To take a look at the journey thus far, captured on camera, you can visit my new Flickr photostream by clicking here including extensive photographs taken at the Mii-Gwitch Mahnomen Pow Wow. More stories in the works… In the meantime, loving Minneapolis!
Monthly Archives: August 2009
Arrived into Minneapolis-St. Paul Monday, Aug 11, at approximately 8pm following one month and one day on the Upper Mississippi River. Will spend a handful of days here to rest up and chronicle stories for CNN. Officially I now have 494 river miles behind me with 1970 to go. Here’s to adventure!
Just sat down for breakfast at Elk River’s Olde Main Eatery en route to Minneapolis – 29 river miles away. Started today’s journey at 6am back in Monticello. Fine town, Monticello – friendly fisherman gave me a small-mouth fish he’d just caught whilst literally taking his hat off to the adventure! Camped on the lawn of a very friendly couple with a river home next to the main park. Currently on the move again… Will make Minneapolis by tonight. Sincerely looking forward to it! All’s well here on the Great River Road! Next stop: MSP!
I wanted to speak a little bit about how the journey is going on this my one month mark out on the Mississippi River. Putting the idea of such a sojourn into practice takes planning and will-power and courage but I’m here to say that once you do it – the nervousness ends and the wonderment begins. From that very first moment on Lake Itasca I was in heaven – I knew I had made the right choice and I knew that I would be able to follow it through.
It was Hemingway who talked about the importance of the casual acquaintances that you bump into along your path in life leaving a deep impression on your psyche – the people you’ll think about, often at the oddest times, for many years to come.
Out on this trip there have been many such people, one of the first being the Mayor of Bemidji, Richard Lehmann. I came into his office for an interview but ended up spending a couple of hours just talking life – all about the journey – where we are and where we think we’re headed. Such an encounter was a pleasure. Here you’ve got the mayor of the “First City on the Mississippi” and we’re talking the world.
There was a boating accident on Blackduck Lake while I was in town – one that I ended up getting myself involved with, to a little extent. This made a great impact on my thinking about life in general as well as the importance of such an expedition. To while we can, actually get out there and live.
Down the river a spell, I knew I wanted to do a story in Little Falls due to the fact that three of the four boaters from the tragedy on Blackduck Lake came from that town. I didn’t want to interfere with their families or with their grief but I did want to experience their town in an effort to see where they had grown up, where they had spent their lives. From my experience the best way to accomplish such a task is to tell a story as you meet the players of a town, moving from contact to contact, getting a pretty good idea of how the place ticks.
While portaging Little Falls I met Daryl Legler who took me in and gave me shelter. I had been paddling for twelve hours straight – through heavy headwinds and upon Little Falls, a steady downpour. And here comes a local resident in a four wheel drive with his hand out and sincere smile on his face. Somebody who just wanted to help.
I started the trip not wanting to ask anybody for anything. I didn’t go after sponsors, I didn’t ask for a free ride. But as the journey unfolds and the reality of the harshness of such a trip makes itself manifest at certain intervals, I’ve since learned that when a local offers you advice – you take it – and when they offer you their help, you accept. Not to do so would be rude.
Out here on the river people are just great. You see and experience little snapshots of life that are just priceless. Early this morning I met a Taiwanese family who have moved to the St. Cloud area and have taken up fishing. The little kid was so excited that his dad had caught two fish he could hardly stand it. “Superdad” was how he was introducing his hero to everybody, all the standerbyers he could find.
Big smiles, loads of well wishes. You see kids fishing and they’re very serious about it. When a kid asks you how far you’re going and you tell them New Orleans the first thing they’ll say up here in Minnesota is “Holy crap – that would be great!” You meet college kids, like last night (St. Cloud is a college town) and they’ll say the same. Their faces just brighten up when they contemplate such a trip and they’re immediately your friend. As well as the elderly. I went to visit one of Daryl’s old truck-driver friends who is hold up in hospital – battling cancer. His roommate was an old veteran who perked up when he heard about the trip – asking if I was “really, sincerely planning to make it all the way down”. Multiple people up here say they’ve dreamed of this particular trip, but have never gotten around to it accomplishing it.
This is the reality. I am surrounded by nature. Surrounded by good, hard-working, decent folk. I am at peace and I am happy.
The reality is the journey and I’m happy to be along for the ride.
