"Don't go to White Earth," said the service man.
"That's exacly where I am going," I said.
"Don't pick up any hitchhikers," he said.
"I never do no matter where I am. There are risks everywhere," I said.
I had stopped along the state road to Itasca State Park to get my car serviced and to ask a few questions of the locals. I had told the man who owned the tire store about where I was headed and asked if I was on the right path. After assuring me that I was, he gave me the above warning. A conversation ensued about the efforts of Winona LaDuke and her Ojibwa tribe to protect the mighty Mississipi, all the beautiful lakes covering Northern Minnesota and the wild rice harvests in the wetlands at the headwaters of the Mississippi from the Tar Sands pipeline. Mr. Davis was underwhelmed to say the least; it was quite clear he wasn't a fan. He turned his attention to a tanned man in shorts who walked in who was obviously a friend. Their conversation turned to the man's property in Florida and Hurricane Irma. The man was one of the so called snowbirds who summer in their homes in the North and spend the winters at their places in Florida.
After a while Mr. Davis told the man who I was and where I was headed.The man went to his car and brought back a map to show me exactly where the roads were that would take me to the State Park and eventually to Minneapolis where I would spend the night. I thanked the man, paid for the service and left. As I drove from the tire store, I thought briefly about the two conversations and the matters of importance that seemed to be so different between the two men and me. I was thinking about Mother Earth and the things that sustain us; those men seemed to be thinking about property. Thoughts of politics and property left me as I became absorbed in the beauty around me.
It was a spectacular early fall day and the sparkle of the sun against this backdrop reflected beautifully the slogan "Land of a Thousand Lakes." My first stop was the Native Harvest building located just beyond the entrance to the White Earth Reservation. I was finally here! To my dismay I just missed Winona LaDuke but the lady who waited on me was friendly and helpful.
The first thing I did was purchase two pounds of the wild rice and a hooded sweatshirt that said, "Got Land?" on the front and "Thank an Indian" on the back. Claire wrote directions to the Park on a sheet of paper that included sites along the way that might be of interest - many settlements on one of the gorgeous lakes that were still under the control of the Ojibwa. What a lovely conversation we had about our heritage, what movtivated us to do what we were doing and our mutual love and respect for Mother Earth. I left my email with her and requested to be kept up to date on the movement to protect our water. As I drove through the scenic wonder that was around me, I noticed a camp on my left not far from the entrance to the Park. I had seen pictures of this camp on line. This was the center of the resistance movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Minnesota now as well as the Tar Sands pipeline. Since my phone's battery now had sufficient charge, I got out of the car and took a picture from the hilly easement on the road above. A woman in shorts and hiking boots with lots of tatoos and purple hair walked to the edge of the property and said, "No pictures, please."
I apologized profusely and said I intended no disprect. I explained that I was on a trip to find out first hand what was happening in these places of resistance so I could blog about the experience and get the information out that was accurate and not shaded with bias. At that, she invited me to come and meet "the property owner."
A man dressed in jeans and a faded shirt came out and introduced himself as Bill and explained that the name of the site was Turtle Island. That name would become quite significant when I reached the headwaters of the Mississippi. Bill asked if I minded if he smoked. I said, "Yes, I am extremely allergic to cigarette smoke." His response was quite different from other responses when I say this to other people. He quietly put his cigarette out and offered me a chair in a circle around a campfire and a cup of coffee. When he returned with my coffee, he sat down next to me and the girl "Red Hawk" walked over to us with a smoking container. Bill wafted the smoke as did I. The smoke had quite a peaceful, relaxing quality reminding me of younger days and bon fires lighting the autumn sky as summer's sun waned in the autumn night. Bill told me of his work and that he had been at Standing Rock. When the camp was cleared, Bill said he realized a lot of the people had no where to go, so he brought them to his land where they were staying. He invited me to go with him to the settlement "over the hill," but I declined. I wasn't afraid but the hour was late and I wanted to get to Lake Itasca before dark.
As we were talking, Bill said this about the work he was doing, "this is the way I can be forgiven." I did not question him about it but I wondered what he wanted forgiveness for. He had told me he was a Vietnam veteran, was it that? Maybe it was forgiveness for his part in allowing so much harm to be done to Mother Earth before speaking up. I certainly need forgiveness for that. As I stood up to leave, Bill pointed to a red jurt I remembered seeing in posts from Standing Rock. He said the jurt was a gift from the people at Rosebud Camp (Standing Rock) because he had provided the medical aid there. He invited me to go in and take a look.The walls of the jurt were lined with bottles and jars of various herbs and other alternative medicines. Bill said he was a spiritual healer and that at present he was treating his wife for multiple schlerosis. I asked him what that involved. His answer did not surprise me. He said he couldn't divulge the spiritual content of the treatment. I understood. As I stood in the jurt, I thought about Mr. Davis' warning about going to White Earth and I thought about Meme in Glacier Bay National Park. I felt a sense of remorse that our western society is so far removed from the ancient methods of holistic healing that keep our pysical bodies strong and healthy by connecting us to he source of our well being. I also felt remorse that our society continues to absorb all the toxins we spread across our air, land and water and then destroy our health even further with so called "health care." I thought about these 21st Century concerns as I drove once again into the past toward the source of the might Misizehi (river spread over a large area) which the Algonquins knew long before the Ojibwa guide Ozaawindih gudded Henry Rowe Schoocraft to its beginnings in 1832.
