The drums heard throughout Bozeman

 

By Claire Knox

April 1, 2018

 

BOZEMAN, Mont.—The land has a heartbeat. Put your ear to the ground and listen. The land has a heartbeat, and we forget to listen. But sometimes, something compels us to listen. Something simple and driving draws our hearts and minds to the constant beating heart of the land.

 

We Americans often forget our roots. Our country is young; the 240-plus years since the signing of our constitution pales in comparison to the history of many other nations in the world.

 

But the land our country exists on did not rise from the ocean on July 4th, 1776. It has existed for millions of years, and our ancestral European colonists were by no means its first settlers.

 

The American Indian peoples have been systematically robbed, cheated, killed, and pushed from their lands. Their culture has been attacked and their way of life forever changed. But once a year in Bozeman, Montana, they host an event that takes any person willing to attend and reminds them of the surviving American Indian culture and the heartbeat of the land.

 

The drums.

 

The drums are the first things I notice as I enter the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the Montana State University Campus on March 30, 2018 to watch the 43rd Annual American Indian Council Powwow. I’m sure that the drums are the first things anyone can notice. Their steady and strong pulsing resonates through the building and can even be felt through the concrete steps outside. I entered the event just in time to witness the Grand Entry.

 

The drums started it all.

 

As their rhythm and the accompanying singing echoed through the massive wooden dome, dancers began to enter. I did not know of the various types of American Indian dance styles and their accompanying clothing types. The styles represented included Traditional, Fancy Shawl and Jingle, and every category of dance had participants from toddlers to adults.

 

People in all sizes and shapes danced into the room. Toddlers bounced along behind parents and teenagers proudly sported the regalia of their people. Some types of dress had hundreds of glinting golden bells which shook in rhythm with the drums and dancing, adding a shimmer to the air. Some highlighted large ornate shawls that flew through the air with every twist of the dancer’s form. Some championed ostentatious feathers meticulously arranged. All dancers were clothed in unapologetic color.

After the Grand Entry, dancers split into categories and the competitions began. A panel of tribal judges presided and one enthusiastic emcee provided commentary, humor and even tribal facts during the event.

 

 

The Junior Girls Fancy Shawl dance event caught my eye. The contestants climbed down from the stands, and girls of all sizes answered the call. Girls from three feet tall to five feet tall took the stage. The youngest contestant could not have been older than four years old. Her clothes were white and purple, with enough sparkle sewn in to make any four year old happy. She clutched one end of the shawl in each of her fists and waited for the drums.

 

The girls started dancing in unison. The older girls possessed slightly more coordination and sense of rhythm, but every dancer on the floor was full of spirit. The girl in the white and purple flung her arms in the air, her shawl spreading behind her like wings. Her dance started as somewhat of an excited bounce, but a careful study of the older girls reminded her of her rhythm and technique. A smile stuck to her face as she danced around the floor, swirling in and out of her competitors seemingly without a care or a thought towards the competition.

 

After watching a few dancing competitions, I wandered into the shopping area of the event. Many different people had tables and stalls set up, much like a farmers market or craft fair. People and stalls packed the area, making it feel like a street market.

 

Rabbit skins hung from above, entire fox skins—including the nose—watched me from eye level, and individual cougar claws sat below glass with an accompanying price tag of $30 per claw. Handcrafted jewelry covered tables, intricately beaded clothes, purses, and other accessories stuck out, and there was even a table of hand-carved wooden pipes.

 

While I browsed the aisles, a young boy beside me paid $3 for a rabbit’s foot “for luck” and a woman purchased a bundle of braided sage and a few pieces of sweetgrass for another few dollars.

 

Even while I wandered through the maze of the market, the drums did not stop. The constant pounding was spotted with sudden accents, but the underlying heartbeat drove on, carried from one drum circle to the next.

