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Bull Creek Look Out

1978 Indian Mt L.O.

My friend Lloyd Yellowrobe fell at home, so now he’s in the hospital with fractured legs.  We’ve been talking about the old days when he was a kid and his parents had a lookout tower, Bull Creek L.O.  Lloyd said he thinks the name is cool.  Not in so many words.  Water was cool, he said, in the morning, when they first tapped the tank.

Lloyd said he remembers his dad had to lug a heavy communication device up the lookout ladder.  Heavy because of the batteries.  In those days dry-cell batteries were much larger than they are today.  His parents talked to Lame Deer from the tower, considerably farther than Busby, down a long dirt road.

His parents ordered food and water via radiophone from Lame Deer Forestry Department.  Workers delivered by truck to the lookout.  The regular US Forest Service doesn’t have the same jurisdiction as the BIA Forestry Department, headquartered in Lame Deer, Montana.

Ray Kresek, in his book Fire Lookouts of the Northwest, has a reasonably complete list of hundreds and hundreds of lookouts in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.  However, Mr. Kresek omitted the Yellowrobe’s Northern Cheyenne Bull Creek Tower.  Could be because of any of several reasons:  Reservation institutional memory tends to be short, just like the reduced life-span of Native Americans.  I’m guessing about the I.M. part, but I’m not guessing about the reduced life span of Natives.  That would be the subject of another post.  Lloyd and I talked about that.  Diabetes.  Car wrecks.  Shorter lives. Untold tragedy and sorrow.

I’ve visited two towers on the reservation and they were made of steel by the Chicago Aermotor Company, the same outfit that made many of the familiar stock-watering windmills scattered around Montana.  The Chicago A.M Co. structures were basically the same as other western fire lookout towers, only skinnier and more work for a youngster to climb.

A couple days ago Payne Yellowrobe, Lloyd’s son, phoned me with news about Lloyd’s accident that left him with a broken leg.  I’ve known Lloyd for almost 30 years, ever since we worked closely together at the Indian Health Clinic in Lame Deer in 1988 until I retired in 2005.  Well, I worked at Crow Agency for five years in there.

Anyway, Payne asked me to visit his father, so I did.  Turns out Lloyd broke both his legs and had to wait outdoors an hour and a half for his wife to return from Lame Deer.  Then Helen phoned an ambulance, his transportation to Billings, although he made a stop in Lame Deer, I’m guessing.

Lloyd and I talked about the usual things:  the old days, what we were up to now, and spiritual matters.  Specifically, Lloyd tried to make the nurse understand that the two sisters he was asking about were nuns.  He wanted the nuns to visit him while he was in the hospital.  Lloyd said he attends church regularly.

When I returned I heard a message from my own pastor, Mike Mulberry, who said a relative of Lloyd’s had asked him to get ahold of me to visit him.  Still later, his sister, Linda Brady, sent me a text requesting I visit Lloyd.  “Word gets around!” Lloyd said, with a wide grin.  Lloyd has dentures, but he wasn’t wearing him.  Made understanding him a bit more difficult.  The nurses had trouble, but I could tell they liked him.

Lloyd has given me many things over the years.  A star quilt, a Pendleton blanket, a rifle.  These are all traditional Indian gifts.  I have given Lloyd gifts also, but more importantly, I visited him.

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Yellow Jackets is the foolish name of a team.

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September 9, 2017

Today I got visited by Dirk Lee, graphic artist extraordinaire, who always was a strong supporter of my efforts to publish a small magazine, The Portable Wall.  Dirk was in town for his 50th high school reunion at Billings Senior High.  I tried to tempt him with beer and food, but he remained steadfast.  He is staying with his brother.  Throughout our visit, Gunther seemed listless.  (See accompanying photograph.)  Turns out Gunther and I walked past a yellow jacket nest in a hole near the sidewalk a couple doors down.  I had seen the yellow jacket nest before, and I had designs on possibly caving in the dirt around the hole’s margins.  I don’t like yellow jackets.  I think it highly ironic that the local college basketball team are the “yellow jackets.”

Anyway, this morning as Gunther and I walked out on the morning poo run, we paused at the yellow jacket hole in the ground to observe the busy pests flying into and out of the hole.  Now, what if I kick dirt into the hole? I wondered.  What if I clog the hole up with dirt?  Will the yellow jackets then die?  I hoped.  I hoped.

I hoped in vain.   I tried to kick some dirt into the hole but the dirt around the hole was hard, sun-baked clay.  I wonder if I’ll get away with this? I wondered.  I put my foot over the hole and succeeded in blocking all of the insects from entering or exiting the hole.  I left my foot there for perhaps five seconds, before withdrawing it and turning to walk down the sidewalk.

