Crossing the Mississippi

The Mississippi’s mighty. But it starts in Minnesota. At a place that you can walk across with five steps down.

Indigo Girls (Ghost)

I’ve lived in Minnesota for all but the first two years of my life. Growing up I was in Saint Paul, which runs along the Mississippi River. Yet, despite living here for four decades, and living near the mighty river, I’ve never taken the three and a half hour drive to see the headwaters at Itasca State Park.

Two years ago (in 2018) we decided to correct this oversight and we planned a 3 night trip that coincided with the Tour de Pines bike event. However, something came up (don’t even remember what anymore) and we postponed the trip till later. We ended up postponing the trip another three times before COVID came along and the DNR cancelled all reservations anyway.

So now, two full years later, we decided to actually follow through and take the trip. We arrived this afternoon, and of course the first thing we did after setting up camp was drive over to the headwaters to check them out. Sure enough there was a small stream flowing over some rocks out of the northern side of Lake Itasca. It was just like the pictures, and since I was wearing my sandals I waded right in.

The water was surprisingly warm, but I guess it shouldn’t have shocked me since the air temps have been in the 80s for quite a while now. I then proceeded to wander across the 30-40 feet of the outflow and claimed a river crossing on foot. The water never even really got up over my calf. I climbed up the beach on the other side and gazed out over the lake.

It’s amazing to think that something miles wide, thousands of miles away, starts and just a small bubbling creek. It’s truly awe inspiring to think that the same water that ran over my legs has a chance to flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s still just a creek coming out of a lake. There’s nothing physically striking about this particular outflow. It looks like many other lake outflows that head into creeks. It’s really more about what it symbolizes, the power of nature to persevere and shape its surroundings, and in turn shape history. Without the Mississippi, much of the country would not be like it is today. Rivers were highways in ages past, and hundreds of towns got their start because they had access to this commercial pipeline. Without it, there would be little reason for many of these places to exist.

Humans are drawn to places of movement and access. Rivers allow us to conduct trade, travel, harvest food, and so many other things. Just like how a few years ago people flocked to the Internet. It’s the modern day equivalent of rivers, carrying information, commerce, and shaping entire lives by it’s presence.

Yet, how we use these pipelines is up to us. Just like rivers can be polluted by muck and waste, so too can our modern pipelines get overrun with shit. It’s important that we think about how we want to shape our future online, as much as we thought about how to treat the waterways of the past.

Not sure how I got onto a diatribe about the Internet, but perhaps being near something monumental brings out the philosopher in me. For now, I’ll end by saying that if you live in Minnesota, it’s worth a trip to see the root of one of the most important features of our state.