Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wilbo and a Friend from Byron High School, Thirty-Seven Years Ago, Cross the Upper Peninsula Wilderness for a @NikkiLaneMusic Concert in Green Bay

Four weekends since I began a sojourn in the Upper most part of the Upper Peninsula, the Keweenaw Peninsula. Sojourn is a good word, as I have sojourned all over the nation since 2005. Chicago, LA, The Seven Cities of Virginia and Dallas have all given me truth as I have sojourned during work engagements. The Super 8 on Lake Portage has become a comfortable and moderately priced place to hang my hat. To know a place, one has to wake up there for a string of mornings.

After eight years in Muskegon, I'm fairly attached to the lake of the big lake. I am looking forward to traveling south for Thanksgiving, taking naps on my couch and making good use of my cozy bed. I am still working out the schedule for that return from my sojourn, but I'm aiming at nine days at my base, two of them encumbered with travel. It's a five hundred mile drive, and that's going to require at least eight hours to drive. On a plane, it's a jaunt to Chicago, a layover and then a jaunt to Muskegon airport.

On each of the four weekends, I've gone on an adventure, and this weekend, Vic Betterly and I picked up a borrowed van with over two hundred thousand miles, which is a new car in the Upper Peninsula. He handled the driving south across the wilderness, the Ottawa National Forest. Miles of the road had no amenities of any kind, a service station compound in Amasa, Michigan a small exception. South of the Wisconsin border, a small town popped up every few miles with the usual services, gas and small restaurants. We had plans to catch a concert by Nikki Lane in Green Bay, a town with a hundred thousand people and a football stadium expanded to hold eighty one thousand people. And all those stadium people were thronging the town Saturday night.

The concert might not have justified the journey of four hours through the wilderness; however, it made us forget about the drive home, a journey through the dark in woodlands that had been riled by the rifles of opening day. I had to slow for deer sneaking across the road numerous times, and a two point buck had collapsed on the road after taking a hit from a passing automobile. Vic rested fairly comfortably in the passenger bucket seat, which had reclined almost flat. He woke up at the necessary times, best when he woke up and averted my wrong turn, keeping us from driving all the way to Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Rhinelander has a famous airport where Federal Agents landed and assaulted John Dillinger and his gang, holed up at a resort called Little Bohemia Lodge. We had driven to Green Bay for outlaw country music, not gangsters, however.

The passage to Houghton to Green Bay, however, once required only a ticket, hardly a car trip. Indian Trails has a run to Chicago, an all day and into the night ordeal. A rail line called the Copper Range Railroad made connections to railroads that linked Green Bay, Milwaukee and Chicago. The Copper Range finished service by the seventies, apparently ignored by the compromise that created Amtrak. Every day or so, I make an acquaintance who helps explain life in the Copper Country. One day, I sat down at the bar by an attractive young painter who served as an art teacher at my Grandmother's high school, Jeffers High School in Painesdale, Michigan, a city that required a several mile commute up a steep hill from South Range. She shared how the rail line functioned as a school bus.

The Copper Range railroad operated during my grandmother's years as a junior high and high school student, and I sat tonight on the steps of the former Kaleva Lodge and imagined her sisters and her boarding the train at the station before daylight for a swift, steam-powered trip up hill to the school in Painesdale. She might have worn boots unbuckled, allowing the flaps to flap, a flapper of the 1920s. She had her boots unbuckled in a black and white portrait of her out snowshoeing, sitting comfortably on a snowbank.

She would have worn a warm knit cap and good gloves. She never let her grandchildren face a cold day without a good cap to keep warmth from escaping from the head, where half the body's heat is lost. I cannot find the one gifted to me by the director of Tenden clothing, and right now, one in the bold color of hunter's orange will keep me safest in the woods.

The idea of grandmother taking seven years of daily journeys by steam locomotive fills me with joy, her sisters and she talking about daily matters as the Huron Mountains appeared in the distance as the train drew near the town of Trimountain.

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