LITTLE FALLS, Minnesota
When the old timers of Little Falls get together at their favorite local haunt, the West Side Café, they remember aviator icon Charles Lindbergh with laughs, stories, and a gleam of pride in their eye.
Charles Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean, traveling from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York to Le Bourget Field in Paris in a single wicker seat, single engine monoplane titled the Spirit of St. Louis. The instantaneous world-wide fame that followed was unprecedented. Upon touchdown onto Le Bourget Field the Spirit of St. Louis as well as Lindbergh himself were virtually torn apart by a mob of over-enthusiastic fans while upon his return to America on June 13, 1927 “Lindbergh Day” was celebrated in New York City “as city offices, schools, and stock markets closed for the day [as] over 4 million spectators lined the streets to cheer the aviator.”
But as the fact of the world’s first Atlantic monoplane crossing becomes legend and the legend of Lindbergh becomes myth – it’s not the man himself the stories revolve around so much as the message he was able to convey. “I think Lindbergh inspired a lot of young men to do things they didn’t think they could do or would be able to do,” stated Little Falls resident Marie Langdeau, some eighty years young. Asked if she had seen examples of that in her lifetime, Marie was quick to reply – “Oh yes, I have.”
Before the man there was a boy – a boy who would spend a good deal of his youth here along the banks of the Mississippi River, swimming, fishing and flying around with his arms outstretched like an airplane, simulating the plane he saw one day from the rafters of his Little Falls home. “He’d sneak out at night and sleep on the porch – he loved the stars,” explained Lee Ann Douchette, a local writer and former radio newsroom presenter. “When he saw his first plane go overhead he just went nuts.”
As the aviator who got the job done and later as an environmentalist who strove for a balance between technology and wildness, it is interesting to see the living legacy left behind in Lindbergh’s boyhood hometown.
One example of a successful local business inspired by Lindbergh is Joe Berg of DJ Products, an innovative local manufacturer specializing “in [robotics and] moving around anything on wheels.” Joe showed me his latest product – dubbed the Aircraft Caddy – having “develop[ed] it based on Lindberg’s name and with official use of the Spirit of St. Louis airplane logo. Joe is striving to keep local jobs local. “It’s so important … our town relies on every job we have … whatever we can do to try to keep jobs helps our community.”
On the other side of town, Ty Gangelhoff, Park Manager of Charles Lindbergh State Park (from original land deeded over by the Lindbergh’s in 1931), brought out his record books to show that to date this year alone, over four thousand campers have come to enjoy the park’s five hundred and seventy acres, inhabiting protected “bald eagles and the three major biomes of the area – the prairie biome, the hardwood biome and the pines biome.”
For the education take I went over to Charles Lindbergh Elementary School where Principle Jill Griffith-McRaith explained, “His work here [on the environment] helps our students remember and continue their work with conservation and keeping the world a better place,” going on to say, “part of his legacy is through the Lindbergh Foundation which provides scholarships [and] grants to teachers who continue that environmental work.”
And from the environment to hope, Little Falls Mayor Catherine VanRisseghem summed up the effects of Lindbergh’s living legacy as such: “[Back then] at that point, times were really tough – people without jobs, without hope – and Charles Lindbergh was that spark of hope for them … and I believe that the same goes for now a-days – times are tough, people are losing jobs and their lives are being impacted greatly, but there still is hope … that dream, that ability to dream and to accomplish those dreams is still within us as people here locally and .. that true spirit is still there in the Spirit of America.”
By KATHLEEN PAKARINEN
LITTLE FALLS (Aitkin Independent Age Newspaper) —
Every town has a story every day but some days are better than others. While Aitkin was busy painting the town purple last Tuesday, a citizen journalist with CNN just happened to be passing through by canoe. That’s right – CNN in Aitkin by canoe.
And it gets better.
Neal Moore who calls himself an “unprofessional, unpaid citizen journalist” has a relationship with CNN and the report he did about purple Tuesday in Aitkin was posted on the website on Wednesday morning and, by the afternoon, it was tagged “On CNN,” meaning it’s now featured on their iReport.com main page. If you were watching CNN at 10 a.m. last Thursday morning, you were among the first to see Moore’s report on Aitkin as it hit the airways.
Everywhere it leads
Just like he’s doing with the river, he followed the story everywhere it led. The purple on the store windows led him to the story about the Aitkin Area Relay for Life and that brought him into our office. We led him to one of our front pages and Elaine Hill.
