Posted: August 11, 2005 in Uncategorized

One of my original plans for my path to Montana was to drive through Yellowstone, so I would end up going through it twice and getting as much of it in as possible, given the park is pretty freaking huge. However, my newly-purchased National Parks Pass is like a double negative in American grammar; I can’t not make use of it. So, rather than continue west into the Bighorns, I opt instead to head north to Little Bighorn, a place I’ve read about, heard about, seen re-enactments of on TV, even heard used as an analogy countless times, yet I have no concept of what it’s really like. Time to fill in that blank area.

Day one of driving though endless plains was tedious enough, but day two is really starting to wear on me. There’s virtually nothing to break the monotony, and even cruising at 85 isn’t getting me anywhere nearly fast enough. But, after passing a string of unofficial official souvenier stands, I turn off into a fairly nondescript park entrance that seems more like a rest stop than anything, flash my parks pass, and find a spot among the RVs and bug-spackled cars.

The first thing I see is rows upon rows of headstones in a very traditional-style veteran’s cemetary. But looking at the inscriptions, they’re all for WWII and Nam era vets. Not a single headstone before 1940 to be found. Clearly I’m missing something here. I wander slowly around pondering the graveyard, not really sure where or if there’s a main attraction here, and come around the corner of the visitor center just as a park ranger is gearing up to give a history lesson.

The ranger is a fairly burly, animated guy, and the moment he opens his mouth, I know this guy’s not a native. The Texan twang is not only unmistakable, but his voice and speech mannerisms are so similar the president’s, it takes a moment just to really focus on what he’s saying. Sad to say, once I really start listening, the coherence and proper pronunciation throw the illusion. The guy introduces himself as a regular summer volunteer, and is a professor the rest of the year. Once he launches into his talk, I find myself really wishing I could take one of his classes. As he unfolds the events of Little Bighorn, he speaks of everything in present or future tense like he’s calling plays on Monday Night Football. When he’s finished, he points the crowd off towards the hill behind him, which before he started was just a small grassy hill, distinguished from the countless others around it only by a squat white monolith standing at the top. Now, it’s the hill that is known around the world just by a single event that took place on it in a matter of hours: Custer’s last stand.

As I wander around the various historical markers and monuments in my straw cowboy hat and worn black climbing cargos, I feel like I don’t fit among the herds of tourists wandering from sign to sign, and find myself a bit resentful of them. Not because they’re there, but because nothing seems to register with them. Some families take pictures of each other in front of headstones like they’re scenery. I may look different than the rest of them, but I feel like they’re the ones out of place.

I leave the park a bit unsettled, and get back to the endless stretch of road. By the time I get to Bozeman around 3:30 in the afternoon, I’m absolutely burnt on driving. The nagging feeling left by Little Bighorn is now mingled with exhaustion and the desire to get away from asphalt for a while. This was not helped by an accident aftermath I drove past just before reaching my destination, just in time to see fire and police standing next to the obliterated SUV zipping a plastic bag around a bloody unidentifiable mass. Not far from my friend Peyton’s house, who I’m there to see, I pull over at a grassy park and lay down under a tree to decompress. In half an hour, the soothing powers of cool grass, light breeze, a nearby stream, and leaf-filtered summer sunshine are demonstrated in spades.

I meet up with Peyton shortly after, and he hasn’t changed in the slightest since highschool, which is actually pretty funny, but also extremely gratifying, because he’s still the same great guy I remember. We pick up where we left off, filling in the blanks, then he casually announces he’s getting married. Oddly, this doesn’t catch me by surprise in the slightest, even though I’ve never met the bride-to-be. That detail is taken care of when we head out to dinner, and I’m immediately satisfied Peyton is in good hands. As the night winds down, Peyton and I spend our time almost the same as when we were 14, talking hunting, fishing, and the universe at large as we see it. We still speak the same language and the same things still speak to us. In a way, I’m just visiting more family on my way home.

  1. muffster says:

    that was was the most heart felt thing i think i have ever read on your lj. thank you for being so candid. I hope one day i get to meet Payton 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    that was was the most heart felt thing i think i have ever read on your lj. thank you for being so candid. I hope one day i get to meet Payton 🙂

  3. muffster says:

    btw, I think that i my favorite picture from your trip. it looks like i imagine heaven to be if there were such a place.

  4. Anonymous says:

    btw, I think that i my favorite picture from your trip. it looks like i imagine heaven to be if there were such a place.

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