“Would you like to see the Mississippi River from the sky?”
I had met Marsh Muirherd the day before when I canoed up to his home’s dock on the Mississippi. Muirherd, a local dentist/author/pilot in Bemidji, and I had a conversation about life on the river.
Eager to see the river from a different perspective, I jumped at the opportunity.
Muirherd was also a flight instructor. So even though the skies didn’t look so inviting as groups of thunderstorms passed through, I was still excited.
We used the river below like a map and followed it as it snaked back and forth, winding its way though the bottomland.
From above, I recognized locations I had visited or canoed a few days earlier.
“There’s Coffee Pot Landing,” I said over the headset as I pointed to a spot below.
I could see the small bridge over the river where I stood one morning and photographed several different bird species.
Seeing the river from above gave me a deeper understanding.
I canoed a 3-mile stretch of the river from the Highway 9 bridge to Coffee Pot Landing: it took 2½ hours. Once I completed the short distance of the river, I walked back to my truck in 40 minutes.
From the eagles’ vantage point, the river was winding around a flood plain like a piece of spaghetti casually dropped on a plate. It would bend and at times make a sudden U-turn and head back in the direction from where it came.
In the plane, I felt a sense of relief that I had changed my plans to canoe the entire stretch of river from Lake Itasca to Bemidji. Without that decision change, I most likely would still be on the river somewhere dreaming about what it would be like to eat something besides peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast.
The next location was Lake Itasca. In the center of the lake is Schoolcraft Island, making it easily recognizable. Below we saw tiny figures of people walking across the rock dam and canoes gliding across the top of the lake.
After a circle around the lake, we followed the river back to Bemidji.
At one point, I blurted out that I saw a deer standing in the river. Muirherd banked the plane hard right. “Sure enough,” he said, before continuing his course.
In the patches of woods below, I saw the location where I encountered Robert and Tammy Godwin of Bagley, Minn., picking wild blueberries on Wildfire Road.
“She’s a picking and I’m a grinning,” Robert had said.
Tammy replied with a laugh, “Good thing you have a camera, so we can document if he does pick anything.”
The Godwins sent me off with a pail of wild blueberries.
“The wild ones are tiny, but they pack a punch with way more flavor than the large berries you can buy in the store,” Tammy said as she handed me the blue treasure.
From above, I spotted the other side of the river where I met Ryan Solee and his family picking blueberries.
I had asked him what he liked about living in northern Minnesota.
“To sum it up, we live where others come to relax and get away from the world. That pretty much says it all. You won't get rich living here. But you will get to live,” Solee said.
“Remember here in northern Minnesota we always have time to have a cup of coffee,” he said, smiling and waving goodbye.
From the sky, in the distance, I saw the statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as we approached Bemidji. The giant figures looked so small – a reminder of what a different perspective sometimes has to offer.
All too soon, the plane ride was over and I was thanking Muirherd for his generous gift. I also reflected on our conversation the day before as we sat by the Mississippi River.
“Living on the river is like being part of a living calendar. The river is constantly moving and, if you pay attention, it will reveal where it is in that rhythm of life. The waterfowl migration in the spring, the snapping turtles that come to shore and lay eggs in June, insects that hatch in July, the changing of leaves in the fall,” Muirherd had said.
He concluded: “When we are aware and connected with this rhythm, it offers a sense of peace. That’s why I enjoy living on the river.”