Friday, October 7, 2016


For pretty much the entirety of my adult life I've reaped the benefit of two autumns every year – first in the Northwoods, later a second on the prairie. That won't happen this year. Here's hoping absence really does make the heart grow fonder, eh?

Regardless, it's high time I take care of some long overdue business.

When politicians prattle about "small business owners", it never sounds like they're talking about real people and when reduced to public policy abstraction, mostly they aren't. Well, the two rural enterprises featured below aren't just operated by genuine American folk. They're run so well and by such good people that over the years, the owners have become my friends.

I'm here today to honor the bravery, resilience and most of all the sheer American heart of these most enterprising citizens and to recommend that you give them your business, should the opportunity arise.

A place to stay…

When young, the whole point of our annual treks from the prairie to the Ottawa National Forest and the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness was always to revel in the great woods, which one does best by living in them. So we disdained motels. I've pictures from 1978 of Heather and me bathing in Bobcat Lake, using more or less biodegradable camp soap, as it was then called. Sorry, you don't get to see those images but geez Louise we were once young and fit.

In time and especially during those trips that stayed cold and wet, when the need for a shower turned desperate we'd emerge bedraggled from the wilderness and take a room at the nearest motel. Sometimes we'd not even bother to sleep in the room and instead returned to camp refreshed. We were that resolute.

Later, when the point of my trips was to fish, I stayed in an oddly built place more hotel than motel but central to everywhere I wanted to be. Though he locked the lobby door at ten and didn't reopen it until eight the next morning, the old man who owned it lent me a key so I could chase fish as I pleased. That relationship lasted until he died.

Eventually, large format gear made it essential to have somewhere secure and dry to stow it. For maybe thirty years now, in Bessemer that place is the Traveler's Motel, owned & operated by Donna and Mike Maslanka.

Of my many happy memories made there, maybe my favorite is the day during the Odyssey when, following a brutal stretch of travel and after having borne terrible witness to the biggest, ugliest-assed iron hole in the whole world, I drastically changed course in northern Minnesota. Reliant only on sheer will and my Gazetteer to get me the hell out of there, I raced south through the 'North Star State', headed east to Duluth and held on tight across the length of northernmost Wisconsin, until finally making it to Michigan.

When at last I got to Bessemer and Traveler's, Donna and Mike were on their porch taking the evening sun with a glass of wine. I shared the story of my troubled day and the long, long drive. They welcomed me like I'd just returned safely home. Which of course, in a very real sense I had.

By sheer coincidence, Traveler's Motel is just down the bluff from what once was my Uncle John's farm and only a short distance from the final resting place of my UP ancestors. But what matters to you is that Traveler's other sign reads "Squeaky clean rooms". That's no idle boast and I've seen how hard Donna works to keep it true.

Donna and Mike are native to the region, young sweethearts that got married and raised a fine daughter in the midst of a hard land, on the strength of a successful local enterprise. That's a notable life, especially considering the catastrophic failure rate of small, tourist dependent businesses on the Range. They come, they go. But thankfully for visitors to the western UP, Traveler's stays on.

…enough to eat.

Used to be, the Range was dotted with great diners. From Red's in Wakefield to the legendary Scotty's on the road to Ironwood, we took advantage of them all.

Those days are gone. The spot once occupied by the creaky old Bessemer Café's been an empty lot for…I dunno, has to be near forty years. Still, I'd my first fresh walleye dinner in a rural café and relished the best perch fish fry of my life in a hewn log restaurant out at Black River Harbor, a business burnt down so long ago now that few even remember it was there. It's tough, making a living selling good food at prices locals can afford.

Out of Bessemer toward Black River Harbor is the Black River Valley Pub. A few years ago it failed too but now due to the indomitable nature of its present owner and the way she honors her family's heritage, today the place positively thrives.

