Thursday, January 31, 2013

Snapshots -- The Bayfield Peninsula


Peninsulas are blessed with special properties. Surrounded by water, they're generally cooler in summer, warmer in winter and often receive more moisture than the mainland during the course of any given season.




Wisconsin's ancient Bayfield Peninsula is today noted for apple orchards and berries. In springtime the place is positively riotous with blossoms. Each fall the Bayfield Apple Festival draws visitors from far & wide to fill up motel rooms all the way to Bessemer, MI and that's a fair piece.


Cornucopia

Cornucopia WI is at a place on Superior so splendid that if it weren't resolutely remote we'd have long ago surrendered it over to mansions on gated acreage.

As it stands, State Highway 13 cruises right through the place.

The sea caves near Cornucopia is where we wanted to be long about this time last year and where we ought to be long about now. It's where I'd hoped to make my last trek as a large format shooter -- a mile or so across Superior ice to capture even a mean representation of natural wonders I suspect would weaken my knees on first sight.

Except that last year extraordinary seasons of temperate conditions combined with ongoing drought to make the ice unsafe all winter through.

Then this year, when the ice path has already been intermittently open, I've been unable to get there. Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you, which is the way it goes in fieldwork & in life, too.

All the same, should I ever remake myself as a full-fledged digital imager, a visit to Cornucopia would be high on my list. In addition to a commercial fishing museum, pleasant marinas, a great beach, Halverson's Fisheries and those aforementioned sea caves, there is in Cornucopia a collection of old fishing vessels, permanently beached.

These too, have mostly defeated my every effort to capture them...


Cornucopia is the only place I know where a photographer with a keen eye can work from gentle distance the ragged interiors of boats like these. And what makes the sight so extraordinary in even perfect light doesn't translate to film.

Can't translate to film, really.

To properly capture these requires the full dynamic range of pro digital capability, processed through the finest software via the deft touch of a digital artist.


To make these old boats sing their faded fisherman's songs requires the application of a new aesthetic.

So if that interests you, by all means go see for yourself. Regardless of season.

And if in the interim winter remains what memory says it should be and I grow suddenly younger in the bargain, look towards the horizon for a dark speck trailing a sled across a craggy desert of white.

That'll be me on one last quest in this search for perfect light...


Frog Bay Tribal National Park

It's not often you get to visit a one of a kind, first of a kind kinda thing.


Out of Cornucopia, take WI 13 east across the Bayfield Peninsula to the town of Red Cliff, which from Buffalo Bay faces a Superior archipelago called the Apostle Islands.

Hang a left on to Blueberry Lane at the Legendary Waters Casino. Now you're on sovereign territory of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and if your penchant is to cheat the speed limit, don't do that here.

After a piece, turn right on Frog Bay Road and take that to the end. Park at the small lot freshly carved from the woods. Walk the old road on down until you come to a trail marker.

Then step in to the first Tribal National Park in America.

At 89 acres of boreal forest rising from a quarter mile of pristine beach protected from the big lake by a clutch of Apostle Islands, it's barely a sliver of land. But outsized importance resonates from the place like the call of a loon carried on a freshening breeze after a long, hard winter.

Used to be, all the land hereabouts was Indian land. The journey of the Ojibwa People led them directly to here. They planned to stay forever and so far, have.

After treaties and reservations and white folk's claim to all things American, Indian land hereabouts was reduced mostly to the 14,000 acre Red Cliff Reservation. Through the years and for a variety of reasons, today nearly 50% of reservation land is owned by someone not Ojibwa. Including the Frog Bay estuary and traditional Ojibwa rice beds, apparently.

And most of what remains of Indian land is landlocked, so a proud people whose spirit is fed & replenished by great waters are withheld from their natural heritage and made the poorer for it.

Frog Bay Tribal National Park changes that. Because of where it leads, as much as for what it is.

