Draft horses busted through drifts of snow, pulling heavy rollers to pack lake effect accumulations into paths for wagons mounted on skis. Horses, known as hay-burners, passed their fuel in droppings that became part of the snow cement of winter travel in the Keweenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan.
Easier to say, Copper Country.
So those draft beasts packing snow and adding road-apples to the mix all winter come to mind as I walk the dog in yet another lake effect squall. She’s an old short-hair pointer, and I bundle her up in in a fleece-lined snow-coat the color of hunter’s orange. I don’t want her to get run over by a snowmobile. As snow blasts my face with what stings like flakes of lead glass, Miss Bobo decides to revive an old Copper Country tradition and poops in the middle of the road.
What can I do but laugh and draw off my mittens to fumble with the poop bag in my coat pocket, chasing after steaming clusters (she’s not one to stop and poop in one place)? I’m encased in perpetual snow, my own private globe. Already, 103 inches have accumulated (if you want to watch my snowfall from afar, Michigan Tech monitors it daily). She has nowhere else to go but in the driveway or road, the spaces we clear. Imagine those horses…chickens, cattle, goats and stray dogs, too.
A local told me a story about those draft horses and rollers — his great-granduncle was once a snow removal laborer. He said those horses dropped and packed so much processed hay that by the time spring melt arrived the roads were awash in melting horse poop. Winter hides yellow and brown snow beneath her renewable white blanket.
As we turn back toward the house on Roberts Street, snowmobiles scream past us, filling the air with burned gasoline. They, too, pack the snow. It compacts like clay, and our neighbors are out, raking their roofs with long-handled roof-rakes so it doesn’t cause a cave-in. Last year, a downtown building — a large historic brick structure — caved in from the weight of snow and ice.
Folks came to this snowy region for what they found beneath — copper.
Cornish miners with their pasties come in the 1840s. Mining lasted longer than frontier towns out west. In fact, Native Americans had mined native outcroppings of copper since 5000 BC. That places North America on the map during the Copper Age. Yet that’s not a well-known piece of history. But it attests to the amount of copper found in the Keweenaw. According to Michigan Tech, in 150 years, over 12 billion pounds of native copper was mined here.
Copper Country Mall is a small-town 1980s era sprawl of indoor retail shops, mostly out of business. Gogebic College, Sears and the Vet Center occupy the space. On January 19, I’m presenting The Hero’s Journey to my fellow veteran spouses and our vets. During a group discussion, one spouse mentioned that her husband likes to watch war movies because at least in the movie, “they took the hill.” In Vietnam, US forces often repeatedly took and lost hills. They represent battles that felt meaningless.
As a literary artist, my favorite form is the hero’s journey based on Joseph Campbell’s work in mythology. Every culture shares stories about the hero’s journey. It resonates with us because we are all heroes on a journey called life. That day in group, my mind jumped to veterans and the hero’s journey. I think combat veterans are called to their hero’s journey when they serve. What might be missing is the elixir. In order to come home, the hero must find the elixir — the meaning to why they took the hill, or perhaps acceptance of the lack of meaning.
This is what makes the hero’s journey so rich. It’s like copper — malleable.
After the presentation I’m serving cake and hosting the first of several book launches (because I like cake) for The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1. Print books will be available by then. It’s an honor that the Vet Center is letting me use their facility, but I have found the Copper Country to be a welcoming community. I plan to read flash fiction (something I enjoyed doing in North Idaho) and I thought I’d see what the name of this place could inspire for stories.
And be sure to catch tomorrow’s post. It’s now 2018 and Carrot Ranch is determined to have a fulfilling year. That includes all of you! During the Rodeo, C. Jai Ferry led us all to the TwitterFrontier. She’ll be joining us the First Friday of every month with Twitter tips for literary artists and a month-long #TwitterFlash. You’ll tweet your responses, and all the Last Friday of the month you can share any in the comments. Check it out tomorrow! It will be fun and we’ll all get to learn more about Twitter.
January 4, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Copper Country. It can be any place, fictional, historical, or on another planet. Go where the copper leads.
Respond by January 9, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 10). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
An Alternative Discovery by Charli Mills
Christopher Columbus informed the Queen. “Your Majesty, a great procession sails from where the earth ends.”
“Is it possible?” she asked Ferdinand. They gathered, soldiers honing flint-knapped spears, the royals at a safe distance, all praying to God.
Invaders clad in red metal came in the name of Gitchigumee. Flint spears shattered, no match for glimmering red weapons.
Many who survived that day in 1492 succumbed to foreign germs. North America wiped out most of Spain, enslaving her children to dig in the New Copper Country.
If only Christopher’s Queen had known to make weapons of the native metal.