The day before yesterday, just uphill, I spotted Matthew huddled by the roadside. I know his name only because I asked and he responded, grinning through his missing teeth.
So that’s how far he’s come by now, I thought. Matthew has been the subject of conversation here in Dubois: our very own homeless guy for a brief while. Not settling down here. Passing through.
Someone spotted him first out east in Crowheart, laboring forward with his overloaded shopping cart. Then he was found sleeping in the town park, and later seen shopping in the Family Dollar, loading his cart with food.
Back in New York City, overdressed homeless folks with shopping carts are a common sight, and one usually avoided rather than watched. Here people offered help, and rides, which Matthew refused. As I too found, he doesn’t want to say much and doesn’t accept offers of help.
Like everyone else, as he said he was headed up the pass I worried about exposure, and about bears. That shopping cart loaded with food is surely bear bait.
“I’ll be all right,” he said. “I know what to do.”
On my morning bicycle ride today, I came across another young man by the roadside with his backpack, heading the other way (toward town). “Are you all right?” I asked.
“Oh, yes!” he said brightly. Quite a different fellow indeed.
“Are you hiking the Continental Divide trail?” I asked. He nodded, and then asked how far it was to town and whether he would find cellphone signal there.
This is the second man I’ve met in as many weeks passing through town for a break from the Continental Divide trail. It’s a good place for respite: You can sleep overnight in the Episcopal church (but please behave yourself), and there are showers for a dollar at the laundromat.
Dubois feels about as far from Syria or Greece as you can get, but we do see some refugees of a sort. We are decidedly remote here. Perhaps exactly for that reason, we have migrants passing through now and again–people walking alone, on their way somewhere, or nowhere, perhaps in search of themselves as much as any particular place.
What drives these lone men to travel the highway on foot and sleep outdoors in the wilderness? Not exactly political persecution, I hope, or fear of brutality. Who knows what demons they are escaping and what refuge they seek?
Here we don’t want to intrude or probe, and won’t press anyone to accept help if refused. We wish them well on their way, and maybe worry (or pray) for a while.
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© Lois Wingerson 2015