Like my own family they may have started as miners on the Gogebic, but Kris Rigoni comes from a strong family tradition of good food. Her father's a baker; he makes the great dinner rolls served at the Pub. Two sisters, a brother and her nephew are chefs/cooks. Kris' robust, Wednesday night all-you-can eat spaghetti is based on her grandmother's recipe and Heather tells me her Hungarian mushroom soup is about as good as that gets.

Kris' day starts at the gym or with a run, then she gets down to business. Preparation begins at 11:30 for a 4:00 open and her typical work day stretches anywhere from twelve to fourteen hours. I've marveled as Kris works the grill for Friday night whitefish fry, when the parking lot's full to overflowing from beginning to end. Once a widespread local tradition, hers is the only fresh fish fry I know of that today remains on the Range.

Not to mention that as a teen Kris waitressed at Scotty's. That'd be about when Johnny, Heather and I frequented the place. For all I know it was she who served us that night, when after my trip to the emergency room we took refuge at Scotty's to discuss our limited options during the night of the bear.

Kris Rigoni purchased the failed Black River Pub during a time of national economic crisis. I'm in awe of the bravery that took. I once asked her why she'd do that and her answer was at once both simple and complex. She couldn't find work as a scratch baker because local bakeries are often under such economic pressure that they're compelled to buy and sell commercial product instead of hiring local labor.

Black River Valley Pub's given Kris the opportunity to labor mightily so that at the end of their day, others who work hard or play hard choose to come and see her, both for comfort and community. More than just a place to eat good food at a fair price, the warmth and hospitality Kris brings to her job simply can't be faked. That too sounds a lot like family, to me.

Because I camped and fished, I always believed the peak travel season on the Range ran spring through fall. I was wrong. From color season to snow melt is when most local businesses make their nut for the year. First come the hunters, followed by leaf peepers and late in fall, steelhead fishermen. Then winter sets in, when snowmobilers and skiers hold the fort until spring when the seasons of life begin again.

No politician will keep these good folk going. That kind of thing's on us. It's always on us, small business owners being our neighbors no matter where we live and finally, our friends.

So if you're thinking of a trip up north this year, by all means stay at Donna's, eat at Kris'. And if you weren't thinking of heading north, then think again. You could do a whole lot worse in the Superior wilderness and would be hard pressed to do much better anywhere, anytime.

And for all you digital imagers out there, the long light that typically bathes the Northwoods starting in October and lasting through November is simply the most perfect light I've ever seen…


Notes From the (very small) Field…

Or, in honor of my favorite season, this month we're offering two for the price of one.

Perhaps I should've better engaged any number of important tasks this past summer. Instead I spent much of it in close observation of life on our little patch of prairie. In any year featuring more regular business I'd have been on the Superior Basin multiple times. This is no ordinary year. Still, when not in direct touch with the real world I wither.

Absence from the landscape I love best encouraged me to look closer at my native prairie than I have in a long time. There was a lot to see and no small share of good news. Like life in general, one only has to look.

In past years, Heather's Blazing Star carried only a couple of blooms. This year it threw more than a dozen and little Blazing Star babies are already in place for next spring. It's finally happy and that made us happy too. No less so because that meant Heather let me harvest one for work…

Despite their ongoing troubles, we hosted more Monarchs than any season since we've been here. By the time those reach us in late summer and early fall, some are already near a thousand miles into the perilous journey to their winter home in Mexico. Starting in August we saw bright, healthy Monarchs most every day through September and even a few stragglers this week including no fewer than three earlier today. I get that's basically meaningless in the great Monarch scheme of things, but still.

There were numerous Swallowtails, both Black and Tiger. Dozens of tiny Skippers danced daily in the sun, including the only Spotted Skipper I've ever seen. Commas, Red Admirals and Painted Ladies regularly visited. Whites and Sulphurs as well, more of the latter than I've seen since my youth.