I noticed an insect flying about my head.  Was it a yellow jacket? I wondered.  Yes!  I realized.  It was a yellow jacket come to sting me.  I started batting at the insect and running down the walk.  Ouch!  I realized I had been stung by one.  I walked again.  I enjoyed the sensation of having been stung as I walked to the corner of the block.  Gunther was in obvious distress, gnawing at places on his arm and his back.

Gunther had been stung too, I concluded, so I gave him a dose of tranquilizer the vet had prescribed for his airplane rides.

I had that bee sting on my neck (still bothers me, as I write) but I had a chore to do at the store.  On the way back I bought some insect killer, called “Sevin.”  I understand yellow jackets track the powder into their nests and kill their fellows.  I returned home from my chore, uncorked the “Sevin,” and sprinkled it into the yellow jacket hole.   I showed my work to Dirk Lee, who was only mildly impressed.  If at all.

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This handsome man is Dirk Lee, long time Missoulian, graphic artist extraordinaire.

Miles of dirt roads to Ekalaka

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Medicine Rock State Park

August 19, 2017

Todd flew back to Duluth Friday, so Sus drove the boys Saturday from Billings to Bismarck, before continuing to Minnesota.  P. and I followed them in our car to Baker, Montana, via Miles City, Ekalaka, and Medicine Rocks State Park.  We ended up driving 10 hours, lots of it on dusty roads, but the trip was worth it.  I recommend the fine hospitality in Miles City and Ekalaka.

In Miles City we lunched at the “Hole in the Wall Bar & Family Dining,” where a generous waitress gave us directions for a shortcut via dirt road to Ekalaka.  After a great drive through Eastern Montana we toured the Carter County Museum and saw a newly (this year) assembled T-Rex.  The curator had recently moved from New Jersey to Ekalaka.  She said a dinosaur “Shindig” event in July had more than 800 people attend.  This in a town with population of just 300, she said.

The C.C. Museum had the usual stuff of rural Montana museums:  military weapons and memorabilia, a spinning wheel, a switchboard from an old telephone exchange.  You know.  Old collections.  Pistols and rifles.  (The docent had just donated a Heidelberg Windmill letterpress to a woman in Bozeman.)

Setting this museum apart was the dinosaur exhibit.  I think one would have to visit the big museums in the east to view such a collection of dinosaur bones.  Not just dinosaurs.  Mammoths, fish, crustaceans, many fossils.

Everyone had a long drive ahead, so we cut short the museum visit before visiting the Medicine Rocks State Park a dozen paved miles north from Ekalaka.  The medicine rocks are sandstone, perhaps 50 feet high, some of them, and 10-15 feet in diameter.  Weathering over the last millions of years have left them in fantastic shapes with holes, divots, pockmarks, domes, and natural bridges.

At Baker Sus noted that Cyrus’ soccer ball must have been left back at the “Hole in the Wall Family Dining.”  Therefore, P. and I stopped in on the way home.  The same generous waitress produced the ball, but also Roland’s sweatshirt, and she asked about our dirt road driving experience, which was a true adventure, albeit many hours of dust.

Made my day!

Pryor Mountain Camp

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This is what I look like with a toothache.

August 17, 2017

Camping in Pryor Mtns on federal land is legal everywhere except the Big Ice Cave picnic area.  I had phoned the District Ranger who said there were no fire restrictions.  Actually, I spoke to a nice young lady who advised us to have a good time.

Those who particularly love the Pryors ask us regular people not to drive around looking for a campsite.  P. and I had driven up a couple times in the last couple weeks to scout things out.  We found a much used (and loved) primitive site in a couple acre stand of lodgepole pine some distance from the main road, yet near enough to walk to the road to play stickball with lodgepole pinecones pitched to Todd and Sus’ preteen boys.  If they hit the cone to a distant place a fielder could take a cone from her pocket and throw the runner out.  The boys did all the batting, Todd did the pitching, Sus and I did the fielding.  Our Brussels Griffon, Gunther, did the chasing.  He had an excellent time, judging from his body language.  P. preferred to cheer us on.  Until I got tired and joined her.

We spent a chilly night, the six of us, crammed into a Kelty® four-person tent.  I had a toothache and nobody brought any medicine, except the wine, which I drank copiously.  There were seven of us in the tent, counting Gunther.  Most said they slept poorly, but after Cyrus read to us, everyone was quiet.

