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Pigeon River Country: A Michigan Forest

Dale Clarke Franz takes us into a place that exists mostly on its own terms, a  forest with three rivers, elk, bobcats, bear, and other life that thrives only in remote locations.  


Six contributing authors give the flavor of this particular place, enhanced by oral history from those who settled and changed the land. 

Michigan's longest and most visible environmental controversy over oil and gas development has been in the Pigeon River Country. Other threats have arisen. Franz examines these in the context of why the outdoors is so appealing to humans, raising the question of what constitutes our selves as living beings. 

The deeper our awareness of the outdoors, the greater will be its health, and ours.

Pigeon River Country: Project


What's going on among forest animals is apparently familiar to us at deep levels that reach our consciousness only in modified, generalized form.

       p 255


Some scientists claim the black bear and the bobcat need at least 50 square miles of wild country that is virtually roadless to survive ... We do not have many such areas ... any more, but the Pigeon River Country is large enough if we can keep ... human activity to a minimum.                                        p 228


Plants that grew after the ice melted are ... in cooler bogs [and shallow] glacial lakes ... such as Hardwood and Grass lakes. These act as microenvironments to preserve boreal (northern) vegetation.        p 286 


The name Pigeon River comes from a creature believed to have been the most numerous of its kind on earth ... "[M]illions of pigeons ... passed like a cloud through ... the high trees." (Chief Simon Pokagon)       p 7


Ford Kellum was driving up the Osmun Trail ... in May 1969 when just beyond a grassy area he saw an oil rig in the middle of a newly-cleared acre of woods. He was the district wildlife biologist ... It was the first he knew of oil development in the Pigeon River Country.                                                                    p 85


In the outdoors, everything is communicating.   p 296


Although they pervade the forest and everywhere else on earth, bacteria have operated with us knowing hardly anything about their activities until the last few years.                            p 297


Air is a physical presence, a thin skin around the earth. It shifts and rolls like an ocean, heated unevenly by the sun and stirred by the spin of the globe and its trajectory through space.                                    p 26


Pigeon River Country is ... only a few miles from the watershed of north-flowing and south-flowing rivers of northern lower Michigan. Water that recently was rain or snow begins its long journey from ... three rivers ... to the Great Lakes, and eventually on to the sea.                                                                                                p 6-7

Sacred Space

We don't really understand life around us very well. It can be instructive to assume, even if just for the sake of a good argument, that the grasses we're standing on, the insects moving through them, the mammals keeping their distance, all operate with the same basic bacterial machinery we do to provide the sensation of the morning around us, enriched for us by our range of senses and enriched in other ways for others by theirs.            p 303

Light and dark

No matter how comfortable ... a woods may be by day or ... by moonlight, there is a point in the dark when we come to terms with the limits of ourselves as human beings. There are things out there we cannot see; we turn back.                  p 11


Almost every activity described by visitors appears to involve contemplative recreation, in which the quality of the forest as a place of solitude and scenic beauty is critical.                 p 16


One of the great values in large forests such as the Pigeon is that they stir deep questions within us. Such experiences are surely central to the powerful attraction that outdoor activities hold ...                          p 12


Recreation facilities in a state forest, as compared with a park, are purposefully simple and basic.                           p 6


I'd sit there and watch [millions of trout] ... I'd sneak down to the [Pigeon] river and watch those fish. I don't think there's anything on earth nicer than trout to eat. Brook trout. (James Smith, lumber camp chore boy 1908)   p 166


[Mike] Clark said, "Some hunt for the game. Others of us hunt for the dogs. Not only do they have to point, they have to do it right. Like in ballet."    p 266


Horses are supremely sensitive to the shifting, balancing humans on their backs. A good rider and horse work as a team ... in ways that can resemble the fluid movements of ... a circling hawk ...                            p 264

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