We allowed one of our garden boxes to go wild and were gobsmacked by the richness that brought. Maybe a dozen varieties of bees and wasps, including a Great Golden Wasp and a host of active spiders working deep cover beneath all. The highlight was a Great Black Wasp, the first of those I've seen since I was a kid. It started with a single massive male and in time his family grew to five. Who knew that oregano left to flower was such an attraction?

Great Black Wasps are non-aggressive because they don't colonize so haven't any turf to protect. That's some wisdom to live by, eh? I miss the Great Blacks, now that the season's turned.

And because we grow sunflowers for Goldfinches, we've a clutch of mighty happy field mice too, which hardly goes unnoticed. This young Cooper's Hawk spent a full forty minutes on the prowl and never seemed to mind us watching:

But the very best news? It was a bad year for Culex mosquitoes, around these parts a prime distributor of West Nile virus. That meant for the first time in more than a decade, Blue Jays and Crows were again a living presence upon the prairie. Those are ancestral voices I've since come to associate primarily with the Northwoods and happily, they brought a bit of that joy down here to me. Long may our new residents live.

Anyway summer's over, whether up north or here. Most of our visitors are gone, with residents preparing to lay low. During my exceptionally purple adolescence, autumn was a season for richly indulgent melancholy. Annual visits to the great northern wilderness fixed that in me. Now I'll get to see if that took.

Over the last two weeks, hummingbirds down from the north have daily visited our feeder. The Monarchs continue to come then go, intermittently now. I expect the first overhead skeins of raucous Sandhill Cranes any day.

What's sure is that up north, autumn is already ablaze. That means soon, the prairie will turn golden. There're already hints of that in the trees. Indian grass will wave beneath ever lengthening light cast from soft blue skies. Willows will weep yellow tears. Cattails and milkweed will throw their seed to the wind while Woolly Bear caterpillars take desperate chances along blacktop roads. Even now the field mice cache sunflower seed like they know there's no tomorrow.

Then once all that seasonal glory is well spent and perched just at the edge of fleeting memory -- when the more mindful among us have done all we can to prepare -- winter will come roaring down from the north, sure as hell.

And so long as I needn't spend it weeping for my country, that'll be all right by me...

Friday, August 26, 2016

Revolution, 2016

The Superior Basin is loaded with field-to-table farmers, hunters and fisher folk. For the majority of those, that's just what comes of being born to multigenerational poverty in rural isolation. Like most people everywhere always, of necessity they play life's hand as dealt the best they can.

The same punishing remoteness that makes so many young locals desperate to escape nonetheless draws a steady stream of refugees to it. For them this modern approximation of an old way of life is a choice. These include all manner of people from neo-hippies to alt-right malcontents who for their own reasons reject the too often mutually exclusive demands of everyday American life.

For still others, the choice of life lived in accommodation with a difficult place represents a profound personal commitment to blaze trail toward a more sustainable future, so that the rest of us might follow. Which happy thought brings me to Claire Hintz, smiling in Mexican mud…

Spring, 2013

Elsewhere Farm is on the far reaches of the Bayfield Peninsula, down a piece from Cornucopia. My visit there in 2013 was intended as the first stop for a suite of essays on the cultural, economic, intellectual and artisanal progress of the greater region, with Ashland and Northland College serving as nexus for the narrative.

The Lake Superior Binational Forum at Northland had been kind to me along my way. I wanted to return the favor. And whether in Canada or the States, I knew no other Superior community in so vigorous pursuit of a sustainable future as is this post-industrial patch of northernmost WI.

That brilliant spring afternoon at aptly named Elsewhere Farm, Claire Hintz fairly dazzled me with her combination of academic knowledge, applied intellect, insight, industry and courage.

It wasn't simply the efficient, 'low tech' greenhouse. Or that with a wave of her hand Farmer Claire purged from this prairie kid vestigial sodbuster notions about working wet land. It wasn't just the warm, inviting home filled with books and specialized paraphernalia, an environment that particularly suits me. Or the staggering amount of wealth Claire noted the locals ship from the region each and every year in trade for food made somewhere else, most often by person or persons unknown.

