Tuesday, March 02, 2004

FEBRUARY 24, 2004

In the afternoon, after completing my interviews for the day, I had daylight left for a drive to Houghton-Hancock farther up the Keweenaw Peninsula in the "Copper Country." I had anticipated stopping to have something to eat in Houghton. To tell the truth, though, the whole adventure got to be fairly unattractive. Maybe I suffered a bout of "the U.P. Effect*."

After a lovely drive from L'Anse as far as Chassell, things seemed to get crowded and ugly. Cottages were piled one next to the other along the water as I neared Houghton, as crowded as any strip at the edge of Fargo, North Dakota, or Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Where I entered Houghton proper, the campus of Michigan Technological University had been set down as strange and dizzying as an outpost from another planet. There were some lovely snow sculptures in front of dorms, I have to admit, but things got worse from there. Downtown Houghton seemed crowded, noisy, closed in. I'm not claustrophobic, at least I think I'm not, but it was getting hard to breathe. Hancock, across the bridge, was more of the same. I felt as if the two cities had sucked into themselves everything that the Upper Peninsula should not be: as if the two cities sopped up the poisons so that the rest of the U.P. could remain as lovely as it is.

I will freely admit the quiet loveliness of L'Anse and Baraga had enchanted me so that anything I say couldn't possibly be objective, but I'll say it anyway: Houghton and Hancock really disoriented me. Flin-Flon, Manitoba had the same kind of spooky effect on me some seventeen years ago: I felt I couldn't possibly spend a night in a motel in that city with so much exposed rock, Canadian shield. Similarly with Houghton-Hancock, I couldn't get out of there fast enough: when a sign in Hancock pointed out that I could turn here and take Highway 41 back the way I'd come, that's what I did. I turned around and drove hard for L'Anse. I didn't stop to get anything to eat in Houghton, I didn't stop and get out of the car. I didn't stop and get any of those cities onto my shoes or my clothes or my soul.

I'm sure Houghton and Hancock are quite lovely cities in other circumstances. I got spooked: they were not lovely for me today.

I should mention that the snow gets deeper and deeper the closer you get to Houghton-Hancock, even deeper than what I'd seen in Baraga County. North of Chassell I saw that snow had been repeatedly scooped off a ranch house along the road, so much snow scooped off that you couldn't see the house, only enough roof-line to establish the notion of a house behind the great fortress of snow. Within Houghton and Hancock, the piles of snow I saw at the edges of parking lots and such went to twenty-five or thirty feet high.

These people do know how to endure, I have to say that. They do know how to handle snow. They know how to get on with the business of living despite the long and harsh winters.

I just wish Houghton and Hancock hadn't seemed so out of character with the rest of the Upper Peninsula.
*"U.P. Effect" is the disorientation that results when you are snatched too quickly out of the Upper Peninsula's natural beauty of woods and water and set down suddenly into any part of the rest of the world.



Ivan Burgess at the 25c ECHO (501 W. Third, #12, Smith Center, KS 66967) just couldn't leave it alone. In his issue for the week of February 16th, he did it again: "Since the furor of the Super Bowl half-time show has died down it has been kind of hard to keep abreast of the news."

Of another matter, he said: ""Maybe you are not supposed to comment on this subject but I'm old enough that I can comment on anything I dang well please." It helps to have met Ivan, to know that he's a funny guy; his humor is so low key sometimes even he thinks he's serious.



We don't often think of the smell of it as being an attribute of the place. Yet it is. The rotten egg smell of a town like Prince George, BC, with its paper mills is an obvious example of a man-made smell of a place. The slightly limey tang to the air in Cozumel is a more subtle version. In the natural realm, there is the muskiness of marshes, the bright slap of scent in a mountain meadow, the dusky breath of desert.

We say landscape. What we mean is the shape of the land. The great long, calm roll of the plains. The sensuality of mountains. The bare rock and scrub tree austerity of Thompson, Manitoba. The sweetness of woods and water.

Are the picture perfect landscapes still beautiful when no one is there to see them?


MARCH 2, 1998

The five robins we saw on Saturday must be surprised by the snow on the ground this morning - half an inch or more. The streets are entirely clear now, the day is luminous, there is moisture on the driveway and streets where the snow has melted.

When it fell, the snow was wet enough that it is still burdening all the trees and bushes. There is no wind, so the snow will cling until the sun does its work, expected soon.

It is the ordinary that I find attractive. Today is an ordinary day - only it's extraordinarily lovely.

In the country, a fog reduces visibility - a seed enclosed in the seed pod, a day not yet opened entirely. At Five Corners, donkeys in the fog, on snow: they are a bright surprise. Some photographer for National Geographic could do them justice.

Once again I am reminded: Don't gauge the day too soon.



I am not very political, but...
I wonder why is it that the people who talk so much about wanting less government intrusion in their lives seem all too willing to intrude in the lives of others and force their narrow brand of morality on the rest of us?

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