Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Into the North Woods

North Woods/photographer unknown.
We left our city friends behind and headed back north along Lake Michigan, into the North Woods. The sparsely populated North Woods extend from northern Minnesota across northern Wisconsin and into northern Michigan.

The combination of long, snowy winters and relatively wet warm summers makes this a transitional zone between the broadleaf deciduous zones further south, and the great Canadian boreal forests further north. The region is also known as the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. The areas we observed were generously spaced with some pine and more ample deciduous species (mainly yellow birch, sugar maple, and American beech). There are numerous lakes and the region is well suited for mushroom gathering, hiking, hunting, fishing, and bird watching. Conifers predominate in areas of poor soil, and deciduous species predominate in areas of richer soil.
North Woods from Minnesota to Wisconsin and Michigan
The North Woods generate $40 billion of economic activity ($12 billion in Michigan, $18 billion in Wisconsin, and $10 billion in Minnesota); 260,000 workers are employed in forest based industries (150,000 in Michigan, 70,000 in Wisconsin, and 40,000 in Minnesota).

The Toledo Compromise.

As we left the Nicolette National forest (named after Jean Nicolette, an early explorer of Wisconsin) we wondered “why does the peninsula jutting out from Wisconsin between Lake Superior and the top of Lake Michigan belong to Michigan and not Wisconsin?” The answer is that Wisconsin came along too late to claim it. Michigan was admitted as a state on January 26, 1837 as the 26th state of the union after a border dispute between the territory of Michigan and the state of Ohio (admitted 1803)—both claimed the area at the mouth of the Moumee river at Toledo. This “Toledo War” was resolved through a compromise where Congress offered the Upper Peninsula to Michigan in exchange for giving up its claim to Toledo. Wisconsin did not become a state until 1848.

From Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac to General Motors

The first Europeans to push into the area of Lake Michigan in 1622 (Etienne Brulee’ expedition) were French. They established trading relationships with the three main Algonquin tribes in the area (Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi), numbering likely less than 70,000 at that time. By 1668 the missionaries followed: Pere Marquette, a Jesuit priest, established the first missions at Sault St. Marie (1668), St. Ignace (on the Straits of Mackinac, 1671), and La Pointe (on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, 1672). In 1673 Pere Marquette joined explorer Louis Jolliet to explore up the Fox River from Green Bay, to the Wisconsin River, and down the Mississippi as far as the Arkansas River. 

In 1701 French army officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded Fort Ponchetrain, on the Detroit River, as the southern end of a thriving French fur trading and shipping empire in the 18th century. By 1763 the French goverment offered free land to French citizens in an effort to consolidate the area around Detroit. But the end of French rule was near.

1756 saw outbreak of world war, the Seven Year’s War. A friendly, low key affair by 20th century standards: Great Britain, Portugal, Prussia, and Hanover squared off against France, Spain, Russia, the Austrian Holy Roman Empire, and Sweden. Fighting occurred in Europe, North and South America, India, and West Africa. In North America the French didn’t have a chance: British settlers in North America outnumbered the French twenty to one, and British forces and militia outnumbered the French 4:1 (42,000/10,000). The final defeat of the French on the Plains of Abraham resulted in France ceding Michigan and the rest of New France on the east side of the Mississippi river to Great Britain.

The Indians in the Michigan region had been partial to the French and did not much like British rule. War broke out anew, led by chief Pontiac. A short ten years after the conclusion of Pontiac’s war, the British were under assault by the American colonists and their revolutionary war. The Treaty of Paris (1783) ceded the lower Michigan peninsula to the newly formed United States, but the upper Michigan peninsula, Wisconsin and parts of Illinois along the Mississippi River continued to be disputed by Britain. The United States did not have undisputed control over the Michigan territory until after the war of 1812.

General Motors purchased the Cadillac motor car division in 1909. Cadillac is still going strong, selling 308,692 vehicles in 2016. The Pontiac division was started in 1926 and produced cars through 2010. Today Michigan continues to produce more cars than any other state in the Union (2.3 million cars and trucks in 2014), and the car industry continues to play a major role in the Michigan economy ($36.9 billion in 2014; nearly 10 percent of the total SGP of $445 billion).

Birds, Mushrooms, and Jazz

Inland from Ludington, on the Lower Michigan Peninsula, where the ferries arrive from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, we visited friends in the Huron-Manastee National forest. Jeffrey is a professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan and Geraldine is a travel writer, translator, and naturalist. For decades their seasons have moved from a fall term at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a winter term at the University of Paris, a Spring term at the University of Pisa, and summers at their cabin on the Pere-Marquette River in the Huron-Manistee forest.

Their cabin is next to the community of Idelwild, where Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and many others once played for hip black audiences, when Jim Crow reigned. Check out Geraldine’s blog post.  Many of the houses have been handed down through the generations in the best country cabin tradition, and Idelwild remains a vibrant black summer retreat today.

The nearby town of Baldwin has taken up some of the slack with summer jazz productions. For the past 25 years, at the Wenger Pavilion they have hosted top flight jazz talent all summer long. Geraldine runs their website, check it out if you are planning a visit to the Michigan Peninsula. We were lucky to hear the wonderfully melodic drummer, Rudy Petschauer from New York city with bass, piano, and Melanie Marod on vocals.

When in Michigan, do as the locals do. We wandered the woods and helped our friends gather chanterelles, we tried to identify birds, we swam in the lakes, and we enjoyed the sweetest peaches I’ve ever tasted. 

A modest haul, we were assured
Michigan voted for Trump over Clinton 47.6% to 47.3%. The North Woods favored Trump heavily, and another percent plus went for Jill Stein (ugh!). But the North Woods are alright.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

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