Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Iron Giant -- A Job Half Done

Through all the contention over the Cline Group's proposal to extract iron from the Penokee Hills -- from Governor Walker's insistence that 40 years of environmental law be sacrificed upon the altar of "Job Creation", to lawn signs and community organizing, to recall elections and ferocious animosity delivered neighbor to neighbor by both 'sides' railing against the other -- I've never once heard the thing accurately named.

What the Governor & his Florida pals plan for the southern half of the Gogebic Range is properly called "mountaintop removal", though the particulars differ a bit as in common usage the term refers to coal mining in Appalachia, not iron extraction in the Northwoods.

All the same, mountaintop removal is what's been proposed. After a 22 mile long, 1,000' deep, mile and a half wide hole is all that remains of the Penokee Hills, the reasonably intact half of this ancient mountain range will have been well & truly removed.

Now, there're usually a raft of reasons why folk don't call a thing for what it is. Often it's in their self-interest, as is likely the case with the Cline Group & their supporters. Mountaintop removal mining is a permanently nasty business and down in American coal communities, the natural and cultural devastation left by the process has earned steadfast resistance. So you can understand why supporters choose not to use the term.

For most everyone else, I suppose there's at least a bit of ignorance involved. After all, today many folk call the place the Penokee Hills. Before that it was simply the Gogebic Range, not the Gogebic Mountains. And when you're there, they don't look like mountains. But once, well before even collective memory and much nearer the time when Earth still made iron, these mountains defined their landscape like the Rockies or Alps or Andes of today define theirs.

We mustn't disrespect them simply because they're old and we never saw their glory. In fact, it's the sheer age of the place that makes the Iron Giant so greedy: time's worn these mountains near down to the nub. The good stuff that in other places remains closely held to the heart of its mountain, has by sheer weight of age on the Gogebic been reduced to easy pickin's.

Mountaintop removal is the name for what some want done to this land. No fault to the Gogebic, that it's survived on the face of the Earth so long its heart stands revealed.


"Penokee- Explore the Iron Hills" is an exhibition created by a group of individuals who committed to weave their voices together into a song that speaks for a place. These voices include artists, naturalists and historians, gathered together to test the theory that the more people know, the better they speak & listen together, then the greater the odds that whatever decision is reached over any given critical subject -- in this case the Penokee Hills -- will be as wise as we can make it.

Beginning this Saturday the 23rd, Penokee - Explore the Iron Hills takes up residence at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, through February 2013. An opening reception will begin Saturday afternoon at 1:00pm. I've not seen the entire show, so will have to speak to that next week.

But I know many of the people involved. It's a mature, considered piece of work you'll see, should you choose to attend.

Come by anytime. Then go take a walk in an ancient place, to see it and consider for yourself how we might best proceed.

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