 

Throughout the whole event, the fieldhouse filled up with a palatable air of camaraderie and respect. Tribes from across the nation were represented, but no detectable ill will tainted the event. The competitors stepped onto the floor in their proud colors with no identifiers besides their competition number, and all danced together. They moved as one, spinning around each other, staying out of the others’ paths while confidently making their own.

 

This appearance of unification may only exist under the eyes of outsiders, but I could never hope nor wish to penetrate the unified front. The dancing had a joy that shone brighter than the competition. The powwow dancers danced with one spirit, and seemed powered by that ever-present drumbeat: the heartbeat of the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klusmeyer Memories

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Favorite places, lighthouses of America.

Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of my dad, mom, two sisters, and a ten year old me walking the wind tormented beaches of Point No Point beach near my portside hometown of Poulsbo, WA. In contrast to the peaceful tourist laden streets of Poulsbo, Point No Point is filled with buildings that are held up more by salt blown in from the Puget Sound than by their original cement and nails. I can still feel my eyes watering in the wind and smell the subtly putrid stench of low tide. In my memory, everything is just slightly in disrepair and coated in steely grime that the Sound so graciously provided. I can hear the seagulls calling back and forth with high pitched bugles.

Where Poulsbo is always filled by warmly dressed tourists snapping pictures of neatly kept and brightly colored store fronts, the beach is always full of tourists of a different sort. Men with coolers sunken into the sand behind them would engage in a particular kind of irrationality and wade knee deep into the surf clad only in flannel and waist high waders. Further out into the water, the occasional oil slick seal head would slide from beneath the waves to look inquisitively at the fishermen who were so far away from land. After all, the fishermen knew full well the most they would catch might be a piece of driftwood or a dogfish covered by sandpaper skin.

My family and I always began our visits by moving past the loose sand, down the beach, and past the rocks brought in by the high tide onto the darker, stronger sand left by the encroaching tides. With the parking lot on one side and a white spraying expanse of the Sound to the other, we would venture as a group down the beach to search determinedly for a place of refuge from the constant gusts of wind. My dad wading ankle deep in the surf with a backpack strapped to his back and a spotted green Coleman thermos in his right hand. The rest of us trudged resolutely along closer to the rock line that marked high tide, alert for the slightest glimpse of a water spout coming from around the tidal pools scattered intermittently across the darkened stretch of sand before us. The first wet squelch and miniature geyser erupting would have the same affect as the crack of a staring pistol on my sisters, one older ̶ one younger, and we would shoot forward like Olympic athletes. Stomping the sand around us vainly; hoping to trigger a second miniature eruption.

Next to the parking lot at Point No Point a preserved and decommissioned lighthouse squats in a way that is decidedly less majestic than the spiraling, towering structures that christen common conception. Instead the lighthouse exists in a manner that is decidedly more colonial. A square white house bisected by a tower with a focal height of only twenty seven feet. The lighthouse, while now mostly gutted and no longer functioning, still gives a taste of its past to visitors as a well-cared for nautical museum. Walking through the expertly preserved doorway the house opens up into tables covered in artifacts and pictures of the lighthouse in its hay day. In fact, the lighthouse is so well preserved that its countless layers of varnish have laminated the originally concrete structure within a hard plastic shell.

Venture further into the Lighthouse’s bowels and you’ll come upon a ladder leading up into the light tower. The lighthouse lamp was first lit with kerosene in 1880 and was

eventually automated in 1977. By the time that it was automated, the house was equipped with a fourth order Fresnel lens and lit by a massive electric bulb that illuminated out to fourteen nautical miles.

Despite its diminutive size, the upper level of the lighthouse commands a surprising view of the coast line and out into the water. Along the horizon kites bob and weave through the breeze in what my dad would describe as “a kite flying paradise.” Simply walk around the human sized clear glass bulb and through the door into the wind. From up on the lighthouse balcony the coastline opens up to you like a kingdom opens up to a king glancing over his domain.

