Reflections on the trail
Former Hallock pastor publishes book about North Shore hike
By Anna Jauhola
One little moth just trying to blend in and not get eaten led to a former Hallock pastor writing a book about his growth and experience hiking a 310-mile route on Minnesota’s North Shore.
Last week, Frank Johnson released his book, “Rocks and Roots: Reflections on the Superior Hiking Trail.” He served as the pastor of Grace and Red River Lutheran churches from 2011 to 2020.
In 2019, Johnson admits he felt his passion for pastoring waning and felt in need of a sabbatical. The local parish granted him that request, but along with it Johnson had to work on a project to present when he returned. So he settled on creating a devotional tied to a hike along the North Shore. He began assigning Bible verses to each day long before he even departed for his trip.
“And when I actually started to walk, I started to realize, first off, it made me miserable,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I didn’t want to be writing a devotional at that point. The themes weren’t fitting what I was doing. I felt like I was spending the first several days on the trail just looking for specific things rather than actually enjoying the hike.”
After the third day, he totally dumped the devotional idea and journaled about his experience. Although he had no formal idea of what that journaling might turn into, he felt it was the right direction.
“I came across (the moth) about the 17th day of hiking,” Johnson said in a phone interview with the Enterprise. “I was walking by this trail sign … it looked like the wood was peeled back, but actually it wasn’t that somebody had taken a knife and damaged the sign. It was a moth that was the same color and texture as the board behind it.”
This experience came as Johnson questioned whether he should even continue with the trek. The moth triggered a string of seemingly inconsequential events that made Johnson think deeper along the trail. He said he observed the moth for a while, deciding whether he should care about it. After he took a picture of it and continued along the trail, he started noticing little things and caring about them, which eventually led to the title of his book. The plentiful rocks along the trail are popular with hikers because when they climb on top, it gives them perspective. The plentiful roots on the trail are the bane of their existence, however, and force hikers to slow down. This theme struck Johnson close to the heart.
He felt more connected to nature and grew as a human and a Christian. He said the hike helped him “rejuvenate the way I connected with God” outside of the daily grind and obligations. He said the ritual on the trail was walking and religious rituals followed, and became easier.
“Then I felt like there was an angle for me to share the story with other people,” he said. “It took a long time to get there, but I felt like eventually I started to have reflections that actually meant something about myself and family and faith and everything in between.”
When he returned to work at the end of his 32-day hike, refreshed and energized, Johnson said his first sermon at Grace was about that moth, and it seemed to be a flop. So he wondered how he could bring someone into that experience.
“That’s part of why I felt the need to write the book, too, because really it wasn’t enough to tell a story about a moth,” he said. “It was the moth that led into a hundred other experiences that connect with somebody, somewhere and that’s been the theme. There’s something everybody can relate to.”
About a year after his experience on the North Shore, Johnson took a call at Red Willow Bible Camp in Binford, N.D., as the executive director. He said the hike gave him perspective and helped him realize he could be a better pastor in a different position.
“It maybe pushed me to get at what was really meaningful to me,” Johnson said. “And outdoor ministry ended up being more of that call than pastoring. And I think the sabbatical made me a better pastor for a time, but one of the ways it made me a better pastor was realizing I could be a pastor in a different way.”
While Johnson knows his book would always hold a niche audience – former parishioners and possibly some hiking folk – he had no idea it would spark so much interest from Superior Hiking Trail enthusiasts. It is not a how-to book about hiking the trail. It focuses more on why a person would want to hike the North Shore.
“I think anyone who has a sense of wanting to reconnect with the natural world around them will enjoy it,” Johnson said. “It’s worth it to have something out there to share with people. And I’m glad I can get it back to Hallock to people can enjoy it in Kittson County.”
Johnson’s book, which is self-published, is available for purchase at the Kittson County Enterprise office. You can also find more information at www.rocks-roots.com.