Not even the Icelandic chickens that make such good sense on so many levels I'm still gobsmacked they aren't more commonplace made my day. Normally, those alone would've sufficed.

As it happened I spent only that single afternoon in the field, officially the last of the Odyssey. Too ill to continue, the next morning I raced back to the prairie and so much for the remainder of 2013. Later, the Lake Superior Binational Forum got stripped of funding, as indicative of our times. I've not returned to the area since and wouldn't know what to write about it, today.

Because of all that and more, the application of high level learning mixed with pancultural common sense then with altogether rigorous determination sown upon the wilds of the Bayfield Peninsula for right reasons made Elsewhere Farm emblematic of the finest, most enduring aspects of our American character. In other words, exactly the sort of thing we collectively like to brag on as indicative of us, but too rarely do we engage the sustained hard work to fully realize. Except there Elsewhere Farms is, just the same.

So fresh and full of promise in spring of 2013, I trust Claire Hintz's orchard has since gone on to bear fruit accordingly. It's important work.


The Industrial Revolution that carried us to here took full flight on the notion of Earth as inexhaustible, thus unassailable in any meaningful way by our puny selves. That's the operative concept from which modern America and its attendant liberties sprang. Earth provides, we harvest then build and call it progress. By virtue of geology and an accident of timing the Superior Basin features a rich array of evidence that it's so.

Most everything we rely on for our lives and good fortune remains dependent on this idea that perpetual harvest makes for inevitable progress.  Even though we know better about nearly all things than we did in the 19th Century, when perpetual maintenance of an industrialized civilization was made our prime directive. And with the greater part of what we knew then since proven silly in light of what we know now, not the least being that human knowledge must be taken for provisional.

What's demonstrably true is we aren't nearly as smart as we like think and what's more, never were.

Algerian Desert Art, Wikipedia Commons

This spring introduced me to the phrase Slow Food. It's generations since most folk in the States had to run down their food at any speed and at first, the term confounded me. Turns out Slow Food's a fresh label slapped on an old idea in the hope overwhelmed consumers pause to reconsider its ancient wisdom anew.

It's strange to me that a concept so fundamental as the first seed sown or the first beast nurtured by humans to make for slower food requires rebranding to maintain relevance, especially in these our hard times. Whatever plant or critter those might've been, today through this transaction of longstanding one is unlikely to know the other at a glance, for what they've each become. Not plant or beast or human too and never again, I suppose.

On faith I'd like to take the essential idea of food and its production as at least second nature to the species by now but apparently, alas. Real food gets renamed Slow Food as cultural Kryptonite to Fast Food and the plainly unsustainable era of human life that label represents. It's a strange world we've made, with Kryptonite aplenty but no Superman in sight. And so it goes.

Back when we were just apprentice Masters of the World, Thomas Jefferson believed mastodons still roamed the American West, though he'd mistakenly thought them mammoths. 

As perhaps the prime intellectual architect of the American Experiment and for his time a mighty bright man all around, Jefferson knew there'd been mammoths/mastodons. But until late in his own life, he didn't know near enough to ever imagine them gone.

Thomas Jefferson, extinction denier so necessarily a believer in mastodon inexhaustibility, died on July 4th 1826. A mere fourteen years later Douglas Houghton marked the birth of the nation by blowing La Roche Verde to smithereens. Steeped in raw opportunity and driven by abject ignorance, America's rush to her industrialized future was officially on.

Knowledge is power unanswerable to wealth or political influence. It bows before no elite, not populist or intellectual or oligarch. No matter that once we took errant self-evidence as proper foundation upon which to build a great land of the free, home to the brave. Since 1776 and until the day we see fit to surrender our hard-earned liberty, what we do or don't do with this bounty of constantly refreshed knowledge rests squarely on each one of us.

