lose their power over his thinking.  No satisfaction there, though.  Eventually we used up our half-hour.  We returned to the building and checked back in.  He and I sat in the little room off the hallway.  The two tissue boxes were on the table, same as I left them a few days earlier when I picked them up off the floor.

Perhaps because Mark believed his behavior and speech were under recorded surveillance, he became softer-spoken.  He even smiled a few times.  He told me that his brother was not my best fan.  

This brought up a letter Steve had asked me to deliver to Mark.  I didn’t deliver it.  I told Mark I had read the letter, one that urged Mark to “pull his head out of his ass” and to give getting well his best shot.  Or words to that effect.  Anyway, I told Mark that I could not possibly deliver the letter to him because I didn’t agree with the premise:  that depression was a weakness or a problem of attitude.  “I couldn’t possibly give you that letter,” I said to Mark.

Mark smiled and said he understood.  (Smiles from Mark were rare that day!)  I had to allow that Steve might be right and I might be wrong.  I believed in depression being a sort of “chemical imbalance” that was amenable to medication therapy, rather than “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps in a macho manner.”  We agreed that Steve was the sort of person who could navigate the world with his incredibly strong personality and will to succeed.  Mark was a different sort, a couple years older.  I am confused, but . . . 

I suggested that Mark should have slapped Steve around a bit when he was a kid.  I quickly regretted that.

Mark replied that he had hurt Steve when they were children, punching and breaking Steve’s nose on two occasions.  Wow!  I had touched on a brutal moment in their lives.  Mark said Steve has a disfigured nose to this day.  I was sorry I said anything.  I could see the regret on Mark’s face.  Mark acknowledged that Steve loved him strongly despite that.  He admitted he didn’t know why his brother loved him so much.

He said when he got the four-hour-long van ride from Billings to Warm Springs, in chains and handcuffs, the driver did not stop to allow the two mental patients to use the toilet or to eat or drink. The other guy had to pee behind the seat, Mark said. Mark said he was so dehydrated he fainted when they arrived at Warm Springs and they had him walk from the van to the hospital building. They made him stand up and he fainted again, he said. Then Mark showed me his ID tag with his picture. He looked goofy. He said he had just recovered from fainting when they took the picture.

I promised Mark I’d visit him the next day.  Only I had to phone him later to renege on that promise.  P. and I were headed Friday to White Sulphur Springs to the spa.  I called Mark, who sounded quiet and sad.  Mark admitted to being paranoid before. He said he was no longer paranoid.

The White Sulphur Springs spa was fantastic.  People throughout that part of the state were friendly.  I could not help thinking “because we’re white.”

After swimming and soaking we drove toward Harlowton.  I turned off at a Forest Service sign that promised National Forest land.  Only we turned off the main road quite a few miles later to camp for the night, near a gate leading to private land.  We let Gunther out to pee and poop.  I thought we were well off the beaten track.

After our dog was back inside our van a bright blue spotlight shown through the blinds.  That’s when I realized, we were out on the evening before the start of hunting season.  I jumped back into the driver’s seat and we ended up in a park in Harlowton.  

Then a snowy drive back the 91 miles to Billings on Saturday.

Warm Springs

Warm Springs State Hospital.

October 19, 2019

Our friend Mark was sent by a judge to Warm Springs State Mental Hospital for “not more than three months.”  The judge oversees Stillwater County matters.  (Mark lives in Missoula, but had been staying lately with his brother Steve near Columbus, Montana.) 

The psychiatric ward in Billings Clinic has a pleasant visiting room, perhaps 20 feet long on each wall.  In one corner sat the judge (wearing a sport coat and tie) and transcriptionist.  A lawyer represented Mark, another, dressed in riding boots, represented Stillwater County.  Mark’s doctor sat next to the riding boots lawyer.  On another wall that had windows sat Mark’s brother and his wife, and Kim Irons, and me.  Neither Kim nor I were asked to speak.  Steve’s wife also did not speak.  The court reporter swore in the witnesses.

Mark’s doctor was the first to testify.  He told about Mark’s history of depression while at Billings Clinic.  I’d been visiting Mark almost every day and his testimony seemed accurate.  Mark told me he disliked the doctor and didn’t trust him to have good intentions towards Mark.  

Then Steve spoke of Mark’s behavior at his house over a nine-week span.  His brother seemed to require intense care and attention.  Steve and the doctor arranged to send Mark to a facility in New Orleans, but Mark declined to go at the last minute.  

