I’ve been in the Upper Peninsula or a little over seven months now, and Susan just over six. Along the way, we’ve made a few observations of how life is different up here in the Northwoods.
When I was younger, I remember reading that the Inuit indians had eleven different words for snow. I understood that concept intellectually, but never really viscerally. NOW I get it! There are so many kinds of snow up here – I never knew! There are shiny reflective flakes, large flakes, supper-small flakes that look like powdered sugar. There is sparkling snow, crunching snow, fluffy snow. Who knew?
When Winter was coming, we were told multiple times that since we were from Illinois (the South!), we weren’t allowed to complain about the winter weather. So we kept our mouths shut. Then it hit 22 below (that’s BEFORE wind chill!) – and EVERYBODY complained about the cold! So we’re thinking the cut off is about 15 to 20 below – then complaining is just dandy!
There is a cute kind of mini squirrel up here called the red squirrel. Maybe a third of the size of the squirrels we had in Monmouth. Everybody hates red squirrels, and I mean everybody. We call them “murder squirrels.” The are so cute, but so mean, and their little dark, soulless eyes are full of bad intention. They’ll sit on a branch in front of our three season room and just watch us – and you can tell they are plotting our demise. They relentlessly hassle the other, larger squirrels, the deer and the turkeys. Cute, but bad news!
Folks up here are also crazy-good winter drivers. I’ve yet to see a car in the ditch (though I’m told it does happen occasionally), despite snow-packed, ice covered roads. Folks scream along at 55 MPH on the ice, don’t mind barreling through snow to pass you (yes, me, the timid, 45 MPH rookie from Illinois) and really don’t stress out too much if the back end kicks out on them a bit. We’re getting braver and more experienced, but we have a LONG way to go before we can Mario Andretti on icy Highway 2!
Bars use pickled mushrooms as a garnish in nearly every kind of drink imaginable, from Bloody Marys (I sort of get that) to Old Fashioneds (I do NOT get that!). You have to be pretty quick on the uptick to stop the bartender from dropping in a few mushrooms. We haven’t yet had a dry martini yet, but I imagine they’d be shaken, not stirred, with a garnish of mushrooms and pearl olives.
Speaking of drinking – Bloody Marys are a high art around here and folks take them very seriously. We’ve been good boy scouts and have tested out many of the fine watering holes in our neck of the woods – so many delicious drinks. Hands down the king of Bloody Marys around us comes from Sand Lake Pub (which is also our closest watering hole, so double score!). They make their own horseradish and know how to season the concoction perfectly. It’s really not even close.
Continuing to speak of drinking, another bar staple up here is the Old Fashioned. We love Old Fashioneds (we grew to know them deeply in New Orleans), and make pretty mean ones ourselves. Up here, they make them with whiskey or brandy and you can get them sweet or sour. All are pretty darn tasty, and some places even amp up their simple syrup to infuse it with cinnamon or maple syrup. We’ve gotten a few weird looks when we started ordering RYE old fashioneds, sour please. But now folks are coming around (I smell a trend brewing!), and we even had a nice older fellow stop by our table to chat at the Bear Trap Supper Club when he heard us order a Templeton Rye old Fashioned.
Folks around our part of the UP are very proud of their rocks. Granite specifically. Boulders and gravel. It’s a thing. Most of the UP sits atop hard, igneous bedrock. Most of Iron County used to be covered with glaciers, and they would tear up the bedrocks and roll the rock chunks under the huge weight of the slowly moving ice. That created millions and millions of rounded granite rocks, from the size of your fist all the way up to the size of a small house. They are everywhere. We even started to collect the small boulders we could actually lift from our bit of forest this Fall, once the ferns died back and we could see them (we’re going to use them to decorate and define some paths down to Cooks Run in the Spring). It’s interesting when you drive north – the glaciers stopped around the northern border of Iron County and you can see the change in the rocks – they get sharp and hard edged and there are many more rock ridges poking out of the ground.
We have also learned to tell the difference between Aspen and Birch trees. There are tons of both everywhere, and they share the common trait of white bark. When birch trees get older, their lower white bark transforms into more traditional deciduous tree bark, while aspen bark remains white all the way to the ground. Also (pro tip here!), birch bark that has fallen off a tree is very flammable and doesn’t get water logged (which is why they used to make canoes out of it), so you can use it to start a fire in the rain.