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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Rathert

People Things on the River Trail.

Days 8 - 9.

1. People like stuff and take it wherever they go. At Aitkin County Campground, I had a tent and kayak on my site, the only tent in the nine campsites available on my first day there. Seven other sites were occupied by area campers, each with a choice of large RV and other motorized items. It was much like a parking lot of RVs, pull-behind vehicles, motorcycles, and the few watercraft tugged along. Large BBQ grills were removed from RV storage and set up beside the RV door so they could cook just like at home. Children’s toys and distractions, and dogs were present while the owner constantly called them to come back. I observed from my fold-away camp chair the work it took to pay for these things, load and pack them, shut down the house back home, drive to the campground, and then set up everything for a fun time. Of course, I also put in a lot of work, packed quite a bit, and paddled a long distance to the camp, not an easy job either. We all likely had backaches from the fun we were having. A local official told me they call Aitkin ‘Achin’ as in “Oh my achin’ back,” because they are Norwegian and it’s right to round off the T. However it’s said, spending time alone or with family, in a place absent of the pull of tasks and obligations at home, is worthwhile time spent.

2. Whoever planned Achin County Campground had a good idea when they put in the showers. I took two when I didn’t even need the second one.

3. The river was calm below Aitkin because the town had gotten tired after the Great Flood of 1950. The Army Corps of Engineers designed a diversion channel to carry flood water around Aitkin County. Because the river makes a large U-shape there and the city of Aitkin sits at the bottom of the U, it was a no-brainer for flood waters to empty into the bottom of the U where the people were most populated. The Corps of Engineers dug a pin-straight six-mile channel across the top of the U to divert flooding Mississippi water away only to re-introduce it to the river in smaller portions at downstream locations. I paddled the river above the diversion channel and again below it. I saw a most marked difference in its speed and volume as well as the pleasant flow and mood of the water’s surface on that first morning I left Aitkin County Campground. It seemed the diversion channel took the fury out of the river.

4. People groups historically clash and continually struggle with one another. Aitkin County is one location where Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline crosses as it carries tar sands oil to U.S. refineries. Climate change and more immediate environmental risks are increased – wetlands and other bodies of water are in danger if there is a spill, for example. There was a great spill in another Enbridge pipeline when it filled Michigan’s Kalamazoo River with 1.2 million gallons of this same tar sands crude oil. Whether here or in Michigan, the pipeline crosses habitats for native and migratory birds and other diverse species. For indigenous people of the area, their ancestral lands are threatened as well as the wild rice beds. Treaty violations multiply, also, around the Line 3 pipeline so the insult goes deep into the heart and way back into history whether we admit it or not. Forests have been cleared for access roads, machinery, and stringing pipes. As I traveled through, I saw large and bright-colored protest signs, even now that the pipeline is complete and pumping 760,000 barrels daily under this quiet natural sacred land. The infraction is unforgiven because no one has apologized or agreed that an infraction has even taken place. Hearts remain heavy.

5. Heading toward Crow Wing, paddling on top of the Mississippi River, it was beautiful and peaceful. I kayaked nearly 45 miles that day and met up with only two people, a couple in a small fishing boat; but otherwise, it was a wild and uninhabited place. On the shoreline, there were occasional well-maintained summer homes but still, no people. Eventually, the nature of homes transformed into small villages of campers, old buses, and shacks caving under the constant moisture of river life. These were all being used for permanent homes. I passed by a dozen or more of these settlements but the only signs of life were a man exiting a pit toilet and four indigenous children laughing and playing on a muddy trampoline. The difference between the well-maintained rural houses and these collapsing jam-packed communities was harsh. I was paddling for hope, for a change of hearts in all people to accept the truth that all are worthy, not just those who have privilege and resources. No one person is more or less worthy than any other. Now here I was, paddling through another great divide. My heart was heavy.

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