It was hard saying goodbye to my sweet husband, but I look forward to his visit downriver. I put 848 miles behind me just to begin this journey, most of them Interstate – mile after mile of homogenized America where one state is hardly distinguishable from another. Fortunately for me, I am easily entertained. I was reminded of the dolphins who sleep with one-half of their brain at a time, while the other half takes care of business. After weeks of intense left-brained preparations, the right brain felt like a kid kept indoors for too many rainy days – playtime was needed! So, the left brain watched the road, the traffic and the countless green interstate signs while the right was allowed to frolic and follow whatever nonsensical bit of whimsy it cared to entertain. And there was no shortage of that!
I stopped for lunch in Iowa and as I snuggled in for a close-up of this family of Holsteins, I heard the clip-clop-clip-clop of a horse and turned to see an Amish buggy. I waited until it passed me, then turned to take a shot of it from behind and was surprised to see this young girl swinging her bare feet in the hot August sun.
Eventually the road delivered me here – the North country – the land of wild rice and loons and yah-sure-you-betcha’s. There’s something delightful about the Minnesota accent – there’s a lilt to it that makes whatever they are saying sound cheerful. There does seem to be a preponderance of robust, good-natured, outdoorsy folks who appreciate what they have here. I’m in a cabin in the woods and the only internet is up at the bar & grill – so when I have this ready to post I’ll head back up there.
The birthplace of the Mississippi is in Itasca State Park, a little south and west of Bemidji. The Mississippi River is a shallow stream here that tumbles out of Lake Itasca. When I arrived yesterday, it was filled with families taking pictures of each other as they waded across. When I went back this morning to be there for the first sunrise of this journey, I was alone with the River. Thoughts, questions and emotions swirled briefly, then a profound stillness settled in and there was only gratitude. There is no expectation of how these 90 days will be, just curiosity and appreciation for the opportunity. So, it begins.
Before I left home, I received a phone call from Terry Larson, who lives near here. His grandparents owned land along this first stretch of the River and now it belongs to Terry and his siblings. He loves the land, the River and everything living here with a passionate and yet innocent enthusiasm. He is a wise and knowledgeable river guide and he generously offered his time to share it with me. We met first yesterday afternoon and he drove me around in the rain, showing me where he grew up, the one-room schoolhouse he attended, where his grandparents are buried and glimpses of the tiny river as it winds through marshes thick with wild rice. A book could be written about Terry alone, and I’ll tell you more later, but for now – one of the things he told me was that he had recently seen a huge Timber Wolf in the woods. He said it was solid black and stopped the truck to open the door and show me how tall it had been. I was amazed and intrigued.
This morning, after being at the source of the Mississippi for sunrise, I decided to take Wilderness Drive, an 11-mile loop road within the park that winds through some enormous ancient woods and periodically opens into gorgeous lake views. I was driving slowly with the window down, hearing the birds and breathing deeply the crisp air. I came around a curve and there he was in the road before me, perhaps 30 feet away. I would never have known what I was seeing, but because of Terry’s description there was no doubt. His stance seemed proud and strong, head up, no fear – then he effortlessly disappeared into the woods. My heart was in my throat and I could only say, “Thank you. Thank you.” Terry tells me that many people live their entire lives here and never see one, and that their territory can be a 10-mile radius so it was likely the same one he had seen. I felt the journey had been blessed.
There is more to tell about this first day – much more. But it’s late now and there will be another sunrise to greet tomorrow. In the words of my new friend, Terry, “See you downriver.” Gayle