|BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU LEARN|
|A POTEMKIN VILLAGE|
SHADES OF THE PASTThursday, 8:30 AM. 32 degrees F, wind N, moderate with stronger gusts. I just squeegeed several inches of slush from the driveway and it has begun to snow heavily. There is a low overcast and poor visibility, and a winter storm advisory through Friday. The barometer stands at 29.86 in. and the humidity is 95%. I am tired of taking photos of winter weather in mid-April. The deer were out everywhere along Hwy. 13 between Bayfield and Washburn yesterday in broad daylight, trying to find some forage. They knew this was coming.
Ashland is a nice town of around 8,000 people, but a century ago it had three times that many. And back then it was a major port, exporting not only lumber and agricultural products, but vast quantities of iron ore from nearby mines in the Penoke range. All that is gone, large ships seldom enter the fine harbor and the immense ore dock that has been the city's trademark is being dismantled.
When we first came to the Northland, Ashland was rather seedy but functioning, and in the early 2000's began to look alive again, but the last few years it has lost its luster, and now the stores are fleeing Main Street, which has lost all its anchor stores. In a stretch of nine blocks there are fourteen empty store fronts, and several nearly empty office buildings. What has happened?
Left wing commentators will blame Walmart (nope, it has been here for many years) and of course George Bush. Right wingers will blame the Obama Recession, but that is not the direct cause either. The root cause is environmental policies that cripple the city and the entire region, exemplified by the empty office squaters of the Penoke Hills Education Project. People are fleeing the Northland because there are no jobs, and those who stay either can afford it without working, or are mostly small businesses that don't employ many workers at good wages, or people who are on the dole to one degree or another.
The Penoke and associated Gogebic iron ranges are among the most significant iron ore deposits in the world, but environmental extremists have to this point blocked virtually all attempts to resume the mining operations that existed as recently as 1964, that provided most of the wealth and jobs of the entire region, and built Ashland and surrounding communities. There is now a need again for the ore, and the workers, skilled and unskilled, to mine and process it, and the ships and sailors, railroads and engineers to transport it.
Of course we all want to maintain the environmental benefits and beauty of the Northland, and there certainly are ample laws to regulate, and numerous federal, state and local agencies to monitor the mining process.
But the opposition by the environmentalists is of such virulence and illogic that it has shut down every effort to utilize the resource and create jobs, through endless protests and lawsuits. So, here we sit, literally in the midst of the earth's riches and bounty, jobless and penniless and taxed to death.
Everyone who appreciates the beauty and munificence of the earth wants to be an environmentalist, but many, like myself, have given up on the term and have reverted to the old and revered name of conservationist, to separate ourselves from the extremists, who have taken environmentalism to the heights of a new religion. Some actually worship the ancient earth-godess, Gaia.
So the jobless college students, supported by their parents and encouraged by tenured professors who can afford to live here, squat in an abandoned store front on the main street of a city dying from lack of jobs and attempt to "educate" passersby in the new religion.
All the while, the shades of the city's ancestors look down smiling from painted brick walls, supremely confident in a future that has slipped away.
And their progeny worship the earth, a false goddess that the pioneers wisely knew as a cornucopia of prosperity if they worked hard enough and were smart enough to claim its wealth.
As for the acolytes of the new religion, they might as well paint themselves blue and dance naked in the moonlight, for that is what they have reverted to.