Hunting Camp Thoughts
I recalled the hunting camp
During this sodden green week.
Rain dripped from the eaves.
Mosquitoes hummed. Pines and firs
Palisaded the creek’s bank.
Hunting Camp Thoughts
I recalled the hunting camp
During this sodden green week.
Rain dripped from the eaves.
Mosquitoes hummed. Pines and firs
Palisaded the creek’s bank.
A door, a wide porch
Cordwood for the cast-iron stove
A table, chairs, beds
The window the bear camethrough
Mud Creek rippling past outside
I doan tink I sound
Much like a Yooper no more
But hearing a good
Strong Copper Country accent,
I can feel it in my mouth.
(Inspired by Kristin Ojaniemi’s gorgeous, thought-provoking documentary about hunting camps in the western U.P., UP a River.)
What: the Marji Gesick 100
When: Saturday, September 26, 2016: 7:47 total riding time, about 9 hours total time on course.
Why: Because the MG is supposed to be one of the hardest MTB races in the Midwest, if not the country, with more than 10,000 feet of climbing over the 100-mile distance, and because I need to finish a 100-mile MTB race. I’m 0-3* lifetime!
Also, because I’d never raced in the homeland!
Where: Marquette to Ishpeming, Michigan – in the center of the gorgeous Upper Peninsula. Our drive up to the race took me through some old stomping grounds and directly past my Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Channing. This is a fire tower outside Crystal Falls, not their house.
The course was mostly singletrack in the woods – always demanding and often relentlessly technical. Though there was plenty of fast, fun trail
Best gear: My front shock and my Bontrager XR2 tires, run tubeless at about 20 psi.
Worst gear: My rear derailleur, which failed catastrophically at mile 53.
The low point was when chain suck wrapped the derailleur around my cassette and neither I nor a fellow racer could fix it or switch the bike to singlespeed.
The key lesson I learned was that I have the fitness for a long MTB race, and that my technical skills have improved enough that they’re no longer a liability (as they’d been at the 2015 Chequamegon 100). I just need to combine those qualities with a good day from the bike – or a different, more forgiving bike. It’s no surprise that virtually all the finishers rode full-suspension machines.
The takeaway is that the Marji Gesick is a great event run on a stupid hard course. I need to get back to there in 2017 and earn a finish like my friend Galen:
* My results in four attempts at century-length MTB races:
My maternal grandfather can be politely described as a distant figure. I didn’t know him well and was kind of frightened by him until one day when I was in my twenties on which I realized he was actually a pretty small guy with a flannel shirt over a barrel chest.
When I was a kid, he was an “owner-operator” at Jauquet Trucking, driving tractor-trailers for a living.
As such, during my visits to my grandma’s house he was usually on the road (hauling logs to the paper mills), working outside in his garages on his white and blue trucks, or asleep on the sofa.
My grandpa’s life then was as probably as far from my life now as two white guys’ lives can be, though of course his work (and my grandma’s, and my other grandparents’, and my parents’) made my present life possible. When I think about these facts of generational change, class mobility, and all that, I think that he would find my current life almost impossibly frivolous. Working indoors all day? In an office at a college? Not making my children work all the damn time? Spending my free time (free time!?) riding a bicycle?
And yet my bike has created an odd sense of connection to him. Being out in all weather? He might appreciate that, though he might also wonder why I don’t earn any money by doing my winter rides.
I’m hardly handy, but I handle some of the mechanical stuff on my bike now and then, and invariably I get grimy and have to wash up at the utility room sink with a dollop of citrus-scented pumice soap. That smell sends me right back to the kitchen at my grandma’s house, where I’d be sitting drawing or reading and waiting for dinner – maybe one of my Grandma’s homemade pasties. When Grandpa came in from the garage, he’d wash his hands at a tiny sink off the kitchen, scrubbing and scrubbing at the grease and dirt with a pumice soap that smelled faintly orangey.
His was a no-nonsense block of Lava soap, where mine is probably made from ethically-collected pumice and free-range oranges, but there you go. Once sufficiently (but never completely) clean, he sit down at his spot in the corner and we could all eat.
