After the Inipi ceremony and the evening with Virgil, I needed a day to process everything. I left St. Paul after breakfast, and wandered around southern Minnesota on country roads and headed toward Mankato.
Mankato is a Lakota word meaning “blue earth,” and (perhaps not surprisingly) it’s located in Blue Earth county. Now, I had visited Mankato fifteen, maybe seventeen, years earlier. I lived in St. Croix for my high school and college years, and my summer job for several years running was to work in a Christian bookstore run by a missionary couple, Gary and his wife Marty. So during Thanksgiving break at college one year, I didn’t have enough money to fly back home to St. Croix, so my employers arranged for me to spend the holiday with Marty’s parents on a farm in southwestern Minnesota.
Back then it was a long bus ride from Minneapolis to tiny Mankato, which seemed at the time to be the last outpost of civilization, then an even longer ride to the snowy prairie wilds where Marty’s father gave me a toboggan ride over his fallow cornfields, pulling me along by his tractor. It was a lovely time. The trip back to college, however, was a disaster; my bus to Mankato turned over in a ditch, and we slept on the floor in a bus station overnight.
Today’s trip through Mankato was uneventful, and the city had grown tremendously in the intervening years; their website would indicate that the growth has continued unabated. I ate some lunch and wrote some postcards at the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds in Garden City. I passed through Good Thunder. And I got lost, winding up in Amboy not once but twice.
The second time, I was disconcerted by a jackrabbit crossing the road. I don’t know that I had seen a jackrabbit before, but I was impressed how very much bigger it was than a regular rabbit. Huge feet and back legs, and ears that looked like they were going all the way to heaven—white ears, with a sort of black elongated spot on the back. And he was just crossing the road, casually, rather like Morty the moose on Northern Exposure. It was quite exciting. I just wanted to tell you that.
Saw my first wild turkeys, too. Incredibly long necks.
On this leg of the journey I was listening to a tape of Lynn V. Andrews’s Medicine Woman. I have tremendous ambivalence about Andrews; she was the first person I heard described as a “plastic shaman,” and her books have been thoroughly discredited as being mostly fiction. But she came along at a time when I was being strongly drawn to Native American spirituality, and while something in me doubted her veracity even then, it was important for me to hear those stories, and immerse myself in that worldview.
One odd reaction, though: the further afield I went spiritually, the more I felt reaffirmed as a Christian. Not so much in tenets to believe or disbelieve, but in the religious grounding I had received. Looking back now, I’m not sure whether this was an instinctual, protective reaction against being pulled into unfamiliar spiritual waters, or whether it was a simple reaffirmation of what I truly believed. But whatever the cause, I concluded that my experience of God was genuine, had been genuine, would still be genuine, whether that experience took place in a church among friends, or on the windswept Plains, alone or among strangers.
I found myself in the town of Butterfield, where they had a public park that welcomed campers. There were a few other campers, but mine was the only tent. It stormed that night, I remember, the first of several dramatic weather events on my trip, but I fell asleep feeling tremendously cozy and content.