As a writer, when I can’t seem to come up with the words to describe something, it’s pretty frustrating. But when I so desperately want to write about it, to help people see what I’ve seen and feel what I’ve felt…when I am literally sitting there experiencing something thinking, “How the heck am I going to blog about this?!”…well that’s just excruciating. And that is how I’ve felt all day today.
It started when I woke up this morning (after a horrendous night of sleep thanks to very loud neighbors) and I couldn’t wait to look out the window. I knew we had a mountain-view room, but last night when we checked in, all we could see was a blinking light at the peak. So I opened our curtains and I was greeted by this:
I had a feeling that it was going to be a good day based on waking up to that view. After getting some things in order, like getting our room switched to a new one so that I can hopefully sleep through the night tonight, Victoria and I set out to explore Missoula.
Along the way, we came across these breath-taking places:
We walked and we walked and we walked. We saw deer way up on the mountains. We saw people jogging down the trail from the University of Montana “M.” We went through the mostly-deserted downtown area.
I really cannot seem to find the words to explain how absolutely…majestic this area is. Yes, Claire and Kirsten, majestic. Our go-to word. I don’t think I’ve ever meant it quite as much though. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever been truly in a valley. I’ve never been surrounded by mountains before. I’ve never breathed air like this before. My boss said to me before I left that she thinks “awesome” is one of the most overused words in the English language, but that Montana is definitely one place that is deserving of that adjective. After just one day, I have to agree.
The wordlessness continued for me later in the day. We were set to go to the opening reception and dinner for the SEJ conference. We had seen on the agenda that we were to be greeted by Native American singers and dancers. We weren’t sure what to expect, but I was excited about it. There were two groups. The first one was pretty good, but it was the second that really got me.
It was a group of six men called the Chief Cliff Singers from the Kootenai Tribe in Montana. They are led by a man named Mike Kenmille, and his fellow performers tonight were all his sons and nephews. They used a large drum that is, get this…1,000 years old. When they first struck the drum, I got chills. They all play it together and sing and while I have absolutely no clue what they were saying, I couldn’t help but shiver at the sheer significance of it all.
For the second song, Mike told us that he also had his great-nephew there, an adorable little boy I had noticed dancing in his mother’s arms, and brought him up on stage. He told us about how in their tribe, children learn the songs and how to play the drum while still in the womb. As this little boy sat on his dad’s lap on stage, he was mimicking the drumming actions of his father, uncles, cousins and great-uncle. During this song, I teared up. I was on the verge of completely sobbing and I couldn’t really explain why at first. But then I realized why.
I am 23 years old. And this is the first experience I have had with the native people of my country. Their traditions are so strong, so sound and so much a part of their lives that I couldn’t help but wonder what they would have been like had their land not been taken away from them. And why…why in the world did I never have an experience like this earlier in my life? In November, I’m scheduled to write a post for our Bay Backpack website addressing the topic of “Why teach about Native Americans?” I think I have the foundation for that post now.
I got the opportunity during my time abroad in Australia to learn about their native peoples, and I recall feeling like I needed to know more about our country’s. But until today, I still hadn’t had that experience.
I don’t know if any of this is really coherent, but it’s the best I can do right now. I’m still “recovering” from the spiritual experiences I’ve had today. And while I haven’t attended any sessions yet today, I’ve already learned several lessons. Including the reinforcement that this is what I need to be doing. Traveling. Seeing the world. Learning about different cultures. I can’t explain the sense of exhilaration I got today, but I’m excited to see what tomorrow holds.