Everyone has a certain fondness for their hometown, the setting of their childhood, the haunts of their formative years. We all take pride in our regional affiliations, New Yorkers think it’s the only city in the world, people in L.A. think the west coast is where it’s at, people from Toronto think Canada ends at the edge of the T-dot suburbs, and British Columbians believe all other areas of the universe are hellish dungeons. Yoopers (people from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) believe, scratch that, know that all the bits of Michigan south of the Mackinac bridge are rather useless. But for people from this slightly rabbit-shaped slice of heaven it’s more than just bragging rights. Yoopers share a culture, a mindset, a lifestyle that brings us together even when we leave home. If you go to most major cities in the U.S., you’ll find groups of us huddled together in shady bars. When we introduce ourselves, we subtly remind you we aren’t from the mitten-shaped part of Michigan so please don’t ask us to point to your hand because you can’t find us on that map. Maybe what draws us so closely together is that unlike east vs. west rivalries or tensions that run along the Mason-Dixon line, our regional pride isn’t in competition with anyone. Sure, we belong on one peninsula of a two-peninsula state. But even that doesn’t put us in a contenst of northern vs. southern Michigan because a) they don’t give a rat’s ass about us and b) we know we have won by making them think they don’t want to be up here.
I remember once my sister brought a friend to visit the U.P. for the first time. We were walking down the street on his first morning here when, after only a block or two, the friend stopped us and said “I know this is a small town, but this is ridiculous! How can you know ALL these people?” We didn’t know them, or at least not all of them. But here it’s normal to greet someone you pass on the sidewalk with hello/good morning/how are you today and while you’re at it, hold the door open for someone who is coming into a store behind you. Manners are important, but in the heart of a Yooper you’ll find more than that.
Here you find people who continue to thrive through very cold, very snowy, very long winters as though it is a just form of payment for the other three abbreviated but glorious seasons. In fact, up until May most Yoopers are complaining when there isn’t enough snow. The weather here may be considered a drawback by outsiders, but natives know that the blinding blue sky in winter that brings the below-zero temperatures is the same sky that brings the glorious sunny days of summer. We understand that the weather in our climate makes this place unlivable for some, and for that reason we don’t complain too much even in the longest winter because we fear overpopulation. We love snowsuits and long underwear as much as we love swimsuits and flip flops and we’ll find a way outside regardless of the forecast.
We’re people of the earth, and we like to glide, ride or stomp over the ground to commune with nature as often as we can. Some teenagers rely on parties at the home of a absent parent, but Yoopers simply take to the woods with tents, four-wheel drive vehicles and Boone’s Farm or Pabst Blue Ribbon. We don’t really mind being dirty or cold just as long as we’re together on a beach/boat/porch/moutain sharing some stories and some spirits. And when the rest of the state making fun of us like we are hicks who just hunt and fish and say ‘eh’ while wearing camoflague vests while we ride snowmobiles to work, we take it with a grain of salt an often add our own punchlines. Because ultimately, the joke isn’t on us.
We believe in the power of where we’re from. Serendipity has made it so we were born in a small town with open minds. Big water, infinite trees, higher education and sophisticated medical treatment. Speed limits never to exceed 55 miles per hour. Hundreds of miles from a Gap or an Abercrombie or a Chili’s, despite the invasion of Target and Walmart and Applebee’s, our home seems to spawn a more original and interesting people than other parts of the country. For many people, a visit home means to visit those they love. And while most of us make the pilgrimage from where life has brought us back to where we came from in part to wrap our arms around those we love, none of us would deny that we also come to touch the water, smell the air and sit on the ground of a place that is as just as a part of who we are as any person ever could be.