Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Veritas Caput

Itasca State Park is everything that is right with the world. The root of its name, veritas caput, Latin for “true head,” the name taking the last three letters of the first word and the first two letters of the second word, marks more than the headwaters of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota. Driving in, the very narrow, winding Main Park Drive, would seem to be just fine if you’re in a single vehicle, but towing anything—say, a 13-foot Scamp—you’ll feel every little bump. The speed limit here is 30 mph and you won’t feel like driving much faster than that.

For me, Itasca is symbolic as well as literal. I get the same feeling anywhere I drive in Hubbard County, if it’s driving Hwy 34 towards Park Rapids and Nevis, if I’m driving Hwy 13 to my grandparents’ Cabin, if I’m driving Hwy 87 or Hwy 11 or Hwy 6. It’s more than feeling like I’m home. But when I’m away, I never feel like my lungs fully inflate and then I get back here and all I can think is that I can finally breathe.

The world here is green and it isn’t so much the variety of colors of green that make Itasca—and northern Minnesota, for that matter—what it is. It’s the textures of green, from the lace of the ferns to the spikes of pine needles to the poison ivy leaves at your ankles to the birch leaves overhead. But green in Minnesota is more than a color and even more than a texture. Green becomes the color of light, it becomes the taste in your mouth when you wake up in the morning and step outside your camper, it becomes a sound. You might be able to discern the individual sounds of wind in the leaves and loon calls, but together the sound is simply green. Green is what you wrap yourself in when you go to sleep, regardless of the actual color of your bedding, green is the warmth of the electric blanket, the cool and damp of the air coming in through the window that’s cracked over your head. Green is what you sprinkle over your morning cereal, what you add to your coffee or tea to add a little spunk. And when you leave, green becomes the color of the shadow that follows you home.


  1. And THIS is why I am coming home to Minnesota. I need to breathe. It's almost like my center is spinning out of control, and I go home, dig my toes into the damp sand down by the lake, and BREATHE as my roots reconnect. Wonderful.

  2. We will be picking up our new Scamp from the factory on May 17th, and planned to camp at Itaska one night before we head back to South Dakota. Thanks for your description, hope the weather cooperates.

  3. Congrats on your new Scamp! What did you get? I hope you'll let me know what you think of Itasca. In addition to seeing the Headwaters, etc, make sure you drive the Wilderness Loop.