That indoors memory is complemented by an equally distinct but much less predictable outdoors memory. The truck garages were massive hangar-like spaces, dimly lit, full of trucks and truck parts and tools.
Their dirt floors were slick and black with oil, and the air was full of the smell of grease. My life now is as un-greasy as could be, except when I work on my bikes and at random moments out riding, when I encounter that same creosote smell. Sometimes it’s coming from wet railroad ties at the spot where some lonely road crosses the tracks. Other times, it’s coming from ties that someone’s repurposed for a bridge on a bike trail. Other times, it’s from telephone poles – maybe a stack of new ones awaiting installation or, like last Sunday, a pile of old ones stacked mysteriously at the edge of a marsh where I’ve paused to take a break. The melting snow was driving out an overpowering scent of creosote, and for the minute I was there, drinking water and pissing into the reeds, I was eight or ten or twelve again, standing in Grandpa’s truck garage. Luckily for me, there was a U.P. pasty waiting for me back home – not Grandma’s, but a good one just the same.
I was probably in elementary school when I first heard people talking about how the area where we lived, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – a.k.a. Upper Michigan, the U.P., or now, “da Yoop,” – could or even should be a separate state.
This state – North Michigan or perhaps Superior – ought to be separate, the thinking went, due to the stark geographical and demographic differences between the U.P. and the Lower Peninsula – a.k.a. the L.P., “the Mitten,” or just “Michigan.” Anyhow, the only reason “we” were part of Michigan was the stupid compromise with Ohio over Toledo.
I didn’t know then, but was fascinated to learn later, that (as Wikipedia says in its article on Superior) Yoopers had agitated for the area’s statehood in the years just before I was born in the U.P.’s southermost city. This agitation in fact reached a high point just after I was born, with an unsuccessful effort to pull the U.P. and the northerly parts of Wisconsin out of their respective states and combine them into a new state, something like this, which I saw recently on the amazing Lost States blog:
I loved the idea then and I love the idea now, even as I recognize that a state of Superior would probably be unfeasible, if not terrible, as a political or economic entity. (Recent-ish news coverage of the idea says as much here in the Detroit Free Press and here in the New Republic.)
One of the reasons that Superior would not be a great state is it’s big and empty – Wyoming, but all forests; Alaska, but no tundra. Wikipedia says in its entry on the U.P. (the actual place, not the imaginary state) that “the Upper Peninsula remains a predominantly rural region. As of the 2010 census, the region had a population of 311,361,” of whom only a third live in one of the twelve towns that have populations greater than 4,000 people.
Even if Superior included both all of the current U.P. and the Wisconsin counties that (or almost) border da Yoop*, you’d only get a total population (if you believe those lying liars at the U.S. Census) of 410,340. This scattering of humans over almost 22,000 square miles would make Superior – as of the 2010 census – the state with the smallest population, well behind Wyoming’s throng of 563,626. (The numbers would rise a little, but not much, if you included the several other Wisconsin counties that the Lost States map above include within Superior.)
For comparison’s sake, Wyoming’s capital, Cheyenne, had a population of 92,000 in 2010 – a third bigger than Marquette County, the most populous county in Superior, and 425% bigger than Marquette city, which, with a population of 21,355 in 2010, is the most populous city in
the U.P. Superior. Marquette – as the putative capital of Superior – would be the fourth-smallest state capital, bigger only than teeny-tiny Montpelier (just 7,855 people lived there in 2010!), Pierre, and Augusta.
And like many a rural, underpopulated state full of white people and public lands and almost wholly dependent on tourism and natural resources (in the U.P., lumbering and mining), Superior would probably be a blood-red state. In 2012, all but two U.P.’s counties went for Romney in 2012, and all but one supported the (horrifyingly bad) Republican governor. The U.P.’s fifteen counties – grouped in Michigan’s first congressional district – have elected Republican and Tea Partier Dan Benishek to the House of Representatives in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
So yes, Superior is a terrible idea.
