WhiteCrow Walking

My solo walk across America began in Maine. I walked for nearly 3 years carrying a backpack and facing countless dangers, as well as met wonderful people I could have never made it without. From bullets to bears I moved through mountains of snow and across burning desert country. The end result will be a book, and the fruition of a childhood dream. This is a blog from the field with rough stories about my steps along the way.

25 September 2007

Feeling Potatoes

Walking into the glow of a full moon toward the Garden Cafe' I am adopted by a golden retriever that is delighted with company for a 5a.m. walk. He is attentive and well behaved though just slightly confused about where his home lies and I haven't the morning heart to send him scurrying with a blunt command I don't mean. I eat a ham and cheese omelet heavy with Kimm Brother's potatoes, the same potatoes I have come to know so well, and studied maps. I still see him sitting by my travous outside. Another bark. I try not to look up. Nic steps from his stove and pies to tell me my friend just went around to the backdoor to wait me out. Looking outside an hour later he is still waiting, still holding by the door. He thinks that I am his, and I wonder how I'll get out of town without this eighty pound stomach following me.
(Yesterday) For half the day I am separating potatoes from stone and making Hannah laugh as she works the conveyor belt of rolling potatoes and round field stones across from me. We remove rocks as a steady river of spuds rumble between us over a dry track. She is beaming light with sunglasses set in her dark hair over a John Deere hat that shadow water blue eyes. I am singing because I don't care and my mind is shuddering in time to the motors. I am singing to white noise. It does not matter that I am dry or throated. The electric motors are loud forcing a voice that is not mine just to break surface and ease the cadence of potato, potato, potato, rock, twig, rock. Thought turns to reflex and back. "Old black water keep on rolling..." I see Hannah's lips move softly as her hands move from stone to stone.
Hannah is one of those women that just can't look bad or ill kept no matter how her clothing tangles or the earth dusts her face and I study this angle of grace to understand though I remain mystified and content with that. She is eighteen and getting married in March. All her world is rising like dawn. We both are boyant with new roads in our morning hair. Each time we look at one another we smile a grin that exclaims that we are truly excited about life, the future, and it is contagious. I'm hit with a small potato and don't have to look up to feel her smirk.
I wish winter wasn't coming so fast. There are so many questions only time spent in one camp can answer. I am driven out to the potato fields by George, a cheerful part-time musician that looks like Jerry Garcia. He is a big man with a gentle cluck for a laugh. I listen to his travels and how he lost a hundred pounds to save his heart. It was worth saving. His voice is gentle. I try to see him smoking it up on a stage. All I hear is his smooth heart with the volume turned up and I listen as he talks tapping my foot. We watch the field, the lines of pale vines releasing the wet of last night's frost turned over and over as if we are watching the sea from shore. Tractors become a few small ships floating in a line of waves. A few birds fly over without looking down.
Riding shotgun in the blue tractor I feel the earth break behind us to the throat of the polished blade as the dump trucks fills with fists of rock and spuds on a field surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains dusted with snow. This is what I wanted, dreamt of and it passes so fast; to work with the people of the land, to taste the harvest in the dust coming up from my shirt, to be part of this truth of America, dirt cracking in the folds and wrinkles of my hands. It is a meal I have no control over and this plate moves away too soon although I am chewing in earnest, still taking it all in like it is my last chance to eat this particular confection and spice. And it is. Before I memorize all the names, clear the taste of earth from my palette my feet are talking about new roads and the return to strangerland, the return to being wet too long and yet another little pang of leaving dances in my chest. Have I grown more sensitive to these little leavings, or am I getting closer to heart, to a belonging that comes with being at peace within my own skin? I take lots of pictures but this is a weak placebo to a soul that wants to know these voices, these faces, this town. I worry about shredding my clothes on steel and rubber belts, wear on boots, the coming of winter, and think of walking down the same road I have just tractored....wondering through all of this thought... will tomorrow see me gone or smiling through this dirty face with the chill of morning settling in my hands?
Dark becomes light against the glass of the restaurant. The dog has forgiven his post and wandered off. The morning tells me that my only sweater is too thin as I shoulder Crow Dog, fasten the two wheeled cart to my waist and dip my hat brim down in the direction of Logan.

