Patriotism in Polebridge

I caught myself, surprised and stunned, on the 4th of July–a lump forming in the back of my throat, eyelashes blinking and collecting moisture–and had to ask myself, am I going to cry? Here and now?  I was watching the 4th of July parade in Polebridge, Montana, a tiny outpost twenty miles from the nearest power line on the northwestern border of Glacier National Park and yes, I was certainly choking up. As the small parade lined up along the dirt road in front of the Mercantile and Northern Lights Saloon (really, the only two places of commerce in Polebridge, alongside the North Fork of the Flathead River that separates the off the  grid village from the national park) I felt my chest  swell, as if an balloon were inflating underneath my rib cage. For a moment, before the tears began their rush from beneath my sunglasses, I had to take two steps back from the line of spectators gathered to watch the small, comical, whimsical and eclectic parade in a place where cellphone signals, paved roads, and other artifacts of a city are left miles and miles behind. I didn’t want to reveal, even to my husband who has certainly seen and shared in my tears over the last month, that a parade, a parade that only lasted about 8 minutes was causing me to choke up. My tears were not the result of grief and mourning over the sudden loss of my brother in law but rather, pride.

On that hot day near the Canadian border in one of the wildest places in all of America, I was truly proud to be an American and honored to be a part of a collective celebration of our nation. Perhaps I inherited this trait from my mother who cries any time she hears the National Anthem played, be it a high school basketball game over crackly speakers in a concrete gym or belted from the lungs of a pop star at the Superbowl. There’s something to this collective, communal celebration. And it stirs me unlike many other collective, communal celebrations.

Perhaps it’s because in such a serene and pristine setting as the North Fork Valley,  I get carried away with the red, white and blue under the shadow of towering and omniscient peaks. Or that the sense of freedom is imbued with each and every (well, three, to be exact) of the firetrucks as they rumbled, slowly, down the dirt road as one of the freest and wildest rivers, the North Fork of the Flathead River, rambled and surged just in the distance. The setting: on the edge of Glacier National Park–a place for the people, couldn’t have been more perfect to observe a national holiday. The parade, with many of the floats mocking technology since the North Fork is a black hole to all things wifi and network, stirred some childhood emotions inside me; essentially: people are good, people are playful and people are proud of their country. I haven’t felt this patriotic pride in a while, for it has been an challenge to be a patriot, to be proud of a country with its endless and senseless wars, with its obsession (wrongly so) with reproductive and marriage rights (or rather, restrictions), with its mistreatment and abuse of our environment, government and civil liberties. But for those fifteen odd minutes in the unseasonably hot sun, I stood a bit taller that day and grateful that as a nation and as a small entity of celebrators in Polebridge that we could celebrate as a nation, instead of collectively grieving and mourning–which has happened all too often with mass shootings, bombings, environmental catastrophes.

On that day, sirens blared and children pedaled their decorated bicycles as onlookers waved and cheered. Banjos and guitars plucked the clean air and candy was thrown from the back of pickup trucks. It might seem frivolous, but I think it’s rather needed now more than ever, for we the people to come together, despite our differences, and stand shoulder to shoulder along a dirt road and cry  to the big, bold, blue sky: Happy 4th of July. I believe that moment as the tears welled in my eyes that I felt hope. Hope in my fellow countrymen.

Or perhaps, what I needed most was to be among a throng (the crowds in Polebridge, which have increased, noticeably over the years, might not be characterized as “crowds” or “throng” but for a place where people are few and grizzlies are many, it’s apt) of revelers, of freethinkers, of compatriots. I know Cole and I needed the welcome distraction from our mourning, needed to laugh about the sign: “Will trade husband for broadband”, needed to wave and shout “Hooray” as the floats slowly processed down the dirt road . We needed to turn outward, and look at our fellow compatriots and share in the simple joy of a parade.

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