It was dark.  The slight breeze was cold, me trying to pee in the wee hours against a tree.

Todd gave up his place in the tent early, asleep about 10 feet away.  He was the last to sleep and the last to rise.

We ate hotdogs and hamburgers for supper and farina for breakfast.  Then we packed up for a day of hiking.  Cyrus and Roland wanted to scale Big Pryor Mountain, a trail up a couple thousand feet of more than a dozen switchbacks.  P. and I lagged behind and, losing courage, started back down perhaps 500 feet from the top.  (P. felt nauseated, I had that toothache, the excuse I used.)  The real reason: I was tired.  Gunther, ever the optimistic one, scampered to the top with the youthful Struckman-Gaunt contingent.  They investigated Crater Ice Cave at the top and the boys managed to climb out of the cave through the crater.  Crater I.C. has two entrances, one to the side.  Sus took photos.

Back down, Gunther crawled under a car for shade after drinking water and eating a carrot, a favorite snack.

We checked the fireplace where we camped to make sure the fire was completely out.  It was.  Then we returned the way we came, on Sage Creek Road.

In Bridger we stopped at the Arcade Bar, Grill, and Ice Cream Parlor for cones.  Cyrus had a root beer float.  Gunther had a drink of water.

The boys wanted to play at the park when we returned home.  I was too tired to unpack the car.  I was five minutes late calling the dentist’s office that closed at five.  P. still felt ill.  Heather and Olivia Struckman arrived in the night.  They simply let themselves in and went to bed.  This morning Cyrus made Finnish pancakes.

Today my toothache was much less and P. felt well enough for a trip to the fair with the irrepressible youth.  Last time I looked all the camp gear was in the garage.

In search of Buddy

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A person my mother called “Buddy” was a sort of faceless presence to me, a five-year-old, at bedtime with my mother perched on the edge of the bed to help me say my prayers.  Buddy was a mystery, but mother said he was an amy man.  A good one.  A first class private in the army who left for the war but did not return.  I was willing to leave his story untold because Buddy’s story had been eclipsed by a more compelling one.  After all, my father had recently gone — died of cancer — and he would not return either.  Both of these losses were significant for mother, but only the loss of my father made me weep in the darkness before I fell asleep.  I was merely fascinated with army men like Buddy.  That was to change, albeit many years later.

I have sought to “find” both men throughout my life and I ended up writing about them.  My way was collecting the information, organizing it.  Seeking the information I lacked.

I felt a deep connection with my father years later, after having turned 21 years old, when I was alone in a jail cell in Millington, Tennessee.  My father’s written words came to me and frightened me.  I feared his life, perhaps even some important mother’s love, had been wasted on me.  In the darkness of jail, disembodied voices taunted me like those of Otis Penty’s in my father’s story, “Night of the Pig.”  I feared I had entered a black country without a story to tell.

Ultimately I got out of jail and learned how to tell a story in the black country of Tennessee.  I wrote a biography of my father who was a writer and left reams of material for me to sift through, organize, and carefully read.

I never did finish learning about Buddy, who it turned out, was my mother’s little brother, the one who mysteriously vanished in the war.

Unlike father, I never did meet Buddy.  I didn’t even know his proper name for many years.  Buddy died four years before I was born.  Oh, the army said he died, but they started out telling my grandparents that he had gone missing in action.  I learned about Buddy from small clues, bits of information that my cousins and I sorted through in the dead of night when we stayed at our grandparent’s house on the edge of Kalispell, Montana.  We played with a Boy Scout flashlight, canteen, and photography equipment Buddy had left behind him.  Buddy left traces of his high school career:  some clothing, a rifle, his junior year annual.  He left a shotgun shell collection and a lot of fishing tackle.  We cousins found a photograph of him with an army unit.  We could tell which one was Buddy because someone had circled his head with a pencil and you could see the indentation if you looked at the picture at the correct angle.

Do you need a CPAP device for sleep?

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August 6, 2017

At 8:30 p.m., through the St. Vincent emergency entrance I carried my pillow, my pajamas, and a book (Adrian Mole:  The cappuccino years).  I had instructions to take elevator A to the hospital third floor, then turn left, well, I knew I would be close. Signs pointed the way to the sleep study department.  Through a door and into a short hallway a friendly black face greeted me through a half-closed door.  I greeted a nurse, “I’m Dan Struckman.  I’m here for an appointment.” She answered, “You sure are.  Here’s your room.”