24 September 2007

To The Smell Of Wet Leaves And Fresh Donuts

Manhattan, MT

Waking into Manhattan is walking into a small town in Maine. I trip over the smell of donuts frying in a small shop as I enter town and forget to rest in the park although I haven't sat in six miles. My boots begin to dry. Clouds burn off on a large blue plate that has been hidden for days. Locals speak of snow and the predictions of the Almanac cement the incoming as I pound french fries and blink out the window, pleading for more time before snow is a regular. Debbie Wilbanks rushes out from her real estate office to catch me. She is warmth and smiles as I answer her questions about gear and tricks of my wayfaring trade. She eyes my cart and walking sticks admiringly. Her son Luke is walking around the world for the children of Africa. We part too soon for she is working and the phone won't sit still. Debbie is working and my stomach growls about its tax for labor given. At the corner dinner I eat turkey and swiss, slug three quarts of water and rise to find that Debbie called to cover my tab. I'm thankful, and glad for the excuse to talk with her again.

At the diner Garden Cafe' Nic, owner of the restaurant,grabs me as a guest for the night. I know little of Montana and welcome a table covered with maps, suggestions and talk of the artic wind to come if I linger in Idaho too long, and tales of our separate Swiss memories. Out behind the Garden, when no one is looking, I take the plastic bread bags out of my wet boots and wiggle my toes. Very high tec. Yesterday's core soaking miles are weak memory now. My boots begin to dry fragrantly and I wish someone would smoke a big cigar.