By whatever label, the operative concept behind the global local food movement is that when you personally know where your food comes from, how it was made and who made it, you're vastly more likely to live better, longer. All the while contributing to a locally sustainable economy, a notion proven to float most folk's boats along their way. And you'll help stanch the critical bleeding of Earth's now demonstrably finite natural wealth in the bargain.

Because what Thomas Jefferson and the lineage of Nation builders who followed him along the trail of Manifest Destiny didn't know turned out to be a lot. Today, it's common knowledge that the Eden we depend on for our lives and the future of god's supposedly chosen children isn't inexhaustible after all.

Elsewhere Farms demonstrates yet again that the people of the Superior basin possess a generosity of spirit and individual industry that perpetually renews the power of the People. It reveals the politics of division pimped by demagogues of despair as a self-destructive indulgence. This spirit and willingness to work hard for no good money against daunting odds on a landscape that doesn't forgive and for a larger culture that doesn't much care gives lie to the raw cynicism these days driving entirely too much of the national conversation about the state of our American character.

Of course the real world's a scary place. It's why we've spent thousands of years building a civilization of increasingly complex walls, literal and figurative. How is that news to anyone?

Possessed of the talent and blessed with the means to incrementally insulate and provisionally secure ourselves from the vagaries of both nature and our neighbors, we do. But never kid yourself about who pays accrued interest on what and to whom for the pretense of keeping real world consequences at bay, or that the bill's not about to come due in full regardless.

Planet of the Apes

Every dollar not spent today will tomorrow save no one from the fast rising cost of our collective past. Not rich or poor, left or right, agitated, complacent or confused will be spared but that our massive accumulation of strictly theoretical wealth is now devoted to the real life pursuit of critical knowledge and its immediate, practical application.

Consider that, the next time some pandering yahoo grasping for political power whines about intellectual elites. Or scientific bias. Or when some pipsqueak politician in order to justify further reducing the People's share of the People's wealth claims that mere national debt is the most dire threat to the future of America's children.

The Mastodon is dead. So too, is Thomas Jefferson. And that is the news.

Yet critical lessons remain to be learned from the living legacy of each before the American Experiment can ever be fairly claimed a failure by anyone also interested in truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Or reasonable, contemporary facsimile.

Any revolution that can't feed itself over the long haul is doomed to fail, food security being essential to the effort. A far flung and still obscure but not inconsiderable number of your fellow Americans are currently working hard to help remedy that. They come from all corners and cut across every demographic, even if you neither know nor care that they exist.

The change many of you think you desire is already here, though probably not exactly as you'd like it. Tough beans. Evidence abounds. There is but to look, listen, learn and move forward as best we can, united in common cause and finally unbound from obsolete verities drawn of profound ignorance then purposefully evolved over time to best serve a wide variety of vested interests that mostly don't include you.

The facts of extinction proved so radically at odds with his notion of self that Thomas Jefferson could only reject self-evident truth. Evidence strongly suggests a lack of dark imagining is no longer at issue in the American body politic.

Among other things, the Boy Scouts of America taught me to Be Prepared.

So during this radical political season dominated by angry voices arguing over nettlesome choices while otherwise mainlining an apparently inexhaustible supply of toxic trivia, here's a suggestion for everyone thinking of voting for what's been labeled as righteous change but realistically promises only further division leading to deepening chaos:

If like most of us you're unable to feed yourself and your family, or to help feed your immediate neighborhood for the duration as needed, don't.

Truth is, you're woeful unprepared for what you think you want. As are the majority of your neighbors. All the good work now engaged by other citizens to better prepare our postindustrial grassroots for a healthier, more sustainable revolution notwithstanding.

Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it good and hard. And as HL Mencken suggested, you'd deserve it...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Shades of (mostly) Blue

I've been worried about my pollinators.

Bearded Iris (Iris Hybrida)

February was mild and March proved downright warm, at least for March. Hope scented the prairie air. The first queen bumblebees took the bait.

