DAY 1 – JULY 9, 2019

ITASCA TOWNSHIP | First Voices: Terry Larson & Keith Butler

Heavy rain moved in around 10:00 PM last night – raindrops falling on the headwaters and beginning a long journey south to join the Gulf of Mexico on October 6.

It takes 90 days for water to travel the length of the Mississippi. On that far-away day in October we’ll be gathering the voices of Lake Providence LA. Still a month away from the gulf. But today at Itasca we stayed in place. No biking or running but always in motion.

Victoria started the day with a phone interview – KKIN radio out of Aitkin MN. As the rain started around mid-morning we met up with Terry Larson, a canoe and fishing guide with a rich local family history and a deep and meaningful connection to river, land and people.

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After that we visited with Keith Butler to hear his stories of homesteaders, loggers, park workers and his own family who have existed for four generations on this land. So inspiring to spend a day hearing the voices of such engaging people who are so strongly rooted in the natural and human rhythms of this beautiful headwaters region.

Diving into a Voice:

Terry Larson, mid sixties, born and raised in Itasca Township, now lives on Wolf Lake some 30-40 miles away, still along the Mississippi. Family land—Gulsvig Landing—remains an important fixture of his and his family’s life here at Itasca. He’s often considered the “first man of the river,” and he has been interviewed and written about many, many times before. He’s a practiced interviewee, coming with prepared stories and recitations, and yet the sentiment feels true and authentic. He launched our time together speaking of his family history and land as we met right upon it, and he wandered into a more personal story of his experience with injury—how it changed his life to suffer and overcome pain, with much thanks to the river. 

Almost immediately, in telling us these stories, he waded into the narrow stream called the Mississippi there at Gulsvig Landing to fetter out what he thought was a bottle containing a handwritten message. In the end, this excursion turned into a science lesson, as he showed us the precious fresh water sponge growing on the rocks beneath the surface and plucked a few off the rocks for us to keep for our research.

Tom held his arm so as not to slip on the rocks as he climbed out of the cleanest part of the river here at Itasca, and we finally began our recordings and made our way down through the Gulsvig land to his most special spot for a blessing, some foraging, a poem of majestic dying, and many more stories on the day. 

Nearly four and a half hours later, we had traveled many circles together, finding ourselves right in the middle of it all—a lesson from Ojibwe warrior Ozaawindib (Yellow Head) that Terry shared with us: apparently he once said to explorer Schoolcraft on his expedition to the source of the Mississippi, “why is the white man so intent on learning the beginning and the end of everything, when it is the middle that matters.”

So looking forward to the beautiful interactions to come….