Wednesday, September 12, 2007

6. Inconspicuous Oasis

Renting a car is prohibitively expensive for camping. And to think it was "in my budget!"

(Father's Day)
My friend Jean-Paul came down from Grand Rapids with a van-load of stuff for his future apartment. The next morning, I loaded my camping equipment, art supplies, and road bike into his van and drove with him back up to Rapids. From there, I would go on day trips and camping excursions into the coniferous forest region. I was especially looking forward to seeing the legendary Lost Forty. On the last weekend in June, my father would come up to spend his vacation time camping with me.

One pleasure of my stay with Jean-Paul was getting to know his rhythms. He makes that 200-mile drive a lot. He's got his own route to avoid the traffic lights on Hwy 65, and he knows where the driving ceases being intense and becomes pleasurable: the Aitkin County line. There we had tea.

On some highway along the way, Jean-Paul pulled over when we saw a giant softshell turtle on the shoulder. It did not move, even when we approached. Every few feet along the edge of asphalt leading up to it were little dug out holes with eggshells scattered about. She was laying eggs!

I took a photo, then turned around to see Jean-Paul streaking naked across the deserted highway! I shot from the hip, but only captured the top half of his ass as he pulled up his pants.

For being taken blindly, it's a pretty well-composed photograph. When we turned back to look at the turtle again, she was gone!

Jean-Paul took me from Jacobsen, MN on County Hwy 200 to Hwy 10, then toward Rapids a mile or two to an Aitkin County park on the Mississippi. Here there is a natural aquifer that constantly pumps out water all year round. The water smells sulfurous at first, to a city nose, but doesn't taste like it. Purity from a metal pipe growing from a gravel pad like a periscope. In the winter, Jean-Paul has to chip away ice from around the pipe to fit his culligan bottle under it. He brings his life science students here, and they study the geologic strata, layers of rock and soil deposits visible on the high, sheer slopes of the riverbank.

The mighty Mississippi is so narrow there, compared to what I'm used to seeing in the Twin Cities. But it still looks like a big river. Still flows south. I still couldn't throw a rock across it.

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