Two of the last three years we've hosted a bumblebee nest beneath our back porch. They can be imprecise navigators and fun to watch as they try to make the tiny access hole on the fly. They sometimes bump into the wall, fall to the ground and with the coolness of a cat, parade on through the portal to deliver up their golden booty to dark sanctuary.

Bumblers are curious sorts too, especially when young. I've had them fly by, stomp on the brakes then pull a u-turn in mid-air, all to come back and take a hovering look at my face. That's quite the thing and for a host of reasons, we're glad to have them. Typically, bumblebees don't return to the same nesting spot the next season, so I expect this is our year off. But the old woodpile remains and institutional memory is strong. By the end of March there the Queens were, trying to scrounge a living off of hard times.

April began as about what you'd want out of spring on the prairie – a warming sun, the fresh blush of green everywhere and of course, dandelions. The first Red Admiral butterflies appeared then. I left most of the dandelions alone and saw bumblers on them early. Then spring took a sudden, nasty turn and everyone was just gone. March weather set in to eat the rest of April and a big chunk of May in the bargain.

Weeks on end of cold and wet laid life on the prairie low. Daffodils came and went, as did the tulips. Up north, in unseasonable weather Alberta burnt. Smoke from that fire bled sunsets red over the prairie, where on my little patch nothing further blossomed and no pollinators came. Though it renders them useless for the table, I left my spring chives to bloom.

Chive (Allium scoenoprasum)

Then as happens, things changed. The heat that held Alberta's feet to the fire broke and a more 'normal' spring pattern set in, mid-continent. As also happens, by then it was creeping toward June and late winter turned to full on summer in a trice. Tomorrow in Fort McMurray Alberta, for the first time since the spring burn began, residents will be allowed back in to see what's left. It's not much.

Meanwhile, the Bearded Iris's got enthusiastic.

I've long wanted to give macro photography a go. The Linhof provided the ideal tool for that, but I was too busy mucking around in the ruined architecture of faded cultures to ever spare the considerable effort for a flower. Now that I'm a digital imagist I'll unlikely ever again enjoy the depth of field Zeiss glass on the Linhof would've provided for botanicals, but neither will I again risk life, limb and 4x5 gear over the side of a canoe to shoot water lilies at Bobcat Lake, so there's that. And I'm happy as a clam to finally possess complete control of the experiment.

Exquisite geometry flows through the heart of my finest architectural work. Turns out, the same basic principles transfer to my basement and dead things. Hot damn.

During unseasonable warmth predicted to fail day after tomorrow, a week or so ago spiderwort blossomed on my patch of prairie. I watched for bees and saw none. This morning after a Cooper's Hawk took a sparrow with dawn and the spiderwort later awoke, when harvesting a bloom that so early in life has yet to reveal the true devil's face of the plant, a bumblebee, a honey bee and a busy little something so tiny I could just barely guess it actually was a bee, all worked the same stand of spiderwort.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia – likely – virginiana)

Some years ago I took a lupine transplant from my dear friend Will's yard up near the Big Lake and planted it in mine. Forced too far outside its natural borders, lupine typically doesn't make a good refugee. Over the course of five years the transplant traveled of its own accord. The thing threw decent stems and leaves as it wandered but refused to bloom and thus represent the wilderness I miss so, when on the prairie.

Finally, last year and apparently happy in the corner of the garden it chose just behind Mr. Lincoln's rose, the lupine bloomed. This year my northwoods refugee is positively at home in its own little patch of the greater world.

Lupine (Lupinus perennis)

If only we could all claim the same, eh?

Sadly, I didn't make it up to Lake Superior this spring. I mightn't make it this summer, either. Hope holds out for autumn, when the Gogebic Range is cloaked in cold, wet fog and colorful ghosts dance on a grey breeze. Last autumn we spread northwoods lupine seeds on the prairie garden in time for the freeze and no few of those took. They probably won't bloom this year but the little buggers give me something to look forward to near the end of next winter, god willing and the creek don't rise.