Home to a century of regrowth undisturbed, this snatch of primordial forest hosts all the critters emblematic of northern wildness, including bear and wolf. It's safe haven to some 90 species of birds. And in the shaded ravines of the place there thrives a community of rare plant life.

Once again owned by the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa and with a conservation easement held in perpetuity by the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, the story of this repatriation is perhaps best told here.

It's a narrative of multi-cultural, public/private cooperation between people who've always known and those who've of late come to know that the landscape of Superior informs those who live on it and when we try to bend this land to our will, we degrade not only it but ourselves in the bargain.

Frog Bay Tribal National Park opened to the public in August, 2012. On that occasion, tribal Vice-Chairman Marvin Defoe said this:

It's an environment that is conducive to practicing solitude. I'm hoping that users of this park will practice the art of listening. Listen to the water. Listen to the trees. Listen.

The creation of this Park demonstrates that today we're listening better to each other, which is a good and necessary start.



Bayfield

Image courtesy of the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce

My favorite small towns on Superior are those that once were fishing villages. The ones I'm most drawn to are those few that still run commercial boats.

As headquarters for the Apostle Islands, Bayfield has long since been given over to recreational concern. But they still run commercial boats out of there and there're times in Bayfield when near everything's like it once was and the town breathes deeply with the ancient rhythm of men setting off through the dark in small wooden boats, to ply fish from big water.

When Heather & I first visited near to 40 years ago, Bayfield was cozy if shopworn. It's more prosperous today and probably not as cozy either, but neither is it as frenetic and expensive as Grand Marais MN nor as isolated as Grand Marais MI, from where they no longer run any boats anyway.

Image courtesy of Philip J. Kucera

And Bayfield overlooks that magnificent archipelago, a sacred place where human habitation goes back to when there was only oral history, where later in the story all the foibles and venalities and glories of modern history are on regular display, ever since civilization first visited the place.

I like Bayfield most in the morning, before the first light of dawn.

Rouse yourself maybe 4-ish, depending. Do what's necessary to get even marginally ready for the day. Wander down to the center of town and walk the dark streets near the water. When you see where folk are already gathered for coffee and breakfast, go on in and get something for what ails 'ya.

With the first streaks of light in the sky, go back out to the water. Likely, you'll hear the big diesel engines cough awake.

Secure comfortable vantage along darkly glistening Superior as folk turn to it to feed a people. It's a form of worship as old as man. Seagulls trail in loud celebration behind. Watch the procession until it's but a speck on the sea or otherwise lost around the far edge of a dark, bristling island.

Turn around to find Bayfield proper stretching in its bed, and you already a full day ahead.

Some hours later, pass through the bustling tourist traffic to walk back over to the working mariner's side of town and greet the boats as they return to dock. Marvel at the great boxes loaded with ice and freshly caught fish, lifted to the dock in the strong, weather-worn arms of fishermen.

Then when evening approaches and the long day is near to over, visit one of the places in town that serves local fare and indulge yourself.

Rarely will fresh fish ever taste better.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ghosts of Victoria


The Cushin Mine opened in 1849, downriver a bit from where Julius Eldred snatched the Copper Rock of Lake Superior and over the hills a piece from the famous Minesota Mine. It went through a succession of owners, was reorganized, suffered a variety of disasters and operated intermittently until 1899, when a half dozen companies in the area combined assets to create the last Victoria.

By the turn of the 20th Century, the denuded landscape caused a fuel shortage. The Victoria brought in a Canadian inventor who built an air compressor driven by the power of the Ontonagon River and the new operation was in business.

High atop a hill they built their company town, Victoria, MI.

Though the ore was poor quality, nearly 20 million pounds of refined copper was produced from thereabouts. In 1917, the town numbered a robust 750 souls and for a while life at Victoria was likely about as good as it got in the Superior wilds, with the rest of the world at war.

Image Courtesy of the Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria


In 1921 the mine closed and Victoria was mostly abandoned.

*

Company town sites are everywhere across Superior's basin.

Some remain home to modest communities of folk and are innocuous; small houses sided or painted, plastic deer set on scrappy, sloping  lawns. When there's no historical signage and often there's not, a casual visitor mightn't know there was ever a mine.

Except that most all the houses are built exactly the same, decades prior to subdivisions cutting their swath across an American landscape.

Often, a couple of the houses are notably fancier and set off from the rest, while some are just wrecks. Maybe there's a crumbling three story brick school that someone lives in a portion of. Or even a shuttered hospital, its tiny parking lot choked with weeds and a dead car or two.

All for a few dozen residents perched atop a hardscrabble hill at least half to the middle of nowhere, which has gotta make you wonder...

Many (most?) Company towns are today lost to a resurgent landscape.

A handful of sites are preserved by people whose efforts ought be held with those folk who first made the mark, who carved a place from the wild to live and work and die there. At these sites our collective past isn't irretrievably lost.

Victoria is such a place.

All remaining images taken from 4x5 or 120mm Transparency

The Captain's house still oversees a smattering of private homes on the hill, just up from the wreckage of the last workings and the huge pile of tailings it bequeathed the landscape. Down the hill stands a clutch of wooden cabins, the largest group of vintage log homes in the region that remain on original foundations.

Officially The Old Victoria Restoration, the site is operated by the Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria, which is made up mostly of neighbors and of late is associated with the Keweenaw National Historic Park. My own association with Victoria goes back better than 30 years.



Speaking strictly as a photographer, I prefer my architectural history mostly wrecked.

The geometry of wreckage informs my best work. But there're only so many abandoned school buildings and factories and farmhouses and barns left to crawl through and it can be dangerous, too. I figured out a long time ago that working historic sites bears its own distinct rewards.

None more so than Victoria. Or 'Vic', as she's called by friends.


Across the Superior Basin is a wealth of culture and history preserved by the will of local folk. It's a never-ending task that grows only more intensive with time. The work is hard and too often mostly thankless. The pay (when there's any at all) is meager. The hours are long and can be lonely.

It's a labor of love. Folk devote their lives to it so that our children & our children's children will know that sometimes, the song of who we were might still be heard in places where once we lived.


During our Search for Perfect Light it's the docents and caretakers and site managers and interpreters and Friends of wherever who've proven most helpful to the project. They welcome fellow travelers.

Through my extended association with Victoria, I count two of these indomitable people as personal friends.

Lynette's visited the place since she was a child, then came around a few years ago as a docent and stuck, which wasn't the previous pattern for docents. She's bright & personable and has a handle on the formalities introduced to the site through its association with the Feds. Lynette's now the Interpretive Manger of Old Victoria, which means most days it's she that'll greet you when you show up at the door.

That's a tough job.

In addition to myriad 'behind the scenes' things that need be done on a regular basis -- from sweeping dead flies out of cabins to pondering a maze of federal stipulation -- Lynette's also the public face of the place, whether for the occasional tourist or 30 hyper kids suddenly spilled from a school bus.

I've known Victoria during hard seasons when you wondered if it could hold on. Lynette's been a godsend.


Which brings me to Patty -- over some decades and at various times the Site Manager, President and today Director of Old Victoria.

Patty is like a tree prevailing upon a windswept landscape and is well suited to her hard place. Compassionate, whip smart, skeptical, capable, protective and occasionally bawdy. A resolute sufferer of no fools and funny as hell.

You don't get to hear my Patty stories.

Except one year I got ambitious and called to ask if we could open the place at night during a full moon so I could capture it like it was alive. I'd rent a cottage on the hill for two nights to be certain.

And a couple months later there we were in the gloaming, working together to call the ghosts of Victoria.

Smoke wafted from a chimney and the place was aglow well before the last birds turned in for the night. A group of hikers coming off the national North Country Trail saw the lights and stopped on by, just like old times. Patty played hostess while I mostly worked until full dark when the hikers retired for camp and Patty for home.

I sat for a while, alone with the ghosts.


Fine folk like Patty and Lynette and all the others across the basin take our history in their hands to cradle it until a next generation comes along and does the same.

Or until such time as resurgent wildness, rural poverty and even cultural indifference combine to let it slip through our collective fingers, as it often does.

All the same, when my images outlive me via the Internet and when the Victoria Restoration operated by the Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria outlives Patty, someone will erect a sign there saying that the place never would have survived as well as it has, without Patty dedicated the bulk of her adult life to the task.

Since neither of us will be around to see that sign, I'll get a jump on the proceedings by posting my favorite image of Patty here -- dedicated not only to her, but to every preservationist at work around the basin.

And to all the ghosts of Superior. Past, present or future...


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Ontonagon Boulder


The first roadside attraction along the south shore of the big lake was the fabled Copper Rock of Lake Superior, later rechristened the Ontonagon Boulder.

White folk heard about the boulder before any actually saw it and after the 1st of us started moseying around the basin, we searched it out. At a time when almost none of us dared traverse much beyond the immediate wild shore, men traveled more than 30 dangerous miles up the Ontonagon River just to marvel at a rock. Then they went back the way they came.



Don't go looking for the boulder today. It isn't there. Neither is the place it was found. And where the Ontonagon Boulder is today, you can't see it.

*

The boulder is a piece of mass copper, current weight 3,708 pounds. We've extracted and melted down far larger hunks of copper from Michigan's Copper Country, but the Ontonagon Boulder once resisted fire and became world famous.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

We figure glaciers left it along what would later be the Ontonagon River's low water edge at a nearly inaccessible stretch of fast water woven through steep rock, where few men ever went.

In 1765, Alexander Henry became the first white man to record seeing the boulder. He broke off a hundred pound souvenir and went on his way. He returned in 1771 on the strength of that souvenir and under warrant of the Duke of Gloucester to make the trip profitable. It wasn't, so Henry later declared Superior's now famously abundant supply of copper ...can never be profitably sought..."

The entire area went over from Britain to America after the War of 1812.

In 1820, Michigan's Governor Cass set off to explore the south shore of Superior to see what he could see. Expeditions were valuable to both scientific & commercial inquiry. They also intended to gauge the strength and disposition of the Anishinabe people, who stood square in the way of progress.

Securing a guide to lead the expedition to the Copper Rock proved difficult, as the Ojibwa considered the place sacred. Cass prevailed upon Wa-Bish-Kee-Pe-Nas (called White Pigeon) to lead them to the stone, which they thought might be myth or at least couldn't be as represented. Though White Pigeon knew the route, the party inexplicably lost their way and were forced to return to camp.

White Pigeon's people believed agencies of the Manitou that protected the rock had shut the way.

The expedition eventually reached the boulder, which proved disappointing when compared to legend and lore. About it, Henry Schoolcraft wrote:

 ...the quantity may...have been much diminished since its first discovery, and the marks of chisels and axes upon it, with the broken tools lying around, prove that portions have been cut off and carried away.

Then the Cass Expedition did their best to destroy the thing.

Thirty cords of wood were cut and set ablaze around the Copper Rock. With the fire at its height they threw cold water over it, hoping the boulder would fracture. It didn't. When they tried to cut pieces off, their chisels broke. The Cass Expedition left the thing relatively intact, though four or five feet removed from where they'd found it.

The nature of this fabled rock was at last confirmed. When Schoolcraft (who rarely let truth get in the way of a good story) published his sketch of the Boulder, its fame only grew. The buzzard in the tree is a nice touch, considering...

Image courtesy of the Philip J. Kucera collection

In 1826 at Fond du Lac Superior (near present day Duluth), White Pigeon showed up at the door of Colonel Thomas McKenney, head of the nascent Bureau of Indian Affairs. According to the Colonel, the Indian looked ...as if he had been deserted by every friend he ever had.

That'd be because after White Pigeon's abortive attempt to lead Cass to the Copper Rock of Lake Superior, his tribe shunned him. Again, from McKinney:

The game of the forest avoided him; his weapons failed to perform their fatal office; and the conviction became settled that he was a doomed man. Deserted by his tribe, and satisfied in his own mind that his good spirit had forsaken him, he wandered about the forest a disconsolate wretch, deriving a miserable subsistence from the roots and wild fruit of that sterile region. 

Moved by this Indian's plight, the Commissioners gathered at Fond du Lac decided to restore his pride.

They supplied him with good words and gifts and an Indian peace medal, which was often highly prized. White Pigeon's likeness later made it into McKenney's notable and notably troubled "History of the Indian Tribes of North America", illustrated primarily by Charles King.

And that's how the image of Wa-Bish-Kee-Pe-Nas today hangs on my wall, forlorn countenance forever intact:



A Detroit merchant got wind of the boulder and determined to own it. He thought a man might even get rich, charging folk to see it. For sixteen years Julius Eldred made himself a plan. Then in 1841, at the cusp of Michigan'sCopper Boom, he sprang to action.

Paying the local Ojibwa $45 down with $150 promised on account, Eldred set off to claim the Copper Rock of Lake Superior. He failed. Twice, over two years. Managed to get the thing up on skids, so there's that.

Eldred returned to Detroit to refine the plan. Meanwhile, across the Copper Country Treaties were being signed and Houghton blew up La Roche Verte. The rush was on.

The indomitable Julius Eldred traveled back to Superior in 1843, this time with a Mineral Agency permit and the makings for a portable railroad. But when Eldred reached his claim, he found the Secretary of War had issued a mining permit for it to interlopers from Wisconsin. Undeterred, he bought the rock again, this time for $1,365.

The river was too wild to float the rock out. It took Eldred and his crew of 21 men a week just to muscle it up the nearest cliff. There they built a railroad powered by men with capstan & chain. They moved the boulder along it; disassembling track behind, reassembling in front. It's described in breathless, likely accurate prose issued by the U.S. National Museum in 1895:

For four miles and a half, over hills 600 feet high, through valleys and deep ravines; through thick forests where the path had to be cut; through tangled underbrush, the home of pestiferous mosquitoes, this railway was laid and the copper boulder was transported; and when at last the rock was lowered to the main stream, nature smiled on the labors of the workmen by sending a freshet to carry their heavily laden boat over the lower rapids and down to the lake.

Almost enough to think Julius Eldred's luck had turned.

At Superior there awaited an order from the Secretary of War to confiscate the rock, declaring Eldred had no right to it. While offering to compensate him to the tune of no more than 700 bucks just the same. Eldred was in for $1,400 and change. Not to mention the crew of men. And the railroad. And eighteen or so years.

Ever beneficent, the U.S. Government allowed Julius Eldred to display the hunk of copper he'd won for them. He did that in Detroit during October of 1843, charging .25 cents a head. Michigan's Senator Woodbridge called the thing "a splendid specimen of the mineral wealth of the Far West" and Henry Schoolcraft visited the rock he'd first tried to destroy some 23 years before. I wonder if Eldred comped him the quarter...

Then the Feds decided that was enough of that and less than a month in, laid permanent claim to the Copper Rock of Lake Superior.

In 1847 Congress authorized the Secretary of War to settle the matter and Julius Eldred received $5,664.98 for his troubles.

The Ontonagon Boulder sat in the yard of the Quartermaster's Bureau of the War Department for 12 years. Spent the next two or so at the Patent Office then was transferred over to the National Museum, later rechristened the Smithsonian Institution.

Which is where it's not on display today.

*

When the Victoria Dam opened in 1931, the wild stretch of Ontonagon River cut through forbidding canyons that birthed a legend became a placid reservoir. Today it funnels electricity out from the wilderness to points beyond.

Beneath that reservoir is the sacred place of the Copper Rock of Lake Superior, sans rock

Periodically, someone else lays claim to the thing. The good citizens of Ontonagon would sure like to have it. No less so, now that the mill's gone.

In 1991, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community petitioned the Smithsonian for repatriation of the big hunk of copper that once belonged to Anishinabe, if ever it belonged to anybody. Their claim was deemed insufficient.

In deciding the issue, the Smithsonian leaned heavy on the treaties of 1826 & 1842, in which the Ojibwa ceded all mineral rights over to white folk.

And on the $45 dollars that in 1841 Julius Eldred paid to an Ojibwa "head man" for the pleasure of destroying their Manitou.

Thus keeping the Ontonagon Boulder safe from the designs of men...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

King Copper -- In the Beginning


The reigning mystery of the Superior region is the 'Copper Culture', of late renamed the Copper Complex and appropriately so, considering.

Perhaps 7,000 years ago (at any rate somewhere between 4,000 & 17,000 give or take), unique geologic circumstance combined with human ingenuity and led to the use of copper that in select places around the Superior Basin is easily found.

Image courtesy of the Philip J. Kucera Collection


It's quite the tale. World famous. Even infamous, depending. A subject of fierce debate in academic/extra-academic circles.
 
Small wonder too, 'cause this necessarily speculative narrative wanders from high science to myth and from established fact to wholesale presumption. There're stops along the way at DNA analysis, mineralogy, geology, native spirituality and collective memory. With outright fraud, complex mathematical formulae, skeletons of giants, academic indignation, whole flotillas of Phoenicians, Vikings and more. Even Edgar Cayce makes a cameo in this story.

Aliens too, though we'll not dig that deep.

The Copper Complex narrative turns primarily on unrelieved ignorance and is laced through with outsized characters carried along by profound cultural bias of the sort that doesn't readily wash, no matter how we apply science to the stain.

Reputations are destroyed, remade and destroyed again, over this.

That's because the Copper Complex story volunteers no definitive conclusion. Even the most rigorous of us and among those the academicians who insist the mystery's mostly dispelled, own to that.

So we do what we do as a people. We did it when we were a copper people and we do it still today -- we fill in the blanks of our story. As best we can with science or reasonable speculation and what's left we fill with invention. Then everything gets mixed all together and we go with it.

The authentic narrative of the Copper Complex people is unknowable to us as all what's left of them is a cache of hand fashioned stuff, a handful of holes in the ground, a cemetery or two and trash, like always with us.

But no oral history. No memory at all. No records to pour over, no diaries to dissect. Not even any blogs.

And because that's true, for so long as we remain a people curious about ourselves, we'll gnaw over this incomplete story of folk who once thrived on Superior's wild edges and for a time gleaned from the earth its copper, leaving their mark for us to ponder.

Even as our own more considerable mark upon the place is inexorably wiped away by much the same magnitude of landscape that obscures our Copper harvesting cousins.

*

What's true is that in a time so distant it remains shrouded by antiquity, over a period of perhaps 7,000 years people of Superior harvested a not inconsiderable amount of copper.

We know this because they left behind a slender record of their work; stone tools, copper implements and pits in the earth from where copper was both worked & removed. It's atop these pits that many of our most famous copper mines were later dug and when the historic copper boom came to America, it was a prehistoric people who'd led the way.



The existence of ancient copper mining came to the attention of commerce in 1847, at a site just up the hill from present day Rockland Mi. At the bottom of a trough and beneath the roots of a nearly 400 year old hemlock tree, an agent of the Minesota Mining Company discovered a detached mass of copper said to weigh nearly six tons. Beneath that he found construct in the form of wooden skids that raised the mass of copper several feet from the ground. The copper itself had long ago been worked smooth.

