Water women


Nancy Scheibe is gathering women’s wisdom as she paddles down the Mississippi River

It was an amazing plan: To mark her 50th birthday, Nancy Scheibe decided to paddle by canoe and kayak the entire length of the Mississippi River from the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. “I didn’t want to buy into the traditional 50 years, ‘over-the-hill’ mentality,” explained Scheibe. She grew up in the Twin Cities and has always been intrigued by the river. “I wanted to do something different.”

Water Women Wisdom: Voices from the Upper Mississippi by Nancy Scheibe, published by Singing River Publications, Inc., www.singingriverpublications.com

As Scheibe began planning for the trip, her vision expanded beyond just paddling the river for herself. She began to think about meeting other women along the river to listen to and gather their wisdom.

2004: The journey begins

Part one of the journey took Scheibe and Heather Jeske Pharr on a twisting trip from Lake Itasca to Red Wing, Minn. The women covered 567 miles in 42 days in June and July of 2004. Scheibe chronicled her first trip in her recently released book, “Water Women Wisdom: Voices from the Upper Mississippi.” Written in journal format, the book is a reflection of her thoughts and day-to-day experiences. Alongside the journal entries, which are full of Scheibe’s own wisdom and drawings, are the words-and wisdom-of women she met along the way.

To find “wise women,” Scheibe put a call out for “grandmothers” to gather at several locations along the river to share their stories and wisdom. “Grandmothers” is a title of respect that she borrowed from Native American culture that recognizes the wisdom of women elders borne out of time and experience. Women of all ages were invited to the gatherings, but only those over 50 were to speak.

Scheibe was amazed by the courage of the women who came to the gatherings to tell their incredible life stories “to a stranger.” She found that “there’s a craving, a [shared] knowing that it’s time for women’s knowledge to come forward in the world.”

2007: Show up every day

Part two of Scheibe’s Mississippi River journey began Tuesday, Sept. 4, when she and her paddling partner, Kitty Kennedy, set off from Red Wing in their kayaks with a plan to reach St. Louis, Mo., in 40 days. Given that they plan to travel between 5 and 20 miles a day of this 620-mile trek, the pace could be considered somewhat leisurely. She considers her approach to the journey as an interactive one rather than one of “conquering” the river, Scheibe said.

Since the Red Wing to St. Louis part of the river offers a different set of challenges from those Scheibe experienced on the upper Mississippi-more locks and dams to navigate, more barges, more cities, more water-she will start and end her day with a ritual she practiced on her first trip. Each morning Scheibe will make an offering of kinnickinnick (a combination of dried plants including cedar and bearberry) to the river asking for safe travel and protection. She will sing a sacred Anishnaabeg song given to her by a friend to help her stay focused on her mission: “bringing women’s wisdom forward.” Each evening she will give another offering of gratitude for safe travel and for everything that happened that day.

“Day-to-day, I’m just like everyone else,” Scheibe said. “You put one foot in front of the other, and just keep going, just keep showing up every day. You’re not sure what’s going to happen, but you keep going. I hope to walk through this world without creating any harm, and do what I can to heal it.” As that attitude of “showing up every day” carries her and Kennedy on the second part of this four-part journey, women are invited to show up at the Gatherings of Grandmothers to share and hear women’s wisdom.

Beyond 2007: What’s next?

When she returns to her Ely home from St. Louis in October, Scheibe plans to write a second book in her Water Women Wisdom series and make plans for trips three and four in her river journey.

Scheibe said of her travels, “I’m amazed that I’m doing this. I never would have believed it in my wildest dreams. It started as a personal journey,” she said, “and I’m just beginning to realize what it was that I said ‘yes’ to.”

To find out when the wisdom gatherings are taking place and for updates on Scheibe and Kennedy’s journey, go to www.waterwomenwisdom.com.