Teddy Roosevelt knew what Up North is worth

My family and I are observing a time-honored state tradition this week: Like thousands and thousands of Michiganders, I’m Up North with my family … in my case, way up north. Our cabin is on the south shore of Lake Superior, about an hour north of Marquette.

When I got up at 6 a.m. the other day, the sun was just rising in the northeast, painting the entire cloudy sky in tones of red, pink, maroon, rose, cerise. For me, looking at the handiwork of nature, with the waves very gently splashing on the beach that morning, is about as close as I could imagine getting to the infinite.

At least, that is, until I went to bed after another perfect day -- temperature in the 70s, gentle north wind, low humidity, no bugs. My wife Kathy and I walked along the beige beach sand with our black lab, HomeTown, occasionally throwing a stick for him to fetch. The stars seemed an arm’s length above us, and when we went to bed we could hear the wind gently hissing in the pines and smell the cedar aroma wafting through the cabin.

We went up to the cabin in May, briefly, to get things shipshape. We took a walk in the woods, pacing carefully (the footing is uncertain and it’s easy to step into some gunk). My eye was caught by something inappropriately pink by the side of the trail.

It was an oblong flower hoisted on a five-inch stem over some bright green big oval leaves: A pink lady’s slipper orchid. (Cyprepedium acaule, for those botanically inclined). These flowers are rare, and the deer express their admiration by eating them at every opportunity. But these survived long enough for us to see them, another indication of God’s will expressing itself in the smallest and most beautiful things.

On larger matters, I’ve been reading Colonel Roosevelt, (Random House, 2010) the third volume of Edmund Morris’ magisterial biography of Theodore Roosevelt, who is often acclaimed as our fourth greatest president, after Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, with whom he shares space on Mount Rushmore.

"TR" was an extraordinary person, able and knowledgeable in ways almost unimaginable in today’s political climate, which is filled with a nastiness that persuades all too many able people to keep away.

Roosevelt was fluent in three languages -- English, German and French -- and read Latin easily. He traveled widely from the time he was a student at Harvard, meeting the good and the great worldwide. He was an ardent and well-informed naturalist, easily able to identify hundreds of birds by their songs alone. As president, he successfully mediated the 1904-5 war between Japan and Russia, (winning the Nobel Peace Prize as a result) and set in motion the legal and political basis for breaking up the monopolistic trusts that dominated the American economy at the time.

TR was a great hunter, a woodsman, a roughneck in the American West and a "Rough Rider" who raised a cavalry regiment to fight in the Spanish-American War (which, to be fair, he did more than a little to start).

Together with his friend Gifford Pinchot, a pioneer in forestry conservation, Roosevelt famously made conservation and protection of our magnificent natural resources by starting the national park system.

Consider this thought experiment: Imagine Teddy Roosevelt hadn’t created our system of national parks. Would any successor president today ever be able to create it? Hell, no! They wouldn’t have the guts, the passion, the persuasive power. And would our political system of today have tolerated a man with Roosevelt’s guts, passion and persuasive power? Nah!

And we are much the worse for that.

But we do have our blessings, including Lake Superior, still clear -- and warmer this summer than I’ve ever seen it. When you swim underwater and open your eyes to look in the distance, all you see is gradations of aquamarine, flashing sunlight flickering off the beige sand bottom. And we have the pines and the cedars and their faint smell along the trail on a hot, sunny day.

Plus we have a yearling deer, delicately poised by the side of the two-track path in the woods.

This is Michigan, my Michigan, pure and powerful, beautiful and unspoiled. We are all so, so lucky to have it as it is -- nature that’s infinitely worth preserving and protecting.

Teddy Roosevelt instinctively understood that. Let’s hope we continue to have the wisdom to do so, as well.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.

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Steve Riecker
Tue, 07/31/2012 - 9:38am
Nice perspective. I think many of us enjoy and value this state as you do. Some times I just can't understand the need to travel elsewhere. We have IT right here in this beautiful state. When you think you have seen it all , Ahaa!
Patrick Sellenraad
Tue, 07/31/2012 - 10:04am
Having just competed in the Port Huron to Mackinac sailboat race, I am again in awe of the Great Lakes. Michigan is indeed a wonderful place, surrounded by these bodies of water. What a truly marvelous resource we are able to enjoy!
Tue, 07/31/2012 - 10:12am
Here-Here! If you seek a pleasant peninsula... Look around you. I'm found of suggesting Michigan is the wealthiest State in the Union; we just don't know it yet.
Beaufort Cranford
Tue, 07/31/2012 - 10:38am
Certainly no president since TR has had such a heartfelt appreciation for natural America and so many of the things that make this country a beautiful and uplifting place in which to live. It's too bad we no longer have the political initiative to set aside some of this nation's beauty for our children and grandchildren; the poor economy is too handy an excuse not to. In Northville, for example, Maybury State Park is often monumentally overcrowded, but no other land out that way has been set aside to accommodate the area's growing population. The most likely large expanse of woods and fields, at 7 Mile and Haggerty, formerly state land, will be developed, increasing congestion in that area exponentially. TR was a visionary, and our politicians now seem too much concerned with the accumulation of power and toadying to the affluent to clearly see the benefits of nature to the human spirit. As a supplement and complement to Morris' outstanding books, I recommend to you Douglas Brinkley's thick but accessible "Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America."
Mike R
Tue, 07/31/2012 - 11:55am
As a native and life-long resident of SE Michigan, "going up north" still holds the best memories and the most profound feeling of well-being for me, even though (or perhaps because) my family never owned a lake house or even a deer blind. Summers as a kid in Caseville, Traverse City, and Higgins Lake; winters as a teen and college student in Grayling, Glen Arbor, and Boyne. My wife is from Texas, and I take her and her mother "up north" as often as we can manage just so they understand why I prefer to live in what they characterize as the God-forsaken frozen north.
Gwen Markham
Sun, 08/05/2012 - 5:47pm
Many decades ago leaders with foresight set aside the land and developed the properties into the Metroparks system and the Oakland County Parks System. Can you imagine trying to set that land aside today? Sadly, as you said, leaders with such vision and courage are not often found today. I'm grateful to those who set aside public lands for all.