Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reunion Tour by guest blogger Steven Head

Please note: This is not the photo Steve sent with his post. Unfortunately, my lack of computer skills made it impossible for me to upload Steve's accompanying photo, which tells the story better than this one. But, you can get a feel for it just the same with this one. (Sorry Steve!)
Also, historians differ on the spelling of " Sacajawea. " Therefore, if you spelled it differently in a high school report, college essay, Masters thesis, doctoral disertaions, or just in personal writing, know that you are mostl likely correct, as is Steve.

And's Stevie!

Earlier this month I went on a week long driving trip self-labeled the Reunion Tour. It was a one-person tour and did not re-unite with any specific individuals but a place. 50 year ago, as an elementary school kid, my family relocated from a uranium boom town near the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. I have memories of that place and time. And there are also photos and slides. But I wanted to connect some of the dots of memory with reality.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Wind River Reservation this is a large patch of land south and east of the Tetons and Jackson Hole, and is named after the Wind River which flows out of the Wind River mountain range. Backpackers and hikers may be familiar with the Wind Rivers since the craggy spine of this range forms the continental divide for a long section.

If you are in Wyoming and want to do something it almost always involves driving someplace. And not the distance between Manitowoc and Two Rivers, more like to Green Bay or Milwaukee. My memories include a number of driving trips but my childhood sense of space and time made them all seem like epic journeys. One goal of the Reunion Tour was to sort out the geography. Most days involved a planned drive to the south, east, west, or north. A drive into hilly gold mining country, to hilly reclaimed uranium mines, to ancient Indian petroglyphs and rock formation, to diversion dams, to picturesque mountain tourist towns, and the reservation.

The reservation was the high point of the trip. At some point in the late 1800's the Shoshone tribe entered into an agreement with the government for a large patch of land. Over time the size and shape shrank and the Arapaho tribe was temporarily assigned to the location. The temporary turned to permanent, and although there were battles involving the two tribes, they get along with little difficulty.

If the Shoshone tribe is ringing any distant memory bells it is probably because Sacajawea, the Indian woman instrumental in the Lewis & Clark expedition, was a Shoshone. And this brings me to the high point of the tour. Outside Fort Waskakie, named after Shoshone Chief Waskakie, is the Sacajawea cemetery. There is a statue, flag, and signage, as well as the grave site of Sacajawea and her sons. Good historic stuff. But it is the cemetery that was the delight.

A sea of white crosses fill the space and native grass covers a number of the graves on this treeless gently sloping hillside. In front of the crosses are mounds of dirt, just like in the old western movies. A patchwork of graves have a shrine like quality. Rock or brick surrounding the red dirt mound, covered with colorful artificial flowers, toys and trinkets and coins and objects. There are a few traditional granite carved markers, and some custom decorated crosses. Scattered about are white painted head and foot post of brass beds. This is not your grandmothers cemetery of tended green grass expanse dotted with granite grave stones and controlled floral displays under a canopy of mature trees.

The other goal of the trip was to reconnect with the people and language of the area. When I arrived in Manitowoc some 20 years ago I quickly noted the distinctive dialect and common expressions, so different from the language sounds of the plains. Clearly the wild west, which was where I was at, had to have an equally distinctive sound. But as I listened to restaurant and bookstore and gas station conversations I could have been anywhere in the plains. No nasal twangs, elongated vowels, idiosyncratic pronunciations.

My recollection of the area involved real life cowboys and Indians, with cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and western cut shirts. Either the cowboys have all died or the costumer has replaced the boots with exercise shoes, the hats with ball caps, and mother-of-pearl snaps and slant pockets with arrow stitched shirts with off the rack mass produced goods. I only saw one woman with cowboy boots and a full skirt and her hair was a color of orange that god did not create. The Indians were a little more fashion conscious with western cut shirts and blouses, silver and turquoise belt buckles and jewelry, but the pierced eyebrows and ipods clashed.

After eight days and over 2,200 miles I was left with an empty feeling. I had seen the land and experienced the vast emptiness of Wyoming, sagebrush and desert parsley and pronghorn antelope punctuated by red earth and rock thrust up here and there. But the people I had come to observe were boringly common. Part of me wants to think if I could have stayed longer the flavor and texture and unique viewpoint of life in the mountain west would be revealed. Perhaps television and Wal-Mart and Indian casinos have homogenized these people. And the memories of an adolescent boy of the cowboys and Indians and colorful characters is all that is left.

*****My trade show weekend in St. Paul was busy and fun! Of course, Mike Perry was on hand and sends you all his regards. A special "hello" goes out to Pat and Margarette! Thanks to Mike, I spent some time with Neil Gaiman, also. I'll drop names in upcoming posts, along with a few fun stories. Occasionally, I am asked why I don't post pictures of myself on Fine Print. Well, here you go...a picture of me talking with Mike. No, I am not wearing a disguise. The bearded guy kept trying to butt in to our conversation. See how annoyed Michael looks. Mike and I got to catch up later, without the interloper!
What am I reading? High Wind in Jamaica made its way to the top of the pile...but A Guide to the Birds of East Africa weaseled its way in. More later.,

No comments:

Post a Comment