(Seventeen years ago this weekend, I made a trip to Minnesota to visit an ADF Protogrove and help them hold a ritual near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. When I registered for the upcoming ADF Upper Midwest Retreat last week, I remembered this article I wrote about that earlier trip (complete with photos taken with a non-digital camera), and thought that I should repost it here. Enjoy!
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF)
How do you wake up a sleeping lake in Minnesota? You get a Druid from Michigan to help you! That’s what Roy and Laura Shoemake (of Song of the Hounds Protogrove, ADF) told me, anyway. I’m their grove mentor, as part of ADF’s Grove Organizing Committee, and they asked me to attend their first public ritual on April 3rd, 1999. Obviously it wasn’t a small request, since I don’t head out to Minnesota all that often, but I talked it over with my gods and ancestors, and they thought it was a good idea. So off I went! (Some would say I was off already, of course.)
On Friday, I navigated Fritz (my Ford Festiva) though the holiday airport traffic, barely found a parking spot, and went in. I got checked in and got to the gate a mere fifteen minutes early – whew! Then the plane was half an hour late. Oh well. The flight to Chicago was smooth. It was my first flight in about twenty years, but I loved flying as a kid, so I knew I wouldn’t be upset now, and I was right.
I was flying into Chicago at night
Watching the lake turn the sky into blue green smoke
The sun was setting to the left of the plane
And the cabin was filled with an unearthly glow
In 27D I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out like credits on a movie screen
(Liz Phair, “Stratford-on-Guy”)
After resetting my watch to Central time, I walked about halfway across O’Hare (and realized why everyone who flies frequently tells me that Detroit Metro is an ugly airport: because it is, and O’Hare isn’t) and just barely made my connecting flight to Fargo. After flying for an hour and a half (and seeing nothing but blackness through the window), we landed. Laura was waiting for me, and we made the hour and a half drive to their home, passing by what seemed like several hundred of Minnesota’s Ten Thousand Lakes on the way. (I usually touch my finger to my forehead to acknowledge the spirits of the lakes and rivers I pass when I’m in a car, but that got real old real fast. >8)
The next morning, Jack and Sheri Rector had arrived from Mankato to help out with the ritual. Everything was pretty much ready, except for one little thing: the script. YIPE! Roy and Laura had been busy all week, and hadn’t written any invocations down, and of course they weren’t experienced enough with ADF ritual to improvise. Fortunately, I had just finished working on a solitary adaptation of SLG’s Imbolc ritual, which was chock full of good invocations. (Most of them written by our own Kami Landy. Take a bow, Kami!) Within an hour, the ritual text was ready.
It was about a two-hour drive to Lake Itasca, and we passed by another few hundred lakes on the way. In defiance of Pagan Standard Time, we arrived well before 3 o’clock, to discover that only one of the entrances was open, and only one of the ranger stations was open to sell permits. After driving for another half hour (and another hundred lakes), we made it to the meeting place right on time. Whew! There were about fifteen folks from Orenda North, the eclectic pagan group from the nearby town of Bemidji. (Yes, there’s a real town named Bemidji.)
A few of us went out exploring for a good ritual site. We wandered down a hill, then crossed a small bridge over a stream about twenty feet wide. Could it be…? Yes, it was the Mississippi River. A few minutes later, we were at the headwaters, where the water from Lake Itasca pours out over a bridge of stepping stones and becomes the Mississippi. Most of the lake was frozen over, but the rushing waters were very liquid. (And very cold!)
The headwaters of the Mississippi
The marker: “Here 1475 ft. above the ocean the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico”
We wandered further and uphill to a picnic area with firepits and lots of trees, and behind a hill which protected us from the wind. Perfect! We went back to gather the others, then somehow managed to get all of the ritual gear and potluck food back to the spot. Actually, it wasn’t all that difficult to move the ritual gear, since Song of the Hounds hasn’t built up a huge stash of statuary and altar items like we have. The food took up far more weight. I change into my blue chiton and sandals, but left on my shirt and jeans, as a concession to the cold. (Without the wind, it was in the 40 to 45 degree range.)
Jack and Sheri try to stay warm
Once we had the minimal altars set up (including my Athenian owl, the one personal altar item I’d brought along) and poured water from three sources (the Huron River, the Mississippi, and the lake by the Shoemake’s old home) into the well, we got the ritual started. I’m not used to doing group ritual with a script, so it felt a little awkward, but it seemed to work well. We called upon Brid to warm the waters and the land, and passed around a drinking horn to toast her. (I had a grape soda, and shared it with the kids.)
Roy and Laura making an offering
Roy and Laura taking the omen
After the usual post-ritual socializing in the cold, we packed up and headed home. We stopped by the headwaters again so I could fill up a 3-liter soda bottle with water, then I poured some water from the Huron into the Mississippi and said a quick prayer to the two rivers.
After the drive home was finished (and we nearly lost Jack and Sheri to a wrong turn on the Minnesota country roads), we stayed up way too late looking at Sheri’s beadwork and yapping. (Don’cha know?) And I reset my watch for Daylight Savings before going to bed.
The next morning was Easter Sunday, and Tim and Garrett (and Lady)went questing for hidden candy. It had snowed overnight – maybe that spring ritual didn’t work! Not to worry, though, it all melted by noon. We had breakfast and watched a video (Get Shorty, which I’ve wanted to see for ages), then spent some time discussing the ritual and how they could do it better next time. (Writing the script more than four hours in advance would be a good start. >8) Then we packed into the car and went back to Fargo. And I actually got to see the lakes this time!
The earth looked like it was lit from within
Like a poorly assembled electrical ball as we moved
Out of the farmlands into the grid
The plan of a city was all that you saw
And all of these people sitting totally still
As the ground raced beneath them thirty thousand feet down
The flight to Chicago was a lot nicer this time, as the sun was up and I could actually see the ground. Which wasn’t much to look at, really, except for the Mississippi, which was a lot wider this far south. Lots of farms, several hundred more lakes (with lots of houses circling them, and few houses anywhere else), and the occasional cumulus cloud casting a shadow over them. The flight to Detroit was uneventful, except for having to set my watch ahead an hour when we went back to Eastern time. (Three time changes in one weekend! My head was spinning!) The only downer was getting back into my Festiva to listen to the radio stations of my native city, and discovering that my favorite station had changed formats from alternative rock to classic Motown while I was gone. “Huh? Did I take the wrong plane and wind up in some city that plays Motown on 105.1??? And if I’m in the wrong city, how did Fritz get here?”
All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope to do it again. Preferably during a warmer month.