Stage 9 // Belorado – San Juan de Ortega [23,9 Km]
Over a week in our legs, and this stage is getting a bit more difficult. We will pass a nice defile and leave several amazing spots with great views. This is one of the most rural stages so far with not that picturesque villages but nice landscape.
Our destination will probably have less than 20 people around today… and it is the perfect place to rest without being very troubled. Tomorrow will be an interesting day, so better to go early to sleep and stretch a little before it…
In April 1997, the Red River of the North overran its bank and inundated the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota and East Grand Forks, Minnesota forcing over 50,000 residents to evacuate and significant damage to both cities. In the aftermath of this flood, the two cities demolished a number of neighborhoods that stood close to the river, installed a series of massive floodways that run for nearly 15 kms along the course of the Red River, and constructed a new series of pump and lift stations. This work created a massive park, known as the Grand Forks Greenway, of over 8 square kilometers festooned with bike paths, river access, and recreation areas and separated from the residential and commercial areas of the city by a series of imposing earthen and cement flood walls pierced by gates.
Almost every day for the past four or five years, I’ve gone for a walk through Lincoln Drive Park on the Grand Forks, North Dakota Greenway. The walks aren’t terribly long, usually between 3 and 6 miles, and they follow a fairly standard course.
These walks happen all year around from the heat of the summer to all but the coldest days in the winter. I take my walks in the rain, the snow, and the wind. I’m almost always accompanied by one of my two dogs: Argos (aka Argie “The Bargepole”) or Milo (aka “Milsey”). If the dogs were to tell it, they’d say that the walks are for them, but I do remind them that I make these trips without them sometimes and sometimes on my bike. In other words, these walks aren’t just for the dogs, but fundamental to my daily routine.
I consider these walks to be pilgrimages of sorts. Pilgrimages, like most rituals, are types of routines that wrench one out of mundane existence and push one into a different space defined by movement, reflection, and the spiritual. In some cases, of course, a pilgrimage might be a once in a lifetime event, such as the Hajj, but in many cases, pilgrimages can happen more regularly. It seems to me that the key characteristic of a pilgrimage is not its frequency, but its relationship to the mundane aspects of daily life. As such, pilgrimages, as a type of experience, represents a particularly vivid example of the kind of relational category that archaeologists have increasingly used to think about their world.
Like so many people, my mundane world is deeply embedded in the digital world of screens, emails, documents, and data. My time on walks in the park is distinctly analogue. The daily tasks that shape my world vary relatively little depending on seasons, despite living in place where the seasons are intense. Even during the most bitter cold or the hottest late-summer, during draughts or floods, in the raking light of winter or the dusty harvest clouds of autumn, emails continue to arrive, text continues to require editing, students continue to want guidance, and colleagues consultation. My daily pilgrimage, despite its appearance as another routine, disrupts my tendency to immerse myself in such mundane tasks and forces me to confront the variability of the seasons and weather, happenstance of encounters in a public space, and my own thoughts as they wander over the course of an hour without the advantage of regular professional (or household) distractions that would allow them to take purchase.
Part of what allows for the distinction between my daily pilgrimage and what I’ve called my mundane world is the space of my daily sojourns. My walk begins ordinarily enough in my backyard and then I head due east down 8th avenue which is interrupted after about 200 meters, by the 5 m tall bulk of a flood wall that forms the western edge of the Grand Forks Greenway. The Greenway runs for nearly 15 km on both sides of the Red River of the North which snakes its way though our small community of around 100,000 people on its way to Lake Winnipeg and then the Hudson Bay some 1000 km to the north. The river floods regularly as it runs along the bottom of the long vanished Lake Agassiz, a massive glacial lake that discharged into the North Atlantic some 9,000 or 10,000 years ago. The Red River threatened to recreate the massive lake numerous times, and in 1897 and again in 1997 massive floods nearly destroyed the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota and East Grand Forks, Minnesota. The second of these floods prompted the evacuation of the cities and this constituted the largest peacetime evacuation of an American city prior to Hurricane Katrina landfall in New Orleans in 2005 (for a history of 1997 flood and Grand Forks’s recover see Haeselin 2017).
My daily pilgrimage passes a pumping station that serves to maintain the back pressure on the Grand Forks sewage and storm drain system and prevent flood waters from flowing through the drains and entering the city. It is where those pipes run beneath the flood wall and through the pump station that I go over the flood wall to enter the Greenway. This part of the Greenway is called Lincoln Drive Park. It’s the largest park in the Greenway system and includes all the amenities common in an American park: walking and cycling trails, a frisbee golf course, some open fields for sports, a dog park, a warming house and, in the winter an ice rink and cross-country ski trails. There are places for picnics and a boat ramp for access to the river. Just south of Lincoln park is a small golf course.
This rather ordinary setting seems like a hardly appropriate destination for a pilgrimage, but Lincoln Drive Park is not all that is seems. Prior the 1997 flood, Lincoln Park was a thriving neighborhood but the creation of the Greenway and the new network of flood walls required the razing of the homes and an elementary school here which would have stood on the wet side of the walls. The remains of this neighborhood, however, haunt the park. Trees continue to mark the routes of roads, the regular pattern of depressing in the park’s well mowed grass follow the rhythms of razed houses, and from time to time bricks, concrete pavement, and gravel paths peak through the grass to remind us of this place’s past. There is a small sculpture and a map made of inlaid bricks commemorating the lost neighborhood, but someone not familiar with the story behind these features might miss their meaning.