But still, we can have some fun with the idea, right? A few facts, ideas, and guesses about what Superior would be like:
* Running west to east, Ashland, Iron, Vilas, Forest, Florence, and Marinette. The latter is the most populous in the group, and would be the second-most populous county in the state, after Marquette County in
Even though our vacation came at the start of summer, we saw lots of firewood for sale in the UP. Every other rural house or small-town gas station seemed to be selling camp wood for sale, always on the honor system. $4 a bundle was the normal rate, but I did see some priced to move at $3. This appears to an unexploited marketplace inefficiency. Someone should buy all the cheap wood, then sell it to desperate tourists at campgrounds for $6.
Here and there, I also saw bigger quantities for sale – by the cord, by the pile, or even by the truckload, albeit through a raffle.
When I’m out in "bad" weather, I think a lot about how much time my grandfathers – a farmer on my dad’s side, a trucker and logger on my mom’s – must have spent outside in horrible conditions, doing their jobs. I’m lucky that I can choose to go outside and enjoy (not just endure) the experience of being outside, no matter temperature, precipitation, wind, etc.
Of course, both grandpas knew how to enjoy winter, too. Here – at a Christmas in the late 1990s – is Grandpa Jauquet at the reins of his sleigh, pulled by his two Belgian workhorses and laden with grandkids, including me, Shannon, my sister, and a bunch of my cousins.
Late-summer rides often pass by fields where farmers are haying. I wish I remembered more about haying on my grandpa’s farm in the U.P. I didn’t participate in the haying very often – maybe five times – but I remember driving the big old truck up and down the rows. I was in elementary school, so I could barely see over the dashboard. I remember how we’d freeze water in washed-out milk jugs so we’d have cold water to drink in the fields. I remember how the hay got into everything – clothes, shoes, hair… The warm, dry smell stayed with you for days.
When my mom visited a while ago, I scanned a bunch of old family pictures that she’d brought down. One of them is this (rather bad) shot of one of the dogs my grandpa had when we lived with him on the farm in North Ironwood, Michigan. This scruffy mutt’s name was Musti, which we understood to be Finnish for “Blackie.” He was a good dog, but a farm dog through and through. I’m sure he came inside sometimes, or maybe every day, but he spent most of his time outside. He must have smelled awful, but you can see the intelligence in his face. My recollections are of him trotting protectively after my grandpa as he did farm chores or, alternatively, lying on the roof of the entrance to the cellar – which is where he’s standing here. Rain or shine, sun or snow, Musti would lie there, just the other side of the kitchen window, where he and Grandpa could keep an eye on each other. The second he saw Grandpa get up from his chair at the kitchen table, Musti would scramble up and jump down from his perch to go wait by the front door.
Adam Yauch, better known as MCA and one of founding members of the excellent and influential rap group Beastie Boys, died on Friday. (This obituary is especially good.)
Hearing that MCA had died made me really sad. Listening to his music nonstop since then has made me a bit happier, but I’ve been listening to the Beasties ever since I saw their seminal video for “Shadrach” on Yo! MTV Raps in 1989 – well over half my life ago. Yauch died after a battle with cancer, which is perhaps a better way to die than Kurt Cobain’s. Cobain and Yauch are – so far – the two biggest losses in my musical pantheon, but I suppose that I’m at a point in my life at which I can expect every few years to lose someone whose art I’ve enjoyed.
The Beastie Boys were important to me because they represented – or at least presented – a kind of life that I couldn’t imagine: free living, hard partying, rebellious, intentionally stupid, and above all New York. Their accents alone! I remember thinking as I watched an interview with them, “People really do talk like that!”
But the music was much more than any of that. Along with Public Enemy – whose music I discovered at just about the same time – the Beasties changed the way I listened to music and changed the kind of music I prefer.
Prior to getting into the Beasties and PE, I was only really into REM, though I also listened to whatever was on FM radio in the U.P. But after hearing the way MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D could create urgent, heart-pounding music out of dense layers of sound – samples, original music, raps – I realized that music didn’t have to be guitars, a bass, drums, and a singer. When I slowly made my way toward jazz a decade later, I found that I dug the music that somehow resembled PE/BB-style rap: kaleidoscopic free jazz like Ornette Coleman, kinetic trios like the Bad Plus or Jason Moran, even classic big-band like Ellington and Basie.