From the time I was a toddler up until now at twenty three, I have loved going to the top of the lighthouse. I would walk out from the musty tower interior into the salty tang of a sea breeze and let the wind fill my consciousness. It fills my mouth and nose and before stealing the sound from my ears, leaving them empty of everything but natures’ labored breath.

Just down the beach, a massive rock alternates between an island and a monolith as the tides ebb and flow. Point no Point’s rock, though it could have been a boulder if it was on a mountainside, used to be one of my favorite places to play. My family and I would gather around the rock to listen to the barnacles covering it burble.

If you’ve never heard a barnacle covered rock make noise before it’s like nothing else. Thousands of small shell trapdoors moving open and shut, releasing water trapped during high tide. Altogether, the barnacles sound like a combination of soft rain falling onto the ground and fallen leaves crunching beneath booted feet. The bottom of Point No Points’ resident boulder creates a safe haven for sea life during low tide within small tide pool left behind by receding waves. Starfish drag themselves slowly beneath the water or cling like stickers onto the sides of their rocky home.

My siblings and I, and sometimes my parents, would splash quickly through the pools. We would reach down to touch the starfish, though not too much because a starfishes’ skin is bumpy and awkward. Afterwards I would lean in close to the barnacles to hear their music better.

After getting bored of rocks, barnacles, and starfish we’d skip old white sand dollars and flat rocks until our arms felt like they were about to fall off.

On the way back to our car we’d help my dad fill up the plastic bag that he always brought for trash. We would balance on drift wood and challenge each other to reach the end of the beach without falling off of the logs that had become piled up next to the grass by high tide and by industrious, fort building, families. After we reached the parking lot we would hobble barefoot over the rough combination of asphalt and gravel between us and the car. If our feet had dried off, we would brush the sand off before stepping into the car. If our feet were still wet my sisters and I would wait for the towels our parents carried to scrub the course, sticky sand off before piling unceremoniously into the car. Our pockets filled to bursting with bits of glass ground smooth by the waves and interesting rocks that never managed to stay as mesmerizing after they had dried.

For the rest of the day, my body stayed sticky with salt and I continued to find sand in my clothes and hair for days afterwards. Point No Point was remembered from then on in the vases throughout our house filled by us with our collections of rocks, shells, and sea glass—our pirates’ treasure. We would store the kites we had flown without bothering to scrub them clean of dirt, only stopping to shake them. After all, what was the point if they would just become equally as dirty the next time we flew them? I didn’t understand then, but the beach was bound to become part of my identity for forever.

As my sister puts it, “whenever I leave, I feel like my soul has been scrubbed clean.”

To this day when I head back to my hometown, and if I have the chance, I still drive the thirty minutes out to Point No Point’s gusting beaches. I bring a Thermos of hot chocolate, like my dad, and a plastic bag to hold any trash that I find during my walk. I balance on logs cast up high next to tough sticky blades of grass. I walk barefoot through sand so full of salt that it squeaks, looking for an abandoned driftwood palace.

It’s comforting to watch the passing transport ships stocked full of shipping containers stacked like children’s Legos. It makes me smile watching dogs throw themselves face first into the waves: creating foaming V’s of ocean spray on either side of their bodies. I watch as they swim otter like out to a thrown stick or out to a particularly interesting floating piece of debris. Parents lounge alongside me as their children play Frisbee or dig pointless holes. In front of me, teenagers throw wakeboards into the shallows, skimming across the waves or falling flat onto their faces with a meaty splat. Above the water and above me, seagulls wheel through the air training their hungry eyes onto anything that looks even suspiciously like food.

The same seagulls shriek split the air as I lean back into a rudimentary driftwood fortress, sip my chocolate, and let the sharp tang of the air carry me back. Or I bring nothing, and I let the wind whip and tear at my clothing. I bask in the eye of the storm.

Samuel Klusmeyer is a Montana based freelance writer currently writing for WRIT 373. The ocean will always be with him.

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