Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Indian summer


Yesterday, on a day made purely in heaven, we hiked along the western shore of Lake Itasca, to a point--well, have a look. Thousands take that hike annually, I'm sure, but yesterday just about the only folks out there were, like us, portly aging boomers, other couples, probably just retired. In all that sunshine and amid all that beuaty, we greeted each other happily, like brothers and sisters.

I don't think I would have made a frontiersman. I lack two principle characteristics: I'm neither handy nor hearty enough. I'm all thumbs when it comes to fixing things; I could write the journal but someone else would have to patch the canoe.

And, I don't think I'm hearty enough either. My mother claims that when the doctor carried me into the room, almost 63 years ago now, she (yes, the doctor who pulled me into this world was a woman) said she could throw me out into a field and I'd make it--that's how healthy I was. Healthy, maybe, but not hearty. I've cleaned more than my share of pit toilets when I worked for the DNR; and, once upon a time, like the proverbial bear, by necessity I defecated in the woods. Once is enough. Give me a good old Kohler throne. I like reading all that wilderness stuff, but I'm not made of the mettle.

Nonetheless, it's a thrill to stand out on a promontory like we did yesterday, looking across the shimmering waters of a clear-water Minnesota lake like Itasca. For the most part, we were there alone so my imagination had some joyous free roam, which I eagerly indulged.

The first white guy--aside from the French trappers and wilderness types--to put his name down in the area was, of all things, something of an ethnologist, a man named Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. That he was there to have a look at the Ojibwe is somehow wonderful, in my book. He wasn't there to fight or to cut down their timber or buy up expensive lakefront footage. He was there to watch, to record, to listen, to understand.

I like that.

Here's part of what he found, in his own words:

Their government has been deemed a paradox, at the same time exercising, and too feeble to exercise power. But it is not more paradoxical than all patriarchial governments, which have their tie in filial affection, and owe their weakness to versatility of opinion. War and other public calamities bring them together, while prosperity drives them apart. They rally on public danger, with wonderful facility, and they disperse with equal quickness. All their efforts are of the partizan, popular kind. And if these do not succeed they are dispirited. There is nothing in their institutions and resources suited for long continued, steady exertion.
I'm sorry, but I can't help it--sounds vaguely familiar.

Anyway, standing out there yesterday, alone, the lakeshore wrapped in a quilt of russet, the azure sky spreading out over us in all directions, Schoolcraft Island out there alone in the water, I couldn't help think of why we call the early 19th century "the Romantic Age." For white people, this incredible, endless land must have been beyond the reach of any one's imagination. Think of being the first white person here. Think of stumbling on the Missouri River valley. Think of seeing the Devil's Tower on the horizon. Think of the endless plains west.

It's no wonder white folks were starry-eyed.

You stand out there on a gorgeous fall day and it's no wonder at all how even old men, aging boomers, could dream dreams.

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