Day One, Port Townsend to Browning — 20 hours in an old bus

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It’s 5:30 in the morning. We’ve been packing till midnight and beyond; we’re tired; it’s chilly; breakfast will be cold; there’s no hot coffee.

The eleven of us climbing on to the Blue Bird bus, the two in the U-Haul pulling the horse trailer turned kitchen are feeling pretty good. After ten months of planning and more than a little help from our friends, Hands Across the Border, a new New Old Time Chautauqua project, is ready to roll.

There is a certain irony that we are setting off in a bus that was originally used in the first Iraq war. A war about which an American general declared his troops were headed into “Indian Country.” So are we.

And there is a certain satisfaction in using a discarded artifact of war on a mission of reconciliation. Almost everything else is unknown
We are on the way to two nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy: The Blackfeet of Montana and Piikani of Alberta. This confederacy, followers of buffalo and riders of horses, had a territory that stretched Calgary to the Yellowstone River and from the Rocky Mountains to what we now call North Dakota. Archeology is finding evidence of their presence there for at least seven thousand years.

Their first encounter with nascent America was a foretaste of what would come. A small group of young Blackfeet men encountered Lewis and Clarke on their 1804 expedition to map the Louisiana Territory. According to Lewis and Clarke’s account they told the young men the land now belonged to “The Great White Father.” There was an altercation and two of the young men were killed. There followed a history of loss of land, starvation, massacre, poverty, division of their people by international borders, and broken treaties.

What a group of jugglers, mime artist, spoon player, brass band, assorted people of good will and an aspiring banjo player with a beautiful voice can do about past and present injustice is a guess. Our goal, says Paul Magid, juggler extraordinaire and a main reason we have climbed on to the bus is to “shine the light of truth onto actual conditions.” No pressure there.

Pressure or not, we bear up well. On the 700 mile, nineteen hour trip, to Browning Montana, we sleep, make rose bud necklaces, pole dance and get to know each other.

One conversation in the getting to know you category:
Our photographer Paul Anderson asks Donna — tribal member of the Haida and Tlingit, teacher of small children, practitioner of traditional medicine, a fulcrum of the horse trailer kitchen who has travelled from Wrangell Alaska for this journey — if she has any hobbies.
She answers “I have three jobs, I basket weave; I make native regalia; I smoke fish; I make salve. I do respite care for the mentally challenged. I teach. I make jewelry. I clean houses.”

We’re going to be okey.

 

PS We seem to have just enough funds to make it back to Port Townsend from Brocket Alberta, but any help, very small or large, is appreciated at gofundme.com/handsacrosstheborder

 

Coming for to carry me home

sunrise, passage grave, Loughcrew, Ireland (c) Carole Craig

sunrise, passage grave, Loughcrew, Ireland (c) Carole Craig

 

31st July
Tonight —  five thousand miles away and, in my mind’s eye, juggling fire — the circus are putting some of my mother’s ashes in the river at Orfino, Idaho. She has come full circle.

In Ireland, unable to travel because of a stupid fall over a bad book, I am filled with memories. They are of ‘early’ mother: when she sang Methodist hymns and cowboy songs and Burl Ives songs and Leadbelly songs and “My name it is Sam Hall” on which I was allowed – greatly thrilled — to join in on the chorus of “I hate you one and all/ God damn your eyes.”

It is the hymns that I am hearing now. The night that’s in it, I suppose, and my grandfather the itinerate preacher, and my great grandfather the same, and my firm belief that, bad as she found it, as gleefully as she rejected it, religion can take substantial credit for her formation.

Not the religion of the superficial questions: such as whether there is a god or not; or whether said god is male or female; whether he/she/it is human or elephant; or the vexed argument of how humankind is supposed to engage in worship, if worship is required.

But the more profound religious sense: that to be properly human raises the question of a moral life, of trying to be good, to be just, to leave the place better than you found it. If she were still alive, she’d be marching for Gaza, not, of course, with the expectation that this would solve the problem. But to try again. Fail again. Fail better.

And thank you New Old Time Chautauqua, she enjoyed it very much, I’m sure.

 

Swing Low Sweet Chariot

Well, now I looked over Jordan and what did I see
Comin’ for to carry me home
There was a band of angels a comin’ after me
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home

Well, I’m sometimes up and I’m sometimes down
Comin’ for to carry me home
But I know my soul is heavenly bound
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home

Well, now if you get there before I do
Comin’ for to carry me home
Tell all of my friends that I’m a comin’ too
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home
Well, now they’re comin’ for to carry me home

 

Written by Wallas Willis described as both slave and freeman of a Chowtaw Narive American and sung frequently during the struggle for civil rights (my mother would like that)