21 September 2007

Beating Snow, Waving Good-bye

This is my third trip over the Rocky Mountains; above Taos New Mexico, South Pass in Wyoming, and now the Rockies of Montana and Idaho. Each venture over the Rocky Mountains I have moved through snow, slept in snow, cooked on evergreen boughs so my small fire wouldn't sink into feet of hard pack. Walking across America was always a mental picture of my shoulder boards and pack shouldered thick with white down and a hat brim pulled down in white, apples that are nearly frozen against my teeth, and the smell of wood smoke coming up from the towns in the valley below. Yes, I complain when the water filter freezes solid so that I have to put it into the crotch of my pants to thaw while I drop camp just so I can filter water from a murky bog for oats and a much needed cup of coffee but the bruises are worth the beauty. I have slept beside elk under cedar, and have fallen in love with the way cars slow to pass in a staring Norman Rockwell whisper, moving past something of themselves perhaps they dreamt long ago, something lost or forgotten in most of us that still holds pulse. A separate time. I think I have fallen in love with the romance of everything appearing untouched, dangerous with lace along the river banks, ancient trees bent in pillows and blanket shards, all appears holy...alive.
Offered a ride back to Thermopolis then back to Bozeman, I have returned to say good-byes once again and prepare sun faded and thread worn gear for it's last winter of the walk. I hand sew another layer of fleece onto my sleeping hat, retread the cart tires for more open miles of market less open road with 16' bike tires I alter with my pocket knife and self tapping screws over solid wagon tires. From tractor trailer tread I carve new rubber tips for my walking sticks. The set of tips I carved out of road found rubber in southern Virginia just wore through after well more than a thousand miles(those bought in a store last less than 200 miles and are $8.95 a pr.). What takes days in a livingroom sitting at a table takes much longer sitting under a sun umbrella on an abandoned ant hill watching the world rush by, mindlessly poking fingers through sand looking for beads unearthed by ants. New leather becomes a sheath and gauntlet. Thank you letters are written and mailed in the same day.
Jessica Monday, a reporter from The Independent Record, and I became quick friends when Jessica interviewed me for a story months back. We sit the Big Horn River below where the river changes from The Wind River at the Wedding of The Waters. Her bare feet move in the shallow water that turns gray as my camera clicks at her. I failed to say good-bye when I last left town so I am thankful for a chance to sew up the oversight along with a list of other repairs;it is a chance to talk about what is to be in our lives and what roads brought us to this river bank with autumn floating downstream. I give her a piece of robin's egg blue blue jasper flint while I pocket it's twin to spark fires when lighters fail in subfreezing temps. We promise to stay connected, reconnect. This does little to the pang that comes when we walk apart for the last time. We both look back as we walk in opposite directions, laugh, and then turn into the separate emptiness that comes with last words before an ocean of time unmeasurable. We have shared food, bottles of wine, friends, zany photographs with tongues thrown out of the sides of our mouths, and truths said without staring at our feet. It will be at least ocean before we see each other again.
So many clothes. So few. I weigh with my eyes now. A scale is no longer necessary as I have measured ounces and pounds, grams and fringe until most of my gear is memorized. As I oil my knife blades I start a humble fire to sear pieces of steak to share with Lisa so she can taste camp before the day of my leaving. Everything becomes a last time. Last coffee press is shared; last pass through the buffalo fields by the mineral springs, the smell sulfur I have come to love, and a climb up Round Top Mountain to see darkness take the town of Thermopolis and lights begin to sprinkle the valley from the homes below. Last moments with the Higgins family pass too quickly. Young Jessica and Ian Higgins joke around me as I type a blog in their livingroom and they wonder why it takes me so long to write so little. My leaving is hard on them so we talk about everything but the walk...which of course becomes the walk. Ian no longer calls me Bearbait. I am told that he cries when I leave so I am gentle with him. "Hey Jesse," Ian calls out from his bike saddle that he has ridden beside me to our good-bye,"You got to see me being seven." Ian's birthday was just as I was leaving in August. It was his running joke that I had to return to see him being seven. His face is a sweet roundness that trusts and shines out at his world. A tender sun rising.
"Ian, I'll see you again. Be careful riding home." The words good-bye are weak and scatter behind his tires heading home. Ian is already a recognizable sadness peddling home on the empty street toward Pepperment Lane. I am taking pictures without my camera.
As I have written before, often times the walking is not the hardest part. Tomorrow I step far away into walking west; walking alone, walking heavy with memory, a series of memories that ironically make everything light...in a mind silently waiting on snow.

15 September 2007

Bozeman, MT

(Update of walk location.) Cooler days arrive.

