Water * Wisdom * Women A Voyage of Discovery

August 7, 2007

Water * Wisdom * Women - "Now is the time for the feminine to come forward"

Guest paddlers on the trip - Christina Jeske, Leslie Munchhof, Laurie Jeske in the canoe and Heather Jeske in the kayak.
©Nancy Scheibe
Turning 50 had an impact on Nancy Scheibe that surprised her. To celebrate the strength that comes with age she decided to paddle the upper portion of the Mississippi River and the Water Women Wisdom project was born. The curiosity for the river that began for Nancy when she stood in the headwaters at the age of eight would finally be satisfied. On June 5, 2004 Nancy and paddling partner, Heather Jeske, began paddling a 575-mile journey that included nine gatherings of women along the Mississippi River. Their journey began in Itasca State Park and came to an end July 16 in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The expedition began in canoes due to obstacles in the water that required a quick and easy entry and exit of the boats. At its start, the river was no more than a creek with beaver dams, downed trees and the occasional fast-moving rapids. Encounters with beaver, otters, deer and countless birds made traveling a rich experience. Soon, the river widened and the paddling team encountered a floating bog. Accompanied by the calls of red-wing and yellow-headed blackbirds, they successfully mastered the challenge of navigating the floating bogs by watching the direction of the reeds at the bottom of the river. Later miles were paddled in solo kayaks, with the assistance, most days, of car support for transporting food and gear.

Floating Marsh
Barb Van Hauer, a guest paddler, in the floating bog.
©Sara Jo Dickens
Campsites on the upper portion of the Mississippi River are designated and clearly marked on the river maps acquired from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Most of the campsites along this portion of the river are not accessible by car, adding to the wilderness experience. The river winds through farmland and wilderness and few other boats are seen on the water. Each of the dams provided a route to portage around them, but they also offered their own physical challenges.
A typical misty morning on the river.
©Nancy Scheibe

Nancy experienced the river as having an ever-changing personality. There were sections that were rocky with exhilarating rapids, sections that quietly meandered around inviting islands and sections that were dotted with homes with manicured lawns. Nature was present with every paddle. Pelicans, herons, eagles and ducks of all kinds were around each bend in the river.


Paddling with the cows.
Christina Jeske, a guest paddler, and cows on the river bank – eyeing each other.
©Nancy Scheibe

Paddling through the Twin Cities, the river took on an urban personality. Industrial areas and parked barges created a unique experience of the river as Nancy and Heather felt dwarfed by their surroundings. The river changed from an intimate, quiet nature to that of an expansive, grand environment. They were greeted enthusiastically by the attendants at the five locks and dams they traveled through. Passing barges were met with great respect and proved to be less threatening than they had anticipated. The boat traffic became a normal part of the days paddling and camping on its shores always felt like home.

Heather paddling into  MInneapolis.
Heather paddling into Minneapolis.
©Nancy Scheibe

The experience of paddling and camping on the Mississippi River for 42 days was only one part of the journey. Another rich element came from gatherings of “Grandmothers” at nine different locations and their willingness to share their stories and wisdom. “Grandmother” is a term borrowed from the Native American culture which denotes a title of great respect; one that recognizes wisdom born out of time and experience. This term includes women age 50 and older, regardless of whether they have children or grandchildren. The gatherings were held around Sacred Peace Fires.

The mission of the Water Women Wisdom journey is to celebrate the value, power and sacred abilities of women by giving the Grandmothers a voice, gathering their truths and sowing those seeds far and wide. The stories and wisdom of the women who gathered, as well as the story of the journey down the river, are shared in an insightful book entitled Water Women Wisdom; Voices from the Upper Mississippi. The sharing of the feminine spirits is an inherent quality of the book.

Paddling into the marina at Red Wing, Minnesota Nancy realized her journey was not yet over – the rest of the great Mississippi beckoned her. Planning for the second leg of paddling the river to gather more women's wisdom began immediately. However, it wasn’t until the fall of 2006, a year before the journey would continue, that the concept really took off. This is where I come in. I humbly agreed to join Nancy on the second leg of this journey, embarking in Red Wing on September 4, 2007. With the expedition a month away, planning is moving at a fast pace and will continue until we drive out of Ely. I never could have dreamed there were so many details to be worked through in planning such an adventure. Trip itinerary, reservations, gathering locations, camping supplies, food, gear, fundraising, physical training, meetings, discussions and more meetings.

Nancy Scheibe and Kitty Kennedy.
Nancy Scheibe and Kitty Kennedy, 2007 paddling partners.
©Sarah Kingston

You can follow our journey and read our perspectives in weekly journal entries Nancy and I will share from the river on our web site. We will be arriving in St. Louis, Missouri on October 12th and hold a women’s gathering on October 13th. This October 13th gathering will be the last of nine gatherings held during this Red Wing to St. Louis leg of the journey. The complete trip itinerary for this leg, with gathering dates and locations, can be viewed on the website.

Women are invited to paddle with us down the river. If you would like to join us, all the information you need is on the website. All women are encouraged to participate at the gatherings, although only those age 50 and over will be invited to speak. There is so much wisdom to be shared, heard and gathered. There is so much strength in the feminine spirit. Come embrace the feminine spirit with us: "Now is the time for the feminine to come forward." (Native American and Daoist Prophecy).

Kitty Kennedy
One feminine spirit.