Day two in the Twin Cities.

Good friends Tori Nill and Todd Stevens joined the Relay team in the morning to cover the miles on foot. They’re veteran relay runners – gearing up for a 200-mile relay in August. This was just an easy training run for these athletes!

Victoria and I landed at Lambert’s Landing in downtown St. Paul, where we met Hokan Miller and Mike Sandige of Upper River Service. We boarded the Mary J, a 1973 tow boat that also provides tug services (there’s a distinction!). We spent the next couple of hours roaming up and down the harbor discovering a whole new vocabulary of nun buoys, combing and breast riggings. 

We would have spent the whole day out there on the water if time allowed, but we had other voices to gather. We realized that our Mississippi pleasure cruise was far different than day-to-day operations in the harbor. The logistics and mechanics of loading, unloading and transporting these floating behemoths on a turbulent and ever-changing river is difficult to comprehend. And they don’t just move one barge at a time.

I asked Hokan if we needed a fall protection as we clambered around over the tow and barges. He said, “on the river fall protection is this . . . be careful”. 

I moved on to a smaller vessel after that – a kayak – for a personal tour of the natural river right here in St. Paul. Monica Bryand was my guide. She’s an amazing person who walked away from a successful corporate career to devote her energy to serving this community in many ways. She’s also a successful wildlife photographer (birds, that is). With her camera in tow, we mounted our kayaks and slipped into the Mississippi.

With nothing but the sound of dipping paddles and birdsong, we explored up river. Through a narrow backwater, a fast break across the main channel, and into Pig’s Eye lake. We fell into a beautiful rhythm – paddling, sighting birds, taking pictures and talking about life.

Monica says she thinks about birds 24/7. When you learn about her community service, especially her work with less privileged and marginalized populations, you’ll know that she thinks a lot about people too.

While I was out communing with nature, Victoria crossed over to Minneapolis to meet Michael Bischoff, a Friend of the Mississippi River. Michael is one of the creators of the “river story map” project, but his connection to the river is much greater than a single artistic product. The way Michael says it, he is married to the river. 

Michael has made a commitment to a place, and as he lives in great uncertainty diagnosed with brain cancer three years ago and living on borrowed time, that time is very literally shaped by his own and others stories with the river.

At the end of the day, we gathered for an evening event at Kellogg Mall Park. It was a nice turnout by some of our Twin Cities friends – Mike Schadauer, Joe Hamlin, Angel Staples, Hatem Qamheih and his wife.

Our great Saint Paul partners B Kyle of the Chamber and Angie Tillges from the City brought together the story of the river yesterday, today, and tomorrow. With the voices of Rayanna and Frankie from the Prairie Island Community, Lee Nelson from Upper River Services, and lastly “crazy” Victoria from Relay of Voices. 

It was an endearing and celebratory gathering, with many people lingering to learn more about our journey down the river and glad for Saint Paul’s part in it. The gratitude went both ways. 

One more thing, because I’m sure you’re wondering . . . Great Crested Flycatcher, Gull, Sandpiper, Bald Eagle (adult and juvenile), Green Heron, Turkey Vulture, Song Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing and my favorite bird of all . . . the Belted Kingfisher!