Michigan is a state of two identities, with an often troubled but incredible history. To be a Michigander is to know the crunch of snow under your feet and the blistering heat of summer. It is to know the scent of pines and the noise of industry. We love the roar of our cars and the gentle lapping of lakeside breakers. Around the country, most people know us as the home of factories and freeways, but we have another side and we are so much more.
I meet people from Michigan whenever I travel. We are drawn to one another. Maybe it’s the Vernor’s in our hands or the Tigers cap on our heads. Whatever it may be, we Michiganders are a hearty and proud bunch and we are spread out all over the world. I have met snowbirds down south, young explorers out west, urban entrepreneurs out east, and dreamers on the California coast...all from Michigan. I have never known another group of people so simultaneously eager to venture away, but so fiercely proud of their home state.
We have a few quirks. We are hundreds of miles from an ocean, but we have more coastline than any other state in the lower 48. We love road trips but we live on peninsulas, which are geographically inconvenient for such things. We have a lilt in our accent that we don’t recognize ourselves, but which can get you mistaken for a Canadian when you are far from our northern border. We are a hard-working, fun-loving, tough but tender community.
We are a swing state politically, with no clear tendency to vote one way or another from one generation to the next. We have a history of honoring our natural landscapes but stressing them under the weight of production and overdevelopment. We are divided into two peninsulas but are joined by the Mighty Mac. We are a state of contradictions.
What is it that makes us a single community? We are diverse in our opinions, our traditions, and our ethnicity, but we are so clearly Michiganders...we are so clearly one. I believe that connection is the reason I get up for work every day; it is our landscape that makes us who we are.
Michiganders know the value of hard work, as living here can be a challenge. We are susceptible to swings in the economy, our weather is unpredictable, our terrain is challenging, and our climate is changing, but we soldier on. We know that it is worth it. Where else can you surf in freezing waters, hike into the forested wilderness, sun yourself on a world-class beach, go to the top of a skyscraper, and sail in the open water as if you are crossing an ocean? Nowhere but here.
Michigan pays us back with her beauty, her fertility, her waters, and her history. We must pay her back by caring for her. We love and value this place, and it is the only place of its kind. While we cautiously look for what comes next, in this litany of recent challenges, let’s honor our home by hiking her trails and observing her sunsets. Let’s volunteer to make a difference. Let’s pick up after ourselves and advocate for her preservation. Let’s help our neighbors and connect with our landscape.
The Wolverine State is our home, and it is our identity. It is our being a Michigander that will see us through, as it always has.
With hope for our community and an open heart,
We have all faced so much loss in these past few months. We have lost hundreds of thousands of lives to the pandemic around the world. We have lost jobs and livelihoods and millions of experiences, too. Family vacations, the joy of holidays together, festivals, graduations, and the simple act of spending time with our loved ones have all been compromised.
Here at home, many have lost their homes and neighborhoods to the flooding and subsequent disaster in our watershed. Businesses and organizations have been washed away or greatly stressed by the rising waters. Driving US-10 yesterday, I passed by what was once Sanford Lake, and I was crestfallen at what had become of a special place I've known my entire life.
At the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, we have been adapting and responding, answering the needs of those we serve. We spent the shutdown producing online educational content for our little ones. We spent it planning our 2020 work season, which has been thrown into disarray. We spent it cutting costs, adjusting expectations, and making sacrifices to ensure that your conservancy remains strong and intact. We have not had to enact layoffs, and we are working harder than ever to earn your trust.
We have also spent this time reflecting on what is important. Like many of you, we've spent much of this time at home, with our loved ones. I know I have developed new, profound connections with my son, and my wife and I have a relationship that is stronger than ever. We have also spent it reflecting on others, and on how we can (and do) help.
At the SBLC, we condemn systemic racism in our world. We do our level best year-in, year-out to demonstrate those principles by tackling blight in hard-hit areas of our watershed and prioritizing conservation projects in areas that are traditionally underserved for access to nature. Over the past several years we have employed men and women from differing traditions, races, and communities. We are proud to have hired local talent in Saginaw, keeping the dollars we raise local, creating opportunities in the conservation industry for young people of color that may otherwise look past our industry.
We have created a powerful small community at the SBLC. We are a tight-knit little band, but we are against the ropes. We have found strength in one another, and in the community around us. We have been inspired by the volunteers tackling the fallout from the dam failures and the peaceful protesters standing up for black lives and all people of color. We are deeply appreciative of the front-line medical professionals and essential workers that put community first all these weeks and months. We are proud to be from Michigan, and draw strength in her beauty and her resilience.
Things may be different now. We must put others first more than ever. We must recognize that our actions have an impact on those around us, and harness that recognition to inspire positive action. We are doing our best at the SBLC to bring compassion to everything we do, delivering our services the best we can, in many new ways. In the coming weeks, I will tell you all about them.
With hope for our community and an open heart,