“The Yooper Hearth”

The Upper Peninsula is a land in and of its own.  The people, the culture, the very grasp on reality that we have in the UP is seemingly different from that of Wisconsinites, Trolls, or anywhere else in the US for that matter.  We seem to continue some of our fellow Midwesterner’s traditions like marshmallows in “salads” and casseroles, but we’re a different breed of Midwesterner up here. We’re loyal, we’re strong, and we’re grateful, and those characteristics seem to be drawn from the land around us. 

There is a separation between us and them, and I believe wholeheartedly that it is the geography of this homeland that gives us our distinction.  We are separated from them in the south by a great expanse of trees and ongoing forests, to the north by our dear Mother Superior, and even to the east by a nearly 5-mile-long bridge and a $4 toll.  We are our own island nation of kind, warmhearted people.

I grew up in Iowa and Wisconsin, surrounded by sprawling fields and the wafting smell of manure.  When I was 16, I was transplanted with my family to Negaunee. I found myself instantly feeling suffocated by the extent of trees and the isolation this area has to offer.  All I wanted to do was look out and be able to see big sky and rolling hills – Lake Superior and Sugarloaf truly became lifesavers. Though the scenery was beautiful, I continued to feel ostracized by the land rather than welcomed by it.  Like the people here, the natural things all around me were a tight-knit group; generation after generation of tree towering high over what I now call Home.  

After attending Negaunee for High School and NMU for my undergrad, I had to leave the UP and travel to Kent State University in Ohio for my graduate career.  I found myself in Ohio surrounded by fields, buildings, and people…and yet felt lost. All I craved and yearned for was a grouping of trees that I could be protected in.  I wanted to be in a place of nature where there were no other people for miles. I wanted Home. The very thing that made me uncomfortable when I first moved to Negaunee, was what I had come to love more than ever.

I am now heading back to Northeast Ohio for my 4th year there, and I still find myself dreading the trip.  I dread the thinning of trees as I dive south into the Lower Peninsula.  I dread the congestion of people and traffic as I cross the bridge. And I dread being alone in a land where people pronounce sauna wrong and don’t know the joys of fresh-picked blueberries.  I find myself not only missing the people and the landscape but missing the way the land makes me feel.  Though not a lifelong Yooper, I found that I grew with the land around me. It made me who I am today… It made me loyal.  It made me strong. It made me grateful.

The people here have an attachment to the land that I’ve seen nowhere else.  It’s not that we’re all farmers living directly off the land, and it’s not that we’re all camping day in and day out.  It’s that we thrive off of it. Our souls draw from the breath of the forests as they sway in the wind around us. We are calmed by the snow that coats our lives anew each winter, blanketing us with something familiar.  We are enticed by the clear teal water of Lake Superior, gazing down to times gone past.

It is the physical geography around us that draws a group of people into community.  Our community is made up of loyal, strong, and grateful people. But it’s the land that brings those people together.  It’s the land that has created this loving and welcoming community of Yoopers. It’s the land that we all call Home. And nothing has taught me that more than having to leave it.  When we protect our land, we protect our culture, our community, and ourselves.

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