Menahga, Minnesota | Opinion | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Menahga, Minnesota

Days 47—48

June 16, Day 47
Levi and some of the kids unharness the horses

Levi and some of the kids unharness the horses
  • June 16, Day 47
  • Levi and some of the kids unharness the horses

June 16
Detroit Lakes to just west of Evergreen, Minnesota
22.06 miles (36.5 kms)

In the afternoon of a good day a black buggy pulled by one horse approaches. Like me it is on the narrow shoulder of the road; because it travels with traffic and I against it, we are on a collision course. I yield immediately, and cross the road to the other shoulder. The buggy goes by and the two Amish women aboard wave enthusiastically. I wave back, thrilled. I have seen these buggies in Pennsylvania, but this is the first time someone has waved to me from one.

A little further on, an Amish man (straw hat, dress shirt, suspenders) is driving a team of three big horses as he harrows a field. He also waves. I smile smugly. As a walker I am aligned more closely with the women and the farmer than those who fly by at 65 miles an hour. Of course there are many ways I am less aligned, but never mind that now.

By six o’clock I have gone 22 miles and at the next place I ask to put up my tent. It’s an Amish farm. No electricity. The drive isn’t paved and has deep ruts and horse tracks. About a million barefoot children, the boys in straw hats, dress shirts and suspendered pants, the girls in long dresses and black bonnets, are roiling around the yard, in between rows and rows of clothes hung on lines. The kids are amazed to see me. “Hello,” I say, "is your mother around?”

Their mother looks young—in her thirties, and has very bad teeth. Her blouse is closed with a row of safety pins (I have no buttons on my clothing either). I explain I‘ve walked a long way today. “Ya,” she says in heavily accented English, “you look a bit…” she falters. “Red?” I ask. She says yes. I ask to put up the tent in a corner. “I don’t care,” she says.

I set up my tent and then sit a spell, hot and spent. Boys appear briefly in odd places and then disappear, like deer. One is suddenly leaning on the wood pile, looking at me. I give a little wave. He disappears. Then another skitters by the chicken coop, looking.

A small boy appears clutching a kitten, and I cock my finger, meaning, come here, and he comes over and I pet the kitty. “Cute,” I say. He nods. I learn only one child’s name—Rachel, because her mother calls her so often.

When the Dad comes in from the field, he brings a team of four horses. I go introduce myself (he has heard I am here: over the last hour several kids and the Mom have wandered out to the field). “It was warm today,” he says, “the horses worked hard.” “Yes," I say, "it was.”

I decide to get in my tent, both to take a load off and to not be such a spectacle. The kids begin to play again. And then after a while, someone, one of the boys, is close to my tent, and he whistles a beautiful version of “Red River Valley” which charms me no end.

From this valley they say you are going.
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway a while.

So come sit by my side if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
Just remember the Red River Valley,
And the one that has loved you so true.

Later there is a lot of firefly traffic.

June 17
Evergreen to Menahga, Minnesota
7.56 miles (12.17 kms)

  • Day 48
I pack up the tent by 6:19am and at 6:20 it begins to rain. I start off, and quickly feel weary. Thunder booms and I take breaks, standing just inside an open garage, later using the Spirit Lake Town Hall outhouse. The town hall is by the road, but that’s all there is. Where the rest of the town is I couldn’t say. The forecast said crazy late today, not first thing in the morning.

I need to hitch hike, and get to Menahga, about ten miles away. The sky is fierce. Yet I let some trucks go by without sticking out my thumb: crazy.

I get a thumb only half up for the first time and a big pick-up stops. Hank Friedrichs is taking his four blond sons for chow in Menahga. We chat and he wants to know where I camped last night. “That’s Levi Miller,” he says when I tell him. “I just moved them there a week ago.”

Levi and Wilma Miller have only eleven kids. It just looked like a million. They had been living at Levi’s Dad’s place, six miles north. Levi decided they should be on their own, and bought a small place. There’s no well on the land. Levi has been taking containers by buggy to his neighbour’s place. He told Hank he’s going to dig a well by hand. Hank sighs after he tells me this. “I had a well dug last fall,” he says. “They had to go down 309 feet and it cost $10,000. Levi doesn’t have that money but I don’t know how he thinks he can hand dig a well like that.” I ask if it’s German that the Millers speak. Hank says no, it’s Dutch.

If this were a movie of the week I’d write Oprah and ask her to help some people I would guarantee have never heard of her. And I would add Levi and Wilma and their kids to the list of people I would like to do stories about—finish the trip and then go back, (with a car) and investigate: Marvin, an old guy with a donkey and llama in Montana; Milt, the farmer with the broken hitch in North Dakota, the odd community of Cathay…

In Menahga it is calm but then rains like a bastard. Then it’s sunny and kids are in the lake. Then it is dark, dark and the TV has tornado warnings for three counties surrounding Becker County, where I am. The wind is picking up.

  • Day 48

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