To combat the symptoms of cabin fever that came packaged with this Wisconsin February I got out of the farmhouse and into the woods, an activity dating back to my childhood.
My father was its chief proponent. We then lived in Cedar Grove, in Sheboygan County, and access to nearby woodlots and the shore of Lake Michigan was close and easy and on Sundays, particularly during the dreary month of February, my father would get me and my sister out into it.
The frozen shoreline of the lake was a forbidding tableau of broken pressure ridges onto which adventure was dangerous and forbidden. But the woods were open and inviting and the opposite side of every tree offered the possibility of a new discovery.
It seemed right to be out there among the trees. And once back home, bathed in the incandescent glow of the ensuing evening, memories of trees fueled my imagination with images of animals whose tracks I’d seen printed between them.
My imagination has somehow survived more decades than I readily admit and now I’m lucky enough to have 100 acres over which I allow it to run free. Other Wisconsinites are much luckier. They and their imaginations have access to more than 2 million acres within the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and state forests and parks. Milwaukee County residents also have parks encompassing nearly 15,000 acres.
With all that available space it might seem ludicrous to worry about the negative impact of a comparatively miniscule open pit mine that will almost certainly open in northwestern Wisconsin once the legislature approves a mining bill that has fluttered back like Dracula. Interesting how similar “mine” and “Mina,” the object of Dracula’s blood lust, are.
The promise of jobs seems to be the primary reason the mine proposed for Wisconsin’s Penokee Range is being considered. Those jobs–the numbers range anywhere from 700 to 3,500–are part of Governor Scott Walker’s unfulfilled 2010 promise to add 250,000 jobs by opening Wisconsin for business. The current incarnation of the mining bill, like the one the 2012 legislature closed the coffin on, seeks to streamline the mine’s application process to add those jobs. That streamlining would weaken environmental safeguards and that is the mining bill’s real reason for being. It is part of an ongoing effort to weaken Wisconsin’s traditional commitment to protect the environment.
That’s why it isn’t ludicrous to worry about an open pit mine in the Penokees. If the state legislature enacts Scott Walker’s wishes and adds the mining jobs it is also embracing his shortsightedness. To an economic order that is rapidly reestablishing itself away from a dependency on manufacturing; mining jobs are about as relevant as jobs assembling typewriters. But training Wisconsin’s workers for jobs in industries associated with tourism or renewable energy would draw beneficial businesses to Wisconsin by illustrating its forward thinking while reinforcing its commitment to the environment.
If Scott Walker was interested in making the hard choices he so frequently trots out as his forte, he’d make them with an eye on a future for Wisconsin that stretches beyond personal ambition. But he apparently lacks that capacity so his mine will come to the Penokees, its toxic runoff will pollute the surrounding area and Lake Superior and he won’t care.
After, amid future Wisconsin Februaries, I’ll be out imagining what might have been on snowshoes and a pair of hiking boots that have logged miles here in the Chequamegon as well as the Cascades and Rockies where everywhere, amid breathtaking beauty, indelible scars remain from industries that, like Scott Walker, got what they wanted then turned away from the destruction they wrought.
Links to my pervious essays on the proposed mine in the Penokee Range of Northwestern Wisconsin.