Eagle Harbor, MI – I have already learned not to look up when you’re rake-shaking an apple tree. That I need a wire leader when fishing for pike. That thimbleberries grab any opportunity to flutter to the ground. And that I need to bring my wood inside to warm it up so it’s ready for the fire.
I have learned there’s still much I need to know, about Keweenaw history, and its present, and that I want to learn a lot more than I know about mountain biking. I also learned how damaging it can be to, however unintentionally, make an alarming first impression in a small and tightly knit town.
But I am determined. The sisu, a Finnish word I learned about twice from local matriarch and all-around very-nice person Christine Jamsen, is strong with me.
Far from discouraged, I am proud to be joining ranks with some of Copper Harbor’s very best people, who had to go away, some of them many times, in order to come back and make a life in this most compelling place. If I’d managed to pull it off in one go, it probably would have felt like cheating.
‘Why would you want to move to Copper Harbor, Michigan? ‘ is not a question that locals ask. My Chicago friends and my employer, yes. But everyone who has scratched and clawed and worked three partial jobs to make a life in Copper Harbor already knows why.
At the pounding shore of the world’s largest freshwater lake, in a place so geologically dramatic I’ve struggled to find words, at the tip of an island masquerading as a peninsula, with a kaliedescope-pebbled beach on the north shore, and sugar sand bays to the south. Beribboned with waterfalls, richly veined with some of purest copper found anywhere in the world and a mining and immigrant history to match. Thick with primeval-feeling forests where the boreal meets the temperate. Birch and spruce and fir counterpoint maples and oaks that set themselves afire for the better part of October, drawing an international audience that gambles on plane tickets and hotel rooms for the slightest chance to be here at peak color. And that’s before you get into the hunting, fishing, snowfall, skiing, sledding and dogsled races. Star-blanketed, aurora-touched, interstate-free. I literally cried from happiness one day at the thought I’d found a place here and then again, not long after, at the thought I’d have to leave.
But as I’m getting ready to go this morning, I find myself crying again, this time full of gratitude for the 8 weeks I managed to visit this year, the last six in so much style! I was here two weeks during thimbleberry season and then returned for more. I doubt many found a softer landing or a nicer perch here as a visitor. I’ve had the absolute pleasure and luxury of living in the glass-fronted lakeshore log cabin of William ‘Bill’ Rose and his wife Nanno, and even made one exciting canoe trip over to their Silver Island, (though not yet taken a sauna or indulged in a ‘savage meal’ as the no-utensils-allowed eating over there is called!)
Bill, who is a spellbinding poet, world-class geologist, grandfather and raconteur, invited me to stay here these many weeks, and commanded me to “Be happy!”; (sometimes he would say “Be joyous!”), and for the largest part I have been. Many kindnesses have been bestowed upon me since I arrived. Bricks Brewery’s Jason and Jessica were not the first or last to bail me out, prop me up, or show me around, but they were among the most selfless. The whole fam-damily came over one night to fix my troublesome transmission shifter-dealie. The girls made a fire, Jess was second mechanic and I exercised my own strategic advantage in the kitchen. They wouldn’t even let me pay them anything. Uphill All the Way all the way.
I’ve been forest-bathing with wild turkeys, rubbed shoulders with a horde of multi-national leaf peepers, and learned that seeing the whole forest is the key to finding many things: mushrooms, perspective, exercise and, yes, joy.
I’m headed back this morning to Chicago, where I plan to write up some of the many food and not-food subjects I’ve reported and photographed throughout the Upper Peninsula and the Keweenaw proper, and to plot a Southwest desert winter adventure in New Mexico that will afford me more hiking, tests of strength, agility and endurance (and perhaps even some introductory mountain biking!)
At the request of Bill and Nanno, the patrons of my art, I am leading things off with a video of the povitica (Poh-Vih-TEET’-sa) -making at Toni’s Country Kitchen in Laurium.