Being Where it All Comes Together
Recently, Mrs. ruleoflaw, Lucky Angus MacPup and I camped at Copper Falls State Park in the Penokee Hills near Mellen, Wisconsin. We have camped here many times before. My connection to this place goes back to my grandparents. They came here to own a piece of this land and now this land owns me.
The park is situated at the confluence of the Bad River and Tyler Forks Creek. These streams have cut deep gorges in ancient lava flows with cascades and waterfalls surrounded by a mixed forest of evergreens and hardwoods. Copper Falls is a unique aggregate of water, earth, light and air. It is a priceless jewel and a foundation-stone in the local economy, but it is more than just economics. The lives of thousands of people in Ashland and Iron Counties depend on the clean ground and surface waters in the Bad River watershed. The water is a treasure that cannot be measured with dollars.
The surrounding forests furnish maple sugar and syrup. The fish are plentiful here and provide nutritious food for all. The Bad River feeds silt into the sloughs of Lake Superior's south shore. Manoomin (wild rice) grows thick in the sloughs. For the Ojibwa bands who live here, Manoomin is both a dietary staple and a spiritual tie to the land and water. I'm not a religious man, but I know sacred when I see it. The cultural connection between the Ashinaabe and their Manoomin is holy and perfect. This water and this land leave marks on your heart. This is not the first time I've diaried about Copper Falls and it certainly won't be the last. The waters of the Penokee Hills are in terrible danger.
Given all this natural splendor and wealth, one might think that Wisconsin's Governor and State Legislators would want to nurture and protect the Bad River watershed. Scott Walker's idea of protecting the watershed is allowing Gogebic Taconite (GTac) to blast an open-pit mine 4 1/2 miles long by 1 mile wide by 1000 feet deep in the middle of the watershed. Governor Walker and the Republicans in the Legislature have given GTac a blank sheet of paper in lieu of any regulations on just how the mine may operate. GTac will be allowed to dump waste rock into lakes and streams and make unlimited drawdowns of the water table. The Republican Pollyannas believe that GTac is run by nice folks who wouldn't dream of poisoning an aquifer full of life-giving water in order to make a fast buck. Governor Walker doesn't want to know why GTac's CEO is facing a 4 year prison sentence in Spain. The Ojibwa Nation has taken a leading role in opposing this mine. In 2003 they battled mining interests and won. They believe they can do it again.
I Came to Copper Falls with the intention of visiting The Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp. It is located about five miles east of Mellen on State Highway 77. I had forgotten the name of the side road, so Mrs ruleoflaw, L. A. MacPup and I took a ride out that way. After some dead ends and winding fire lanes, we had no luck but the scenery was very fine indeed. (Lac Courte Oreilles is pronounced "Lah-KOO-deray" by the Ojibwa People. It means "Lake Short Ears" in French. I have much to learn.)
Plan B: Visit the Mellen Public Library and Google the directions. The lady at the desk was very nice and a public-use workstation was available. In minutes I had the directions to the camp on Moore Park Road. It was then that I noticed the gentleman at the workstation next to mine. Go below the fold to see what happened next.
Nick was sitting at a
public computer terminal
in the Mellen Public Library.
I did not know who he was.
I came in to Google
some directions to the Harvest Camp.
I was copying down the directions
when I noticed the site on his monitor:
Protect the Waters of the Penokee Hills.
I said hello, introduced myself,
asking if he could tell me
about the Harvest camp.
He said “I live there.”
and the world was very small indeed.
I showed him my poems.
He said “Come to the camp tomorrow."
He said he wanted to feed me.
We went there and met Larry and Jen.
Larry and Jen
Larry and Jen live in a wigwam.
There’s a wood stove,
a wastebasket filled with porcupine hair,
parts of eagles, beadwork, hides and feathers,
with dreamcatchers for sale.
There is workshop clutter
with a big, big woodpile outside.
Jen gets about on crutches.
Jen is no more broken than you or I,
however, she just doesn’t hide it as well.
Larry has eyes of glistening, pleading onyx.
Gappy grin holding up
smile wrinkles, rattling like deer hooves
under wisps of black hair,
over gulps of coffee.
There will be more poems, stories and screeds about the Penokees in Part 2.