Sunday, July 03, 2016

Letter: The Keweenaw as Shangri-la

Peaceful, scenic view of Lake Superior from Esrey Park, near Copper Harbor in Keweenaw County. (Keweenaw Now file photos unless otherwise indicated.)

While you’re out digging snow six months a year you may not feel how blessed you are to live on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

When you’re having trouble finding a job you may wonder why you live there. 

When you want to see great theater, visit art museums, eat in Indian or Thai restaurants --  take a trip. 

But who needs restaurants when those potluck dinners people have on the Keweenaw offer great food. Companionship. Fun! Do you realize nobody in the rest of the country gets together regularly anymore for potlucks?

As someone in Florida who’s lived many places both in the U.S. and Europe, followed by four recent years on the Keweenaw, I’m telling you: You are living in Shangri-la. (Shangri-la = A distant and secluded hideaway, usually of great beauty and peacefulness.) Great beauty and peacefulness, that’s it!

Reason Number One to be grateful you’re living there: The stars!

Just read a report that 80 percent of Americans cannot see the Milky Way. Light pollution from cities. Even on the Keweenaw in the places where there are lights you don’t see enough stars. On Route 26 in Lake Linden I didn’t see many.

But when I got to move up the hill to a woods in Calumet I went out in the back yard one clear September night and -- Voilà, the universe! My God!!!! The sky was so thick with stars it looked fake, like a stage set. I had to laugh out loud.

View of Northern Lights in the Keweenaw by photographer Steve Brimm. Click on photo for larger version. (Photo © and courtesy Steve Brimm)

"A miracle."  

That’s how people who looked up felt for thousands of years, before electric lights started preventing people from seeing beyond our planet.

I’m begging you who still get to live there: please, please protect the view of the stars you’ve got now. Please don’t install more lights. Don’t build many new buildings, lighted roads or parking lots.

Reason Number Two to be grateful: The silence.

If you don’t appreciate your lack of traffic and airplane noise in itself,  you might think about its rarity in the year 2016. I’ve read Finland is making money from "silence tourism," promoting silence and nature to urbanites from all over the world who are starving for it.

The main disturbers of your Keweenaw silence are snowmobiles and four wheelers or whatever they’re called. Could that noise be deadened somehow? To a silence lover it’s pretty jarring and horrendous.

Reason Number Three for gratitude: The Wildflowers.

Daisies grow wild in the Keweenaw.

When I first moved up the hill to Calumet -- actually already the summer before I moved -- I was so happy to again live in a house with a yard that I immediately began planting flowers. Red roses and purple pansies by the back door. Along the walkway between house and garage a long row of perennials. Delphinium. Lilies. Hydrangeas. 

Long line of gorgeous perennials I bought either at that wonderful nursery in Lake Linden or occasionally from that one in Houghton. I spent many, many hours digging, watering, thinking where to put what. Oh, to see my flowers this summer!

But! After doing all that gardening one day I changed my mind: "I wish I’d planted only wild flowers."

Forget-me-nots! My favorite flower in the world maybe -- growing everywhere. For freeeee!  Having paid six dollars for each small plant I had put in my yard in South Hadley, Massachusetts, I just could not believe your forget-me-nots.

Are you appreciating forget-me-nots? And lupines? Your wild pink roses along the roadsides. Daisies. Lilacs. (Okay, somebody planted the first lilacs. But they’re wild now.)

"Wild" lilacs.

If 80 percent of Americans don’t see the Milky Way, I’d bet 90 percent don’t see wildflowers.

In Massachusetts there are highways with wildflower swaths the state spends thousands of dollars each year to plant and maintain. But free, volunteer plants that spring up on their own? Doesn’t happen anymore.

I lived for 40 years in New England, which I thought the best place in this country until I met the Keweenaw. There are lovely winding roads around farms and villages in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut. But wildflowers in the profusion they grow on the Keweenaw? Nothing like.

Believe me, your views of stars, your silence and your wildflowers will be gone soon if you don’t make a conscious decision to keep the wildness as it is. With global warming more people will be coming and building houses. The Keweenaw will look the same as every place else.

Reason Number Four: So many trees!

Please, please stop taking them for granted.

Reason Number Five: The miles of free beaches along Lake Superior.

Beach at the Bete Grise Preserve, known for its "singing sand." 

Do you know what you’d have to pay to go to a beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, or here in Florida? You’d pay for parking at the very least, if you could even find a parking space -- big if. You’d pay in stress from driving on busy highways on your way there. You’d pay the price of loud music blasting all around you when you finally get to the beach covered with bodies.

Reason Number Six:  Free paths and walkways through nature.

Chances are there’s a path through the woods walking distance from where you live. Good Lord! Never existed any place I’ve ever lived in my life. Usually to get to a woodsy path in a state or national park in the U.S.A. first you drive on 8-lane highways.

Reason Number Seven: Music and dancing.

There are astoundingly many excellent musicians performing all around you every weekend. Anywhere else in this country you’d pay big bucks for high quality live music.

I know. This is a cultural thing, not wildness. But the culture of inexpensive or free music and dancing, along with the potlucks, is even rarer in this country than your stars, silence and wildflowers. 

Please take your children dancing! The fun they’ll have, the skills they’ll develop, the memories. They’ll do it all their lives and continue with their own children. Besides unconditional love and healthy food there’s nothing you could give your children more valuable than music and dancing.

Please join FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), Save the Wild U.P., the Keweenaw Land Trust -- and be active in promoting preservation of the Shangri-la you get to live in.

If you don’t make every effort to preserve it now the Keweenaw will be lost to new mining, possibly even a radioactive waste dump, new military operations -- or simply to "development."

Please be so progressive as to be conservative. 

All the best, from someone who’s lost your paradise.

Mary Jane Williams
Winter Springs, Florida

1 comment:

krisbon2000 said...

NNever been up there, made as far as Hancock ones,your blog sure can inspire one to take a trip to Keweenaw Peninsula, thank you for sharing....Kris Boniecki.