May 8, 2002

We had a leisurely morning yesterday, which was a nice recovery from earlier in the week. We weren’t complete couch potatoes, though, and we got ourselves up and ready in time to meet Joe Campbell for lunch. We ate at the Treasure Island Casino, which is on the Prairie Island Reservation where Joe lives. The all-you-can-eat buffet was a treat, and we all ate until we almost burst. Joe didn’t get a chance to finish his food, though, because he was too busy telling us about his beliefs, traditions, and pursuits as an anti-nuclear activist.

He told us about his involvement in national committees, where he struggles to ensure environmental safety. He repeated over and over again that he does not think or act conventionally. My favorite story in this regard was about one of the nuclear committees whose meetings were usually in the form of conference telephone calls. He would call up and not announce his presence, so that when the authorities thought everyone had hung-up, he was still listening to their conversation. By doing this he discovered what was really going on, and he was able to argue his case effectively.

His cause is primarily to protect the people of the world and his reservation from the devastation of nuclear harm. Currently the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant is producing more nuclear waste than it has space to store. Around the country nuclear waste is compounding and often it is disposed of in Native American tribal land. He hopes to teach people about the danger of nuclear reactors and their waste, and about the reality of nuclear racism, as he calls it. Were something serious to go wrong at the Prairie Island Plant, he and all the tribal members on his reservation would have no place to live. And if they do not live on their reservation for more than six months, they legally lose their claim to the land. They didn’t ask for the plant to be their neighbor, he says.

We also learned a great deal about Native American tradition. Joe gave us each a small pinch of tobacco. He explained that each morning this is what he burns as he asks the spirits for permission to do what he is going to do that day. This way, everything is right. He said that before hunting for food, he asks that type of animal for permission. Then when he goes out to hunt, an animal gives itself over to him because he has asked.

We drove to a site that contained many burial mounds and he described the burial process, He went on to tell us about the many forms of evil that are buried beneath the ground that can be awoken by digging. He called these the rainbow serpent. Anytime a person digs more than two hands (the length of two hands) in the ground, he or she awakens the rainbow serpent. This is why when you see water that has fallen on oil, you can see a rainbow.
We talked in the woods for a couple hours as a storm was building in the distance. When the thunder and lightning seemed to be aimed directly towards us, we walked back to the car and left. Later, when I was driving only with Joe and John, Joe told us that in the woods he had been on the verge of telling us too much, and that the storm had come to stop him from disclosing private tribal information. I though this was cool to think about, until I remembered that we were driving straight through a tornado warning. All I could do was hope that he wouldn’t tell us anything off-limits until we were far away from the storm.

Back in Red Wing we headed over the YMCA to play. There was a Jacuzzi and a big pool, so we relaxed and then practiced our water volleyball technique. It was a lot of fun, and it was good to get clean.

Looking back on the whole day, all I can do is smile when I remember that I’m got school credit for hanging out with Joe Campbell and swimming at the YMCA. I hope my classmates are having as much fun as I am.

May 7, 2002

Yesterday morning we welcomed Peggy and Desmond to the boat. It was über cool to see friends from the big city. Peggy had to leave right away, but she gave us a care-package of cookies from my parents and all of her best wishes. The rest of us jumped into John’s Minivan and shuttled back to Wabasha to visit the National Eagle Center. The past few days it seems like we’ve been backtracking on land while we’re heading forward on the boat. Ike promises that we’ll make it to St. Paul by Friday.

The Eagle Center was really interesting. We learned a lot about eagles, both bald and golden. It was quite the operation—just check out the pictures. All of our international companions were given a dose of traditional US patriotism. The eagles were very majestic, and I thought they were nice until one of them hit me in the face with its wing. After the eagle presentation we talked with Mary, a representative from the center, about the effects that damming the river has on the native animals. She then went on to tell us about her hypotheses for the future of the river economy. She was very concerned about the drilling that may or may not occur in the arctic. Her theories about international manipulation made me feel like I was in a James Bond movie…maybe I am.

From Wabasha we drove to the White Water River Valley where we met Dave Palmquist. He taught us about the geological history of the area. The southeastern corner of Minnesota is unique in history and physical form. This area was not impacted by severe glaciation, so instead of huge lakes, it is filled with high bluffs and low flood planes. We had a beautiful view, but the wind and rain took a little bit away from the moment. Most of us adjusted to the colder weather, but Desmond never did. He stayed bundled up in sweatshirts, a jacket, gloves and a hat, never acclimating to our cold spring weather. I wish I lived in Jamaica…
We drove to a short but steep bluff so we could look at and discuss the biodiversity in the area. Our "hike" turned into a scramble as we made our way up the bluff. It was slippery from the rain and there were a couple of times that I didn’t think I’d be able to make it up. We all did, though, and the view was spectacular. We talked about the many types of plants and animals that thrive in this unique bluff environment. Climbing back down the hill, though, was harder than it looked. I found myself wishing for snow and a pair of skis.
Before we left for Red Wing, we got to play with Dave’s Rattlesnake. And by play, of course, I mean look at in terror while he held on a long pole. It concerns me a little that there are rattlers in Minnesota, but I think I’ll be safe in St. Paul.