My daily pilgrimage route presents a series of movements and encounters that take me out of the everyday space of my life and introduce me to the transitory space of pilgrimage.
My first steps involve crossing the earthen flood wall that separates the Greenway from my neighborhood. This simple, if mildly transgressive act, of crossing a wall always triggers me to think about the recent outpouring of literature on walls of various kinds. Michel de Certeau would call my act of crossing the flood wall on foot a tactic that defies the strategic organization of my neighborhood landscape (de Certeau 1984). That I follow the route of 8th Ave. which the flood wall now interrupts links the tactic of my wall crossing to the history of the space.
My mildly transgressive act of crossing the wall brings to reminds me that for all their imposing monumentality, functioned in a wide range of ways. As Randall Maguire’s articles have shown walls can go from representing a common space for a community (such as the early fences that separated Mexico from the US) to barriers to movement and marks of division (MaGuire 2013). Laura McAtackney has reflected on the way in which walls put up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland served both to reify divisions between Catholics and Protestants as well as spaces where communities could articulate their identities (McAtackney 2011).
The earthen and concrete walls in Grand Forks do little to divide human communities. Instead, they protect the city from the unpredictable and often violent forces of Red River, and this function reinforces its role as a barrier between the ordered life of the community and the less controlled forces of nature. The design of the concrete flood walls, with their molded ashlar-like pattern deliberately evoked stone fortifications of antiquity. The earthen walls, whatever their intended aesthetic, would have made some viewers think of the fortifications at Mandan towns such as Double Ditch where ditches and earthen bases for palisades formed barriers. In this context, the tactical (sensu de Certeau) aspect of crossing the wall involved a kind of intentional misrecognition of the wall’s function. Despite its appearance, the wall isn’t meant as a barrier to human movement at all. This is simply a side effect of its strategic function to prevent the inundation of the main area of human settlement during the seasonal floods. The consequences of this strategy, however, is the setting of the Greenway and Lincoln Park apart from the everyday life of the community.
Edith and Victor Turner emphasized the communal character of pilgrimages and the powerful experience of communitas that emerge from such collective activities (E. Turner 2012). While my daily walks may appear to be outwardly solitary affairs, there remains opportunities for communitas. Once within the Greenway, the visible and invisible history of Lincoln Park itself forms a compelling companion to my daily pilgrimage. Moreover, my walk follows the course of the ever changing river and the endemic cottonwoods that inhabit the water’s edge. Further from the river, ornamental cypress and crab apple trees stand amid erstwhile yards, elms line the now vanished streets, and pine trees trace the edges of properties and driveways. White tail deer, squirrels, foxes, songbirds, hawks, eagles, owls, and the occasional human runner, canine companion, and occasional park employee, patrolling police officer, and metal detectorist share my pilgrimage space. The initial, post-flood planning stages for the Greenway emphasized its potential to act as both a recreation area and as a riparian corridor for local and migratory wildlife. At the same time, the various environmental studies of Greenway acknowledged that many of the species present along the river’s course had a long history living in urban environments and sharing their space with both people and our domesticated animals. Like the pipes managed to control the flow of river water back into the city, the riparian corridor does not end at the edges of flood walls, but extends into the neighborhoods that flank the river.
The landscape of Lincoln Park contributes to my experience of pilgrimage by defying simple definition and constantly othering itself. It is neither a purely natural space, if such places are indeed possible in the Anthropocene, nor a space dominated entirely by humanity (for a survey of these complicated issues related to the Anthropocene see Edgeworth 2021). The visible remains of earlier human activities overgrown and obscured by both natural and cultural processes make Lincoln Drive Park neither wholly contemporary nor historical. This temporal ambiguity compounds its functional history as a small-town neighborhood, a buffer designed to accommodate the spring flood waters, a riparian corridor that supports the movement of wildlife and a recreational area that accommodates my daily reverie. Like so many discussions of time in archaeology, Lincoln Drive Park reflects a constantly shifting terrain populated with contemporary movement, memories and the abundant non-human features of the landscape, from the raking light of the winter sun to the unseen scurrying of creatures on the riverbanks or the depressing depressions marking out overgrown roads.
My daily pilgrimage, then, introduces me to a complicated time and space that is distinct from the tidy definitions traced by the imperious modernity of our daily lives. My dogs, in contrast, already understand all this when they dutifully mark and catalogue the scents of their daily paths.
De Certeau, M. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. by S. Randall. Berkeley.
Edgeworth, M. 2021. “Transgressing Time: Archaeological Evidence in/of the Anthropocene” Annual Review of Anthropology 50.6: 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-101819- 110118
Haeselin, D. ed. 2017. Haunted by Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997. Grand Forks. https://doi.org/10.31356/dpb005
MaGuire, R. 2013. “Steel Walls and Picket Fences: Rematerializing the U.S.–Mexican Border in Ambos Nogales.” American Anthropologist 115: 466-480. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.12029
McAtackney, L. 2011. “Peace maintenance and political messages: The significance of walls during and after the Northern Irish ‘Troubles.’” Journal of Social Archaeology 11(1): 77–98. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469605310392321
E. Turner. 2012. The Anthropology of Collective Joy. New York 2012.