Category Archives: Uncategorized

A narrative of the Upper Peninsula forest through time

I just finished reading John Knott’s Imagining the Forest: Narratives of Michigan and the Upper Midwest (2012, University of Michigan Press), and thoroughly enjoyed his flowing narration of the path our forests have taken over the past 400 years. He uses a series of novels, books, and periodicals (both fiction and nonfiction) written during different periods to provide images of not just what our forests were like ecologically, but how they were perceived by those who lived in them.

His book begins not with the northwards retreat of the glaciers (when our forests truly began to be forests), but with the Ojibwa who utilized forest resources in seasonal movements and traditions. These traditions served them well when the first fur-trappers established themselves in the area, and the Ojibwa and traders formed integrated communities and relied on intact forests to support their trade in resources.

However, as the timber boom spread from Lower to Upper Michigan, the forests were stripped and sold to support urban expansion in Chicago, Detroit and beyond. His descriptions of the fires that raged out of control in the 1870’s, destroying top soil and villages, are difficult to imagine. The forest residues that remained after the logs were transported away from the area, combined with an intense series of summer droughts, seared the Upper Peninsula so completely in some areas that the forest has yet to return. These same drought conditions also fueled the Great Chicago Fire in the same year.

After the timber boom, government efforts to encourage agriculture on the near-barren soil failed, and reforestation began. The UP began to be marketed as a vacation destination, in the hopes of developing a new tourism-based economy.

Knott concludes his book with a discussion of the opportunities that our National Forests, Wilderness Areas, and State Parks provide us: hints of what our forests were like before the timber boom in the late 1800’s.

This book is a great read for both natives and newcomers; I recommend bringing it along on your next camping trip in the Porkies!!


Nasty cow pasties

Every Saturday my four-year-old son and I start our errands by going to a local dairy farm (Hidden Acres Farm) to get a gallon of milk. Since moving to the UP, I’ve been trying to localize our food supply, mainly by gardening in our backyard, joining Wintergreen Farm (Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA)), buying eggs from a friend and now our milk.

Aside from sustainability concerns (e.g., carbon footprints, food miles, local jobs, slow food/money/life, and the like), I garden with my son and bring him to these places so that he understands not only where food comes from but also how it comes to be food. He knows that beans and seeds must be planted, fed, and watered to get plants that produce fruits and vegetables, he knows that chickens love worms (above all else), and now he knows how cows eat grass, how they keep flies off of them (ears and tail), and today what a cowpie looks like.

I was stunned at first when he pointed one out and asked what it was. I then realized that he hasn’t been around pastured cows before (just those at the zoo) and therefore has never had the opportunity to see a cowpie. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, but I had nearby opportunities to be exposed to nature (in the Forest Preserves) and agriculture (such as Wagner Farm in Glenview) where I was able to figure out things like cowpies. We are only now understanding how critical this exposure to the natural world is for young children and their development. I suppose I have taken my early exposure for granted up until now.

On the way back to our car, one of the farm owners greeted us and I told her that my son had seen his first cowpie today. I’m sure on the inside she was rolling her eyes at such a bizarre and slightly pathetic revelation, but she smiled and said, “My son calls those ‘nasty cow pasties'”. Very fitting!


The value of money

I found a small bit of time over the weekend to read Mark Boyle’s recent book, “The Moneyless Man: A year of freeconomic living” (2010, One World Publications). He succeeded to live for a year without spending or exchanging money; all of his needs were met through bartering, growing or building things himself, riding his bike (or occasionally hitchhiking), or using the cast-offs of others. Although he acknowledged the role that money plays in a market system (regardless of whether it is capitalist, socialist, communist, or other), he felt that money has become disassociated with this central role: to help make the trade of goods and services more efficient. Instead, money has become a end goal to itself; to accumulate as much as possible.

The book is an interesting read, and has a good deal to contribute to communities that are interested in supplying more goods and services locally, and for those looking to simplify their lives. Unfortunately some of his methods are illegal in some (or all!) parts of the US (e.g., dumpster diving, collecting wild edible plants and mushrooms on private property), but the illegality of these methods does give the reader an opportunity to wonder why these laws are necessary.

The book brought to mind the documentary “Once upon a time in Knoxville“, about a sort-of planned community within spitting distance of my old haunts in southern Knoxville during my grad school days. There, one enterprising man has built an entire neighborhood of houses out of discarded materials, and rents the houses out. Sadly, the house I rented (presumably not made from recycled things) was quite a bit worse than the houses he had put together! But perhaps I couldn’t have expected much for $200/month…..

If nothing else, Mr. Boyle provides the reader encouragement to take some time off from “the rat race” (if even for a long weekend) and contemplate what exactly is needed versus what is a want masquerading as a need. That is certainly something most people in developed countries could do on a regular basis!




Welcome!

This blog is a forum for the Michigan Tech community to do three things:   

1. Share important information about sustainability-related events, activities, research and curriculum at Michigan Tech;
2. Engage in a discussion with each other and the greater community on current sustainability issues, and;
3. Gain insight into the emerging sustainability problems in the world, so as to better understand and solve them.   

We welcome comments from the Michigan Tech community and all those outside of it. This is a moderated blog, so please keep your comments polite; personal attacks and abusive or disrespectful comments will not be posted. 

The blog was started by Prof. Audrey Mayer, and the beginnings of this blog may be dominated by my voice. However, as the blog matures I expect many voices to join the choir!   

For more information about sustainability groups at Michigan Tech, you can begin your tour at the following links:   

Sustainable Futures Institute   

Sustainability Certificate program at Michigan Tech   

AQIP green accounting efforts   

ETEC Student Enterprise   

D80 Programs   

Green Campus Student Enterprise  

Students for Environmental Sustainability 

Global City student organization

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Wood-to-Wheels 

Sustainable Landscapes Lab