We made a stop at a grocery store before getting on the boat for the evening. Grocery stores are some of my favorite places…they’re filled with food! We just hung out on the boat all night because it was too cold to go outside. John, our brave and fearless leader set-up a tent on the barge and slept outside. He must be crazy—he stayed out during the storm. But whatever floats his boat. (Ha Ha.)

May 6, 2002

Last night we made plans to wake up this morning in time to get to Winona by 10:30 am. A change in the weather made Ike decide to head out early this morning—so we were up and out of the boat by 6:30 am. It was pretty early, but it would have been okay, but for the storm we had last night. Around midnight the wind picked up, and the tornado sirens went-off. I was a little concerned because usually I run to my basement when I hear the sirens, but the Lilly Belle’s basement is the Mississippi—and I didn’t want to weather out the storm underwater. Thankfully the sirens stopped and the storm passed, but it was exciting while it lasted.

Winona was beautiful this morning, so it was worth losing a couple hours of sleep. We walked through town to get some coffee and took pictures as Ike pulled away from the dock. A fine mist covered the surface of the river and the setting was almost surreal. We had plenty of time in Winona so we headed to the YMCA for another shower, and then for a hearty American breakfast at a local café.

We got a great tour of the We-no-nah canoe factory. I learned all I ever wanted to know (and then some) about how to make a canoe. The production was really interesting and the whole process required a great deal of attention to detail and precision. I think the smell inside would have gotten to me, but it didn’t seem to phase the workers. I’m excited to share my new knowledge of canoe design with my wilderness-bound friends when I get back home.

We spent an hour or so at the top of a Winonan bluff, overlooking the city. The sun was shining and I was napping. It was wonderful. We then headed to the Pickwick mill for a tour. The 1858 building was six stories tall, and was built without using a single bolt or nail. I was thoroughly impressed. The whole structure was fascinating and the design was hand-built and incredibly complex. My physics teacher could have covered at least three units in this historic mill, and that made me smile.

After a quick pit stop at dairy queen, we drove towards Pepin, through the land of cheese (Wisconsin) to our appointment with danger. We strapped on our harnesses and climbed up into the trees for a high-ropes course. I was very brave going into the adventure. All I’ve ever wanted to do is fly, and I figured this would help me on my way towards defying gravity someday. It turns out I have a ways to go. As you’ll probably see in the pictures, I spent a great deal of time hugging the poles that were firmly attached to the ground. I did venture out onto the ropes and wires, and though I never fell, I was really glad that I was attached to the wires above me. The best and scariest part was the way down. We slid, one by one, down a zip-chord to the ground.

We met-up with Ike and the Lilly Belle in Redwing just in time for dinner. We went into town and ate while I played with the jukebox. We’re back on the boat for the night, and tomorrow Desmond is going to join us on the river. I’m really excited to add another member to our floating party.

May 5, 2002

I woke up this morning when we were already cruisin’ on the river. We made good time heading towards Wabasha and the weather was much better than yesterday. I got a chance to drive the boat, which was a lot of fun. I steered on our way into the Alma lock and dam. I was worried that I’d have to do some intricate maneuvering, but Ike gracefully took back the helm when we got up to the lock. Driving the boat was definitely more peaceful than driving a car. I had a lot more freedom on the water than the freeway.

Around lunchtime we docked in town here in Wabasha. We had some trouble getting the boat centered at the dock and had a lot of pushing and pulling to do before we finally settled. I have now perfectly mastered the art of cleating the ropes on the boat. And I’m even more proud of my newly callused hands. My mom’ll be happy that I’m well on my way to being a sailor.

We got a chance to explore the area around town this afternoon, and took a trip to see the local sand dunes. Once we got into the dry, grassy, rolling hills, I couldn’t believe that I was still in Minnesota. The area was beautiful, but seemed out of place along the Mississippi River. We even saw a prickly pear cactus, and I did my best not to sit on it. (I had an unfortunate encounter with a cactus several years ago in Colorado.) I was really excited to hike in the dunes, not only because it was an area I’d never seen before, but I’d been itching for some exercise since we got on the boat on Friday.

