Monday, March 4, 2013

The Porkies -- People & Their Government at Work

In the arena of contemporary public discourse, American government and government workers are routinely disrespected. How and why that happened doesn't much concern us here.

What's true is that a constituency exists for each taxpayer's penny spent, for everything the government spends those on. From warheads and surveillance to corporate welfare. From education and environmental remediation to the critical research necessary when trying to transition an entire civilization over to sustainable and against a fast ticking clock.

Our inability to make government function more wisely and at optimal efficiency leads us to a conversation where government itself seems rendered unsustainable. Save that almost everyone who yells "Cut!" is yelling about cutting yours not theirs -- so there'll always be some form of government left to deliver theirs, if not yours.

When fueled by irate righteousness the democratization of all media has unleashed in us, the nuance of real life is too often obscured and our public conversation fails.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is a landscape eminently suited to the restoration of healthy human perspective.

It's prudent to remember that your liberty to visit was first secured through direct government response to local citizen advocacy, while today an ongoing and robust public/private partnership smooths your way.

Without government & government workers, it'd be just you alone against nearly a hundred square miles of undifferentiated, cut over northern wilds. It's unlikely you'd ever think to go there or even guess this exists, much less be able to launch a boat on it or snap a picture when someone does:

From a 120mm transparency

The real world stays open 24/7, so folk wander the Porkies day and night through the seasons. It's impossible to tell exactly how many people visit the place during any given year.

Something upwards of 300,000, best guess.

These include day trippers, trekkers, skiers and kayakers. Families on beach blankets next to picnic baskets. Fishermen and other dreamers. Hunters, bird watchers and gatherers of berries. Collectors of solitude, busloads of school kids, devoted world travelers and casual tourists alike.

And during a few short weeks in autumn, the Porkies play host to flocks of migrating photographers who descend on the landscape like hundreds of busy starlings, only to flee south when leaves fall to a wet north wind.

So the Park employs 35 workers to provide for the education, amusement, comfort and safety of all comers.

That's 12 full time paid staff and 23 part time paid staff to ride herd on better than 300,000 of us let loose over 60,000 acres of otherwise inaccessible wildness, open to us 360 days a year.

These 35 government workers maintain 87 miles of mostly backcountry trail. They clean toilets, cut grass, respond courteously to every inquiry and rescue the careless. They fix what we break, replace what can't be fixed as budget allows and otherwise faithfully serve the needs of everyone who visits.

They do all this and oversee the natural health of the place too.

Being so near the Visitor Center during my October stay offered an opportunity to interact with Park staff far more than is usual for me, as my home turf of the Presque Isle is something of a lonely outpost by comparison. Near the end of the residency, I took advantage of one of the fine interpretive programs regularly offered by the Park.

Which is how I came to spend a bit of quality time with Lynette Score, government worker:

When traveling the Northwoods, many people hope to see a bear. The Porkies are a good place for that, as bears roam throughout the Park. But most times, bears know you're there before you do and any easy way to turn the odds of a sighting in your favor invariably courts disaster for both you and them.

Near the end a damp, chill afternoon, Lynette greeted me and two other travelers at a trailhead, then led us into the woods to get up close and personal with the next best thing:

That's a split trunk Birch and one-time winter home to a bear. It's located not far from the road, but you'd never know it's there and in all my years bustering 'round the woods, I'd not stumbled across the like or I might've tried sleeping there myself during some mystic summer's night of my youth.

In command of her subject and thoroughly engaging, Lynnette said this was likely the den of a mother bear, as those need approach winter's rest with far greater care than do their male counterparts. After all, it's the female bear that carries the considerable burden of ursine reproduction, a truly extraordinary process that Lynette explained in terms easily understood.

On the other hand, guys being guys whatever the species, male bears sleep pretty much wherever. They might fall asleep up in the branches of a tree or just lay down atop a depression in the earth  and nod off, only later to be covered by a blanket of snow.

Take this little guy, who made his den smack dab in the middle of what in full winter becomes a groomed, cross-country ski trail and for a while at least, slept right through all the traffic that passed over him. With the discovery of the den, Park staff ceased grooming and rerouted the ski trail, though a trail cam later captured the bear's early emergence on a too warm day in March -- mighty wet but apparently none the worse for wear.

Image Courtesy of Bob Wild and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

And while I know a bit about bears, it was Lynette who clued me in to the disagreement over whether or not they're true hibernators, because bears confound our scientific criteria for that by occasionally waking up.

Like when some hapless intern is sent into a den and checks the hibernation temperature of a bear via insertion of an anal thermometer...

Lynette offered the opinion that whether bears aren't true hibernators or are the most adept practitioners of it, the bear shows us that the wonder of Nature resists efforts at reduction.

Of course, she was right.

During these hard times and especially considering her expertise, young Lynette Score might well have accepted full time employment downstate. Instead she chose to take her chances and work part time in the Porkies, hoping to make a home and build a career serving people and a landscape better suited to bears than to most humans.

Would that more of us had that kind of moxie or shared that level of commitment.

And from now on, whenever some cackling demagogue appropriates government workers as excuse to constrain a people's government down to the narrowest of proprietary purpose, Lynette and her co-workers who've chosen tough careers in public service at publically funded Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park will be among the folk I think of.


Significantly, the Porkies benefits greatly from a working public/private partnership through which citizens and their government together put shoulders to the load and achieve common goals.

Having worked my way right through my residency, I was well & truly done and it was only on the last full day when finally I took all things easy.

Late that morning I stopped by the Folk School for a bit of business, but mostly for the warmth of friendly company. There I chatted while everyone else in the room busily made for themselves pretty much from scratch a traditional Finnish stringed instrument, called the kantele.

Later, they'd learn to play it.

Friends of the Porkies thrives on a deep loam of citizen advocacy and appropriate government response. As the Artist's Residency is one result of that, I came to know this fine organization far better than I had.

It's like a big old backwoods Hemlock. The landscape might be hard but the Hemlock rises tall and sturdy just the same, with roots spread wide and the whole of the thing essential to the forest's continuing health, as new life invariably springs from old.

From a 120mm transparency

First there's the famous Porcupine Mountains Folk School from which the artist's program, Dan's Cabin and a host of other good things stem.

Like the annual Porcupine Mountains Music Festival that attracts both talent and audience from far and wide.

Then, should you care to see what a top drawer workshop overseen by a diverse cooperative of dedicated creatives looks like, go here.

Across all the miles we've traveled together on this Odyssey, I've kept a special watch for things sustainable because it's only those that'll ever allow the region to escape the historically destructive cycle of boom & bust.

We've found enough of those to be encouraged.

Prime amongst them is the personal partnership forged over time between concerned private citizens and their government, to advocate for ancient Kag wadjiw. That's a distinctly American relationship that assures a unique landscape and the people who live on it not merely survive but thrive, so that all of us are the better for it.

I'm the better for that partnership.

And if you're a working creative, please stop by this coming Thursday and see how you might be too...


  1. Nice portrayal of the park - simultaneously featuring its wilderness and its man-made facilities, as well as the individuals who keep it going, without diminishing any of it!

    1. Thanks. Between the earlier Nonesuch entry, these three latest posts and one yet to follow, I figure I've worked the area over pretty well. Looking forward to returning in May, not for work but for fun.

      Visited your place in the ether and have to say I'm jealous over your 2010 trip to Isle Royale, one of only two sites I really wanted to visit during this Odyssey, but didn't...