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Beartooth Pass
Uprising #2
Northwest along Wyoming Highway 296 they wound their way along the stretch of road named the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, over such disturbing features as Dead Indian Pass, Dead Indian Creek, Dead Indian Meadows, Dead Indian Gulch and Dead Indian Mesa. For a man used to brick row houses, sprawling urban squalor and the occasional soaring cigarette-box-looking office building and the sooty-stained pretentious government architecture of the early 1900s, this summer drive through the Absaroka Range was like a winter sled trip in miniature along some storybook Christmas Garden up in Hamden, where them white folks set up their choo-choo trains for the kids to come and see for Christmas.
Only, Punk saw nobody, not a soul, and especially no-one all around, without even animals visible in the green-dotted and snow-veiled distance. Kind old Ishmael, larger by a hundred pounds and older by a few years than he, and wearing more quickly before gravity than smaller men, served as his driver and guide, even as the untrusting Major sat behind him, packing that .44 magnum single-action and the Colt .45 APC 1911, ready for action in his cowboy hat, fleece-lined vest, blue jeans and snakeskin boots. Meanwhile, Ishmael, wearing a windbreaker, a deer hunters hat, sunglasses, and denim overalls, was driving with one hand and pointing out terrain features and explaining them and relating stories of hauling supplies on pack animals, lead-foot on the gas, snow blowing across the road, explained to him bits of this and that that he would and would not be able to recall:
“Absaroka, means Sacred Ravens, but most people call them the Crow. Some of the men are real big. The young women are beauties—then they hit a certain age and turn into beanbag chairs…”
“The gently sloping green hills that flatten to mesas and end in a cliff, are called buffalo jumps, over which herds were once stampeded for meat…”
“Chief Joseph and Looking Glass outsmarted the U.S. Calvary in their attempt to make it to freedom in Canada once upon a sorrowful time—why all the dead Indian names…”
“Baddest white man in these parts was Liver-Eating Johnson, whose cabin we are going to visit in Red Lodge Montana, as soon as we climb the Beartooth Pass, which is this way, turning right, the other way, left, taking us to Yellowstone and too many government officials and satellite monitoring stations…”
A sign read, “Beartooth All-American Road.”
The Major cut in, “Eyes on the road if you please, Ish, less the bears feast on us while we die in this metal can.”
The heights were dizzying, winding forever upward through evergreen forests, past two small lakes on the left next to which he had a strange urge to build a cabin and stay the winter with a fat Indian woman, almost as-green meadows being quickly covered in snow, and up higher into white rocky expanses.
“Is dis snow normal, y’all?” asked Punk.
The Major answered, “Once upon a time passes closed in late September and opened in late June. Now they close in late August and open in late July—like Heavenly Father does not want man afflicting his sacred places any longer. Makes it good for us poachers, bogging down the rangers and keeping the sissies, queers, blue-haired freaks and rich folks and the Chinese the fuck out of our hair…this is looking bad, Ish, look, they closed the gate to Red Lodge—fuck me runnin’! Well, there’s more than one way to skin a squirrel.”
Up ahead a yellow gate was closed, snow already heaped two feet high and almost up to its bottom bar.
“Shit, they close this shit by satellite now. We going to miss the heights, miss our chance to scare the shit out of this flatlander coming over the top. Turn this buggy around and get us down to Cook City. Colter Pass is even lower then Dead Injun Pass. If we have to run and gun some half-tame dumpster grizzly at Yellowstone, so be it. The Good Lord Provides.”
“What now, Major?” asked Punk, as he looked over his shoulder at the man twisting his grey-blonde mustache into greased handlebars.
“Well, as commander of this here paleo-military expedition, I’d say it’s time for a road soda. You want grape or orange, Coon?”
The two of them laughed and Ishmael winced and then smiled gently, as The Major produced three bottles and took inventory:
“For Ishmael I brought his favorite, Buffalo Trace, a fine belended rye and bourbon—here you go, Bro!”
“For myself I bought the best money can buy, High West rye whiskey!” he said raising the bottle like an idol of ancient power.
“You sure, Wolf?” warned Ishmael, “Last time you drank whiskey you ended up beating tar out of those college boys in Boise and I had to bail your ass out of jail?”
“Oh, Ish, I’ll need some rocket fuel if I’m going to be battling grizz with a hand gun at seventy.”
He then turned to Punk and declared, “You see, young man, looking all of sixty-five and cracked like untreated pavement, you have been selected to bear witness to our Grizz Song. Ish and I are goin’ out like Mountain Men of Old—not wheezing our life away in some incubator for retroactive old babies.”
“Oh, yes, I almost forgot your black ass. When Old Ish told me he found himself a pet coon, I did the best I could on my way in from the Tri-Cities. Here ya go—there’s even a pirate on the label, 151 rum, son.”
“Thanks, Major,” grinned Punk, as he popped the top on that Admiral Nelson rum and noticed that the Major had a massive wing-span, as the old boy reached his extra-long arm forward, between the seats, and placed an old-fashioned music CD in the player that was bailing-wired and duct-taped under the dash above the stick shift.
The sounds of race-healer, David Allen Coe, echoed through the confines of the ancient pickup truck that had been crudely converted into an SUV, or more like a land rover for a snow safari and the men drank and sung along.
The snow was now falling thick on the low road as well, about 7,000 feet above “she level” he was told, down in the flatlands were bitches lived, something he could certainly vouch for, hailing as he had from a “bitch-made” land among “bitch-made” men.
These men were quite different than he, but the same somehow in some lonely way.
They drove along near an hour, until the snow was up to the bumper, plowing it under and away, the blizzard roaring above in the passes expressing itself below in this long high valley as a dumping accumulation of powder, lighter than what he was accustomed to back east. Two ominous, towering black peaks, like some place a dark lord would live in a movie, passed by to their left, as he caught a nice buzz.
The CD was changed and more of a twang emerged from the rattling speakers.
A few houses could be seen up ahead to left and right as the Willie Nelson song played and Ishmael and the Major sang along, “Ain’t goin’ down on Brokeback Mountain—that shit ain’t right, that shit ain’t right!”
And here they were in a town with but one street, jammed between near vertical mountains, with a stream behind the left-side buildings…a place that called itself a city, though it was about the size of three good redneck gas stations…
“That shit ain’t right, that shit ain’t right!” echoed the driver and the officer—who looked too much like General Custer for Punk to feel over confident in the fortunes of the expedition to come. But anything was better than getting thrown in a cage for popping some snitch who couldn’t keep his mouth shut any better than some un-loved bitch.
“That shit ain’t right, that shit ain’t right!”
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