And the Beasties’ hardcore-meets-hip hop tracks – try “Gratitude” – showed me that rock was a broader category than the hair-band metal on the radio. This spun me off toward a ton of music that I still enjoy, from hardcore groups like Fugazi to, eventually, Uncle Tupelo, which eventually turned into Wilco – which can make densely layered music that appeals to me for the same reason the Beastie Boys’ music did.
MCA’s death brings an end to the Beasties’ career. R.I.P., Adam Yauch. I hope you’re passing the mic.
In some sort of poetically proportional process, I think more and more about my childhood the further I get from it. I’m not awash in waves of capital-m Memory, but constantly splashing through puddles of remembered events, places, people.
For whatever reason, much of what I am remembering these days took place when I was a little kid living, from third grade to eighth grade, in Ironwood, Michigan. (Actually, I know exactly why I’m thinking so much about that time and place: because I was then about as old as my kids are now.) Ironwood was, and still is, a tiny town at the far western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Not knowing any better, I didn’t know that the place was almost incredibly remote. Despite the fact that many inhabitants root for the Tigers, the Lions, the Pistons, and the Red Wings, Ironwood is much closer to Green Bay, Duluth, and Minneapolis than to Lansing or Detroit – and closer to North Dakota’s biggest city (Fargo) than to Michigan’s biggest city (Detroit).
Being so remote, Ironwood and its environs – really, the entirety of the Upper Peninsula – is thinly inhabited but thickly endowed with natural resources. The most notable one is snow. Tons and tons of snow. In fact, Ironwood serves as the de-facto capital of “Big Snow Country,” a swath of Wisconsin and Michigan along the southern coast of Lake Superior that – thanks to the Big Lake – gets as much snow as any place east of the Rockies. All that snow means that Big Snow Country is a mecca to skiers and snowmobilers, especially those from further south who bring their big-city money with them. If there’s one thing that Ironwood needs to survive, it’s that snow.
The Ironwood area is blessed with natural resources besides snow, though. A hundred years ago, the area’s iron ore attracted thousands of immigrants, including my paternal great-grandparents, who came from Finland – that is, from Russia – sometime before the First World War. As family lore has it, the Finns worked in the mines just long enough to earn the money they recreate the lives they had enjoyed (or at least led) in Suomi: to live in or near the woods – the area’s third major natural resource – and cobble together a livelihood out of farming and logging. The area’s forest must have been magnets to 19-teens Finns, just as they’re magnets to present-day vacationers – in the long, snowy winters or the short, temperate summers – and for good reason. Never as thoroughly cut over as Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula still has decent-sized tracts of virgin timber, nowadays almost indistinguishable from cutover areas that have long since grown back.
My grandfather Leonard Tossavainen didn’t quite follow the mythic mines-to-woods path. He was born on a farmstead north of Ironwood in a district full of Finlanders like him. His father, my great grandfather, must have acquired that land, maybe by working in the mines. I don’t know about that, but I do know that Grandpa lived his whole life on those acres, farming and cutting timber outside while his wife, my grandmother Helmi, tended to the big square farmhouse and to my dad and his two siblings. (Grandpa also shortened his extremely unwieldy and unpronounceable surname to the merely unusually unwieldy and unpronounceable “Tassava.”)
Twenty-some years after moving away to go to college in the U.P.’s biggest city, Marquette, my dad moved back to the farm with my mom, my sister, and me, partly to keep Grandpa company after my grandma’s untimely death a few years before. I spent four years living on the farm, which was in many ways a very good place to grow up.
Here’s the farmhouse in 2007. My old bedroom is behind the double window on the second story; the windows below on the first story open onto the kitchen. My grandpa sat there all the time, looking east toward the barn. His dog slept on the roof of that cellar entryway.
* Ironwood is 115 miles from Duluth, 230 miles from Green Bay, and 240 miles from Minneapolis, but 550 miles from Lansing and 610 miles from Detroit. Ironwood is closer to the biggest city in North Dakoka (Fargo, 350 miles) and to the capital of North Dakota (Bismarck, 540 miles) than to its own state capital.
Note: I’m going to try to write at least one biographical essay each month this year.