And she’s just one of many local people featured in the 15-minute film – people like police officer, Tim Catlin; business owner and cancer survivor, Sue Fox; and Adam Mehr, an AHS and recent college graduate who was having coffee with his mom and sister in front of the Beanery.
By the trails end, Moore had interviewed Kathie Smith, the honorary chair of this year’s relay, and Austin Price, a 6-year-old whose battle with the disease helped Kathie’s kids deal with their mother’s diagnosis.
On the river road
Moore is a novice behind the paddle but even though he says he’s just a “citizen,” he’s an experienced journalist. He grew up in Los Angeles and his degree is in English Literature but he has been traveling and writing in Asia and Africa for 20 years while he was also teaching English. For the last year, he has been iReporting for CNN as a citizen journalist. He said that a lot of his reports end up on CNN.
Moore expects to put in five months on the story he was chasing in Aitkin last week. He is combining his first long solo canoe trip down the Mississippi with stories that highlight community projects. He started at the headwaters near Bemidji and he won’t reach the end of the long and winding river road until he reaches New Orleans.
“I’m looking for positive American stories … genuinely postive from all facets, all angles,” he explained.
So far on the river, four of his stories have landed on CNN – Homesteaders Protect the Upper Mississippi at Wanagan’s Landing, The Andy Wells Interview from Bemidji, Passing on the Dance of the Ojibwe from Ball Club and, last but certainly not least, Small Mississippi River Town Rallies Against Cancer in Aitkin.
He hopes his stories will shed a positive light in difficult times – a light on an America of “real towns and genuine people.”
He was including the story he happened upon last week in Aitkin when he said, “These are wonderful stories that I hope will inspire the rest of the nation and even the world, bringing international understanding.”
Unlike Aitkin’s, some of the stories have been predetermined including one about Practical Farmers of America in Iowa, another on the Rocky Lynne country band in Nashville and their performance for charity and one more on the Habitat for Humanity in Nachez near New Orleans, La.
The Aitkin story was an accident. After spending Monday night at the county campground on the river, Moore walked into to town for food and supplies. As soon as he hit downtown, he saw purple and the rest is his story. Well, his and Aitkin’s – soon to be the nation’s and, who knows, maybe the world’s.
And the best part is
“A single traveling bachelor,” Moore’s most trusted traveling companions are a small video camera, a pocket-sized notebook, his cell phone and his laptop. He shoots and edits his video and writes a story to accompany it before uploading them to the site.
Besides CNN, he works in association with Creative Visions Foundation and Kathy Eldon. Eldon launched the foundation in honor of her son, Dan, an artist, adventurer and activist who was killed in 1993 while on assignment for Reuters News Agency in Somalia.
Creative Visions Foundation supports “creative activists,” individuals who use the media and the arts to create positive change in the world. Through its for-profit sister organization, Creative Visions Productions, the organization has produced award-winning television and film projects. Moore said Eldon has been a mentor for him and a great source of moral support.
Preparation for his challenging mode of transportation included little more than his background as an Eagle Scout and a book he read (Mississippi Solo, A River Quest) by Eddy L. Harris that, according to Moore, is the “best book ever written on the subject.”
“He helped to inspire me,” Moore said.
He sees the river as the perfect metaphor for his journey, explaining: “It starts as a trickle … There are 26 locks between Minneapolis and St. Louis but they get you through them.”
You have to know where the major stumbling blocks are. After you get past St. Louis, the road gets rougher and, all along the way, the river gets wider. It’s a long and winding road cutting straight through the center of the American heartland.
“Like T.E. Lawrence [Lawrence of Arabia] said, ‘I ride in the name of the clan’ – to highlight something bigger than myself,” Moore said.
That’s exactly what he found here in Aitkin – a small town pulling together, rolling up their purple sleeves, getting ready to join a cross-country relay race against the nation’s most dreaded disease.
“I have a really good feeling this story will go far and wide,” Moore said about the Aitkin story he calls, “Small Mississippi River Town Rallies Against Cancer.”
Far and wide – just like the river that runs through it.
Photos by KATHLEEN PAKARINEN
Read the Aitkin Independent Age story
Read Kathleen Pakarinen’s complete story from the Aitkin Independent Age Online Newspaper here.