The first 681 miles of the Mississippi have been all within the state of Minnesota. At Prescott, Wisconsin, the Mississippi is joined by the St. Croix River and from this point until deep in Louisiana; the river is always a boundary between two states. If you’d like a good visual of the path of the river (and ours), the Mississippi River Parkway Commission has a map that you can expand and contract here.
Somewhere between Elk River and Red Wing, where I am this afternoon, the color of the water has changed to the muddier look most of us know well. The barges on the river are much longer and wider and the river seems to have a more serious, hard-working personality. It’s interesting to notice – this journey is 90 days because the National Park Service estimates a single raindrop will travel that long to reach the Gulf from the headwaters. So far, the look and feel of the river at each point seems to correlate with a human lifespan of 90 years. It was a tiny fragile infant at Itasca, then a frisky, romping toddler at Bemidji, an agile 9-year-old at Cass Lake, an adolescent at Elk River and now on day 21, it feels like an adult, getting about the business of life, gathering waters, doing its job.
Perhaps that is contributing to my introspective mood today. Perhaps also three weeks is long enough to find the natural rhythm of living and working on the road and to allow some questions to present themselves. I’ve been asked various versions of, “What led you to do this?” There are easy answers I can give, depending on who is asking, and they are valid answers, but the question has many levels. It’s easy enough to say what it’s not about. It’s not about gathering or accumulating anything – not photos nor stories, experiences nor knowledge. It’s easy enough to say I am working on a book, but it’s not even about that. I may never be able to say in words what it is about.
But since words are the best tools we have, I will try – at least as I see it from this moment, on this picnic bench. It’s about this breeze that is starting to feel a bit chilly, this trinity of seagulls who seem to be playing with the updrafts and downdrafts simply because they can, the sound of a boat passing by, this breath I am taking right now. Too often, we miss the full experience of the present moment by wishing for something different.
Yesterday in St. Paul, I visited the Science Museum of Minnesota and saw the Dead Sea Scrolls currently on exhibit there. To actually see the fragments of scriptures written at the time Jesus walked the earth was a stunning experience. The lives of the people who placed those scrolls in pottery jars and hid them in caves 2,000 years ago were very different from our own. And yet, they struggled with the same human foibles that we do. All lives have both pleasure and pain – it’s simply the nature of life. But every moment that we can turn our attention away from past or future and bring it to just right now – that is a moment fully lived and appreciated. So, I’m just here on this picnic bench, watching the river and the gulls – and that’s what it’s about, nothing more.
I ended the day watching dusk envelope the town of Red Wing from a high bluff in Memorial Park.
That was yesterday. I slept deliciously and bounded up this morning well before the sun to explore. As much as I have loved Minnesota, there’s something exciting about having new territory in a new state!
From here on south, the Great River Road is often on both sides of the river, so hop scotching is encouraged! And, remember – if you decide to do any part of the GRR, it’s not about sticking to the route or getting from one point to another.
If a road seems to say, “come here” don’t hesitate. You might find something like this…
or an apple orchard.
The Wisconsin GRR in this region curves through rich farm land, past towering bluffs and through some villages that manage to be completely charming without being the least bit cutesy!
At Bay City, the river naturally widens and becomes Lake Pepin, the largest lake on the Mississippi. The morning meeting of the gulls had convened on the dock at the city park,
And so it goes…another day on the Great River Road. Gayle