A couple of weeks ago I attended a picnic in Ashland, Wisconsin that was organized by some grassroots folks working to educate the local residents about an iron ore mine that has been proposed in northern Wisconsin. The proposed mine would be in an area known as the Penokee Hills, which is located east of Ashland and south of Lake Superior. Nearly 100 people gathered in support of preserving the Penokee Hills, its environmental, cultural and social integrity. Geologically speaking the Penokee Hills, in northern Wisconsin, are some of the oldest hills in the world. Once mountains, the Penokee Hills were scraped and carved away many millennia ago by streams, rivers, oceans and glacial periods. The preservation of the Penokee Hills, and the Bad River Watershed in which the proposed mine site lies, is the primary focus of the growing grassroots effort.
Kakagon-Bad River Slough
About a month prior to the picnic, my good friend Pete Rasmussen and I were talking about the proposed mine and the latest developments. Fresh out of my grad class, Art as Research and Transformation, I was full of enthusiasm and said, “okay, we should make a video we can post on a blog. We could interview a bunch of locals about their feelings and concerns about the proposed mine and then edit it on imovie and then…. and then… and then.”
Which leads me to the point of this current blog post…I hope to change my research project from the perviously posted, Research Project Idea ~ Coffee, to something closer to my heart (yeah, I know, what could be closer to my heart than coffee?), the proposed Penokee Hills mine.
At the picnic I enlisted the skills of my favorite poet, Roy Ketchum, and asked him to help me with some ‘data collection’. We brought markers and colorful construction paper and went around asking for people to help with our project. We asked a question, “Visualize yourself in a place that you cherish or that is important to you. Take a moment to observe that image, then what are the first three words that come to mind? Write each word on a separate sheet of paper.” My intention is to construct a poem with the words gathered…but until then I put all the words and phrases, totaling 154, into a Wordle cloud, which created this image…(click on the square to make it bigger)…
As you can see in the Wordle, the prevailing themes were water, clean and peaceful. Of course the people gathered because they are interested in preserving the area so their responses are not surprising. I wonder, though, if I were to propose the same question to mine supporters how different could their image of a cherished place be?
I have a sense that when we are present in a landscape that we cherish, it might feel important to us because something is resonating with our basic human needs. Might this also be a place where we let our guard down and better understand our relationships with each other and the place that we share?
Just some thoughts as I begin to explore this topic.