Montana's poet laureate Henry Real Bird (left) is crossing Montana with his riding partner Levi Bruce, handing out books of his poetry. On Friday, he was in Havre, Mont. — and he'll end up in Rocky Boy.
Montana's poet laureate Henry Real Bird (left) is crossing Montana with his riding partner Levi Bruce, handing out books of his poetry. On Friday, he was in Havre, Mont. — and he'll end up in Rocky Boy. Joseph Terry
Instead of talking to schoolchildren or promoting poetry through local libraries, Montana's poet laureate Henry Real Bird decided to carry out his duty the true Montana way. The cowboy and member of the Crow nation is on a 500-mile horseback trip, halfway across the state, handing out books of his poetry along the way.
On Friday, he was in Havre, Mont., along the Milk River, underneath a bright blue sky.
"It's so big that you can't really put in edge to it," Real Bird told NPR's Michele Norris. "That's how it is today in a vast sea of buffalo grass."
On Saturday, Real Bird will be in the Bear Paw Mountains. He says his final destination is in Rocky Boy, Mont.
He says along his journey, he's surprising people with his books.
"At a buffet in Nashua, a guy had two ... high school boys there, I mean, just so much promise and so much future. And I just gave them the books so they can read that poetry," he says. "Plus, once I give them out and other people, they see me coming out on horseback and they walk over and they say, 'Where's my book?' and I just hand them a book from atop the horse and everything. I just want them to think, to move along in thought."
And as he's giving out lessons, Real Bird is taking lessons of his own as he travels across the land.
Real Bird (center) takes a coffee break with Bruce (right) and Sherman Sierra (left). Sierra is driving the horse trailer that periodically hooks up with the riders so they can switch out their horses.
Real Bird (center) takes a coffee break with Bruce (right) and Sherman Sierra (left). Sierra is driving the horse trailer that periodically hooks up with the riders so they can switch out their horses. Samar Fay
"I see where life has been, just unbelievable — ancient beaches and stone. I can see abandoned homes where life was flourishing back at the turn of the century. And I can see where the buffalo wallowing that I can ride through."
Real Bird says he also is watching "life itself in Montana," including the alcohol consumed on the Indian reservation.
"I don't want to see but I do, because that is life. And yet there are others that are coming to work. I wait for coffee at the convenient store at Fort Belknap and all of the workers and they're going to work for the day," he says. "And to be able to see the young families, full of promise and hope and then to go along and pick up words like Fur Cap Mountain. That's the Indian word for the little Rocky Mountains. To be given all of these things, I mean people come by and they feed me dried meat, bannock bread and they crush chokecherries and give them to me. It's a beautiful place when people come and they hug you and they bless you to continue on and asking for a safe journey."