Notes from the North Country, by Lon and Lynn Emerick

If you take paths less traveled in the Upper Peninsula, wondrous discoveries wait around every curve. Like dark mysterious rivers, old pathways flow quietly through the forests, taking the explorer back through time to a simpler era.
Following ancient woods roads, old fire lanes and abandoned railway spurs whither they wander is addictive. They offer an escape, an opportunity to explore and be at a more intimate level with nature and with our rich pioneer history.
Their original purpose long forgotten, most of the old pathways simply meander through the forest. But some terminate in a maze of small logging skidways, a home site, a mine test pit, dark pond or small stream. All are appealing, but we are always enthralled to find the remains of a cabin, the site of an old logging camp or even a weathered fence post sporting a necklace of rusty barbed wire.
Then the questions tumble forth: Who lived here? Why did they dwell in this spot? How did they earn a living? What sorrows and joys did they experience? Why did they leave this place and where are their descendants?
The forest has reclaimed many of the old roads and paths—most can be discerned only when the underbrush and trees are bare of leaves. Early May is a good time for wandering in search of remnants of the peninsula’s early residents. When you explore, make sure to respect private property. For variety and endless options, we prefer to conduct our surveys on land that belongs to all of us—the Hiawatha National Forest.
Hunting for our heritage does not require much preparation, and very little equipment. A map of the forest is helpful—you can get one at any of the forest visitor centers. A compass, camera and a full canteen make good traveling companions.
Go slowly when exploring these old pathways. Saunter, don’t sprint. Take the time to look about you for wildflowers; sit for a while and enjoy the free concert offered by song birds; savor the aroma of the earth warming after the long winter. Let the harness of our fast-moving culture slip from your shoulders.
Join us now for a sojourn in the spring woods. We enter the Hiawatha National Forest via the Buckhorn Road off M-94 in Alger County. Let’s turn here onto FR-2568, just south of Hovey Lake, park our vehicle and walk a ways. Look, here’s a faint two-tracker that heads off toward the lake. Following the old roadway, we come upon the remains of a small log cabin. Over there, behind the fallen structure is a midden of rusty tin cans. A barely discernable path leads us to a small spring surrounded by a ring of rocks probably placed there by a former resident. Close by, a water dipper is hanging on a tree stub—a bit of the original blue-and-white spatter paint under the handle still almost like new.
We took nothing but memories and a photograph. It’s against forest regulations to disturb any historical sites. Old pathways in the forest are like folk tales, and when we traverse them they speak to us faintly of discovery, misery, dreams, persistence—and the indomitable human spirit.
—Lon and Lynn Emerick

Editor’s Note: Comments are welcome by writing MM or e-mailing marquettemonthly@marquettemonthly.com
Lon and Lynn Emerick’s Upper Peninsula books: The Superior Peninsula, Going Back to Central, Lumberjack—Inside an Era, Sharing the Journey, You Wouldn’t Like it Here and You STILL Wouldn’t Like it Here are available at area book and gift stores or by visiting their Web site at www.northcountrypublishing.com

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