The Hunting Camp
When my family lived in Ironwood, in the early 1980s, we owned (or, I think, shared, with my dad’s brother) a tiny cabin way out in the woods north of town, about halfway between the farm and Lake Superior. We called it the “hunting camp,” and that name suited it better than “cabin” or, worse, “cottage.” The hunting camp wasn’t much of a building. It was a square one-room shelter with wood-framed walls (probably made from trees cut down to make a clearing for the structure) punctured by three small windows and one clattery door, which opened out onto a narrow porch.
The porch itself was mostly covered by firewood we fed to the big cast-iron stove that stood just inside the door, next to an equally old and wood-fired cooking stove. The two stoves were the dominant feature of the building’s interior. We cooled the hunting camp by opening the door. Northwoods weather being what it is, sometimes we had to use the stove for heat and the screen door for cooling in the same day.
As its climate-control features suggest, the hunting camp was far more rustic than a “cottage” in which a retired couple might want to retire or a family – like my cousins from Ohio – might spend a few summer weeks along the lake. Besides the stove, the hunting camp contained a bunk bed, a bigger regular bed, and a rickety kitchen table with three or four chairs around it (and an ashtray and pack of cards on it). I think there may have been a rug on the floor, and maybe some rough shelves near the stove. Was the floor wood or linoleum? I don’t remember, probably because the interior was always half-lit. The towering trees outside kept much light from coming in the windows. At night, a kerosene lantern over the table provided just enough room to play cards, but not enough – as I recall – to read a book while lying in your sleeping bag. You needed a flashlight for that, and for making the quick, spooky trip to the outhouse in back, under a towering evergreen that often sheltered porcupines. I remember seeing porkies up there, prickly even from a distance, slowly shifting from branch to branch.
The hunting camp was as remote as it was rustic. We could only way to get to the camp by driving down a long trail that started off as a very rough gravel road, mostly used by loggers, but turned into parallel tire tracks through the woods. This track was nothing a car could traverse, so we always took my dad’s gray International Harvester Scout, a sort of proto-SUV. Even the Scout got stuck more than once in a muddy low spot on the trail or blocked by a windfall tree. I would love to know how long we took to make the drive in from the road to the hunting camp – fifteen minutes? half an hour? an hour? I recall it seeming like a long but enjoyable ride, jouncing through the woods. Too, I would love to know the length of the trail. A mile or two? Ten? (Being then deeply fascinated with the military, I always thought it would be fun to rappel from a helicopter down to the camp. Nowadays, I would love to try to ski or bike in to the camp.)
Though I recall once having to turn around and head back home when the track was impassably muddy, we usually made it out to the hunting camp, where we’d unload the Scout and settle in for a few days, mostly spent – as you’d expect, given the camp’s spartan character – outside. A tiny brook – inevitably named “Mud Creek” and pronounced “mud crick” – ran along the edge of the camp’s clearing. At most shin-deep, the creek held no fish except for a few silvery minnow-sized things that were impossibly adept at holding themselves in place against the creek’s current. My sister and I loved to wade in the creek, squishing our feet down into the thick, cold mud along its bed.
And then there were the trees – seemingly endless forest, stretching out in every direction but always up. The track we used to drive in to the camp extended on beyond the campsite, so we could use it to walk further into the woods. I remember that such walks took us over a surprisingly big and sturdy log bridge. The bridge spanned a wider, deeper, and faster creek that I realize now must have connected somehow to Mud Creek. We fished off that bridge, catching fish that were big enough to cook and eat.
Somewhere around that bridge were trees that had strange S-shaped curves in them. My dad told me, at least a few times, that the trees had been kinked by bulldozers or logging trucks, and never straightened out. By the time I saw them, the bends were four or five feet off the ground, but I remember thinking they would be good chairs for giants.
Taking the road in the other direction, back toward the road, we drove past a couple other hunting camps, usually deserted. Once, the biggest one was occupied, and my dad, sister, and I dropped in. My dad must have known the owner, who was hosting a big all-male card game. I remember the players being very loud; they must have been very drunk, too. I also remember the owner/host cursing all the time as he played. I was old enough to recognize the f-word, so this visit must have occurred when I was in late elementary school or even junior high. I remember that the owner/host kept apologizing to my dad for cursing so much, what with my sister – maybe eight years old then – being right there.
