It is late afternoon, and the copper vessel of water is now entering St. Croix State Park for the last leg of the journey to the mouth of the Kettle River. Our route so far today has taken us along about 20 miles of roadsides ranging from quiet gravel lanes to busy state highways. Kim and I have been sent ahead to meet the team of walkers in the park; they have a couple miles of trail to walk, and the sun, though it is lower in the sky, is still warm. We will trade off with them if necessary.
At 34,000 acres, St. Croix is Minnesota’s largest state park. The walkers entered on a state trail at the northwest end of the park, but anyone driving into the park needs to take the one main entrance and follow eight miles of winding roads back to where it meets up with the trail. My job duties have taken me along these roads several times in the past, so I am happy I can use my knowledge of the roads to guide the group on this day.
We meet the walkers on the Matthew Lourey State Trail as it winds through the north side of the park. This trail is named for a local helicopter pilot who was killed in the Afghanistan war. I know the Lourey family; Matthew’s nieces and nephews attend school with my kids. I know the family would be honored that the water traveled along a portion of Matthew’s trail.
The gravel road to Head of the Rapids landing, our destination, passes over gently rolling hills covered with deciduous trees and occasional tall, stately pines. The dappled shade and rustling of aspen leaves are a welcome change from the hot sun and roar of vehicles on the highway. The walkers seem to pick up a new energy; sometimes there is singing, or shaking a rattle. For the first time today, I am handed the eagle staff to carry. I can somehow feel its power within me and I hold my head higher, my steps more confident.This eagle staff, along with the copper vessel, have traveled thousands of steps along at least a dozen rivers across the United States. We are walking in solidarity with water protectors around the world.
As sunset approaches, the water arrives at Head of the Rapids. Technically this boat landing is not at the true confluence of the Kettle and St. Croix rivers, but looking at a map of the area, it is hard to tell exactly where one ends and the other begins; they are braided and intertwined with a series of small islands. The water is all one. We gather in a circle to do a ceremony of thanks for this water that is life. We sing:
Ne-be Gee Zah- gay- e- goo (Water, we love you)
Gee Me-gwetch -wayn ne- me — goo (We thank you)
Gee Zah Wayn ne- me- goo (We respect you)
(words by Doreen Day)
*At the time of this writing, Sharon Day is leading a Nibi Walk along the Potomac River. For more information on Nibi Walks, please visit http://www.nibiwalk.org/ . You can follow the progress of the Potomac River walk on the Facebook group “Nibi Walks”.
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