Steve and the doctor agreed that Mark was so distraught and anxious he dug deep into his skin with his fingernails.  Mark was deemed by the doctor and the judge to be at risk of neglecting or harming himself.  

I was thinking, yes, perhaps.  But if Mark is at risk, he is barely at risk, not hugely.  

Mark testified last. He told us, with frequent pauses, about his losing struggle with major depression.  He said he wants to live independently again. Said he felt hopeless and he ate little and forgot or didn’t care to take his medicine.  He confessed to having suicidal thoughts, but that he had not, and promised he would never, act on.  Nevertheless, the judge weighed the doctor’s testimony and Steve’s sad experience with Mark at his home.  The judge even asked the question, “if not Warm Springs, where would you go?”  None of us had an answer.

Hence, the judgment for involuntary commitment to Warm Springs.  

All the while the transcriptionist typed in a small white box so she could record the proceedings.  The judge had her note that Kim and I were there in support of Mark.  Kim had flown in from the East Coast to visit Mark.

Two days later an officer shackled and chained Mark and led him from the Billings Clinic psych ward to a van with detainees from Yellowstone County.  Mark said he had never before been in handcuffs and chains.  He said he had been given little time to collect his belongings.   He later said that’s why he forgot to collect a red sports bag with warm clothing Kim had given him.

Main hospital building.

The next day P. drove Kim and me from Billings four hours to Warm Springs to visit Mark.  We visited Mark on Friday, stayed with Gunther at the Quality Inn in Butte, then visited Mark Saturday morning before driving back to Billings.  Kim had booked a plane trip home for Saturday evening.

Anyhow, at the WSSH main nurse’s desk Kim couldn’t find the required photo ID in her wallet, but the nurse at the front desk let her through anyway to visit Mark.  Kim had flown in from Stanton, Virginia.   She said she thought she put her ID in a pocket in Mark’s red sports bag when she went through airport security.

I reflected how all us former hippies are 70 years old now.  Kim looks like a little old lady.  Mark looks like himself, only kind of ancient.  (A nurse said he can get a haircut at no charge there in WSSH.)  

Another nurse took us back through a couple hallways through a well-lit, airy dining area to unit A.  

She noted that Mark was still pacing.  I think that’s what she said.  My own hearing is poor.  Mark, Kim and I met in a room large enough for five or six chairs and an end table.  A couple boxes of tissues were scattered under the table on the floor.  Mark told us that boxes of tissue are securely glued to tables in his wing.  For security, he added.

He said if he has to use the toilet he must ask at the nurse’s desk for someone to unlock the bathroom for him.  Someone must get him a cup of water at the nurse’s station because there are no drinking fountains.

Mark looked down as he told us how his hands were shackled to a chain around his waist when he was put into a van and driven to WS.  They did not stop to eat or use the bathroom for the four-hour trip from Billings.  

Remember how I told you Kim did not have her photo ID?  She thought she might have left it in a red gym bag in Billings?  On the way back to Billings Kim phoned Billings Clinic psych ward.  Yes they had the red bag.  They were looking for large enough box to send it to Mark in Warm Springs.  A nurse promised to look for Kim’s photo ID. Kim got it back that afternoon!

When we left Mark Saturday morning he said he wished we would send him books.  Paperbacks, he said. (Because hardbacks could be thrown like missiles?) Some other thoughts:

  • Mark’s roommate snored loudly.
  • The food offered was unpleasing and scant.  Mark said he doubted a four-year-old could live on such a small amount.
  • Guitars are not allowed on Mark’s wing.  Mark didn’t want us to send him a blues harp.
  • The phone 406-693-7000 rings to an operator who directs the call to Mark’s wing.  Patients answer the phone and summon each other.  This may have unpredictable effects, but I was able to call Mark several times.
  • Mark wants visitors and calls.  The address:  c/o Warm Springs State Hospital is 300 Garnet Way, Warm Springs, MT 59756.
  • You can send food in the manufacturer’s original package only.
  • Mark could find few lucid patients.
  • Kim and I thought the nurses were friendly.
  • The staff handled edibles with their bare hands.  Unappetizing.
  • Therapy mostly centers on pharmacological treatment.
  • We ate at Lydia’s Restaurant in Butte.  Kim’s treat, so I don’t know how big the bill was, but we enjoyed our meal.
  • The Butte Quality Inn advertised a pool and hot tub, but neither was available the night we were there.
  • Fairmont Hot Springs was booked up and sold out.  Teacher’s convention, we thought.
  • We took Gunther. P. took him to Warm Springs Pond fishing access to explore, because they don’t allow dogs on the WSSH campus, even if leashed.