11 September 2007

Where The Eagles Land

It is called Medicine Wheel now, but these are new words for a place that pre-dates the wheel and all that invention has driven us to. A day ago I walked this long gravel road to the sacred circle of stones and the circular rope fence of ribbons and bundles, feathers,bone and flint. A loud man and woman were talking and measuring into recorders as their cameras bit pieces and angles with all the worth of a dog biting air. Nothing more than their words was landing all around me so I left feeling more choked than revived, more frustrated than restored. This morning I discovered my wallet had slipped out somewhere in my recent travels. Although I believe I'll never see the wallet again, it's lose is the ticket back, an excuse back to the Crow Reservation, and to walk Medicine Wheel for the second time. Even with a small amount of money gone, veteran identification gone, license gone, bank debit card gone, and surely a few forgotten forms of information lost it is all worth it to be going back; to be seeing things again for the first time.
The feathers I have been handed by years of road, my hand carved pipe hawk of steel and hickory dotted with brass tacks, heart wood cedar flute, and several tools of travel are wrapped in red wood and tucked under my arm. It is a cold morning making the gravel sound louder under foot. Pregnant grey clouds are huddled above the mountains trying to stay warm as the wind holds a hand on my chest. Betty wishes me well and drives away to begin a telephone counsel with a long distance client. This is Basecamp Betty's last visit. From Livingston Montana where I was picked up days ago I will be returned and for the last time Betty will drive away with my seasonal gear exchanged for winter trappings. We rarely talk about it but it is there between us. The walk is nearing final states, final steps.
Again I begin walking the gravel mile and a half incline to the Where The Eagles Land. Along the walk I try to set down ego and worry I have carried from the car. Along the walk I try to come down and become still, to step away from this rabbit heart that beats too fast. When I get to the circle of fence on the mountain top a ranger from the park service is standing on the dirt road looking cold and hunched into his green coat. I am a layer of sweat, feeling fluid as the morning chill rubs off into a crocked squint. We nod hello's like gunfighters as I break left to round the circle of timeless stones. Once. Twice. I know what I am hear for. I approach the ranger to ask him to unlock the gate. Posted, "Only be opened by permit." We are reduced to words and another dry look. The gate is opened as if he has been waiting for me, or he is about to hand me a safe deposit box. The ranger's voice becomes far away. I hear the park radio talking about this man that has come to pray in the wheel and that sound too falls away. Sage,cedar, sweet grass and native tobacco are poured out of the red pouch I have carried every step of the walk. It is a small bundle that is the bed of the ten front bear claws from the black bear I de-clawed in Jersey from a pouched bear. The cold spark I strike is weak. It is minutes before I can smell peace, memory, a sense of home and a belonging to all the fires that came before me. The cold steel hawk swirls under a ribbon of scent, chokes and then offers up blue smoke for me to lean into as it combs over my hair.
Now I am in the center of the circle facing east; toward all of the miles I have traveled. I make a spark into flame again knowing only that it has grown cold. I am an even warmth although I have neglected to carry a coat. My fingers are careful with the honed edge of the hawk. The hawk edge tasted my blood years ago when I fit the handle to the steel head and it sank painlessly into my left thigh. Looking down at my leg I glance at the pale trace the gash left behind. So many stories.
When I unroll the red cloth to release the flute I am finally free of me, free of the skuff of the gravel road, the sound of cold hands busy getting warm in nylon pockets back far behind me on the path, and shadowed under the crowding of clouds above. The well traveled wood of the flute is dry and familiar on my lips. The bear fat I rubbed into it over a year ago is far from taste. It is warm rum to hear the the voice of the wood come out into the wind without being lost or stolen in the growing wind but this is not it's nature. As soon as I lift the musical pipe sleet begins to rattle on the stones, peppering my back, surrounding the notes of the flute with a sweet screening sound of a rain stick turning over and over in the sky above my head. Lifting the notes from bass to pipe, from highs to a tremble of warm blood rushing through viens the ice dances in round diminutive gravel all around me. Setting the flute down the sleet instantly ceases. Lifting my head I work my grin into sun bleached grass and ancient stone. Feathers, finger brush straight, are placed into the crevices around me, journeys remembered. Roads yet to be walked are prayed smooth. I move stones until the center tail feather from a golden eagle is an arrowhead lodged in the center stones of the circle. It is done. When I begin to play the flute again the sleet awakens instantly and pours little pebbles of ice from the buoyant clouds above. When the red cedar flute is set once again on the wool and thoughts of leaving begin to enter in the sleet abruptly stops again. Slowly I stand, waiting to feel my legs agree to walk. Careful to step on nothing I walk with my eyes on the ground. My feet step around tobacco bundles, past sweet grass braids and twists of black hair. I move over old particles of flags, dog tags and leather fringe bundles until I am at the gate and stepping through. The park ranger is the same man but nearly unrecognizable. A joyous child has stepped into his face. He rushes toward me. "Thank-you, thank you for the weather." His light voice shines from a bright expression. "People think I would love it up here all the time but there is nothing here to take in after a while when the weather is all sun and blue skies. This was magical. This is why I want to be up here." He is beautiful and younger than morning. I take his offered hand and say thank you to him.
I know better than to bang a rock with a stick and take credit for the water. Walking slowly down the mountain from the land of white rough stones, I am thankful, thankful that I was allowed to be where I was guided to be; knowing that something was waiting to be found, and something worried over being lost didn't matter at all.

