Anna’s Not True Story

The backdrop for a local production of The King and I
For the local production of The King and I

This morning a local congregation member showed us around the local theater where he works making props, helping to stage productions and generally looking after the building. The whole place is largely staffed by volunteers and the players are all local and unpaid. Currently playing is The King and I and the painting of the Buddha as the backdrop for the production could not be missed. The staging area is ’tiled’ with copies from Anna’s diary, she is the ‘I’ of The King and I and, let it be known, that in actual fact she was not romantically involved with the King. Not at all. It is recorded that Anna (Anna Leonowens) was regarded by the King as ‘difficult’. That her story turned into something quite unlike her true one is as it is and very many people have cavorted across dance floors to the strains of some of the hit songs. Shall – We – Dance…one, two, three,  On a bright cloud of music shall we fly? And so on – so unlike Anna’s true story.

This post is for several woman I’ve known for many years whose lives are coming to a close, relatively soon. One wrote her unedited life story some years ago and sent it to me. It was a way to remember, embrace and let go of her long life. And move on, which she did. The writing remains with me for safe keeping it’s a story of love and loss, adventure and intrigue, joy and sadness and quite a lot of fun too. She loved to tell of her time dancing on stage in a theater in south Manchester. I’ll not note the name of the group here as I’d give her away, photographs taken at the time show her as a lovely bright girl dressed to the nines.

Seeing Is Believing

Known as the Backbone of the World by the Blackfeet Tribe
Known as the Backbone of the World by the Blackfeet Tribe

The other day three of us drove from Whitefish in Western Montana over the Marias Pass to Browning in Eastern Montana with a van full of food for the Blackfeet Foodbank as well as bags of warm clothing. This is a regular fortnightly run one of my hosts has done for several years – as he says there are a lot of people behind getting the van filled with food and clothing and still he reliably makes the journey winter and summer alike. And what a journey! Thankfully the weather was good, the roads were clear of snow and the temperature was a bit above freezing making the journey an easy one.

I’d not ventured out of Western Montana over the Continental Divide into the vast open expanses of Eastern Montana. The Rockies rising into the sky in white jagged spikes and spines are frankly improbable – seeing is to believe them real. We drove along the Eastern edge of Glacier National Park before the steady climb to Marias Pass where the flattened terrain gradually turned from lush and green to scrubby and dry in a matter of a few miles. Then the road leads out to reveal the vast arid appearing plains with Browning scattered below. We had entered the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with Browning the seat of government for the Blackfeet. I’m conditioned by the films I’ve watched, romantic scenes of indians  riding bareback, tepees and open fires, head dresses and dancing. Well yes, along with the guns, bows and arrows and bloodshed.

Now to press reset and see for myself the conditions under which these noble people live now. I’m still processing as they say. I’ve not found it easy to write about the Foodbank run and the window we briefly looked through onto the lives of those who benefit from what we brought. Not pity, not guilt, not any of the kind of emotion one might imagine in oneself on encountering modern rural poverty first hand, especially poverty of the people native to the land. Poverty of a people who predate the explorers and the cowboys and soldiers, by centuries. I’d say sad-grief, a great grief has lingered in me these past couple of day. I will remember particularly the two native women who helped lug the heavy boxes of bread and bags of potatoes etc. into the store-room. I’ll remember the words Native Pride embroidered in bright colours on the back of their jackets.

The return journey was absolutely breath-taking with the Rockies spreading across the horizon. Again, seeing is believing. The photograph does not do the mountains justice. And for railway enthusiasts the nearly 100 mile track from Whitefish to Browning is….historic.


Barb and Barb with loaves.
Barb and Barb with loaves.
Where I am staying two woman friends are baking bread to give away as gifts to just about everybody they know in the area. They started early at around 7.30 am and now at midday it’s looking like all the dough has been made and most of it baked. They are obviously enjoying each others company and there’s much laughter and reminiscing. It is quite a production and they have been doing this faithfully for 24 years!

They have kept a diary which includes news of who’s around, children and then later as they have grown to adulthood, their boyfriends. Recorded – the cat eaten on the porch by a Mountain Lion, their resolutions which have remained much the same. More laughter and merriment. Their highs and lows shared in diary form now read aloud and remembered with sometimes laughter and sometimes serious and thoughtful silences. One woman remembers with a wistful glance. Not many birthings, lots of deaths though.

I’ve been reading a book recommended to me some time ago called The Gift by Lewis Hydes. Of course the ‘holiday season’ is a time of gift giving. I’ve been looking at ‘things’, gloves, boots, coats and the like and imagining letting my parents know what I’d like for Christmas. With no present giving parents alive now I may well purchase a few things on their behalf, with the money they left me. I’ll give myself gifts. I think that counts as gifts.

Now the gift tags are being written and the loaves bagged…Remember when I made my (very elderly) mother seal all of the bags?. The whole process is obviously brings so much for these two women before the bread reaches receiving hands and anybody and everybody in the house gets drawn into the process. Perhaps I’ll venture into the kitchen and start the clean-up. By the end of the day all the loaves have been delivered.

How to…..

Talking to somebody the other day. Talking about being the best person one can be. How do you do that? she asked. Off the top of my head, which is where so many of my responses come from, I replied – Well it has to do with intention, doesn’t it? Our intention to exercise compassion, unconditional love and matured wisdom in our daily dealings. Best we can. Sounded OK at the time anyway.

It was the first time somebody had asked ‘how to….’ which was a good question.

Soon (the 11th November) it will be the twentieth anniversary of my mother’s death. Just having a thought for her, a grateful thought.

Wild Life

East Second Street
East Second Street

She stood still beside a tree, became the tree, while the herd of Bison passed by. The Grizzly Bear circled the camp several times in the night while we all remained on high alert, including the horses.

I gazed up into the tree and saw a large bird with a white head and tail feathers with a flock of small birds taunted it from branches higher up. Below a dead deer beside the road. Only later did I discover I’d sighted the famous Bald Eagle which is both National Bird and National Animal of the USA. Like so many wild life encounters one doesn’t remember to reach for a camera. In my case I thought I was looking at a large dejected crow with a white head!

Being here in Montana, hearing wild life stories and close encounters and my mild, and ultra safe encounters, can’t help but bring to heart and mind the gift these creatures give us. An organization called Vital Ground helps the gift of our wild friends to keep on giving by protecting and restoring North America’s grizzly bear populations by conserving wildlife habitat. Doug Chadwick founding board member of Vital Grounds lives locally. He is as inspiring as the wild creatures he loves and brings natural humility to his table. That’s along with an engaging sense of fun and an unfettered spirit.

Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives