Tomorrow, at some point, I will have to wash the blood-red mud from my boots that collected as I wandered through the Penokee Hills this weekend.
I brought my Mother-in-law and her friend up to the LCO Harvest Camp on Saturday, August 10, 2013. We had two stops in mind. The first was the Harvest Camp itself. The second was to try to see, first hand, what the impact commercial mining interests are having on the land up there. It is a tale of two camps, really. Two different approaches to working the land.
The LCO Harvest Camp
It was my second time visiting the camp; I am not a local. I am not native to Iron County in any sense of the word. I’m a guy who believes in the healing power of nature. Both times I’ve stepped into the Harvest Camp I have been greeted warmly, offered dinner, and showed great hospitality. I meet people for the first time and I know that I am among friends.
The campers have made homes away from home in the woods, and are harvesting its bounty while doing healing work to the land and to our culture. Around every corner is a welcoming sight: a row of squash, a collection of firewood. A wigwam built just in case someone decides to stay overnight even though they didn’t bring any gear.
The Harvest Camps trails and pathways are sculpted using natural methods; putting the lay of the land and the method of ingress at balance with each other.
My daughter made fast friends with other kids at the camp.She learned how to identify at least six different types of edible plants growing in the camp itself. She and another little girl parked down the hill for some time and raided the raspberry bushes. My mother-in-law wanted to stay and talk politics and swap protest stories with the other folks at the camp. I wanted to wander off into the woods and see what there was to see.
We came to the camp as protesters, and we left it as human beings. There is magic in the camp; magic in its bounty and in it’s people. There is magic in the whispering winds and the lightening strikes and the pile of discarded cooking materials that the campers have cleaned out of the public lands and put on display.
There is a magic in this camp that comes from the union of people, tree, flora and fauna.
The site of the ongoing mining
A mile up the road is a site of another kind. Visitors are not welcomed with warmth and compassion, but by a gate bound with a lock and chain. Although both lands are public, this site is fenced and the only greeting a visitor receives from is a callous yellow sign demanding that visitors to this parcel of not ride motor vehicles, and do not stay overnight.
There is no face to great you. No name to welcome you. No friend to see that you are well. On this site, there is Only the cold hard path of destruction wrought with the carelessness that only a corporation can.
While we were on our hike our little family van was cased several times by men driving black trucks. We found walking sticks to help us up the incline and around the muddy trenches that have been carved in the side of the hills by heavy machinery. The path is lined with synthetic riprap and optic orange fences. At certain points the riprap funnels runoff into a couple of hay bales that do not seem to be doing much in the way preventing erosion.
As we walked, the mud grew thicker and the pathway became more torn up. The woods here is different. Not less beautiful, (industrial trenches notwithstanding), but different. Here, the woods is somber. Is it hurting?
And even still, life grows here. The aformentioned hay bales have sprouted, as if succumbing to the land’s great fertility. Mushrooms and toadstools take advantage of the disruption in the forest floor to grow quick and die young.
I spotted a small prayer bag dangling from a tree. The ribbon was made from raffia and the bag was made of cotton. It contained wishes for healing, no doubt. It was certainly left as a gift from the human campers down the road. I stopped and silently added my own wish for an end to this unbalanced and unnessesary destruction of our natural resources.
My thoughts were interrupted when I hear a man yawn in the woods. I can’t be sure, but I am convinced I hear the sound of someone stifle a yawn and then a branch shake. I spun around to look at where I think the sound came from. I looked deeply into the woods. I did not see anyone. I looked deeper. Still nothing. But I am convinced there was someone there. We were being watched.
At that point, I decided was time to return to our car. The path had become mostly impassable for foot traffic without doing some serious off-roading and I’m not sure I wanted to startle the sleepy spy over in the trees by accidentally treading on him.
It is a far, far better thing I do now
A tale of two camps. One seeks to build communion with the land and the other seeks to take resources from it. One camp seeks to healing the rifts that separate flora from fauna, and the other seeks to dividing and conquer both.
Come to the land. Listen to it. See if with your own eyes. There is beauty there. It is public land. It is open to you. You owe it to yourself to set foot on the Penokee’s sacred soil and feel her sing beneath you feet as you hike.