Weapons in Northern Michigan
During the long 248-mile drive north from Detroit to Alpena, every fifty miles or so there is a billboard advertising a crossbow. There are none advertising guns. But in Alpena sporting goods stores one may, for $2,350, purchase a safe large enough to hold over a dozen rifles and shotguns. I've been told of an Alpena local who has an entire purpose-built room for his guns. One may suppose the natives have enough rifles and shotguns already and the crossbow is the hot new item.
The primary purpose of this weaponry is the hunting of deer. During the winter months, between the pumps in every gasoline station are big clear plastic sacks of deer feed--carrots, parsnips, and the like--stacked four feet high. Baiting deer is illegal, so perhaps it is all for a charitable purpose.
My mother's maid drives a pickup truck with hutches in the bed for the hunting dogs. She shot and dressed her own doe last year. However the hunting of bucks is more popular even though their muscles are too tough to be edible. One may see posters in which deer are assigned points. Does are of minimal value, while points for bucks increase with the size of their antlers. That might have interested Sigmund Freud. The deer are well aware of these criteria. Does are frequently seen grazing casually beside the road, but seldom the bucks. During hunting season though, next to the crossroads of a small town one might see a dozen buck carcasses hanging from an overhead line by their rear hooves. Trophies, the preserved heads of bucks, may be found in many homes, though many of the housewives do not want them. One told me that when her son was married his wife wouldn't let the trophy into the house, so Mom had to take it.
The natives of nearby Krakow County are largely of Polish descent. As in that country, each town has a festival every year in which wurst and beer is consumed and a parade in which veterans march and beauty queens wave from a float. A heavy metal band with tattoos, piercings, and black electric guitars plays the polka. In the parade was a model aircraft carrier made of steel, sixty feet long. It had a dozen small metal airplanes on deck and the tower folded down to fit under power lines. Afterwards it was on display for several months in the parking lot of the supermarket. Military trucks and armored cars also appear at the local festivals. The wheels of such vehicles have a great many lug nuts, up to fifty. One might suppose this is to hold the wheels on in event of an explosion nearby. While a crowd was watching a tournament at the Rogers City baseball diamonds, a helicopter with two sets of blades--that's a big one--flew in, landed, and offered a tour.
During one of these celebrations I happened upon a tent beneath which were on display weapons from the local military base. A soldier helped me put on some Kevlar armor, which is so well balanced that it is comfortable despite of its weight of sixty pounds, and I was shown how to sight down a sniper's rifle. There were about a dozen weapons including a grenade launcher and a machine gun. Not a submachine gun, it was a full size model mounted on a swiveling tripod. "It's an M1, the 'Mama One'" my host said, "the design hasn't changed for eighty years." He was wearing a sidearm to guard the weapons, as he said that their value was half a million dollars. Forty thousand dollars apiece? That didn't seem like a very good deal. He told me of his service in Iraq. Once he dealt with an enemy sniper firing from a building in Baghdad by calling in an airstrike with the bomb timed to explode in the basement, this causing the building to collapse. He had been in the army for over twenty years and now was serving as an instructor at the local base, close to his native Rogers City. In front of the courthouse of this town of two thousand inhabitants is a memorial of stone for the war dead. There are perhaps fifty names carved into the rock, mostly from World War Two.
In the earliest days of Rogers City, back in 1880 or so, it was a lumber town under the domination of Albert Molitor. This man had been exiled from Austria-Hungary for selling the plans of a fortress to the Germans. He founded the Michigan boom town of Rogers City and became its ruler. He would knock on a man's door and demand the favors of his wife. Any husband who refused would lose his job. Eventually the men of Rogers City formed a posse, rode into town, and shot Albert dead through the window of his office. The crime was not investigated at the time. A pistol used in the attack is on display at the local museum.
The local newspaper has a photo of fourteen-year Aurora Byce with a buck she has killed. It appears to be about two years old, as its horns are so small that Aurora’s hands almost engulf them as she holds up its head for the camera. An advertisement for used car loans reads Bring Your Deer Home in Style. An Alpena store of office furniture prominently advertises old chairs for use in duck blinds, five dollars. Local sporting goods stores are mostly filled with hunting equipment. Included is the Wilderness Dreams line of camouflage lingerie, with midriff-exposing black film. Aha. So that's what's going on inside of those duck blinds.
While walking around the local roads, next to a house I came across a military two and a half ton truck hidden in the woods. It was surrounded with camouflage and nearly invisible to those driving by. What was it doing there? It might cost more than the house. The next time I went by the truck was gone and an armored car had taken its place.