A week in the U.P. leaves me wanting more. The scenery has been spectacular in the “east coast” sense. No towering rocky peaks and glaciers, deserts, basins or ranges, or rainforests. Instead, growing up in the east, I appreciate the subtle variety of temperate forests; of hills that may be called “rolling”, or “mountain”; and especially in the lakes regions of MI, WI, and MN, the lakes and ponds, fens, bogs, swamps, marshes, and vernal pools.
The C&O canal was lined with elderly sycamores and pole-sized youth. Into Pennsylvania’s highlands, several varieties of oak and pine came to prominence, giving way to the familiar sugar maples, beech, birch and black cherry of Central New York. The effect of latitude and altitude do not stand alone to affect the forest’s composition; centuries-old tales of labor and pioneering families and booming industries have shaped the land, no mention of how east coast waterways have changed as well.
I am told the Keweenaw Peninsula, once a mine of timber, was shorn of its timber to frame native copper mine shafts and other mine structures. Undoubtedly, homes, stores, saloons and wood stoves all contributed to the need for timber. New York State was at one point about one-third forest, due to timber industries fueled by growing east coast cities and land-clearing for agriculture. Thankfully, nascent “forestry science” paired with the Great Depression resulted in the reforestation of much of the state by the CCC. Today, about two-thirds of NYS is forested, although often planted with fast-growing pioneer species such as red-pine. Eighty years later, much of the old pine stands are withering (their natural life-span), presumably giving way to some native hardwoods.
Second-growth forests on the U.P. are at times thick, measly pines in wet, marshy soils (did I mention mosquitoes?). Elsewhere, white birch are prominent alongside aspen, tamarack and several pine varieties.
And the hills…anyone who says– likely raised in the west– that the east doesn’t have any hills or mountains, hasn’t climbed the equivalent elevation of several thousand feet in a day in the Appalachian, the White Mountains, or I am told the most challenging of all, the Ozarks. Elsewhere where hills are not mountains by name, constant climbing and descending may contribute to a sizable gain in one day.
No craggy peaks, but endless forested hills splattered with lakes define this north country landscape. Well, I just remembered that the U.P. borders three of the world’s largest freshwater lakes. That’s kind of a big deal.
Note: Ottawa National Forest, headed toward Eagle River, WI. For an excellent discussion of America’s water, namely western water, see Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. It reads something like a dime-store drama– ambition, betrayal, bribes, a womanizing beaurocrat, and eventual demise.
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