Piper Dances with the Dead

We were lost. Well, we knew where we were. We were just north of St. Louis along the Mississippi River smack, dab, in-the-middle, the heart of America. We just didn’t have a direction. We had our hearts set on New Orleans. Go south. And indeed, that is what direction the river flows. But that plan, along with our hearts, was sitting ten or fifteen feet down at the bottom of the Mississippi where the Illinois River and it meet. There we were though—at the Gateway to the West. Almost literally. We had some walking to do to get to St. Louis, and specifically the Arch, but that is where we were headed. No one particularly wanted to go west. Not that anyone was against it either. We didn’t have a Plan B. We should have. A lot of things could have gone wrong. This is why Caring Sue had so many rules. It wasn’t registered with any State in the Union. It was as good as stolen as far as the law was concerned. And knowing that, if the law needed to get a good look at the motley crew that was running the thing down the river, we would have been tried and convicted on the spot. Or the thing could have just gotten stolen from us, with all our stuff aboard, despite our best efforts to keep it locked, and to keep our stuff with us mostly. We wouldn’t have had any recourse. Luckily for us, it just sank. We were still alive. We still had our precious stuff and our savings. We just needed a new inspiration. A new muse. A dream to chase.

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Life on the Mississippi—the little Mississippi

It was early spring in Minnesota. And well, Ranger Tom was right about the beginnings of the Mississippi. There is a reason why the official headwaters are some thirty miles from the source. We were miserable. There were long stretches of time where our canoe was not a tool, but a burden. We had to get out and walk it across areas that didn’t even resemble a river. It was more like a swamp. That is what it was—a river swamp. And not a very deep one. We kept bottoming out. But we had been forewarned. Ranger Tom called it “humble origins” but we had another name for it—hell. We knew the general direction the river ran, so we just kept on heading northeast through this…well…swamp. We were wading through knee-deep water and dragging a canoe along. I don’t think I need to tell you that that water was not warm. It was only the end of April and it was Minnesota. We would take a step and sink down a foot in the muck. We had to take off our shoes or risk losing them. There was places where it was waist deep, which is more than enough to operate the canoe, but it seemed as soon as we would get ready to board, it was ankle deep and all tree stumps again. Like I said, miserable. As soon as we hit the official Mississippi Headwaters State Park though, everything just opened up before us. It became a river—deep and wide.

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No Booze. No Drugs. No Fishing.

We tried to hug the coast of Lake Superior as much and as often as we could as we made our way west toward the source of the Mississippi. As we entered Wisconsin, there were two peninsulas that we had to contend with. We could either walk the perimeter or we could walk a straight line at the base. There was a small one inside the Bad River Indian Reservation. We cut across that one at the base. We didn’t think we should tempt fate with the Indian Reservation authorities.

Machine asked, “Are the Chippewa people mean?”

Bill said, “Hell yeah, them niggers will scalp you!”

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The Howling

If you recall, they were only supposed to see me to Mount Arvon. After having taught me everything they knew about surviving off-the-grid and living under-the-radar, they were then going to just leave me at the base of the mount. They were going to head on to the Keweenaw Peninsula to mine for copper and live off the land. I was going to climb to the top of Mount Arvon where I would meet with an elder medicine man who could break the spell and turn me back into a fish. I was then going to have him throw me into Lake Superior where I could use the Great Inland Sea and Saint Lawrence Seaway to get back to Ocean, my home proper.

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The Wait

I looked right at him and said, “Quit blowing your pot smoke in my face!”

He happened to be taking another hit off the joint when I said this, so that hit was interrupted with some laughter, which then turned into a coughing fit. After awhile, he managed to pull himself together. He said with a smile, “Sorry, Piper. I’ll do better. You are the last person I should be doin’ that to.”

I said, “I’m not just a kid, dammit!”

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In the Time Before the Rivers Freeze

The old man put out his cigarette and took a sip from his coffee. He said, “So you kids just walk the back country roads then?”

The woman smiled, nodded, and said, “That’s right. You know, I am forty-four years old.”

He said, “Aah—just a kid!” He lit up another cigarette and continued, “And you are just doing it for kicks then, eh?”

She said, “Well, not exactly. It is hard to peg a one-size-fits-all meaning for all of us. Hmm. Well, let us just say that we think life is a gift. And how do you best show that you appreciate a gift? Well, by living it. By savoring it. By trying to extract the most from your experience. Most importantly—by having experiences! Become enthralled with the mystery! You never know what awaits around the bend. And I like there always being a bend! I live for the bend!”

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In the Heart of a Home

It took us three days to get in the vicinity of where we wanted to be in Hiawatha National Forest. There was a little river than ran under US-2. Well, it was more of a creek. There were quite a few of them actually, but for whatever reason we picked this one. As far as I know, it didn’t have a name. Hiawatha National Forest was absolutely peppered with lakes and ponds, and likewise I don’t think very many of them even had names. So we deviated off the beaten path, otherwise known as US-2, and began following this large creek. It probably eventually dumped into Lake Michigan which was just behind us a few miles.

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The Mechanics of Opposition

I wish there was more to say about Windemere on Walloon Lake, but there really isn’t much to say. As for the cabin itself, it was just a private residence—no tourists allowed! Maybe there were Hemingway’s inside of it. I don’t know. They weren’t advertising and nobody was lining up at the door either. Sure there were some placards here and there around Petoskey denoting the historical significance of a place. There was a general store and a hotel, but the town certainly wasn’t built around Hemingway, nor was it retrofitted to honor him in any meaningful way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Allow me explain where my lofty expectation came from.

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The Masters of Opportunity

I know what you are thinking. I know what it looks like, but you’re wrong. They are not just simply liars, con-artists, and thieves. I don’t want to defend them, but I have to. Yes, some of their tactics were questionable—no doubt. They made choices and did things that would make you cringe. They made me cringe. I began questioning them and their lifestyle choices starting day one. Well, at least when it directly affected me. If it was none of my business, then I just let it lay. I had agreed to walk with them “for a bit” and part of that agreement was that I could jump off their crazy train anytime I wanted—no questions asked. I knew I still had a lot to learn. They were right about that. Maybe that food poisoning was a blessing—I don’t know. But they were wrong too because I wasn’t just a kid.

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The Door is Always Open—to Leave

I went through a lot to get those hot dogs. It turns out that I was going to go through a lot getting rid of them too. The hot dogs themselves were a problem. The only thing I got from that 7-11 was toxicity. I woke up at four AM vomiting. Then came the diarrhea. Then it was just drive heaves. I puked up any water I tried to sip. I was so thirsty, but I knew I was just going to puke up anything I attempted, so I refrained to conserve the water. I had some, but I didn’t have a lot. I knew it was rather hot outside and even so, I felt cold—shivering cold.

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