On July 5, 2013, author Rob Ganson, his wife Donna, and a few others, were walking in the ancient hills of the Penokees. It was a beautiful day and they were surrounded by lush, green forest as they hiked to a core sample drilling site to witness and document the damage. The Penokees were under siege by a mining company.
2.2 billion years old and once as high as the present day Alps, the Penokees are now gently rolling hills just south of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. Their perfectly balanced eco-system supplies some of the purest drinking water in the world, and nourishes the wild rice of the Kakagon Sloughs – 40% of all the wetlands of the Lake Superior basin. Waters emerge from this watershed in many ways, one of which is the Bad River, which flows through the home of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa.
The Hills are in the crosshairs of GTac which hopes to destroy them (and the watershed) through mountain top removal and extraction of low grade iron ore, creating "the largest taconite mine in the world." Not incidentally, GTac's president, Bill Williams, has impending legal action against him for causing severe environmental damage in his last project, Cobre Las Cruces, in Spain.
It was on this summer day that Rob was to be the first to witness a heavily armed militia that GTac had hired to intimidate people like himself. Photos taken that day were soon shared around the world. Here are Rob's own words.
"As we neared the active drilling operation, I noticed what appeared to be military personnel, wearing camo fatigues and brandishing military assault rifles as well as sidearms. One of these operatives stepped out from the woods behind us, placing us in a crossfire situation. The operative standing behind the barrier was not masked. He held a Fin Scar military assault rifle with a high capacity magazine, holding thirty or more rounds of .223 or .308 ammunition. The rifle was equipped with a flash suppressor. He was not wearing a mask, and his trigger finger was often inside the trigger guard.
The operative who had stepped out behind us was armed with an assault rifle based on the U.S. military M-16/AR-15. This rifle also had a high capacity magazine, but instead of a flash suppressor, was equipped with a silencer. He WAS masked, which made me wonder if he was the one who would do the "dirty work." A third armed operative was harder to observe.
We walked closer to the drilling operation and its taped-off barrier and I attempted to engage the men in conversation, offer them doughnuts, talk to them about the extreme heat, bugs, etc., but got no response at all. We took photos, then turned to walk back down the ridge. As we passed the man who had walked out behind us, I approached him and, said, "I hope they gave you guys some damn good bug dope!" He gave me a slight grin and a nod. That was the only time they responded."
What kind of irony is it that a poet-activist would be one to discover and document a group of militia hired to threaten (and kill?) U.S. citizens? It was soon discovered that they were operating illegally but absent any action from the Iron County, Wisconsin prosecutor, no one was has ever been required to answer for this.
The struggle goes on and unlike the mining company which chooses assault weapons, Rob has chosen words. Many of the poems in "70% Water: Poems from the Great Divide" are based in his passionate fight to defend the Penokee Hills and watershed.
Here is an excerpt from "Notes on the Birth of a Poet-Warrior."
"A flawed, imperfect man, it seems, can stand
for something sacred late in life, can rise
like a Phoenix from selfish ashes, sin and strife
to fight for the water, the air, the land.
Even though my gifts are few, my spirit
weak, the circle is the path I seek.
The battle for the water is the one I choose,
and it’s hard to beat a determined poet ...
with nothing left to lose."
Let Rob introduce you to the Hills and to the struggle to save them in "70% Water: Poems from the Great Divide." The book is available online at Amazon and at Chequamegon Book & Coffee in Washburn and the Apostle Islands Booksellers in Bayfield, Wsconsin. For details on the struggle to save the Penokee Hills: Penokees.org