Manitou, referring to spirit beings in Algonquian groups of Native Americans, is also the name of a river along Minnesota’s north shore. The Manitou River runs through George Crosby Manitou State Park where I decided to camp alone Saturday night.
Camping, to many northerners, is synonymous with relaxation. Normally I feel relaxed on camping trips but as soon as I hit the trail leading to the Manitou River, I felt anxious and alone. Shortly after stringing my hammock, starting a fire and setting up camp, I scribbled a poem in my notebook:
A bird squawks,
tree snaps then
falls to the forest floor.
I sit with my side to the fire
staring blankly at the mess
of trees and greenery
separating me from the world.
My Sawyer bag hangs from
a nearby tree like an IV stand.
I feel like some sick person
put up in a hospital with
pictures of a forest on the wall,
like a fallen and forgotten tree
waiting to disappear into the earth.
Then, from behind a stump, a toad
hops toward my feet and stares
dumbly at me, and I smile
, feeling no longer alone.
It wasn’t until after my trip to the Manitou River that I researched the cultural history and meaning of Manitou:
“Another version of Manitou lives on Earth and presents itself through people, nature, animals or objects that surround the Native Americans. In addition to the Great Spirit and Manitous as people or objects, each Native American has his own Manitou which serves as a personal protector. Each Native American must discover through which animal Manitou presents itself to him before he can find comfort in the protection it offers. Until Manitou presents itself to a Native American, he feels forsaken.” –“Manitou” by Andrea Erat
I never would have guessed a spirit being would present itself to me through a lumpy toad, but I felt something at that moment that I couldn’t ignore: My mind was fleeting and forsaken until that toad arrived.
Later that night, I fed the fire to scare off other predators while I slept and could hear the pattering of a toad in the leaves under my hammock. Finally, I felt comfortable and relaxed.
My quest for vision, pause, and peace was finally coming into focus. Maybe it was the act writing down my thoughts instead of letting them curl into thin air with the fire’s blue smoke. Maybe it was the squawking bird or the fallen tree. Maybe it was the presentation of Manitou through the lumpy toad. Whatever it was, I’m happy it came.