The Way North (South)

September 27, 2019

An on-line ad at GORV.COM had an RV, a 2017 “Hymer.”  Only it was in Anchorage.  P. was interested.

She had me phone with a ridiculously low offer, which a fellow named Ted rejected.  Then P. and our granddaughter and I went to the Burger Dive for lunch. Usually you have to wait to get into the Burger Dive. We waited.

Part way through a flaming hot jalapeño burger the phone buzzed in my pocket.  Scared me, as usual, because I thought I was getting electrocuted.  It was Ted, who made a counter offer.  Later, we checked with the credit union, and our banker, Brian Callahan, agreed to lend us half the price.  I informed Ted. We had a deal.

We left for Alaska with four suitcases and a dog at six am, first to Salt Lake City, then Seattle, then Anchorage, we arrived at 2:30 pm.  I phoned Ted who picked us up in a rusty old van.  Immediately he told us a list of things wrong with our purchase.  Then he drove us to a rundown lot.  The title would be a problem, he said, adding that we would have to register it in Alaska and get Alaska plates.  

The title wasn’t a problem.  Ted was probably legit.  The problems with the Hymer were trivial. 

The following day we drove many hours from Anchorage to Tok Junction, where we spent the first night of our bold, 5,000 mile journey.  I had bought 8 bottles of wine, six cans of Nalleys chili, six packs of Top Ramen, some milk, cereal, granola, eggs, cheese, tortillas, dish soap, dog food, jumper cables, salsa, refried beans, and coffee.  Also bagels, fig newtons, peanut butter, and jam.  And dog treats:  milk bones and peanut butter nibbles.  

The salt and pepper we bought later. Oops.

While I napped in the back P. stopped at a farmer’s market in Fort Nelson and bought salsa, sausages, potatoes, bannock, bread and onions.

The highway throughout Canada had generous shoulders, was smooth, well-maintained.  However, the cafes and gas stations were old, had antiquated pumps, had fat, sullen, bald-headed owners, and the establishments were nearly all “for sale,” especially in the farthest-north areas.  The views were so beautiful and wide that we felt exhilarated.  I had a hard time taking pictures.

Matanuska glacier, near Palmer, Alaska.

We stopped for the night at eight places, roughly 400-500 miles apart, by the time we got to Winnipeg.  P. wanted to visit the grave of Louis Rial there, at St. Boniface.  The iPhone helped us find it, although it frequently told us to drive the wrong way on one-way streets, or drive on sidewalks.  We had to fly on our own several times, using our “common sense.”

We saw a sign that said, “Everyone who doesn’t want a speeding ticket, raise your right foot!”

If you want to learn about Louis Rial, I recommend the book, Strange Empire, by Joseph Kinsey Howard.  When in Saskatoon, we drove north to a place called Batoche, where Mr. Rial surrendered to the Canadian government.  He was then executed by hanging in Regina.  Mr. Rial was a duly elected spokesman for the Metis of North America, but dishonored by the Canadian government. This was a terrible injustice, racist. Wrong.

Gunther at Teslin Lake.

Are Canadian parks great?  Duh!  We stopped at many and saw bison, caribou, black bears, and heard wolves howling nearby.  Wildlife was most satisfying.  We had purchased a 2019 copy of “Milepost” online to guide us.  

Liard hot springs did not disappoint, but it has been built up considerably since the last time we saw it in the early 1980s.  You have to pay to get into the parking lot and there’s a gift shop and an RV park built in.  We saw a van from Bozeman.  The boardwalk is still the same, and there’s a changing room building.

Bison near Liard Hot Springs

We drove across Canada to Thunder Bay, then southwest on Lake Superior to Duluth to visit our son and his family.  

From there we drove to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, to visit my beautiful sister Carol.  She prepared lavish meals for us and for her daughter Beth and her family.  Carol has a cat named Guy Wiley, a tortoise shell gray.  Gunther barked at the cat the first day.

We hiked five miles the next day.  We walked a path that followed the Oregon Trail to the Scotts Bluff monument.  Gunther stepped on goat heads a couple of times, which we picked out of his paw pads.

Carol made a huckleberry pie and an apple pie, which we ate with cheese.  (Apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.) She made a meatloaf with burger and Italian sausage, and baked potatoes.  She fed P. and me, and Beth and Joe and Luke, Sam and Sammy.