If you are looking for that last minute Christmas present for that special someone, look no more. This one weighs a couple of pounds, is family-friendly, and costs a mere $27.95.
I am talking about the first-ever, just published, Michigan's Upper Peninsula Almanac. The University of Michigan Press put out this soft-cover book, and I have to confess that when the publicist told me about it, I thought she was joking.
Then, I expected a parody. You know, sort of an Escanaba in Da Moonlight pretending to be a reference book.
But when the Upper Peninsula Almanac arrived, I just couldn't put it down. It is five-hundred and eighty pages full of, yes, crazy and fun stuff, but also fascinating history, important reference material and more information about the UP than you can imagine.
Yes, you can see a picture here of the world's biggest-ever pasty, which contained four hundred pounds of potatoes, two hundred fifty pounds of meat, and more dough than I can safely mention on the airwaves. There are also the one and a half pound Hilltop Sweet Rolls meant for daily individual consumption.
With the help of this book, you can learn about the world's largest concrete Frosty the Snowman, which is in Alger County, and find out about the world's biggest annual outhouse race, which also happens in Alger County. The fine print notes that it is apparently also the world's only annual outhouse race.
However, you can also learn a vast amount of serious stuff about the history, the economy, the wildlife and the geography of the Upper Peninsula. No other state has anything like this.
Michigan's upper half is this vast land mass, twice the size of New Jersey. But only three percent of all us Michiganders live there -- 308,000 people, by the latest census estimates, two thirds of whom live in the wilderness, or in towns of less than two thousand people.
Yet the Yoopers have created an image and have had an impact on our culture far out of proportion to their numbers. I talked yesterday to one of the two authors of this book, Ron Jolly, a well-known, award-winning radio newsman from the Traverse City area.
Four years ago, he wrote the Northern Michigan Almanac, which covers the upper lower peninsula. It sold better than expected. So when he was approached about an almanac for the UP, he was willing, especially when he hooked up with a co-author. Karl Bohnak is the UP's best-known weatherman, and the author of a book about its climate called, not surprisingly, So Cold a Sky.
Thanks to Karl, almanac readers can learn that in some parts of Marquette County, the time between the last spring frost and the first freeze of the fall can be little as ... four days.
That makes for a short growing season.
Jolly told me he found the incredible ethnic diversity of the UP especially fascinating: Finns and Germans and Swedes, Native Americans and the descendants of the 19th century Cornish and Welsh miners who came to hew iron out of the earth.
Both men fell in love with all things UP, and it shows. So pull your Stormy Kromer down over your ears, trudge off to the bookstore, and bring back an almanac.
If you're lucky, Mom will have a hot pasty waiting when you get back. Hopefully, one of the slightly smaller ones.