A few minutes ago, while watching a squall line bear down on the prairie, I spotted my first Red Admiral butterfly in a month. Sure, it fought the wind to gain shelter and hold on through the storm. I lost track of it in a gust, but trust that it did.

Tomorrow is the first day of meteorological summer, while today spring passes through a storm. It's gonna be a hot one. Maybe soon the hyssop will bloom and the bumblebees will again feel at home...

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jim Harrison, 1937 – 2016

         The legal provenance of this image is obscure. Should the owner desire its removal, speak & consider that done.
To the photographer, well done indeed.

How does one wish Rest in Peace to one of the most relentlessly restive spirits of American letters?

James Harrison was a poet, a gourmand of note, an essayist, cranky literary critic and pal of Jack Nicholson. Along with John Voelker, Harrison is one of two great American authors to explore the wilds of the Upper Peninsula in prose, in depth and consistently nail it. Each man did that with rare insight, singularly American humor and a profound humanism that they applied with great craft to story.

Voelker was born in the U.P. and Harrison wasn't, so my native sympathies must lean to the Judge. But Jim Harrison is nobody's second. He was a man who lived on the U.P. better than most folk not born there ever can and he revisited the place in life and in penetrating prose over and over and over again. No matter that the old man died in Arizona. Snowbirds do that.

During the Odyssey, with a handful of other tourists I went to the overlook at Summit Peak in the Porkies, duty called. Near the end of a long day on the road the climb up the hill then up the stinkin' tower just to see more woods was arduous. Still, from the top of the tower there's more wilderness than the eye can readily wrap around, all of it rolling into the south shore of a magnificently indifferent freshwater sea. The sun was bright, a light breeze cleansed the sweat from us and as tourists do, we talked.

I walked down that hill with a married couple a few years older than my peers. It was fun. They were smart. Witty. Well traveled. Flush when most everyone else wasn't and enjoying the hell out of that, you could just tell. Yeah, I know. But you could. And it bears mentioning.

Near the parking lot somehow the conversation turned to Jim Harrison, whom the woman wished dead.

It went approximately like this:

Harrison blames what happened to the Indians on us. He's decrepit and on death's door out in the desert, good riddance.

It was a hard turn to an otherwise pleasant conversation between passing strangers. I bid the couple travel safely, thinking: Any writer that hated has done one helluva job.

It would've been sometime in 2012.

I've thought about that woman often, since then. Especially with each new Jim Harrison book that came after, which by rough count includes two new collections, two novels, a book of poetry and the Brown Dog collection, complete with an entirely appropriate and satisfactory ending to the long winding story of Harrison's most fully realized and sympathetic character. Good Lord, the man's river flowed at the end.

We should all be so decrepit, eh lady?

Jim Harrison left us a particularly rich and robust body of work. His spirit will remain restive so long as the words we live on live on. That'd be about how he wanted it, I figure.

In any case, tonight glasses are lifted in his honor in Grand Marais and other places all over the world. Harrison liked the good life and make no mistake. I don't know if his was a life well lived or not, that's not for me to say. What's true is that the man lived it large and came bearing gifts.

Godspeed, Jim Harrison. Thank-you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Calling All Artists...

Dan's Cabin
120mm transparency, 2012

Thursday March 31st is the deadline for creatives to submit their work for consideration to the 2016 Artist in Residence Program hosted by the Friends of the Porkies in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness of Michigan.

If selected you'll spend up to three weeks nestled in a splendid cabin, just off a sparsely traveled trail through some of the most pristine wilderness that remains in the upper Midwest.

The Friends are gracious hosts. My time there in October of 2012 was among the best two weeks of my life. I did some of the finest work of my life, while there. Everything in the slide show below that's from "Ontonagon County" was captured during my stay at Dan's Cabin as a guest of the Friends. The work from the Keweenaw too, which while normally about as remote a place as one can get in the Midwest, is just a day trip from Dan's Cabin.

