Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hard times

This weekend a friend of mine is visiting western Upper Michigan, the locale of my Porcupine County mysteries. One of the e-mail observations he made yesterday was that downtown Ontonagon (the Porcupine City of the novels) was nearly dead on a Saturday afternoon, most stores empty of shoppers and many closed and boarded up.

This is what happens in a remote rural town during a severe recession that may yet end up being a depression. People have no money, so stay home by the fire shivering and hoping they survive until better times.

I will confess that much of the appeal of that part of the country to me long has been its isolation, its lack of madding crowds and consequent abundance of wild animals and birds. There have been just enough people to keep me linked to civilization on my own selfish terms.

But I'm retired, with sufficient income to keep me fed, clothed and sheltered without having to struggle -- yet.

Many if not most people who live in western Upper Michigan don't have that luxury. The paper mill, closed since November, hasn't reopened and might not for many months to come. Deprived of their livelihood at the largest employer in Ontonagon County, many mill workers have pulled up stakes and gone elsewhere in search of jobs. Those who remain out of love for their ancestral semi-wilderness home must scrimp and scratch to stay alive.

I must never forget that the obverse side of my pleasure is other people's misery.

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