Anything that might be called “spiritual development” in my life proceeds slowly and haltingly. In the year after I spent those couple days under the pines with my name in May of 2018, I had moments that approached transcendence, like some of the days I spent bicycling around Lake Superior. I also had long periods of just muddling through, like the month I spent in a limbo between places to live, humping my big hiking backpack around Minneapolis to crash on friends’ couches and under bridges, frankly baffled as to the point of being alive.
If I hadn’t been looking for the sign, I probably would’ve gone right past it---a little brown one by the side of the trail that said walk in campsite. I slowed to a stop and took my bike by the handlebars down off the pavement and into woods that fairly sighed with spring.
Once the *jiisakaan* was taken down, all we fasters picked up the warm blankets we’d huddled up in to watch, and got on Pebaam’s boat. With the help of Stacy and a snazzy million-candlepower light he’d just gotten, he took us back through the enclosing darkness and a drizzle that muted conversation, to all our various islands. He dropped me off last. “Got a light?” he asked. “Nope!”
My fast began at sunrise, while I was still asleep. In the late morning, once we fasters had packed, we got on Pebaam’s boat and he drove us to all corners of Nigigoonsiminikaaning to drop us off at our fasting places. I was the last one. Pebaam floated up next to a pink granite slab at deck height, and I tossed all my stuff onto this little island, then jumped on and watched Pebaam’s boat dwindle into the distance.
My partner Misty, who spent several days at sugarbush that season, got invited to fast too, and the two of us caught a ride with Brandon and his partner Liz, in their old black veggie-oil pickup. It would be their fifth year coming up to fast. We crossed into Canada in International falls and turned east into country that’s almost as much water as land, where roads weave tightly like nervous intruders around hundreds of shimmering lakes, raindrops splattered across the map.
I escaped Minneapolis slowly, pedaling down back roads and icy bike paths through a decrescendo of snowy landscapes, from the Warehouse District downtown, on through peaceful suburbs with wide, empty streets; past frozen Lake Minnetonka where the Twin Cities’ gentry erect their waterside mansions; and out into exurbs, where incongruous little clusters of commuters’ and retirees’ houses huddle amid white stubbly fields. I passed through the gracefully decaying downtown of tiny Maple Plain, and north of town I found Lake Independence, its mostly forested shore studded with occasional two- and three-stories. I rode a ways up the road that encircles it until I found a handmade wooden sign saying Porky’s Sugar Camp.
Sprout House was surrounded on all sides by Ojibwe people and history. To the east was Little Earth, a housing project for urban Indians; to the south the Red Lake reservation’s embassy; to the west an Anishinaabe elders’ home; and to the north the Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC), the Many Rivers housing development, Powwow Grounds Coffee, All My Relations Gallery, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe offices, and Ancient Traders Market, all strung along Franklin Avenue, the crucible in which the American Indian Movement coalesced in 1968.