You could do worse than to tiptoe into Michigan by the back door of the Upper Penninsula (UP), afloat as it is in a lake-world gift of ancient glaciers. So near is the time of the Ojibwa and Menominee that the call of a wild north – the loons, the deer and rush of streams – seems to yet hang in the forest hush.
A baedeker’s take on these north woods would note that no comparable tract of North America contains as many scenic – and, uncluttered – highways, boasts such a complement of nordic saunas, sweetens mornings with as much maple syrup and blueberries, and braces an otherwise rugged life with ‘sisu’, Finnish for ‘grit in the face of adversity’. Cordwood stacked like works of art and snowmobile highway crossings hint at that story.
But on the road to the Lake Superior shore come signs of a sharp stir among ‘Yoopers’ (colloquial name for UP natives). The cause could not be more bizarre. Driveway slogans shout ‘Stop the Rocket!’, and this, some 1200 miles (1950 kms) from the Kennedy Space Center, and even farther from private launch sites in Texas and the desert Southwest. Could anything be more improbable, more alien, to these waters and woods than the thunder, smoke, and blast of heavy-lift rocketry?
As it happens, Tom Baldwin, titan bond trader from Chicago, sees a perfect match between his 5000-acre tract of lakeside real estate and a vertical launch spaceport[JC1] . But neighbors along County Rd. 550 leading north from Marquette toward Big Bay and Huron Mountain who collect mushrooms in the forest and picnic on pontoons in the summer, are only the first rank of Yoopers who find it difficult to imagine what would become of the pristine lake and the spiritual silence of the woods in the shadow of three-stage rockets. When the debris and liquid fuel of failed launches rain down around them, they ask, would there be any Superior left?
If the Yoopers believe that they are equal to as formidable a foe as winter, then they may have to find reserves of sisu never summoned up before to meet the challenge of deep pockets and the movers and shakers who have designs on their wilderness sanctuary.