01 September 2007

When Leaves Turn, Livingston MT

I come back down to earth, to eating without vomiting, and again dreaming about food after Basecamp Betty arrives with my winter gear and a few changes of my old cherished clothes so I can walk in luxury around these local towns feeling at home like I am sitting in an old chair for at least a few days while we visit and Betty plans her own mini vacation. So how do I thank this person that has traveled all over America just to bring me hazelnuts in the snow, bayou made ice-cream and brownies when I turned 43 in Louisiana swelter, and repeatedly took away my treasures, my journals, my worries in little brown boxes along with my self made pipe tomahawk resting on the backseat to rest until the deserts pass and bears and empty evenings on the plains came again to nibble on my ancient peace? The hawk has been returned and the coming of the last winter of the walk perfumes the mornings. "Soon," it whispers. I check the edges of morning creeks I lean into reflections over, knowing the clear skin will lace out from the shore in days.
I place jars of beads that I have been carrying(always exchanging my stash in trade and in use since the my first steps) into another box that will be driving away one last time before it is over. We are trained in this life not to measure all things for in so much measuring the towering level of loss comes in with a deep well of sadness. Do not to count the last meals with adored friends, last kisses stolen on the drive home, last moments before we turn and walk away from a forest that has past to pulp never to return...any season. I begin to measure though for I have time for it and I have become sometimes foolishly brave, holding this flask of walking up to the light to see how much is left in the bottom as I swirl these last golden fall months of walking across America. Betty believed in me, in this walk, since before the physical walk began and from that moment years ago she has thrust out her hand to help..even when that help was just the act of believing....just believing in someone has always had the power to change the world.I didn't know that I would need a base camp or that I wanted such a structure before I taped up boxes of socks and weighted stoves, and cut off toothbrush handles. Of course there was a time when I wasn't sure I would really across America as in NOW. What it was to walk across America, to put on a hat, shoulder a pack and place everything that I had ever known in boxes I may never open again.....would never open again with the same hands. Betty visits and I am losing everything. Days ago I lost the bear spoon I carved Christmas day in a PA barn the first winter of the walk from a scrap of mahogany. I found it on the Crow reservation by the train tracks where I made coffee and camp. Today my wallet is gone. I am moving too fast. I head back to Medicine Wheel to find my wallet, make another camp in the mountains. This time I will play my flute, listen and leave an eagle feather. It is easy to forget that just I can use a car for a couple days that I don't have to watch my steps, that I don't have to breathe. I will go back into the mountains and maybe I will never find my wallet but I have a feeling that that is not what I lost anyhow.
When I got to the Crow reservation I talked to one of the elders about walking the Crow land. I wanted permission. It was important to be welcomed, wanted in my gut.Howard Boggess looked into my face, beyond the patina of my teeth and this hair growing white. "It is all we really want on the board, to be asked, the respect of it. WhiteCrow? I have heard of this name. A woman in Pennsylvania sent me a link to your journey over a year ago when you were in her state." Howard looks like an elder on loan from from a movie. He is easy words, hands shaking many times, and a hand reaching out where many are reserved. Down at the creek behind Chief Pleny Coup's house I squat to wash off the buffalo fat, butter from the corn , and shine from fry bread that I have been given as in times of old. I was tired and hungry when I arrived. From the meat of a Yellowstone buffalo I was fed pink smoky meat and hoped that it would stay in my body all winter, in more than chewing memory. I have lost many things on this walk and they all bring me back to water and the slow realization that nothing is really lost that matters. I pin my card in the bush by the Chief's spring where all the ribbons are watching and walk up to the log cabin. The sun is going down.

Library....out of time.