Finding Home in the Snow and Rock: Place in Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Finding Home in the Snow and Rock: Place in Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Ashley Adams
Despite being a lifelong resident of Michigan, I only now feel somewhat qualified, after almost two years of living here, to talk about the Upper Peninsula. I’m an interloper from the Lower Peninsula, a “troll” lurking underneath the Mackinac Bridge. I hear you non-Michiganders say, “How different could it be from one end to the other?” Or, more likely, “What the heck is an Upper Peninsula?”
Often neglected on maps and in public knowledge, the Upper Peninsula sits in between three Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, and Huron. It contains a third of Michigan’s landmass but only about three percent of its people. Outside the cities you’re more likely to encounter a bear or moose than a fellow human being. The U.P. boasts 3.5 billion-year-old rock, centuries-old white pine, and nighttime shows of the northern lights. It’s home to loggers, miners, snow fiends, giant hate-filled mosquitoes, and people daring enough to call themselves “Yoopers.”
This is the land of Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, edited by Ronald Riekki. The collection features the writing of over thirty women who have made a home in the Upper Peninsula, with work ranging over centuries—from Bame-wa-wage-zhik-aquay (Jane Johnston Schoolcraft) in 1838 to Roxanne Gay in 2011—and across genres—poems, novel excerpts, short stories.
The biggest draw of the U.P. is its natural beauty. Tourists from downstate and beyond rush up for the cool summers, the Lake Superior vistas, and the swaths of wilderness. And like a tourist, I find myself traveling through Here, marveling at the natural world crafted by the writers. I hear the rattling of the migrating sandhill cranes in Elinor Benedict’s “For Those Who Dream of Cranes”:
Closer, they grew monstrous, voices loud as dry wood dropped in a box.
In Beverly Matherne’s “Spring,” I am transported back to March and the anticipation of spring, the breaking of ice that heralds its first arrival:
I hear you hissing in the distance. Soon, you’ll come Round the bend, Roaring and rifting.
But the U.P. is also harsh and unforgiving. The climate can chew away at body and mind (and that’s not even getting into what it will do your car). What industry the U.P. had, mining and logging, is a shadow of what it once was. Perhaps this is why I found myself relating so much to the residents of Bounty in Caitlin Horrocks’ short story, “The Sleep.” In this story, the townsfolk decide to forgo the harshness of winter by hibernating. I can’t help but think how appealing it would be to bed down when darkness descends hours before dinnertime, when more than one hundred inches of snow buries the land by the end of winter. Despite the annual beating, residents of the Upper Peninsula—the Yoopers—persist, as Horrocks’ characters do:
Our people were shabby, like our houses, or streets, our ancient coats and boots. But our ancestors had come, and they had stopped, and we persisted. Persistence, Mr. Kajaamaki’s Old World word for it. The endurance of people who had once starved and eaten bark and came across an ocean to another sea of snow, to make new ways of life when old ones seemed insufficient.
Editor Ronald Riekki has brought together an invaluable collection of U.P. writing, capturing the beauty and pain of the region. More importantly, Riekki has reminded readers that women writers are part as much a part of the area’s legacy as miners and lumberjacks, as the rocks and the trees. For too long the narrative of “rugged” nature has been dominated by a false masculinity, by Paul Bunyan and Hemmingway’s misnamed “Big Two-Hearted River.” This anthology shows what women and the wild have long known—that there is no gender line in the natural world.
Here stands as a celebration of the Upper Peninsula, teeth and all, and the people who call it home. While I may never be considered a true Yooper, I nevertheless raise a pasty in salute for the writers of Here.
Ashely Adams studies literature and writing in the MA program at Northern Michigan University . She received her undergraduate degree in wildlife biology from Michigan State University and has worked in several interpretative positions, including posts within the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.