I expected a hospital bed.  Instead, there was a queen-size bed with the covers turned down and four long wires with electrodes in an array.  The bedside table, a standard issue hospital kind, had too many wires and electrodes to count, various colors.  Hanging on the wall was a 5-inch plastic device shaped like a head sporting an array of holes — to accommodate the electrodes, I thought.

The nurse returned and invited me to change into my pajamas, then I was to crack the door of my room to signal my readiness.

I sat in a bedside chair and waited.  And waited.  I read my book.  I lost interest in my book.  I spied a questionnaire on a clipboard labeled “Pre-sleep questionnaire.”  I filled it out completely.  Then I waited.

Then an amplified, mysterious voice from an unseen speaker asked me to look to my left so she could take my picture.  She asked me to smile.  I didn’t disappoint her with my million dollar smile, as I turned my face toward a black ball on the ceiling.

After waiting another interminable time I moved the wires and got in bed, kicking my feet between the sheets.  I decided she had forgotten me.

When the nurse re-entered the room, finally, she invited me to sit back in the chair and she attached electrodes to perhaps six or eight places on my head, right on my hair, with a longish piece of tape holding.  She attached wires to my jaw to detect jaw clenching, she said.  She attached a device into my nostrils to detect mouth breathing, she gathered all of the wires and made a pigtail of the lot with a plastic sheath.  Last, she fastened electrodes to each leg, she said, to detect leg movements.

She chatted amiably the whole time she worked.  At last she had me lie down in bed, she turned off the lights.  The disembodied voice asked me to look up, down, side to side, wiggle my feet, open and shut my mouth, and make a snoring sound.  Then she asked me to simply speak to her if I needed to use the bathroom or anything.  It was dark.

I’m used to sleeping in a straight line, so I lay down and thought about girlfriends, old and new.  I think I fell asleep and woke up with cold legs and feet, so I asked the nurse out loud for another blanket.  Instantly the door opened and she brought in a blanket.  She fastened a device to my nose that blew air constantly.  If I opened my mouth air blew out, so she wrapped an ace wrap under my chin and over the top of my head to keep it shut.

After a long time I had to use the bathroom, so I told her aloud.  Again, the door opened instantly and she unhooked the wires.  She offered to let me stay up because it was 5:30 and wakeup time was 6.  I opted for the half-hour of sleep.  I was surprised the night was nearly over.

She told me that I had snored and was prone to shallow breathing.  She said they would fax a supplier a prescription for a CPAP nose contraption to correct my sleep time breathing.

The nurse said I would need a CPAP if I was prone to snoring, if I had periods when I stopped breathing, or if my sleep was disrupted by another trouble breathing so that I couldn’t sleep soundly.  She said astronauts and pilots have to have sleep studies, such as I had.  Poor sleep is associated with strokes and heart attacks, she said.

Crooked Creek Road in the Pryor Mountains

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Crooked Creek Canyon

August 3, 2017

Today drove 80 miles from Billings up to the saddle between East and Big Pryor Mountains.  Took about two hours via Sage Creek Rd.

We checked feasibility of driving Crooked Creek Rd to return to Billings.  En route, stopped at side road called “Mill Hollow” and walked up about half mile.  Then we nearly lost our dog Gunther on an offshoot when he chased some angus and disappeared into the woods.  Ultimately, he responded to loud whistles and calls.  Returned, tags jingling.  Crooked Creek road was relatively well graded and wide, but man!  It was long.  I’m talking about 20 miles of crude dirt.  Of concern were several low places where rainwater may wash across the road, blocking it.

Turns out Crooked Creek adds significant milage (20 slow miles) if used to dismount from the Pryors.  We ended up at Cowley, Wyoming.  On the other hand, Crooked Creek road had scenery into the C.C. canyon that caused me to grip the steering wheel all the more tightly.  At one point I thought I was looking at a forest of castles of gigantic size.

The best use of the Crooked Creek access might be if Sage Creek  becomes impassable from heavy rainfall.  Part of that road has deep dusty dirt that can turn to gumbo given enough water.  A web place says that even four-wheel drive wouldn’t be adequate.  I believe that.  Another time P. and I had to turn back because a farm’s irrigation water made a muddy lake on the road.

The good news:  camping is permitted everywhere except at the Big Ice Cave picnic area. If need be, one can camp at Sage Creek campground, but the only shade is man-made shelters.  There is water, though, and vault toilets.

The better news:  in the saddle between the two Pryor mountains are a number of primitive campsites.  They are separated by an adequate amount of woods, yet close enough to be neighborly.

Gunther became dirty from wallowing in muddy tire tracks.  We washed him in a kiddy pool when we returned, using shampoo that smelled like bubble gum.