To know expanse I read thin books
on spruce and buffalo, and sailed
where ice and bears are serious.
I rose when the sun broke wild
and blinding on the field, walked
to the bay made famous
by old Indians and now the sun
From 'Keen to leaky flowers' by Richard Hugo
It's impossible to find one poem to sum up the past 2 weeks (yes, I missed a week, #badblogger) in just one poem. These days brought me from the city buzz of Seattle, to the crisp wilderness of Montana and Idaho's rugged emptiness and now to Salt Lake City (which, I don't know). I would need a book of poems to describe everything I saw and experienced. Which is why I started reading some of Richard Hugo's work, since he wrote a lot about the North-West.
I chose this first stanza, because it describes just about everything I loved so far. The bay of Seattle, the buffalo in Yellowstone, the ice that is so slow to melt even though it's May already - in Holland the idea of ice that tenacious is unthinkable. But what touched me most was the mention of the old Indians. For what touched me most on this journey so far, were old Indians.
Somehow we stumbled upon the story of the flight of the Nez Perce tribe and the war the US waged on them and this story has been following us wherever we went. From Big Hole Battlefield, to Yellowstone, to the Camas Prairie in Idaho, everywhere we found traces of Chief Joseph and his people.
The story is a sad one. It involves a lot of murder by soldiers and betrayal by politicians. It ends with Chief Joseph surrendering on the condition his people can live in the reservation, only to have them deported to Kansas. I know we don't usually speak of the US history in terms of occupations, camps and deportation, but after learning about this, I find it hard to view it in any other terms.
And yes, I know, the Dutch have their share in bad deeds too. And yes, almost all civilizations are built upon the defeat of native peoples. The Romans subdued the Etruscans, the whole Greek civilization came to pass after the Dorians invaded and I'm sure that the Batavi that started things off in the Netherlands murdered some people along the way. And, finally, yes, I also realize that without the whole European colonization of America I wouldn't even be able to walk here and get wound up about all the injustice.
But still the story of Chief Joseph haunts me. And I am glad to find 'his' side of the story is heard now too, in the Nez Perce National Historical Park for instance. It's good to see people trying to make certain it goes on and that all stories are heard. Winners may make history but not forever.