On that spot the Minesota Mining Company promptly sank Shaft #1.

Immediately and all around the Copper Country, we dug mines where once an ancient people worked. Speculators digging for dollars paid little mind to history and we can't know what evidence was destroyed during decades of building great mines atop much smaller, archaeologically significant sites. But what there was of it disappeared right quick.

Local Ojibwa of the 1800's didn't actively mine copper and whether through faded collective memory or reluctance to reveal to white folk the secrets of a Manitou and thus facilitate it's removal, by & large they kept their mouths shut when pressed on the subject.

So we decided the mysterious miners couldn't have been the Ojibwa, not like white folk ever forgot the secret of concrete for better than 1,300 years or anything...

Someone  mined copper before we did. We damned sure knew who it wasn't, so we filled in that blank with an "unknown people" who then had to have been white folk or descendants thereof, simply stood to reason.

And other mysterious things were found around the Basin too, some leading in a rough trail blazed all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Piles of stone put with apparent purpose. Strange markings on rock. The occasional coin. Indians with blue eyes & light complexion. Stories of long ago "fair-haired marine men".

You know, like Phoenicians. Or better yet, Vikings. Or, added to the narrative much later but better than anything always, aliens. Atlantis. The whole nine yards.

What's true is that Superior copper sports a unique mineralogical signature. Properly tested, we know it when we find it, even when we find it far away. The people of the Copper Complex apparently traded on their copper. We've found it in 'bars' suitable for transport and considering the shells and other things not of Superior that've been catalogued at Copper Complex sites, it's likely that Superior copper made its way along trading routes that ran through Aztalan or Cahokia and from there across the continent.

Perhaps even so far away as the British Isles, where a farmer is said to have retrieved a piece of Superior copper from an archaeological site he discovered while digging in his field and there 'ya have it, we're back to Vikings.

For all of that, the most gnawed bone of contention in all this is the unknown amount of copper removed from whatever number of pits by however many people over no one quite knows for sure how long a time. Answer that and missing, critical chapters of the narrative are laid plain...

Except it sure seems to me that every number we plug into the equation is "x", for unknown. Helluva an equation that is, in a region gone archaeologically ravaged during the 100 years or so of King Copper's latest reign over an industrious people recently gone industrial scale.

And as far as I can tell there exists no comprehensive inventory made of Copper Complex sites that do still survive more or less intact. Which means all we can do is fill in the blanks.

Of this significant effort by people to remove copper from the ground and leveled over a very long time, we've a relatively small pile of relics left to show for it. Folk ask: "Where'd all that copper go?" and it'd seem rightly so.

But who the hell knows? Maybe aliens needed it, to get back to their home in the great northern sky. Via Atlantis.


Lake Superior @ Washburn Wi, from 120mm transparency


We don't remember what song copper sang to the people of the Copper Complex. It's echoes are lost along hard rock outcroppings hidden by thick woods, or played out across big water. It'd be a mistake to measure the meaning & uses of copper to these unknowable people by anything like our own story, especially considering how 19th Century industrial designs on the real world went on to define us, today.

Nor can we take these people's measure by the long ago and far away but much better remembered so vaguely more familiar stranger from across the sea, whose own historically recorded call to King Copper's throne began when man in the ancient world first rose out of the Stone Age to shape metal for his use.

Across the Middle East, Africa & Europe, that advancement set us on our path to modern civilization and is distinctly a horse of a different color, as we used to say. Regardless, it remains the oft-told story many of us are most comfortable drawing from to fill in the blanks, even for that part of the human narrative where civilization as we care to call it never quite cared to happen.

What's true is that this mystery story of human history lost does have a verifiable conclusion, though it leaves our penchant for easy reduction begging:

If we accept what we can't know and put aside our need for invention, what the Copper Complex story tells us is that many thousands of years ago, Superior was very much a world apart.

And remains so even today.