Published: August 11th 2012August 11th 2012
Trails And Tails With Keith Bear
After a moving evening at “Deep Table” I awoke by the screeches of people’s enthusiasm of seeing a Moose drink out of a lake. It was actually a nice surprise considering that I have never seen a Moose before in my life! After being in the concrete jungle for so long you forget what actual species look like except for rodents and roaches which are really growing into quite bigger sizes these days. We were at the tail end of North Dakota reaching the border of Montana and still an eternity to get to West Glacier. In spite of it all the travel and delay time it really did not bother me. In some crazy way I was actually starting to like living and traveling on the train. For a while in my seat I gazed out the window and tried to figure out how I can do it and where. I know I was getting off the reservation there and that I was going to be in for a long haul so I decided to go downstairs to the powder room and get myself ready for the day.
I bumped into Darin
coming out of the powder room, he was still half asleep and had his toothbrush and toothpaste in his hand, he greeted me like we had known each other for years and asked me if I was going back to the table for the day. That’s what was so much fun about these train trips, you spend so much time with people that you start forming friendships and hang out in groups with one another.
I made my way back up to the observation deck to get some coffee and perhaps get some writing done. Bo was already up and back at the same table conversing with other passengers and Ed was making his way over with his breakfast. The conductor announced that we were operating about 5 hours behind schedule which meant I was going to be arriving into West Glacier well after midnight not really giving me a whole lot of time to enjoy my place of stay at the Belton Chalet.
As the day went on more passengers came on and departed along the magnificent route and at one moment a large group of Amish were onboard with us heading over to Whitefish. I had
noticed a few Amish while I was boarding the train in Chicago and I thought it was such an interesting perception to see them interact and be part of our world. Though they kept to themselves little by little they were starting to come out of their shells exchanging generous smiles and starting small conversations in the observation car. I think at first they may have felt that they were the outcasts and it didn’t seem to bother them (which I respected) but until Native American Keith Bear joined us things were about to take a very interesting turn.
“Trails and Rails” is part of the innovative partnership program between the National Park Service and Amtrak, providing rail pass passengers with educational opportunities that foster an appreciation of a selected region's natural and cultural heritage. It also renews the long tradition of connecting railroads with National Parks. Since the beginning of the 20th century, railroads played an active role in developing America's national parks, encouraging vacationers and long-distance travelers to take the train to these highly sought-after destinations. Through the program passengers can connect to public lands and engage in a better understanding of the need to preserve and
protect these special natural and cultural resources.
Keith Bear (O’Mashi! Ryu Ta - “Northern Lights”) is a part of this organization as well. He is a world renowned Mandan-Hidatsa storyteller and musician from the three affiliated tribes in Fort Berthold, North Dakota. After growing up outside the tribal traditions he returned to his people and reconnected through the “sacred branch of the Tree of Life,” the flute. Through extended family members, friends, and ceremonies Bear learned traditional songs, beadwork, porcupine quillwork, flute music, and traditional stories.
We all sat in silence in the observation deck waiting with anticipation on what we were going to hear from the very serious man dressed in traditional clothing. He started playing the flute and sang early chants that were passed down through his people generation after generation. He told us stories about his tribe and the early days in the life before the congestion of settlers and their later invasion. As he spoke we all listened in stillness and absorbed every word as he spoke the truth and from the heart on how history only repeats itself leaving our modern day as a prime example.
After he was done with his
enactment Keith stayed and hung out with all of us in the observation car. He came and sat with Bo, Ed and I for a long while talking about the different cities he had been to and how he appreciated some more over others depending on the amount of beef they provided as a dinner serving! He definitely had quite the sense of humor and a placid demeanor that showed compassion and respect. There was a minute where he asked Ed so calmly and forward, “Did you have any problem getting over the U.S. border”? With everyone just sitting and smirking he then moved on to me trying to persuade me to marry one of his seven sons, “They are all college graduates, they have fought in the army, they all have homes and have land”!
Though I was flattered and amused at the same time I had to pass up Keith on his offer. We exchanged emails and then he went from table to table conversing with all the other passengers including the Amish. What was invigorating to me was that there was a moment when Keith himself, 2 Amish men and an African American man from New
Orleans were all sitting down at a table together for a period of time like it was a meeting of the minds just talking, laughing and cracking jokes with one another! I don’t know to this day what the joke nor the punch line was between Keith and the 2 Amish men, but what I did know that it
was so funny it made the man from New Orleans fall out of the booth laughing and the 2 Amish men just sat there beet red with a Kool-Aid smile on their faces, as if they were saying “he said it, not us!
As he got up wiped his face from the stream of tears, holding his gut he continued to walk down the aisle to his seat in coach still cracking up. The bellow of his laugh infectiously caused all of us to start giggling out loud in the whole car, including Keith, the Trails and Rails tour guides and the Amish women and kids. It was a moment where all barriers were broken and became nonexistent. A moment where empathy was revealed and harmony became visible and somewhat replaced by every individual who had shared this exceptional connection
in that late afternoon on The Empire Builder.
My train was due into West Glacier at 8:30pm but due to the fact we were running 5 hours behind schedule I wasn’t going to be getting there until after midnight, which was a really big bummer because I wanted to at least enjoy the evening and have some time to myself before checking in and out so fast the next day.
It was starting to get dark so I went the observation car to take in the last of the view before night rolled in. I met Darin sitting down at one of the tables and he invited me to sit down with him so I can get the view as we entered the East Side of the Rockies. We sat next to one another and took in the scenery and talked about travel and the places we had been to and places we wished to see. As I detected before Darin was a worldly guy after all. He was born in Denver and moved to the island of Sypian at an early age with his family and remained there until he was about the age of 9 and
then moved to Montana. Over the years he had traveled to various places with his family or himself giving him the exposure and a very different way of viewing life. What really impressed me is that he went up to Alaska for 3 months on a crab fishing boat just to make a buck and experience it. There was a very Zen like manner that I appreciated in him. Definitely something I wasn’t used to being from New Yorker where it crawls with yuppie ‘American Psychos’ and all the other special personalities. His company was sincere and high-spirited, it felt good to be around someone who was so easy to talk to and can relate to your past without any judgment or frowning upon it.
Time was starting to crunch and I was next in line to get off the train, followed by Bo in Whitefish, Darin in Portland and Ed up to Vancouver. It kind of was a sad feeling because we had spent over 30 hours together spending a great deal of quality time! Again an emotional moment for Christina! I felt like slapping myself and telling me to get over it! I was going to feel
like this every city and every person I was going to meet. I felt like I was classic text book definition for separation anxiety, good lord! As I slowly tried to get myself motivated to get ready for my stop, Darin springs upon the idea for me to stay on and get off with him in Portland…..
Next Stop: West Glacier Park & The Belmont Chalet