Sunday, August 30, 2009

I wasn't joking

National Georgraphic Traveler named the U.P. drive one of the world's greatest scenic routes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

...Look About You

Growing up driving on streets named Dort and Crapo, visiting museums named Sloan, passing a hotel named Durant and a mansion named Mott, I learned from an early age that Michigan meant autos. And this definition has made it especially painful, in the last few years, to drive around Flint and notice the weeds that spring from the asphalt of the deserted concrete islands that used to hold Buick City, Chevy in the Hole, and Flint East. Because if Michigan is autos, these decaying, blighted, swaths of emptiness cruelly remind me that my town is dead, her industry gone, and my state finished. But what I learned on a recent trip through the Upper Peninsula is that my childhood belief that Michigan means autos is both shortsighted and ill fitting.

Driving through copper country, I was reminded that in 1841, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was the site of the nation’s first copper boom and by 1869 the state was producing more than 95% of the nation’s copper. In the U.P. I learned that long before the auto industry was born, the Quincy Copper Mine near Hancock had already earned the nickname “Old Reliable” after paying out a dividend to its investors for 32 years. And while Old Reliable worked, Michigan’s booming lumber industry produced more lumber than the next three states combined. So to believe that Michigan is autos is to forget that it was also once lumber and copper. Michigan has been defined by industry before, and my state has watched these “reliable” industries come and go. Lumber gone. Copper gone. Autos dying. We’ve been here before, and the reminder that Michigan still remains after experiencing the death of defining industries was comforting. But what I found more comforting, and what this drive illustrated best, was understanding why equating Michigan with any industry is so stupidly unjust.

Because when the rocky, undeveloped coast of Lake Superior favorably compared to Maine’s Acadia National Park, and when the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offered sandstone cliffs rising from water that shares the blue and green colors of the Caribbean, and when I stood 700 feet above the world’s largest freshwater lake taking in a view that I had thought was reserved for California’s PCH, I learned that Michigan has always been much more than copper, lumber, or cars. I learned, after looking out over the cold, blue waters of Lake Superior and smelling the pines of Tahquamenon, that Michigan’s strength does not come from industry, but from her natural beauty.

So though it’s easy to believe, driving around Flint, that my state is dying, I now know that Michigan is much stronger than autos. No, Michigan cannot be equated with any industry. Because when the copper industry and lumber industry died, Michigan still lived; and when the auto industry does indeed die, she will still stand, strengthened and always defined by her natural splendor. Michigan is not dead. She is beautiful, and beauty is permanent.