To ring in the end of a busy summer, and get away from the familiar noise of the city, I recently went north to Ontonagon (on-tuh-noggin), a small town of around 1,500 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the UP), near the Wisconsin border and the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, about 400-ish miles straight north of Chicago.
As a native Illinoisian, mine was a childhood of highways, humid summers, and Hardees. So when I learned I’d won a grant from the City of Chicago to visit Alaska I wondered if I’d come back alive.
Alaska would be my first encounter with actual geology, a foreign concept in my home city of Chicago, blue island of glass, steel, and pension crises in a sea of King James red. Topographical lust was partly what attracted me to Alaska, though the real dram came from Alaska’s promise of ‘frontier.’ The most frontiersy Chicago gets is when an armless body washes up on the beach by your apartment, and even that I’ve only seen through hearsay. Alaska’s landmass is equal to 21% of the 48 contiguous US states (‘The Lower 48’ in Alaskan parlance), though the Lower 48’s population is nearly 42,000% greater than Alaska’s. But in place of people, Alaska has bald eagles, bears, and bergschrunds. And according to the CDC, the highest suicide rate of any US state.