Wind River, Memory and Movie

You know how movie reviews are: you may read them to see what others think, but you will never know what you think of the movie, unless you experience its story. Never . . .


So, I will give Wind River three stars out of an original five in my possession. But, that’s a high rating because I gave one star to the Trimet Studios version of “Hey Leon . . .” elsewhere on WaughPaper, and I gave another star to a dear friend. That leaves three, and Wind River gets them all.

But first this: my earliest memory of life on this earth is Wind and River. I have a clear recollection of it, even right now sitting outside at Starbucks in Portland where it is sunny and 68. Ideal conditions for nearly anything–but especially cognition and physical efficiency–that is, according to an article in Scientific American and my own life experience as a human. I’m in a physical body that has been exposed to temperatures from Fahrenheit 16 below zero in Johnson City, TN to at least 120 degrees inside a mail truck outside Portland, OR this past summer. That is no exaggeration; last summer we hit 105 degrees and I measured the metal walls of my mail truck at over 140, making the air temperature in the moving convection oven, let’s say 120 degrees.

So, 68 degrees right now, and I can remember Wind and River . . .

I was standing at the edge of a picnic table, and I could at times walk under it. Walk under a picnic table. OK, I could toddle under it. I remember doing so, and I remember my dad over to the side of the picnic site preparing something, maybe getting a fire ready. I remember Mom puttering around the outdoor kitchen. Anywhere on earth can be a kitchen when Mom is around. I am not making this up: she once cooked, by herself, an entire traditional thanksgiving meal of roasted turkey and fresh bread rolls, plus everything else, in a cabin on a mountain in the Ozarks that had only a wood stove for heat and cooking. No electricity and only lanterns for light, and we were SO thankful for Mom.

Mom was puttering around and Dad was chopping or gathering and I remember Wind. On my face was a gentle breeze in the chill air, but oh the sound above and beyond! A rushing through the aspen leaves above us, whispers to me now. It is the sound of a dozen thousand sopranos and seven hundred tenors enunciating “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . .” in a seamless high rustle of quiet majesty. Then at times the volume would increase and the wind reached lower as the sound became higher and I could feel, smell, and hear the wind. And I could see it in the aspen leaves as they moved and I could taste it as the air hit my tiny tongue.

Wind. There is only one other sound like it, and that is River.

River. I could and can hear it too. I can here it . . .

Another layer beyond Wind, and deeper, this is a part voiced by the altos and basses in the beyond-earthly choir. “Ruuuuushuuuuuushhhhh, ruushhhshuuuuushuuuushhhhh . . .” as the endless flow moved stones deeply and living things moved within the flow, and the water, it was wearing away the sides of rock in geologic time, slower even than tree time, but just as surely.

I was two years old when this happened to me, and I am a fair bit older as it is happening to me now. I told Mom my memory and she said yes, we lived in Lander, WY and you were barely two. We had a picnic at Sinks Canyon. Sinks Canyon State Park is in the Wind River Mountains, six miles southwest of Lander, Wyoming on highway 131. Ring samples from some of the trees date them to as early as A.D. 1649, although the aspens are much younger. And the river is the “Popo Agie” (pronounced po-PO-shuh), and it is taken to mean “gurgling river” in the Crow language.

And that brings us finally to the movie, a review (with no spoilers) only in the sense that Robert Farrar Capon’s luscious book, The Supper of the Lamb is a cookbook. It appears, usually, in the cookery section of the library or better bookstores, and the first words are “Let me begin without ceremony. LAMB FOR EIGHT PERSONS FOUR TIMES.” But, this is no cookbook. It is rich, multilayered (like chapter two entitled “The First Session” which is entirely about an onion, but oh so much more), and worth reading many times. For years I read it every spring, and I believe I will begin again in the spring of 2018.

The first scene of Wind River is a flock of sheep in a pastoral scene. Then you see a wolf, looking for the weak among them, gradually, stealthily moving in for a kill. Then a crack! The true sound of a rifle shot, not usually heard in a movie, it is a sign of greatness already. The captured sound, it is a high CRACK! and then the lower pitched echo of sound . . . and just before you hear the sounds, you see the effect. An instantaneous, mathematically precise piercing of wolf fur, and then splashing and spreading blood, revealing flesh, and the wolf is thrown back by the force, and it lies in the grass while the sheep run toward a man on a horse.

I’m in a small theatre in the center, perfect seats, sitting next to my Portland daughter, in whose veins our native Shawnee blood runs deep, and I am thinking . . .

All we really knew about the movie, was that it was a murder mystery set on the Wind River reservation. And already Wind is Spirit and River is Love .  . . But now sheep and a wolf? I am aware of symbols and depth.

The scene shifts to a town, and the camera zooms out (a pull back shot) to reveal the sign outside the town. Welcome to . . . LANDER, WYOMING. My mind shifted to two years old, and everything in my life since then passed across my mind’s periphery while I prepared myself for the unknown that was to come. In the movie. But in my life, right now, while I am typing, there are unknowns to come. And, I WILL NOT take my eyes off the story, will not shy away from a full, immersive experience. And I am not at all afraid.

At one point, after tears began to fall down my cheek, I reached into my backpack for something to soak up the soul seeping and I felt a handkerchief. I pulled it out, and it was one of Dad’s, the source of half my blood, native, running deep, sure, strong. It is red, and so is this piece of cloth. I may never wash it. I might, instead, sprinkle some of his ashes onto it, and keep it close to my heart until my final breath. It was that kind of movie for me, and for my daughter . . .

The movie is rated R, and is a restricted viewing movie in the true, accurate sense for only those of you who want to be enthralled by: love lost, betrayal, evil unleashed, mystery, the horror of what the U.S. government has done and continues to do to its own native population, despair, redemption, love found, forgiveness, survival, and loyalty. Only those of you interested in those themes should experience it. So, for all the others, it is restricted to a DVD with pizza some night . . .

Wind River. 

Wind. River.