Apparently I push my mind too hard on our workday in Fargo, because this evening, after reading something entirely innocuous, I let my brain talk me into terror. It’s quiet out here at Buffalo River State Park, so quiet the wind is a distant whisper, and the creaking of the trees in the wet of the afternoon rain is haunting, otherworldly. I lose my goddamn mind when I hear footsteps in the gravel, see shadows leaning over the tent – I’m in a goddamn horror movie, they’re coming, I don’t wanna die like this. I wake Spesh and we do a sweep of the nearby sites. Nothing.
Spesh is visibly if not verbally annoyed, but I’m stuck in a horror-movie-logic loop. Now they strike. An hour, an hour and a half go by. Maybe, just maybe, it’s safe to fall asleep.
I wake and don’t want to be awake; being awake means I have to fess up to how much of an idiot I was last night. Spesh takes it better than I think he will, shoos me off on a run to get the dregs of the evening out of my system. When I make it back, limping in at a 14:30 mile, we decide to take the day for self-care. We use the massage gift cards we got from friends, and I make it to the local internet cafe for some gaming time. I feel like a new woman afterwards, just in time for a full day of filming the next day.
We wander around Buffalo River State Park, shooting a lot of B-Roll, talking about anything and everything that comes to mind. We get a little confused as to where the park boundaries are – what’s public? what’s private? – but we manage to keep within the lines, and make it about 6 miles to boot. I lose my Fitbit along the way – I’m pretty sure I know where, but it’s nowhere to be found when I spend an hour in the evening looking. Spesh goes out to look and runs into the Ranger, who’s got it. Well. At least it’d been where I thought it was.
Thursday is for life admin – I go for another run wherein I still can’t break 14:30, we have our weekly reporting call, then spend the evening doing laundry and shopping and and and. How do our days feel so full, yet we get so little done?
It’s an early morning to get to Fort Ransom State Park, but we make it, settle in, give the first of two presentations without incident. We’re happy with how well the latter goes, and excited to have some time in the afternoon to explore part of the park. We change, gather our things, head off towards the Sunne Farmstead for an afternoon tour. We take the North Country National Scenic Trail the mile or so to our destination, delighted to find a friend of a friend here just in time for National Trails Day.
Trail maintenance for this section of trail is as easy as mowing. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, just like I’m sure it’s not all like this, but man, for this section, how nice.
We walk the Sunne Farmstead with the Park Interpreter, hear about the Sunne family who moved here, lived here, farmed here, and, for a number of them, died here.The family still keeps track of the house, and there are plenty of pictures and albums about to look through, along with several structures: a replica cabin and the replacing house, the barn, the garage. I notice a lot of the things they had look like a lot of the things my family had growing up, and I feel some amount of shame, standing here gawking over this stuff – I appreciate the age and difference of such things now a lot more than when I was younger. I was a bit of a callous thing when I was younger.
We take a high trail back, perch on the shores of an ancient river for most of the rest of our walk.
As we walk, the clouds start to roll in to our north; we eat in the growing gloom, and as Spesh walks off to shower, and the storm’s edge settles in.
The tent is a living, breathing thing as it bends under the onslaught of the wind, fighting, trying to protect me. Inflating our air mattresses, I’m struck by the irony of being concerned by the wind but using wind to ensure I’m comfortable later. Still, I wish we were in the trees, or at least behind some sort of windbreak, but we’re pretty out in the open. The tent caresses my back and I worry about tornadoes; I think we’re too far north, but there’s a first time for everything. I’m barely done with the mattresses when a cricket starts chirping outside of teh tent, announcing the dusk like the wind isn’t pitching a fit. It sings a vibrant song that the tent seems to dance to, poles bowing and curtsying to one another, throwing the light overhead every which way. On and on the cricket sings, guiding me through the storm and into sleep.
Saturday dawns crisp and bright and clear – apparently, last night’s storm was the one that was supposed to roll through tonight’s evening program. Rad.
So while there’s a little formal work to be done in the morning, most of our day’s work is one-on-one: chatting with folks on the National Trails Day Walk on the Wild Side Hike, more chatting with folks from the North Country Trail Association as we float the Sheyenne River, even more after they invite us back to their barbecue.
Talking is fine for me, but I learn anew that Spesh loves to talk; his ease with others carries our conversations. I try to add to conversations, or start them on my own, but I have less success than he does. I fall back into self-reflection and nitpicking past interactions and it only makes matters worse, only makes me more quiet. There has to be a better way to go about this.
Our evening program is a ghost town, populated by the Park Interpreter and a single gentleman who intended to take a hike around 8:30, but ends up taking a hike down the trails of memory with us for an hour. I start to feel bad; the Interpreter was supposed to be off at 9, but this gent seems hungry for conversation, connection, remembrance. Eventually, I’m being eaten alive, and since I’m only marginally part of the conversation, I excuse myself to shelter in the tent. I relax once I’m out of reach, and Spesh joins me in the tent soon after; finding dreams is easier than I think it will be.
I enjoy one last shower in the morning, then we say our goodbyes and it’s off to Itasca State Park in Minnesota, home of the headwaters of the Mississippi.
It’s crowded and lively and there is something blissful in that, even if the kids have been told by someone that they have to cross it as many times as they are old for good luck. It makes those of us wanting to cross once feel a little more harried as we attempt to keep our feet with them underfoot, but we all seem to make it unscathed anyway. That the kids do what they’re told without slipping is incredible to me – to have that kind of confidence again!
On the other side, the dragonflies are streaking across the cloud-strewn sky.
The place quiets down after a while, and it becomes more reverent:
It means a lot, a surprising amount, for me to be in this place at this time in this lifetime. I’ve seen the other end of this river, and I’m hoping that by the end of the year, Spesh will, too.
Soon, too soon we take our leave of the headwaters, but Itasca has some treats still left for us, like a rickety, terrifying fire tower that’s worth the climb:
Then we’re off to find dispersed camping in nearby Paul Bunyan State Forest.
We try to find something deeper in, but the one closest to the road is the only one available. It makes me grouchy, but it’s a nice evening.
I intend to turn in, but Spesh guilts me into staying outside just a little while longer. We see a speck that might be a beaver, and we grab the binoculars and decide it’s inconclusive. We hear howling from a single creature – Spesh is convinced it’s a wolf, but I think it’s just the dog we saw from down the road. The light dies and it’s 10:30 by the time we settle in, both into bed and the thought of a workday tomorrow. The cycle of my days are beginning to dawn on me, and I hope, as I drift off, that the light of this worksun doesn’t burn.