I didn’t say it, the Yoopers did. You know, Yoopers….the affectionate name given to the folks of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. UPers = Yoopers. If the slogan can be found on bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets, it must be okay to join in the fun.
I had the privilege of visiting the UP recently, and I’ll admit it looked a bit bleak when I arrived in May. The snow had just melted, streets retained sand for traction, and spring had certainly not sprung. The wind coming off Portage Canal was constant, and the small towns of Houghton and Hancock seemed locked up waiting for something. I joined them in waiting, and while waiting discovered a wonderful region, people and culture.
What does any of this have to do with wine? Absolutely nothing. There’s no wine here. Sure, you can buy it in stores, and the local co-op has a pretty good inventory. A mini Whole Foods, if you will. The closest wine producing area is eight hours away in the Traverse City region, which I’ve been told turns out some good wine. The few that I tried were probably not representative of the region, and I’m sure there are better producers out there.
Back to the Yoopers. Knowing full well that every region has something to offer, I dove in head first. This is Finnish territory on the edge of Lake Superior, and with that comes a charming accent from the locals, the first Finnish college, abandoned copper mines, fish, and pasties. My parents hailed from the UP, and I knew of pasties even as a little girl. Think Italian calzone with a meat, potato, rutabaga, carrot, and onion filling. They were perfect meals for the miners to take into the copper mines, which were prevalent here in the 19th and early 20th century.
I ate fish…smoked fish, white fish, fried fish and couldn’t get enough. A visit to Brockway Mountain during the raptor migration was breathtaking. The Keweenaw Raptor Survey counts Bald Eagles, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Kestrels, and other raptors migrating through the ravine and overhead. I fell in love with the pancakes at Suomi Bakery & Restaurant, the beer at Keweenaw Brewing Company, and the Portage Library overlooking the canal….which provided a beautiful “office” for me with wifi and a view. Coffee is $1.00 and you’re encouraged to drink it in the library…….it gets my vote for the best library in the U.S.
A special shout-out to 5th and Elm Coffee House in Houghton. From the moment I walked in that first day in the UP, I was embraced like one of the regulars. I not only became a regular but would shut the place down at 6:00. Great food, coffee, and wifi, and lovely, lovely people……it was my first “office” and my favorite! Thanks to Frank, Lisa and Edward for putting up with me. I miss you all.
A fond farewell to the sweet people of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan…too numerous to mention all the ways you touched my heart. Carry on with your coy slogans. Carry on with the unpretentious names you anoint yourself. Only confident, hardy souls can celebrate living two miles past the end of the earth, and rejoice in it! Cheers!!