Greenland, Michigan – The old copper mine entrances dotting the hills of Michigan’s remote Keweenaw peninsula suggest a geological precariousness. It’s the balancing act of all that ancient basalt. You sense the testing of angles and weight.
The pushing of limits. You see the hubris in the dynamited tunnels braced with wooden support beams that seem impossibly feeble. The word “splintered” comes to mind if ever the ceilings were to fail.
At the cold mouth of this particular entrance, gouged into a hill in Greenland, Michigan, there is a robust, grille-like cage cemented into the opening’s circumference, slatted for the bats to go echolocate their dinners, yet stout enough to dissuade the local “copper rats” – the name given to human scavengers searching for mineral scraps to sell for quick cash. The gate is impressive, seemingly impenetrable. But Dave Sarazin, my guide, has the key.
“We’ve had to overbuild the security,” he says as he clicks on his Petzl headlamp and fiddles with the lock. Not long ago someone dug a pit beneath this gate’s bottom just to drink some Bud Light beers inside. Before that, someone broke into the main shaft and spray-painted THANKS FOR THE SILVER! on the way out.
Sarazin is a Keweenaw kid, born and raised. He grew up exploring the old mines that splay like arteries around his town, corridors that once bustled with enough extraction to become the world’s leading producers of copper. Many billions of pounds of the soft metal left these veins to become wire, bullet casings for multiple wars, the hull-covers of big boats and decorative knobs for an earlier epoch’s finest furniture.
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