Monday, January 27, 2014

Da U.P.

I am thankful for Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  More specifically, I am thankful that I had the chance to live there for nearly two years (Aug '91 through May '93).  The U.P. taught me so much and, I can see now, had a profound influence on my adult life.

It was the first place I moved to when I left my parents' home.  Not just a move to an apartment across town; no, this was a move of 500 miles, to a place where I knew no one other than my DH and my son.  And not to an apartment, either, but to a rental trailer on the outskirts of town.  Our mailing address was a rural route, the post office was in a town that had a different name than the stretch of land on which that rental trailer stood. Which is not uncommon in the U.P.  There are lots of places with "Location" in their name (Superior Location, Boston Location. . .) that are just tiny cross roads without their own post office.  And many places that used to be towns, 100 years ago, but now are scarcely populated, too scarcely to merit a postmaster.

Anyway, living in the U.P. I was exposed to a different way of life than is the norm for lower Michigan.  In the U.P., you need to expect to be responsible for yourself.  Your very life depends on it.  That's not to say that people in the U.P. aren't helpful and don't look out for each other.  Because they do.  Very much so.  But in the U.P., you need to plan ahead, you need to not be afraid of physical labor, and you need to be aware of what is going on around you.  You could be mauled by a bear, eaten by wolves, or fall off a cliff while hiking.  You could drive off the road into a snowbank, you could be snowed into your home by a blizzard, you could be carried off by black flies.

Well, from my personal experience, falling off a cliff while hiking, driving into a snowbank, or experiencing a blizzard-- I've been there, done that, for two out of the three, and came really close to the third-- are much more likely than death by wildlife. Although the latter is not out of the realm of possibility.  The black flies are vicious in season, bears abound (and tend to frequent the dumpster at the grocery store--park in front of the store, not behind!!), and I have seen wolves several times just going about my normal daily activities while living in the U.P.  The majority of carnivorous wildlife runs from humans more often than not.  Black flies being the exception.

Mostly, though, living in the U.P. taught me to not fear snow.  Snow is a fact of life up there, as sure, six months out of the year, as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening.  Snow is not a howling monster.  Snow is a blanket, an insulator.  Snow is a friend, making tracking deer during hunting season much, much easier.  Snow is a necessary ingredient for winter fun.  For skiing, both downhill and cross country.  For snowmobiling.  For snow shoeing.  For building snow sculptures as large as houses, and just as detailed as the carved woodwork in most of the old buildings up there.

life size snow sculpture, Jan. 1992

Snow is way easier to drive on than ice and slush.  That is something that people in the Lower Peninsula don't seem to understand.  They go crazy salting the roads to melt the snow off of them, and cars go whizzing into the ditches from lack of traction in the mush.  Snow, properly maintained, can be driven on quite well.  And is, for months, in the Upper Peninsula.

In order to have snow, there must be cold.  Cold also is not to be feared.  Cold should be respected, and met with adequate preparation, both in terms of heating ability (often wood--many native Yoopers talk of "making wood", which is cutting and splitting and stacking firewood in the seasons before they need to actually burn it) and in clothing that is right for conditions.  Warm trumps fashionable.  Then again, U.P. clothing is it's own fashion.  Ear flap hats and plaid flannels are a must.  Big, clunky boots with thick linings, yes, got to have them!  Face masks for the windy and coldest days, and thick gloves.  Bibbed overalls with linings.  Snowmobile suits. And that's just to go to the grocery store or the school bus in December!  During a real windy and cold snap, say, in January, you might find it advantageous to 'grease' your face before going outside in order to protect any exposed skin from windburn.  When I first moved there, I thought the person who told me to rub Crisco into my cheeks was kidding.  They weren't.  And it helped.  So, grease your face if you need to.

Cold enables ice skating and ice fishing.  Luge run building.  Both winters that we lived in the U.P., DH iced down the snowbank that continually grew all winter at the house-end of our driveway.  He crafted a track in that snowbank that was just the size to fit DS1's sled.  DS1, being 2 and 3 years old during his winters in the U.P., would climb that snowbank (which sometimes reached eight foot tall), jump on his sled, and fly down the iced track.

DS1 at 2yrs old, going down his 'luge run'

  We even had a cat that loved to ride on the back of his sled and experience the luge for himself.

DS1, at 3yrs old, and our cat, at the end of a luge session

It's been over 20 years since DH and I moved back downstate from the U.P.  The engineering jobs might be down here, but our hearts have remained up there.  We often find ourselves at odds with the mindset and lifestyles down here in the lower part of the Lower Peninsula.  We don't subscribe to the panic when the weather man says "Snow!  Wind!  Cold!"  We just plan to stoke the wood boiler twice a day, make sure all our warm winter gear is ready to put on, and watch out for all the people on the roads who have no clue how to drive in snow.  There is always food in the cellar and freezers, no need for daily (or weekly!) store runs.  And on nice clear, frigid, below zero 
winter weekends, we head out to our woods and "make wood", keeping ourselves warm by cutting and stacking the downed and dead trees that will heat our home in winters to come.

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