Running away from the road were faint but discernible paths. I always thought of them as Indian trails, but of course they were probably deer paths. Following them, I never had any sense of being in danger of getting lost. I wonder if I’d feel that way now. My favorite paths ran north away from the hunting camp and to a big hill that we called, with what must have been Finlander irony, Mount Ilola. We climbed Mount Ilola a few times. From its peak, we could see exactly what you could see anywhere: the forest. I don’t think “Ilola” had any special meaning, but Googling the word now, I find this on Wikipedia:
Ilola (Swedish: Gladas) is a city district of Vantaa, Finland. It is located in the northern part of the administrative district of Koivukylä
Not very informative, except to indicate what sorts of people had the notion to put up shacks in the woods around the hill.
The hunting camp’s name was not a misnomer. In the fall, we did use it for hunting – mostly deer, I think. Others hunted in the woods too. I remember being at the camp one time when a group of bear hunters walked past, barely controlling a big group of hounds. I think my dad went out to talk to them for a few minutes, since that’s probably what you do when hunters cross your land. My mom was disgusted by hunting in general, but especially by the use of dogs to track and kill bears. Her basic anti-hunting argument – “What did those animals ever do to you?” – resonated with me after seeing the bearhunters.
That’s not to say I didn’t like hunting itself. I liked the few times I went with my dad into the woods to find deer, and I still recall the weird pleasure of actually bagging a buck once, somewhere in the general area of the hunting camp. Even more than hunting, I liked shooting guns, which was a big activity at the hunting camp, whether we were hunting anything or not. We would stand a few steps off the porch and fire our .22 rifle or, even better, our .22 pistol off into the woods, aiming mostly at empty cans and bottles. I usually had my BB guns along, too – a pistol and a rifle. These were less satisfying to shoot (less power, less noise) but I could fire them off without supervision as long as I still had BBs, which were sold, as I recall, in little containers that looked like milk cartons.
If walking around and shooting guns were the main outdoor activities, eating was the main indoor activity. My parents did most of our cooking on the cooking stove, and a bit on a green Coleman kerosene stove that we hauled in with us. I remember being slightly amazed by the fact that my parents could toast bread simply by buttering it and laying it in a pan on top of the stove, right next to the bacon. It tasted awfully good.
Late last year, I was flabbergasted to discover that one of the cool little shoes-and-clothes shops in our fair city was carrying kromer hats, which are the the de facto official cap of the Upper Peninsula. I had many a kromer when I was growing up, all purchased from the company in Ironwood that’s been making them for years and now calls itself “Stormy Kromer.” They’re great hats, no doubt, but cool? Apparently so – an argument substantiated by both their presence in that Northfield shop and, even more shockingly, in a list of “63 Perfect Things” in the February 2012 issue of Outside Magazine:
I wish some of this U.P. cool would rub off on me, eh.
3 Killed in WreckThree men were killed early on the morning of April 29th when the Carden-Johnson-Clyde Bros. Circus prop semi slammed into a railroad bridge at Houghton, Mich. Three other men who were also riding in the truck were injured, one seriously.An eyewitness said he heard a semi coming coming down the hill on Bridge Street in Houghton – faster and faster it came — people were screaming – it crossed busy US 41 – and crashed into a Soo Railroad bridge. One survivor said the last thing he remembered was the sound of leaking air — then awful silence.A borrowed truck was used to bring what props could be salvaged to the show’s engagement at Menominee, but gone were some sections of the ring curbs, the organ, drums, amplifier, the PA system and lights, plus some props and rigging.A turnaway crowd was on hand to greet the circus for both shows that day, as local citizens welcomed the circus in its moment of tragedy. It was a sad show, but a good one, is the way one spectator expressed his reaction.Killed in the accident were Carl A. Nordin, 43, of Lubbock, Texas, driver of the truck; Anthony Gilio, 61, of Corona, New York; and Wayne Lee Sater, 38, of Springfield, Mo.