Indians and Other Misnomers of the Upper Great Lakes: The True Indigenous Origins of Geographic Place Names, by Phil Bellfy (Modern History Press, Ann Arbor, MI 2023), 154 pages pbk, $25.95.
Brockway Mountain Stories: The History of Brockway Mountain Drive and Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, by Paul LaVanway (Mudminnow Press, Copper Harbor, MI 2023), 90 pages pbk. $25.95.
“Ninety-nine percent of all species
that have ever lived are now extinct….”
“Reinventing the Dinosaur,” by Galchen,
The New Yorker (November 13, 2023)
Review by Mack Hassler
As though I have nothing to do in my retirement, I happen to be taking a Zoom course on Genetic Engineering as I review these two excellent and data-rich reference books about the UP. It is a bit like studying ancient Greek for me, but I did learn that DNA is a molecule in our cells that communicates all our genetic information. This complex acid molecule with the strange ability to reproduce itself and with its intricate potential for change is common to all life on this planet. I did ask about other planets; and, of course, about alien life we know nothing. Nevertheless, the scale of the arena for life on our planet is huge from tiny bacteria to living lizards to dead dinosaurs. Hence my epigraph above for this short review of these two fine reference books that are very important for the literature of the UP. Like the DNA molecule, these are data containers that are beautifully made for the reader and very full of information that ought to help poets and prose writers of both fiction and non-fiction generate a genuine literature for our region.
Phil Bellfy, who is an emeritus professor of American Indian Studies at Michigan State, gathers names and charts and maps as well as well some lost photographs and other images from 1782 onward. Indians and Other Misnomers of the Upper Great Lakes: The True Indigenous Origins of Geographic Place Names is a beautiful book in the tradition of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, and like Schoolcraft ought to inform and to inspire more of our homegrown Longfellows. I see no reason why, with good data like Bellfy provides, we need to rely on carpetbag writers from the East to make our big poems for us. One of the blurbs on the back of the book written by another academic from York University in Canada talks about Bellfy “… changing the way in which indigenous knowledge shapes the hitherto colonial narrative of the Great Lakes.”
Paul LaVanway is, also, a retired academic whose discipline was economics; and he had worked on some of the economic history of how the UP figured in the Great Depression. He has been a summer resident of the Keweenaw for 40 years and is a past board member of the Fort Wilkins Natural History Association. This new volume Brockway Mountain Stories brings back into print two works he had done earlier— one on the Brockway Mountain Drive and the other on the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. LaVanway is rich in his narrative and photos on the nearly nine-mile drive up to the view from Brockway. The additions to this new gathered book are, also, particularly good on the recent economic history of the Lodge with the latest developments as of 2022 in the operation of the Lodge. The photography and the charts and the maps, as in Bellfy, are clear and very attractive. I think both reference books should become part of the library for anyone interested in writing about the UP, and they are both beautiful books for all of us to own. By comparison, the DNA molecule appears rather messy as we look at it in the Watson/Franklin photos. This is one difference between what Nature does in its work and what our publishers can produce in their work. So buy the books before they go out of print.