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  • Writer's pictureclairemariemiller1

Montana, the Wolves, and the Retreat Part 1 - Scattering Sun's Ashes

Updated: Feb 1

Sunrise at Howler's Inn - photo by Sally
Sunrise at Howler's Inn - photo by Sally

So many gifts on this grief journey. I feel my spirit more clearly in Montana than anywhere else I have been. Returning to scatter my husband Sun’s ashes in Yellowstone - my journey to get here has been scary at times, heading into the dark, the known and unknown. Yet, I can truly call this place home. It calls me again and again. I pray my ashes will be scattered here – in the park and at Boulder Hot Springs.

My right hip is giving out. It buckles under me more and more. The day before leaving I saw my orthopedic surgeon and determined I will have a hip replacement on May 15, 2024. My surgeon shared that he had lost his best friend to the same brain tumor my husband had.

This journey to Montana came about quickly; I was not planning to come until the fall of 2024. When Kim sent the email “Are you the one?” I heard, “I am the one.” Kim teaches so many amazing things, this was a wolf retreat at Howler’s Inn, to communicate with the wolves.

I had time and I had worked very hard teaching during September and October, so I had the money to do this trip. James, my son, stepped up to care for my dogs and the farm. And off I went. The dead deer at my mailbox the morning I left was disconcerting at 3:45 am. What did that mean? Hopefully not a bad omen. I needed a wheelchair through the airports and that saved me so much pain and discomfort. Delta came through on this trip.

All went well with travel. I arrived in Bozeman and headed to my favorite place - The Co-op. I love good food, food that my belly approves of. With my Bozeman Coop bag (from many years ago) I filled up my food tank.

Off to Chico Hot Springs, another favorite place. I had been able to secure the last room in my favorite part of the hotel – The Warren Wing. Walking past photos of actors, including Jane Fonda (I have stories that are 1 degree of separation with Jane), I settled in, exhausted.

I had a lovely dinner at Chico, although it was sad to be alone, remembering the dinner James, Sun, and I had the year before, to celebrate James’s birthday.

The music, the BeeGee’s Staying Alive, was playing and was also unnerving. To me, that is heart attack CPR music and was really out of place in the beautiful atmosphere of Chico.

After dinner, a soak; also disappointing. The water was not as hot as I remember and the other folks not as friendly. Times, they are a changing. Chico is not what it was in years past.

Scorpio lunar eclipse, May 15, 2022
Scorpio lunar eclipse, May 15, 2022

I woke up early since I was still on east coast time, packed up and quietly left the hotel, heading to Yellowstone. It was pitch black at 5:30 am. I thought I would find a coffee shop open and did not.

I arrived at the park gate. The young, female park ranger gave me my senior pass (first time for that). I asked about the new (old) road that now is the way into Mammoth since the massive flood in June of 2022. The flood that was one full moon after we witnessed the Scorpio lunar eclipse in Gardiner, May 15, 2022. The ranger said it is steep and winding. She said to be careful. And oh, was it a road to climb in the dark.

Once in Mammoth, I sat and pondered what am I doing out here alone. Luckily, the bathrooms were open…relief. I drove on, past the Mammoth Hot Springs, to what I thought was Lamar Valley.

(This was November 8th, I found out on November 13th I went on a road that was closed.)

There was light now and the gate was mostly open on the road toward Norris. I was going on, feeling pulled, I had a mission to scatter Sun’s ashes in Yellowstone.

As I climbed, a few trucks came up and I pulled over to let them pass, taking deep breaths to calm my fears. Up I went, into a beautiful valley with snow-topped mountains. Pulling over for majestic photos.

On I went. Soon there was ice on the road. Still, I climbed and a few more trucks passed me, even a cement truck. Now there was snow on top of the ice. I was getting nervous. What am I doing? It was 17 degrees and no cell service.

“Sun,” I called out, “I am scared. Give me a sign.” Within a few minutes I pulled up to a big bull elk with a massive rack. He was standing lower than the road and that brings us eye-to-eye. He wass eating the green grass by a running hot springs. The steam was rising in the cold air.

I was flustered, I wanted to take a picture. Would he ram me? Would another truck come over the hill and hit me? So, I moved on to find a pull-out. I got out of the car and I could not see him. I turned around and found another pull-out, closer to where I had seen him. He had crossed the road. He turned to stare at me for a long time.

This was where I was to scatter the final ashes of my beloved Sun. My strong, Native man. Big and strong, like the elk who was watching me. (Upon reading the map back at home, I had the realization that I scattered Sun’s final ashes at Indian Creek. Roughly 21 miles into the park from Mammoth. On the road that was closed!)

I thought I would smudge before scattering his ashes but it was too cold and windy. So, holding my fist to the sky, to the elk, with sage and tobacco in hand, I called out “Mitakuye Oyasin,” to all my relations, all my ancestors. (Our friend Jason said Sun is now an ancestor). I released the sacred mix to the snow below.

Then, with my sad heart still hurting, I released Sun’s ashes. They landed in the snow, in a clump of sage by the flowing hot spring stream. Our favorite things – snow, sage, and hot springs.

I have now completed the trilogy of scattering Sun’s ashes – first in Cherokee, NC in the Tuckasegee River along the Cherokee reservation, with our tribe of friends.

Second, at home on our farm (Luna Blues Farm) in the memorial garden of perennial pollinators. Under a yellow stone that lived under the Magnolia tree.

Finally, at Yellowstone National Park, with the elk watching patiently at Indian Creek.

Sun, my Beloved, my partner and my “halfside.”

You are home and you are free…

What is next for you and for me?


What I do know is you are always with me.

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