This morning the phone rang while I was in Walgreen’s in La Crosse and it was Nick Lichter, who wrote The Road of Souls, an account of his 1991 solo journey down the Mississippi that we’ve been reading and re-reading as a sort of treasure hunt. Nick seems to have a knack of finding cool out-of-the-way things that we’ve not always successfully tried to find ourselves. We drove around Itasca State Park one afternoon looking for the marker commemorating the first sermon preached at the headwaters (by Archdeacon Gilfillan) to no avail — we even asked at park HQ and nobody knew; and we found the Chief Hole-in-the-Day Business Park (not kidding) and a set of beehives northeast of Little Falls, but not the burial mound of the Chief we were actually looking for.
But Nick found us, no problem, and invited us to stay with him and Margaret, whom he met on his trip (talk about life-changing!) and their three children in their house just up a coulee in La Crosse. And he suggested I go take a look at the Franciscan convent a couple blocks away since I had a bit of time before picking up Mac.
So when the laundry was done, I headed over to the Franciscan Sisters’ Motherhouse, and Sister Dorothy gave me a tour of this really beautiful chapel, which among many treasures has faux Norwegian pine columns that I can only call glorious, and she was so kind and so free and so playful in that way nuns and monks can sometimes be, and when they are it is just the best ever. And she left me at another chapel where there has been a perpetual prayer for peace going since 1 August 1878. When the bell rang the hour, everyone got up and recited some prayers including that line about doing the work God has chosen for us to do. And I know it sounds completely dumb to say this, but I really feel like this journey is the work I have been chosen to do right now. I don’t really have a clue why, exactly, I mean, prior to a year ago I really had no particular connection to or interest in the Mississippi River, it’s not like I’ve been fantasizing about doing this journey since childhood or anything like that. It just came over me and now here I am. And I feel pretty foolish posting this for all of you to read, and you are totally welcome to scoff if you like. I mean, really!?!? God told her to paddle down the river. Whatever. But there it is.
Anyway, as I was leaving, Sister Dorothy hugged me and blessed me, too, so now I think I can go to Catholic Church one of these Sundays after all. I’ll carry Sister Dorothy with me and everything will be fine.
After retrieving Mac, we headed over to Nick and Margaret’s and had a really wonderful evening with them and their children. Paddling the river builds a very deep connection, that’s for sure! And Nick’s way of immersing himself the history and stories of the river along with the physical, tactile experience of being out there is something I appreciate very much. They offered us their vacation house just down the river in Ferryville, so we’ll be spending some more time with Nick (and maybe his family, too), and I’m really looking forward to that.