We ate out (outside) for the first time tonight, which was great. We cooked burgers and onions on Ike’s grill, and sat at the table and watched a storm roll in from up-river. We had barely finished eating when it began to rain. It’s pouring now, but the lighting is fantastic. The waves aren’t too big, but the boat is rocking more than usual. The rain sounds really soothing on the boat and the river. I’m sure that it’ll be a good night’s sleep.

May 4, 2002

I woke up yesterday morning to Ike’s chiming clock and chirping parrot. The sun was shimmering on the river and I imagined that half the day had already passed me by. But I looked at my watch, and it was only 6:30 am. Up early and down late at night sure makes a girl tired. I’m going to need a nap one of these days.

Our first adventure of the morning was a canoe trip into the backwaters of Latch Island near Winona. The area is home to over 100 people who live on the water. Their houses float on about 80 empty barrels each on the Mississippi. These clever Minnesotans sacrifice electricity and plumbing for waves and a lack of property tax. We met a couple residents and they seemed just as eccentric as their floating houses. I decided that when I finally get around to writing a book I’m going to move out to this floating town and write in peace.

We crossed back to Winona and went into town to find a small piece of Minnesota’s history for Alex’s project. He, Hannah, and I explored the local history museum. As the "resident documentary maker" (or so John has labeled me) I got most of the museum on film, and hopefully Alex will be able to put it to good use. We went straight from the museum to the local YMCA for a shower. For you, my friend, reading my account from your plumbing-equipped home, a shower may not seem like such a big deal. I, however, am sharing a small floating room with my two German companions; and for us, the prospect of a shower was hard to resist.

When we finished our tour of the city, we set-off in the Lilly Belle for a paddle up the river. I spent most of the trip talking with Alex while we watched the scenery go by through the window. We played on the acoustic guitar that John brought along for the trip. We gave our boat-mates quite the performance of traditional German songs and my favorite bass lines and jazz tunes.

It was much colder and windier yesterday than Friday had been, so we all stayed inside until we needed to stop for the night. We pulled-up next to an island but before we got close enough to tie-up, the boat hit bottom. Alex and I pushed and pushed with poles against the shore while Ike put the boat into reverse. Our trusty captain was just about to jump into the river to lift the Lilly Belle off the Mississippi’s floor, when Alex and I finally pushed us free. We pulled up along the bank away from the island and spent the night just yards away from the railway tracks. It was loud, but aside from the occasional train, it was another peaceful night on the river.

Now we're all sitting outside in Wabasha, (the home of Grumpy Old Men), writing our journals. Every time we pull into port I feel like I am in a zoo…but on display. Right now, Alex and I are sitting on the swing while we write and the same five people have been staring at the Lilly Belle and us for at least 20 minutes. We seem to be on the coolest boat around. I mean hey, we have a 3/4-size Harley replica onboard.

May 3, 2002

Our first day on the Lilly Belle was incredible! We had a fantastic send-off from Dakota. The students there sure knew their stuff about the Mississippi. Plus, their musical performances were great. Peggy was right; I felt like a rock-star. The best part of our afternoon was our final descent from the park to the boat. We paraded through a tunnel of cheers and high-fives, like movie stars going to the Oscars. It was great!

On the boat we got ourselves settled, chose beds, and then hung-out. As Alex said, "Life is sure hard…" I think I’m going to have to be pried-off the river when we get back to St. Paul. The scenery is almost surreal. The overhanging bluffs are covered with green, red, and orange-tinted trees. The stratified rocks are so majestic that all I could do was sit on the swinging chair and take it all in. I can’t believe that I’ve lived in Minnesota all my life and I haven’t seen all of this until now.

We pulled into Winona for the night and took a walk around town. The architecture here is gorgeous, and for one of the earliest communities in Minnesota, it sure is still thriving. Alex, Hannah L. and I took a nice walk before dinner. We had spaghetti with tomato sauce, which I must say was delicious. (I was on cooking duty.) We turned-in around midnight, after listening to music (Bob Marley, Crosby Stills and Nash, and one of Alex’s CD’s from Germany.)

We haven’t been on the water for even 24 hours and already I feel perfectly at home. I’ve learned so much about Neuss, and how similar to and different it is from St. Paul. I’ve gotten to meet some great people, some on board the Lilly Belle, and some who just stopped by to say hello and look at our floating home. This trip is going to be awesome!

Center for Global Environmental Education
Hamline University Graduate School of Education
1536 Hewitt Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55104-1284
Phone: 651-523-2480 Fax: 651-523-2987
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