Some of my earliest memories are of my sister, BJ, who later preferred to be called Elizabeth. Each of my three siblings, all older than me, had a measurable influence on my life, influences that happened when I was little when they, much older, were mostly ignoring me (I’m not saying that is a bad thing). In the case of Elizabeth, the influence was mainly socio-political. She was the girl that the Catholic school probably regretted admitting because she was trouble, or at least, that’s the sense I got. She was a hippie when being a hippie was the rough equivalent of being gay or black or whatever, in that if you walked down certain streets people would look at you hard, say bad things to you, and occasionally physically attack you. (No illusions here… one could terminate one’s hippie status more easily than one’s status as a black person or a gay person.) She was a principle organizer of Refer and Equinox, organizations designed to help at risk youth, and she organized the famous demonstration against the attack on Attica. And no, she had nothing to do with the bomb that went off on that day in the state office building. Anyway, BJ, er, Elizabeth, was an active and a radical and I came to admire that and became my own sort of activist and radical in my own time.
When I was about 13 or so, she and David, who would be Ben’s father, moved to California, but a funny thing happened to them on the way; they moved to Montana instead. Then divorced, and eventually Elizabeth and John got together and married. I think Elizabeth and John had a good relationship and were very happy with each other. For years, after moving out West, Elizabeth was a reporter for newspapers, for the AP, and eventually, ran her own newspapers (three or four in total, though most people will remember two of them). This was mainly in the Yellowstone area.
After moving to West Yellowstone, Elizabeth fell in love with mountains and the Park and all that. She became an expert fly fisherperson, and was a guide for a while. I don’t know how much they have fished lately, but she and John would fly fish for everything. Catfish. Walleye. But of course, usually trout. Elizabeth also fell in love with the people and the culture of the land. She was the only reporter allowed into Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s compound, probably because she did not automatically assume her to be crazy. I think she came to admire the philosophy of the Sagebrush Rebellion. The leftist radicalism that got her in trouble with the FBI in the early 1970s became what she called “free thinking realism” which to most people I know means, basically, libertarianism.
She was admired and awarded accolades for her journalism. If you ever read much about the Great Fires of Yellowstone, the fights over bison vs. cattle in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, the reintroduction of wolves in the park, or the problems and ethics of tourist-Grizzly bear interaction, you’ve read her work, either as a byline or as an AP report, because she was the reporter on the scene from the 1970s trough the present. And if you’ve visited the Yellowstone area and picked up the local paper, the Yellowstone Gateway Post, that was hers. She eventually returned to her religious roots, left behind quite a long time earlier, to become a form of Christian, but before doing that, she was admitted to a Native American cult and became a Crow Shaman. And so on. Let’s just say she was into a lot of things, and she and John shared an interest in and relationship with Native American issues, both cultural and political.
Wherever Elizabeth lived…a commune named Joy Tribe, a farm in the foothills, West Yellowstone, a small town in the Idaho mountains, she became a core member of a community, a community that probably would not have even existed had she not been there. One could say she was a leader. Others might say she was the irritant that made the pearl form around her. Personally, I don’t think there is a difference.
Elizabeth’s younger child is Ben, and he’s a smart guy who takes the time to think about things and question the received knowledge the world seems to always have ready for us. Elizabeth’s older child is Koren. She and I are only 10 years apart, Elizabeth having been born just under 10 years before me, and Koren before Elizabeth was 20. Korky is one of my favorite people. They are both now adults with kids. Of note is the fact that Ben was born in the log cabin built by Elizabeth, on the outskirts of West Yellowstone. Also of note is that he weighted 10 pounds at the time. Elizabeth has written two novels.
Yesterday, Elizabeth suffered a major aneurysm and quite unexpectedly died at a relatively young age.
You may know Elizabeth as a commenter on this blog, and if you are my Facebook friend, from there. She commented here now and then as Elizabeth, but more often as CalderaGal.
My other sister, Bunny, has written a post on her memories of Elizabeth. They are much more detailed than mine because they were much closer in age, and for a long time lived together, lived as neighbors, or worked together or for related organizations.