On a fine summer afternoon the truck rumbled along miles of rez roads, some dirt, some tar, some so narrow that long tree branches reached for each other across the road, creating a canopy through which the sunlight danced.
Weeks earlier I asked an Indian Scout if he’d give an old-fashioned tour of Fond du Lac from outpost to outpost. Show me where the outlaws live and the bodies are buried, show me the second to the last home on the rez, show me the burger and gin joints, the shopping districts and churches, the blue water and green leaves and deer tracks.
The scout said you could live your entire life on the rez and never once need to venture into Brookston.
So that day Brookston, population 95, became a prime destination. To get there, we tooled down Reservation Road to the old Ojibwe cemetery. The Scout waited patiently as I snapped up trees and white crosses and quiet through the camera lens.
Back in the truck, we approached Sweet Grass Corner. The Scout brought his monster truck to a halt and hopped down to the road, scissors in hand.
He pointed out tall grasses, reached for the satiny, light green variety and started to clip close to the ground. A car passed and the Scout frowned. Now the word would get out that the sweet grass was ready and every Indian on the rez would line up to clearcut the corner.
Grumbling, he twisted the thick knot of grass into a braid, binding the ends with twine. The Scout turned the engine key as the smell of fresh sweet grass filled the truck’s cabin.
We were Brookston-bound again, but first the Scout needed to explain the housing. He pointed to two homes built with federal funds after the 1918 fire. He opined on the small Housing and Urban Development homes dotting the road, the same style that dot just about every reservation in the country. The HUD homes are the shape of the red plastic Monopoly board game hotels, except they’re a little bigger.
The Scout opined about housing and outlaws and roads that curve hard and cause people in cars to get killed. I breathed in the sweet grass air, feeling oddly safe.
Dirt road names rushed past: Brevator, Simon, Brookston, Mahnomen, Pine, Twin Lakes. We stopped at the small Twin Lakes beach where FDLers splash on weekends. Next stop, the middle of the road near downtown Brookston, where I put the camera to use. Sadly, I left my billfold in the office. There would be no retail hunting and gathering today.
The monster truck roared into the western reaches where the Scout promised a peek at the Last House on the Rez. Deer tracks outlined Brandon Road where the tree branches way up there reached across to each other. Clearings appeared without warning: homes and garages about to be swallowed by the big woods. Maybe you want to move out here, the Scout said. It would be quiet.
Yes. Too quiet. We drove down “Our Road,” according to the road sign, where a trailer at a T-intersection prompted another photo. Call that the Second to the Last Home on the Rez.
We thundered past maybe a million trees that afternoon, or a million leaves. We saw where the outlaws hide out, and where the breeze blows gently through the pine that surround the white crosses. We did what we set out to do, see it all, photograph what appeared curious or pretty, and talk about it later.
Deborah Locke, editor, can be reached at email@example.com, or by telephone at (218) 878-2628. Her mailing address is FDL News, Tribal Ctr., 1720 Big Lake Rd., Cloquet, MN 55720