"Who died?" the stranger in the next booth asked as I enjoyed breakfast at Syl's with Paris, Dolly and Sarah. It was the first question on most Ontonagon residents' minds last Thursday morning when cars lined both sides of the street at Michigan & Steel next to the Cane Funeral Home, many with Michigan DNR insignia.
Turned out nobody died. It was a wedding of sorts. The Natural Resources Commission was meeting in the Theatre of Performing Arts across the street, and the biggest outdoor buzz in the U.P. and statewide was the re-marriage of the DNR and the DEQ, announced by Governor Jenny, adding a romantic twist to the otherwise wildlife-oriented proceedings.
The toughest part is keeping up with the acronym and name changes. The DNR was split into the DNR and DEQ in 1995 in a no-fault divorce decree by then-Gov. John Engler, and were reunited in metaphorical marriage on Oct. 8 by executive order of Gov. Jennifer Granholm to form the DNR&E, Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
"They just couldn't bear to stay apart a moment longer," WWW wildlife correspondent Paris Hiltunen punned. "The least they coulda done was have a gala reception, but when you're reducing deer check stations 50 percent statewide, I guess champagne and polka bands just aren't in the budget."
Nay-sayers say the marriage was never that happy before and don't expect much to change. You can't very well have a merger without downsizing, and all the merge and purge action may not be over yet. Rumor has it that the Department of Agriculture (DOA?) may also be merged in there, forming a threesome of sorts.
DNR Director Becky Humphries, UP Field Deputy Stacy Welling, fisheries and wildlife biologists, COs and NRC commissioners addressed a turn-out of media and sportsmen so big I can't remember all the names so I'll just use initials; DMG, WWW, WLUC, CKSC, LLHSA, CCCTU, PP (Porcupine Press), Yooper TV and radio personalities Buck LeVasseur, Jenny Jewell, Jan Tucker, Tim Kobasic and Skip Schulz.
Topics and private interests raised during the hearings and public comment session ran the gamut from snowmobiles to snowshoe rabbits; wolves, deer feeding, baiting, chronic wasting disease, crossbow hunting, outa whack buck-doe ratios, sasquatch sightings and non-endemic issues like how much smarter and hotter Paris Hiltunen, Sarah Palinen and Dolly Partanen were then anybody had ever imagined. Coyotes and cougars came up too, but not the good kind, as in Coyote Ugly and romantically-aggressive mature women.
While Onto is the farthest north most NRC and DNR members usually stray for a meeting, it's a home game for most WW&W correspondents who, as Yoopers, don't mind driving 50 miles for a home game, just like slow pitch softball teams, if you serve beer after the game. As host, our local NRC Commissioner, J.R. Richardson, Ontonagon, made sure of that. Together with John Madigan, Munising, our other resident Yooper commissioner, we have two of them you know, they hosted the well-choreographed event, which featured a bus tour of the Porkies and a steak and whitefish dinner at the chalet.
For a town that's no stranger to hard times, they sure know how to party. After what they've been through, if any town oughta give up, Onto ought to, but no. They've had more than their share of mine and mill closures, adversity and fires. If it wasn't for economic downturns, they wouldn't have any turn at all. Just when Ontonagonens think their ship is coming in, it's only the salt boat; the same one that dropped off our winter ration in Ripley this week.
Onto does unto others. They hang in there no matter what and are a friendly, hospitable, perseverant bunch with an extra shot of sisu which they share freely with strangers, the DNR and NRC, and encourage you to reciprocate until the cows come home.
Houghton has the B&B, but downtown Onto has the DDBB&B, the Dry Dock Bar, Bed & Breakfast. Jarv Jarvi graciously hosts WWW correspondents whenever we're in town. and booked us into the luxurious Deer Camp Suite. "We don't ordinarily stay upstairs of just any bar," said Paris, Dolly and Sarah in unison, but what Finnish girl can resist the rustic ambiance of deer camp right in town?
Back downstairs, the second you walk in, you know you're in a Red Wings bar.
The cedar restrooms look and smell like a sauna. There's a professional grade BBQ smoker in the alley out back that they fire up for impromptu hors d'oeuvres when somebody drops by with fresh fish, dee, or partridge in backa the pickup. If the DNR and DEQ ever want to throw a reception on a Yooper budget, they can handle it.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at firstname.lastname@example.org.