I’d given almost no notice before just showing up in Minneapolis, so I was lucky I got to stay with Jaimey and see anybody at all. Kirstin Johnson and I went down to check out my old buddy, Nathan Coleridge’s, record store before I left. Things seemed to be going pretty well for most of them. I know things can always change in a moment, but for the time, I was happy to be out on this rental car odyssey, breathing new life into dreams that had fallen beside the road years earlier.
One of my classmates, Dean Shockley, had gone on to become a pastor and had a church in Marshall, Minnesota. I’d known him as a musician in college. By now, as a pastor, he had a congregation, a paycheck, a wife, kids, a house, and a farm. I had a ukelele and suitcase in my trunk and that was about it. Since my next destination was Pipestone, only forty-five minutes from Marshall, I decided to drop in for a Sunday service on my way past.
Sitting in the back pew, I felt a fleeting moment of jealousy, watching Dean up there surrounded by a community of family and friends. It was what I’d claimed to have been looking for my entire life. I couldn’t know the reality of how each person there thought and felt, however. Perhaps what I’d been looking for was the fantasy of a home and community, one where love is reliable, full of stock-characters, only friendly people with good intentions. So far it had been easier to go on searching than to stay. Movement exhilarated me. The freedom to just pack it up and go at a moment’s notice isn’t easily bartered away.
Before I left, I got to meet Dean’s family in his office. He presented me with a record he’d made that included one of my songs. Now that was a true compliment.
It was another hour to get to Pipestone. I took the 23 south, through fields of corn and wheat. The Pipestone National Monument is a quarry, where pipestone used to make ceremonial pipes by the Native Americans was found. The area is sacred to them. At the entrance there is a pond where the Song of Hiawatha Pageant, based on the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was performed for many years. The last time I’d visited, there’s been tipis around the pond. Now they were notably absent.
Inside the visitor center, I read about the rituals behind the pipes and the prayers. What makes the pipestone sacred is that it’s exclusive to the area. I read about the spirits of the rock and the history of the medicine wheel. Then I set out on a mile long walking trail.
The path ran through a meadow, past prayer flags tied to the branches of a tree. I came to the red quartzite cliffs, then approached a sign announcing The Oracle. It was eleven steps to reach it. A sign on the oracle said, Look Through Here, and pointed to a hole. Gazing through it, I could see the profile of a Native American, a natural formation of the stone. Walking further, I came to a waterfall, then climbed stone stairs at the side of it to reach the top. It was hot, only slightly lesser so in the shade. It was a walking meditation I was on, at least that was the idea behind it. I was finding it hard to sit still these days.
Heading back down the steps I encountered a family, two little boys, both with blonde cowlicks. Their mother was trying to get them together for a group picture, almost needing to bribe them in order to do so. I got ahead of them on the trail and reached the Leaping Rock. It is a pillar that warriors once leapt to from a cliff and tried to land on, planting their arrows in the cracks if they’d been successful. Beyond that there was a sign warning of poison ivy and snakes. Then a tunnel of red sumac trees. Passing through that I came to more prayer flags, waving in the wind.
When I left the monument, I stopped at Fort Pipestone, a replica of a fort that was constructed in 1863. There was a sentry box in the corner of the logged-in yard, and a wagon wheel leaned against the trading post. I went in, not thinking to buy anything, but came out with a small bag of polished stones and a few fake arrowheads. If my memories ever failed me, I’d still have something to reach for.