The Keweenaw Called and We Answered

Turns out you can go home again.

You’ve probably never heard of The Keweenaw (pronounced ‘Kee-wen-aw’) Peninsula. It’s the county at the northernmost tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, at the top of what’s also known as the Copper Country. At a population of 2111, it’s the least populated of all of Michigan’s 83 counties, the most isolated, the snowiest, and quite possibly the most beautiful.

I was born there, in Laurium, on September 17, 1937.

Though we lived in the Keweenaw for only one year, when I was in the fifth grade, I spent every summer of my growing up years there, from the time school was out until Labor Day, when my dad would drive the 600 miles from Detroit to come back and get us.

When our kids were small my husband and I owned a small company house up there for a few years, until it became too hard to make that trek often enough to justify it. Because it’s been ‘my place’, I need a Keweenaw fix every year or so, and last week we made the pilgrimage.

This time, we went with our oldest daughter and two of our nieces, all of us needing our ‘fix’. We rented two cabins in a complex that has been there since I was young. They’re cute and clean and they have internet, but, thankfully, not much has changed in all the years they’ve been there. The interiors are full-on Seventies, with knotty pine and sunflower curtains. Linoleum floors and mullioned windows that open to the breezes. A tiny kitchen and a tiny bath with a shower. Perfection!

We made the 600-mile trip many times after we were married and had a family, but then we retired on an island at the far eastern edge of the Upper Peninsula. So now we’re closer--only 240 miles--but still far enough away that I can’t get there as often as I would like.

things to do in the up, upper peninsula michigan keweenaw peninsula
A Keweenaw post card. The northern portion is split and is essentially an island. That makes three islands I’ve lived on. (Maui is the other one.)

Almost everyone I knew and loved there is gone now. I’ve outlived all of them. One beloved cousin is left and hers is the only house we can still visit. It’s painful sometimes, and bittersweet. We visit the cemeteries instead.

The Ahmeek Copper Mine, where my Finnish grandfather and many of my great uncles worked in the early years of the 20th Century. Only the red brick buildings are left.

The rock pile across from my grandmother’s house in Mohawk. The mountains of rock taken out of the copper mines dot the Keweenaw landscape. I find copper every time I explore them. I did this time, too.

The pilgrimage rarely changes: Take the road to Gay (named for a long-ago mine supervisor named Gay, if you’re wondering), then stop at Betsy Beach, where, this time, someone has built a hut:

On to Lac La Belle, then to Bete Gris, then up Brockway Mountain Drive, stop at the summit to take pictures:

On the way back down, pull over at the overlook to take pictures of Lake Superior, Copper Harbor, and Lake Fanny Hooe.

The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, outside of Copper Harbor, was built during the Great Depression and is a fine example of the many WPA projects set up to put locals to work when almost all jobs were lost.

Follow US 41 on the west side to Eagle Harbor and stop to rock hunt at Eagle River:

And then to Ten Foot, a hidden swimming hole known only to locals and those of us who’ve been let in on it over the years:

Have to find the best pasties, of course. (Pasties, if you don’t know, are meat pies brought to the Keweenaw originally by Cornish miners, adapted by the Finns and adopted by the entire Upper Peninsula. Pasty shops everywhere, and everyone is a pasty expert. We all have our preferences and have our favorite shops.) Good ones at Mohawk Superette and Toni’s Country Kitchen in Laurium, but others are good, too.

Here is my recipe, made with my own hands, with pictures taken in my own kitchen:

Now we’re back home and, as nice as it is here this time of year, our trip to the Keweenaw (five days) wasn’t near long enough. Each time I wonder if I’ll ever get back again, and it makes the time I spend there all the more precious.

But our island seemed to understand and sent us a gift the evening we got back:

The outside world stops for a while and I’m grateful. But this is what these sojourns do for me: They make me recognize even more how amazing this country I live in really is. I’m energized again and not about to stop working and worrying and calling for justice and decency and a healthy respect for our environment and our people. All of them. Even those who, like my ancestors, come here looking for a better life.

We have it all here. Everything we could ever hope for. In every corner, in every city, in every town we find those things worth fighting to keep. We still find them because they haven’t been taken away. I love that about us.

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