Both I and my art came away inestimably enriched by the Residency experience. What's better than that?

I dropped in here today to tout the program because I'm committed to it, as I intend to be so long as I and it survive. My residency was that good, in all ways.

Upon review, I've already written so much about the Porkies and my stay at Dan's Cabin that we'd best rely on that. So while I apologise for filling this post with links to previous posts, those serve our purpose here.

Follow the links below, as you will. If you've questions, I've likely supplied a few answers. If you've doubts about submitting, those should be assuaged.

If you're unfamiliar with the Porcupine Mountains, start with these so you'll know where you are:

Lake of the Clouds @ Sunrise
4x5 transparency, 2003

The Porcupine Mountains -- Part 1 & Part 2 

Then travel on to Dan's Cabin and my residency there:

120mm transparency, 2012

Finally, let's revisit Nonesuch, which is in the park and just down the road from where you'll stay, if selected.

Nonesuch Cornice
Digital Capture, 2012

Opportunity for creatives might seem rich these days, but most of that doesn't occur in the real world and on the occasion one comes along, just try getting someone else to defray the lodging portion of your freight for choosing to get out and work in it.

And if the images I've chosen here make the place seem resolutely gloomy, well, sometimes it is. You're just down the road from mighty Superior, which makes its own weather after all. And I typically shot only transparency film besides. Consequently, high contrast scenes were only rarely my friend.

But rest assured, the sun shines bright on the Porcupine Mountains too:

120mm transparency, 2012

I say go for it. Time's a fleetin', after all...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The First Day of Spring

Happy spring!

Pasque flower (I believe)
McHenry County Il, 2015
Nikon 800e

Some of you might think, "What's up with this guy? The vernal equinox is still twenty days away." And of course, that's true. But today is the first day of what's called meteorological spring, which is mighty official sounding just the same.

Besides, by the time we get to now on the calendar I've about had it with winter. Sure, March is an often brutal month when stubborn winter puts the hammer down just to prove it still can. Around Superior, winter's recalcitrance can last into June. But here on the prairie I'm done waiting on the good news. What with today the official first day of spring to the weathermen and all, I find that suits me just fine too.

The Great Reveal

Seasonal wetland
Gogebic County Mi, 2015
Nikon 800e

People will tell you the best time to see what's typically hidden in the woods is winter, but that discounts the snow that not only makes for hard going, it also covers the ground. I think the best time for wandering around to see what normally can't be seen occurs in late autumn after the trees have shed their leaves and then again, in early spring.

So here's a short selection of sights you'd never see, were they not briefly revealed by the lingering nakedness of winter...

Outflow from Bobcat Lake
Gogebic County MI, 2015
Nikon 800e

Grand Kankakee Marsh Bird's Nest
Lake County In, 2014
Nikon 800e

A month later on the calendar from when these images were captured and you'd never know this is there:

Abandoned Mill
McHenry County IL, 2014
Nikon 800e

Biggest tadpoles I've ever seen in the wild were found in that pothole beneath this wheel when I was a little kid...

Water Wheel
McHenry County IL, 2014
Nikon 800e

Finally, maybe my favorite hidden place ever. It's not that it's location is unknown. Or even that the creek is seasonal, it isn't. Instead this gem of a canyon is reached by travel through deep woods that cling precariously to hard terrain. Now that the resolutely crappy but only road leading back there is gated, the place might just as well be on the moon, whatever season...

Gogebic County MI, 2011
4x5 transparency film

In just a few weeks, April showers will engage their mission to bring May flowers and in the Northern Hemisphere, the world will again be seen as new. From about now until June busts out all over and again cloaks the passionate secrets of summer in abundance, this is every year's prime viewing season.

Welcome the great, annual reveal of life following death. Today is as good as any to start. Go out and look around, what you find might surprise you. In any event, by all means do your best with every splendid day spring gives you, while it lasts.

Hot times are coming soon enough.