The first monument at the entrance to the historical walk to the headwaters is the statue of Turtle Woman. Unfortunately, I didn't take the time to write specifics about the sculpture itself but I do remember what the piece of art work embodies. It is the sculpture of the "first woman" of what the Ojibwa call Turtle Island who was given the responsibilty of protecting the waters of this precious live sustaining resource. Americans know this well because we took it over from those who had protected it for centuries and now we are destroying it in the name of progress. I thought about Winona LaDuke and her work as I stood there.
I walked on toward the actual headwaters reading much about the how the United States explorers came to this point and was happy to know that the state of Minnesota is protecting this important treasure. As I walked to the beginning of this mighty river, I thought how easy it was going to be to actually walk across a river that I had only been able to cross on a bridge or boat before. I was filled with a sense of gratitude and brought to tears as I sat down and took off my shoes. When I stepped into the water, I had an unexpected surprise.
The water was pleasantly cool and felt so good against my skin, but the strong current was unexpected. I was also barefoot and became aware of how soft the skin on my feet had become. I had a great deal of difficulty walking over the gravel covering the entire expanse of ankle deep water. As I hobbled across, I smiled for a female tourist who was taking my picture, but my feet really hurt! The light was starting to fade so I only went inside the interpretive center to go to the bathroom before leaving for Park Rapids, the destination the gentlemen had circled on the map along with directions of a "short cut" to Minneapolis. Upon arrival in Park Rapids, a beautiful resort town located on the road to Itasca State Park, I stopped and had a pizza and left for Minneapolis on what was to be a 3 hour trip to Minneapolis, getting me to my hotel in downtown Minneapolis (my one splurge) about 10:00 CDT.
I spent one and one-half hours following the directions given to me at the tire store and after one and one-half hours of driving I found myself back in Park Rapids at the place where I had eaten the pizza! Frustrated, I called the Best Western in Minneapolis and told the desk clerk I would be late and explained what happened. I asked him if he could give me directions to the hotel from I-94 E because I knew how to get there from where I was. I was astounded! He had no idea! Frustrated, I hung up and pulled over and plugged what I thought was the address into my phone and hoped my battery had enough charge to at least get me close to the hotel. I relaxed a bit when I heard Siri's voice starting the directions. Oddly enough, I recognized the state roads I was driving through from the gentleman's directions. I don't know where I went wrong but after two hours I was now leaving Park Rapids on the "short cut" through nice cities but where the speed limit was certainly not 70 mph. I finally arrived at the entrance to I 94 E and breathed a sigh of relief. I looked at the clock and the amount of time left on my phone. My arrival time was now midnight - still reasonable.
What a mess I 94 was! I have never been on an Interstate so torn up for miles upon miles with orange cones and construction. Arrival time? 1:00 am. I learned the next day that the reason for all the chaos was preparation for the Super Bowl. Ugh! My dislike of anything football began to rise adding to my stress level, so I started to breathe and think only about getting to my hotel safely. As I entered downtown Minneapolis, I began to think I was not on the right path. Oh dear! When Siri told me I had arrived at my destination, I saw no hotels only private residences. I looked at my phone; I somehow didn't have the right address. So I called my friendly desk clerk once again asking him for the correct address and explained where I was and that my phone was losing charge - could he give me some directions? No. Heavy sigh. Plugging in the correct address I worked on trying to understand the street layout in case Siri died on me. It was now 1:00 am. My relief and gratitude overcame anything else as I saw the Best Western in the distance. I won't continue with my parking efforts on one-way streets but I finally went to bed at 2:30 in the morning with a wake up call for 8:00 am.
Before I went down to breakfast I looked at this wonderful room that was probably as large as my studio apartment and sighed that all these appointments had such little use. I had taken a luxurious bath the night before - hot baths relax me and this one did help. The breakfast was delicious and the server was efficient and somewhat helpful in telling me how to get to the statue of Mary Tyler Moore which was walking distance from the hotel, but maybe I'm too used to southern hospitality now. I felt the same sense of polite distance I had felt from the men at the tire store the day before. Relaxed and energized albeit suffering from sleep deprivation, I headed toward the statue of Mary Tyler Moore. The sidewalks in downtown Minneapolis were just as bad as I-94 and the statue is no longer outdoors but inside the visitor's center. I felt a bit of a let down as I threw my hat into the air for the gentleman in charge of the tourist center. Although it wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be I actually felt after that experience, this end was a fitting finale to my journey and "I think I'm going to make it after all."