Today’s blogging prompt is to tell a story. So, today, I will bring us back in time to 2008. That summer, I was still trying to regain the strength that I had lost when I contracted a nasty case of pneumonia in late 2007. And, if you’re thinking what I think that you’re thinking (which is a lot of thinking), yes, I just recently got a pneumonia shot because, well, that unpleasant illness is an experience that I don’t care to repeat.
In the spring of 2008, I saw a flyer which described a “Witness Against War walk,” scheduled for July 12th until early in September, from Chicago, Illinois, to Saint Paul, Minnesota. Impulsively, I called Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a Chicago-based group that organized the walk, and I let them know that I wanted to do the entire walk! How exciting, I thought. I’ve never crossed one state line when I’ve gone on a walk, much less two. I kind of remember seeing the distance of the walk estimated at 400 miles. I thought that seemed to be a bit much, but that I was stubborn enough to do it. Unfortunately, I don’t have easy access to the photographs from that walk, so I will share photographs from other walks that I took with this and another group (the Walk for a Nuclear-free Future group).
The walk turned out to be closer to 500 miles. If I had known that, I might have thought that was definitely over-the-top too far. And I wouldn’t have tried. I am so happy that I didn’t know.
Today’s story centers around the area of Wisconsin that is close to LaCrosse and Winona, Minnesota. We had already been walking for more than a month on the day that we crossed the Mississippi River and entered Winona. We were warmly greeted with encouraging messages written on the pavement with sidewalk chalk on a path that led to a park on Latsch Island, as well as with oragami cranes hanging from trees. As soon as we walked into the park, we were welcomed with hugs. We were standing on the shores of the Mississippi River on a beautiful green island. And it felt like magic.
“Have you ever put your feet in the Mississippi River,” a lady named Mary asked me.
“Not yet,” I said, which encouraged Mary to tell me about an experience that she had with some friends about a trip via water from Saint Louis to Mark Twain’s hometown, Hannibal, Missouri. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with the excursion. It was pouring rain. By the time that Mary and her friends arrived at their destination, they were soaking wet and everything was closed.
“We learned something valuable that day,” Mary told me, as I stepped into the river. “The journey is more important than the destination.”
|This is NOT where I danced!|
As I danced in the river, I thought about how the walk was an adventure that flowed like the river. It was the experience of walking, not the hope of an eventual destination, that had gotten me past sore feet, phobias, and physical exhaustion. I understood that I was happy that I had the chance to push my limits physically and emotionally to say yes to life and no to war.
And, after I left the water and dried my feet and legs off, I was able to enjoy sharing a meal of vegetable stew and pumpernickel bread with new and old friends.
We were due for a rest day, so we enjoyed it in the friendly city of Winona, Minnesota. That city was so friendly that a group of masseuses had called our group a month earlier to offer to anyone who wanted a free one-hour massage. I said yes to the massage, which occurred on the morning of my rest day. Amy, the masseuse, spent an hour massaging my entire body. It felt especially good when she massaged my back, legs, and feet. My feet were in good shape, Amy said, adding that she expected that, after I had walked about 400 miles, I might have some difficulty with my feet.
My time in Winona was consumed with watching the summer Olympics, laundry, a delicious pot luck supper with one of our group as a guest speaker, and cherry ice cream. It was my job to introduce the guest speaker, Paul, a U.S. Army veteran who had been in Iraq as a member of the infantry at the beginning of the war. He spoke about the things that he saw and that he experienced that later led him to join an organization called “Iraq Veterans Against the War.” He talked about the day-to-day realities of the war, which included the deaths of civilians and of fellow soldiers, including a close friend. He said that the troops had to engage in “counterfire.”
“For each round they shot, we shot ten back.” The main targets included suspected insurgents and houses that were suspected of harboring insurgents. “We fired on houses and wiped out families. That’s not why I joined the Army.”
After the talk, Paul, who had joined the Army after 9/11 and left with a medical discharge in 2006, showed his spirit and his energy for making the world a better place when he let me know that, in my introduction, I failed to mention his status as a superhero, who would singlehandedly protect the world from all sorts of marauding asteroids. I agreed that my introduction had been sadly Earthbound.
The next day, it was time to move on. We went back to Latsch Park and back to the bridge. This time, there were no oragami cranes hanging from the trees. The park was still pretty, but it was ordinary this time. We crossed the bridge back into Wisconsin. According to the Winona people, we had left the fun side of the river.
We continued walking northward, with the river to the west of us. When we were close to our destination, a few of us stopped to talk to two women who wanted to chat with us.
They were fascinated by the signs that we were carrying. These ladies were waiting for a bus to take them to the senior center, where they were going to have lunch and then enjoy their favorite activity, which was playing cards. They had brought their own cards. One of the ladies said that she had just celebrated her 94th birthday and that she was going to have a nice lunch with her friend.
As we were chatting with the ladies, a truck pulled up near us. A man hopped out of the truck and approached us, saying, “I’m all for this war. If our soldiers weren’t over there fighting for your freedom to do this, you’d all be wearing burqas now!” He expressed this opinion while waving his arms so dramatically that he caused one of the ladies to spill her coffee on her white blouse. After the coffee disaster, he abruptly got back into his truck and drove away.
Two days later, when we were at a place in Fountain City called “Rock in the House,” I told one of my fellow walkers, Joshua, about the experience. We were taking a brief tour of the house, which literally had a 55-pound boulder sitting in a bedroom, while I told Joshua about the man with the windmill arms. Joshua, a singer who also plays the guitar and drums, suggested that we form a musical group called “Joshua and the Burquettes.” He would sing lead and play instruments and the Burquettes (including me, of course) would be the backup singers.
And that house. It wasn’t blessed with any more luck than the lady who wore her coffee. On April 25th, 1995, the aforementioned boulder rolled into the bedroom. Fortunately, the occupant of the bedroom was not there at the time. The house was eventually sold and turned into a tourist attraction called “The Rock in the House.” I would have to say that, among the tourist attractions that I have seen, this one is the one of the most unique.
|This is the beautiful Mississippi River, which flows southward from Minnesota to the Mississippi delta.|