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The stuff left out of the story

April 6, 2015

My grandparents lived atop a hill on the outskirts of Kalispell.  They had the longest, skinniest garage I have ever seen.

My grandparents lived atop a hill on the outskirts of Kalispell. They had the longest, skinniest garage I have ever seen.

My grandparents, Carl and Ellen Bonde, took me in at the age of 4 while my father died of cancer in Missoula. For me, Highway 93 that went to Kalispell, was that “way north.” The trees on the mountains near Evaro looked like a painting with vertical light (winter larch) and dark (pines, spruces, firs) strokes. I experienced all that while lying stretched out in the back seat looking out the window. I wondered where this geography fit into the Bible my grandmother gave me. She gave it to me with much ceremony one day in Kalispell when I was barely old enough to read. I have always wondered why did she seem to pump up the foreign places and not the ones close by?

The Bible had colorful maps and black and white photographs in the back: the Rosetta stone, an Egyptian mummy, maps of places that did not include anywhere in Western Montana, although I looked and looked. Every few weeks I’d look again, but no Kalispell; but there was a body of water, but nowhere did it say anything about Flathead Lake. They were left out for some reason.

Again, why had my grandmother made such a big deal out of giving me the Bible when it did not include any of the places that were important to me? Kalispell didn’t look anything like Israel.

“Northern Lights to Fields of Gold,” was the title of another book I grew up with, a book by Stanley Scearce of Ronan. My father ghost wrote it for Mr. Scearce. Later, when I was in my late 20s I tried to read it but the sentences were sometimes pages long, the verbs passive, the subject hidden behind countless adjectives. I liked the title, though and several times in my life I traveled long distances north. My question remained, why didn’t the book tell about the actual places? Why didn’t it tell about Ronan? The title was just about the best part of the book.

I have longed for the Old North Trail all my life. Perhaps others have also. The Chinese Book of Changes, or I Ching, describes the North as a mysterious region where the dead go. The Blackfeet Indian stories tell of people who came north on the Old Trail bearing colorful tropical birds. People who spoke an indigenous language foreign to the Blackfeet. The ancient trail just east of the Rocky Mountain Front. It is still there!

The Old North Trail is a physical place, not too remote from where I live, with mountains that have been important to many thousands of people for many thousands of years. In fact my mother was born near the Old North Trail in Buffalo, Montana, in Judith Gap, a mountain passage.

Both my sons know of the trail. My younger one told me that he once interviewed an old Metis man near Choteau who told of going 40 miles to a New Years Dance. Bob asked him if had gotten a ride? The man said no, he went on foot. He said he started in the morning and stopped only to smoke a cigaret every so often. Bob didn’t believe him, so he got a topographical map of the area and a pencil and asked him to trace his path. The man was pissed that Bob mistrusted him, but he drew out the route anyway.

Later Bob and Todd left a car at one end of the old man’s route and jogged the 40 miles. Here is what Bob said: 1) they could tell when they were on the Old North Trail because the going got significantly easier there than when they lost track of it. 2) the trail stayed close to the bottom of the steep hillside at the edge of the wilderness, so creeks and streams were relatively small and easy to ford. 3) there were a few exceptions to number 2 above, such as one particularly deep canyon. 4) they were in no condition to attend a dance after jogging and walking 40 miles, unlike the old Metis man.

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