Letter Re: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as a Retreat Locale

I am new to SurvivalBlog and have found it very interesting. I thought I would comment on what it’s like living in the Upper Peninsula (“UP”) of Michigan. I built a 1,920 square foot log cabin on 20 acres here, about 30 years ago. I see that you have recommended the UP as a possible retreat location for people in the eastern U.S.

I should give you a little personal background before I get started. I moved to the UP several decades ago from southern Michigan. Most of my children were born here and therefore are native Uoopers [or “Yoopers”] (not some transplant Troll from under The Bridge). That is the Mackinac Bridge, pronounced Mackinaw as if it had a “W” at the end, since the the “C” is silent. Mackinac is a derivation of a Menomini or Ojibwe {Indian] word “Michilimackinac”. (A little trivia.)

I will tell you some of the good and the bad things living in the UP. Of course good and bad are both a matter of opinion. I will start with the good things, as I see them.

Living here in many ways is like living in 1958 instead of 2008. There is crime and drugs but nothing like the urban or metropolitan areas of the country. Most crimes are petty in nature. The people here are open and very friendly to almost every one they meet. Most of the small towns like Munising, Manistique, or Norway are all most the way they were in 1958, or for that matter in 1938. You would have to be a native to know that there was any change at all. The bigger towns like Marquette, Escanaba, Sault Ste. Marie and Iron Mountain have shopping malls and all those big city things people like. One can live in dense forests, in farming communities, in small towns (there are no real big cities in the UP) or just in the country as I do. Or one could even live on an island like Sugar Island or Drummond Island, perhaps Mackinac Island [with no motorized vehicles allowed] is more your taste? It is said that the UP is a sportsman’s paradise. There is fishing in the Great Lakes, inland lakes and rivers. Wildlife abounds everywhere: moose, deer, black bear, wolves, coyotes, and even an occasional mountain lion. Hunting, fishing and trapping are popular in the UP and I would estimate that 98% of all adults own at least one firearm and know how to use them. In the winter months there is skiing downhill and cross country, snowmobile trails everywhere (used by ATV riders in the summer), ice fishing, etc. Well you get the idea.

There are wild berries all over the place in the UP. A little anecdote: Back in the 1980s my wife (at the time) and I were picking raspberries on the power line right-of-way near where we lived. I was down in a little ravine and she was up on the top of a hill not far away and we were talking a lot not paying attention too much. I was eating at least a quarter of every thing I picked. My truck was parked on top of the hill near her. She told me not to eat so many berries, that I would get sick. I was ignoring those little criticisms from her, when I smelled something kind of like a skunk but not quite that bad. I asked her if she smelled a skunk. She said no, and said “I told you that you would get sick eating all those berries”. I managed to ignore that also. I moved over a little for more berries. Now these are wiled berry bushes on where they cleared all the trees out to put power polls in and to be able to drive along the line to check for problems. The berry bushes were densely packed on both sides of the right-of-way just at the tree line. I started picking the berries near the top of the bush and just then, a big black head popped up, just on the other side of the bush not more then 6 feet away and looked straight at me. I was told that bears will eat almost anything they can find, nuts, berries, garbage, garbage cans, gas grills, ’73 Ford trucks, you name it. And at that moment I believed every word of it. After the Black Bear got bored of scaring the stupid Sugar Beeter, he or she (I wasn’t going to check) turned around and lumbered back into the woods from when’s it came. I thought I could hear it snickering a little as it disappeared in the woods. I composed myself, more or less and went up the hill and told my wife it was time to go home and got in the truck and started it. She got in and told me “I told you that you would get sick didn’t I?”. She never believed me about the bear.

The bad things up here: I will start in the spring. Spring starts about the middle of April at least most of the snow should be gone by then. I can get into the woods and start cutting fire wood. Some time in May the Ticks are out. In June the Mosquito’s and Black Flies and all the other vampire bugs are out. I’m still cutting fire wood. It can start to snow any time after the middle of October but if it snows it normally will not stick. Also starting in October the flies start to congregate on the west side of the cabin sunning themselves and looking for a snug place to get out of the cold. It’s amazing how many of the little annoying things can find there way into my cabin. Some time in November the snow is here for the winter. It depends where one lives in the UP as to how much snow they get a year. About 250 inches give or take each winter (yes that’s over 20 feet of snow). Now the snow does not get that deep on the ground. Where I live it get’s about 3 feet to 4 feet deep, depending on the winter. That is because of compaction and melting from the ground. If you live near Lake Superior more than that. However if you live down in the banana belt along Lake Michigan, it is less than that. It gets very cold in the winter, I’ve seen it get -25 below 0 with highs at -9 or -10 below zero degrees Fahrenheit. and stay their for weeks on end. The UP is the only place I’ve been where you can have a blizzard when there is not a cloud in the sky. That is “lake effect” snow. Lake Superior doesn’t freeze over completely. With a little breeze out of the north, the very cold dry air picks up moisture off the big lake and dumps it on the cold land. The stretch on M-28 between Marquette and Munising gets closed sometimes because of the snow off the big lake. Now combine “lake effect” snow and a true blizzard out of Canada, well I hope you have all your firewood in and the pantry is full.

I have seen lots of people come up here thinking they could move a trailer on to an acre or two and live off the land by hunting. It just doesn’t work, along about January or February the snow gets so heavy the roof caves in on them, some fun. In the winter the snow gets too deep for the deer to forage so they yard up in the cedar swamps in big herds. Wolves and coyotes stalk the cedar swamps for there livelihood.

The growing season is short, that’s not to say you can’t have a nice garden, you can but it’s a lot of work. Cutting firewood for the six months of winter heating is hard work. More than the average neophyte (Sugar Beeter) can put up with. This is a hard place to live. The people that live here have the knowledge and skills needed to survive in this unique part of the United States. A person or family doesn’t just come up here and camp out in the woods and live off the land. If the insects don’t drive them out of there minds, the white death of winter will kill them. I mean that literally, winter is a white death for the unprepared. That is why a meltdown in the big cities is not going to affect the UP with droves of refugees. And everybody in the cities of Wisconsin and Michigan knows that, they’re going to head south where the living is easy.

But if you think you’re tuff enough, good luck up here. – The Old Uooper

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