This has been my first week in the Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced "Soo/Sioux St. Maire") area! It's pretty interesting up here. Where to begin, hmmm... Well, to start off with, our area covers the entire eastern 1/3 of the Upper Peninsula. Our miles are pretty limited though, and because we have to spend most of them driving to and from meetings down in areas south of the bridge in the main part of Michigan. Sault Ste. Marie is right up in the top right corner, right next to Canada. Because of that, the missionaries here rarely go to visit other parts of the area other than Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace, which is a town south of here and right next to the bridge. The bridge connects the main part of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula, and it's actually a really big bridge. It's almost 5 miles long! The land itself is pretty different here. The trees are a lot thicker, and there are many more pine trees here. There are also hills! Most of Michigan is pretty flat. Holland was really flat, I don't think there was a hill in that town bigger than the one on Bellin Rd. between 17th and Broadway. But here, there are tons of hills. Spring has come here just like in Holland. There aren't many tulips, but the last few days have been really nice actually. I was wondering if there would be lots up snow up here, but apparently it's really nice this time of year.
The people here are pretty interesting too. They have a bit of a reputation throughout the rest of the state for being a little redneck-ish. And it turns out, that's actually pretty true for a lot of people up here. They're called "Yoopers" (I think something to do with U.P.-ers, upper peninsula), and in turn call the people in the main part of Michigan "Trolls", because they live under the bridge, haha. Of course the people vary depending on where you go, and Sault Ste. Marie is a more populated area, but in a lot of other places farther west of here the people do get a little more interesting. A lot of the people who live here just spend their entire lives up here it seems like. So even if they aren't redneck-ish, they still have their own identity. It seems like they're pretty nice though, I've met some of them that are investigators or less-active members that the missionaries have been visiting. Yesterday when we were visiting and investigator and less-active member they showed us a couple songs that had to do with the Upper Peninsula. One was a song called "Ballad of the Edmund-Fitzgerald", by (something) Lightfoot, and it was about a big cargo ship that actually sank up here in the Great Lakes a number of years ago, killing the 29 crew members on board. It's a pretty crazy story, apparently the storms can get pretty bad out there at times. The other song was by a group that sounds like kind of a redneck comedy group. I think they were called "Die Yoopers" or something like that. But the song was a long one, and it was called "The 30 Point Buck". It was funny because apparently there are actually people up here like the ones the song describes.
We're actually situated right on the channel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, which is a pretty important spot. The locks that connect these lakes are actually right in town, and Steve, the Ward (Branch?) Mission Leader took us out yesterday to see them. Our house is a mile or two from the channel, but throughout the day and night we occasionally hear a deep horn off in the distance. In other places I would assume it was a train, but here it is the freighters that travel up and down the channel to different ports and factories. Lake Superior is actually about 20 feet higher than Lake Huron, so in order to get these massive 600, 700, and even 1000 foot freighters up to the lake, they have to use these Locks. Basically, there are two gates with a long stretch of channel in-between. When the ship is inside, they close the first gates, secure the ship, and funnel water down from the upper lake into the lock until the ship is at the same water level. Once it's raised all the way up, they open the second gates and the ship sails on through. When a ship is coming downstream, they just do the same thing in reverse. It's amazing that they can raise those enormous ships like that, especially considering they use only 5 hp motors to do it! All they really have to do is open and close the gates and the water valves, which doesn't really require that much energy. And all the energy they need, they just produce with a small turbine generator that they have inside the lock. So it was a lot of fun to go visit it and see this huge ship get lifted and then power away upstream. It's a pretty long process, it takes around 10 minutes or so to actually go up or down that 20 feet, but it was cool to get to see it. That's always something that I've wanted to be able to see.
Elder McMurtie is my new companion, and he's a pretty cool guy. He's been out for about a year, and has been in lots of different places around Michigan. He's actually from Idaho too, down in Gooding, wherever that is. I had to ask him, and it sounds like it's down by Twin Falls somewhere. He has a reputation for being a cowboy, and he did rodeo through Junior High and High School. Hopefully things will go ok with him. We're still kind of getting to know each other and getting used to each other, but it should work out. The missionaries actually dont' live in an apartment here, we have a house. It's a really small house, and it's old, but everything works ok and we don't have to worry about people making noise above and below us. Today is actually a deep-cleaning day, which happens twice a year apparently. So today, after we finish everything we need to do and get home later this afternoon, we're going to spend a few hours cleaning the entire house. That should be fun. We already did a good bit of cleaning earlier this week, because when I first got here it was actually pretty bad and a little scary. But overall, it seems like a pretty nice place to live.
The Church here is a little different. There aren't many people here that are LDS, so it's actually just a branch that we have instead of a ward. There are a lot of inactive members, and only about 30 to 40 people show up regularly. That isn't quite enough to justify a building, so they actually have a series of connected rooms rented in an office building as the church. That was something new to me, but it actually works out pretty well for them and it makes a good church. It'll be interesting tomorrow to get to meet most of the members here for the first time.
One more thing before I go. The first day I got here, Elder McMurtie and Steve played a little prank on me. Elder McMurtie and I drove over to his apartment, and my companion was telling me that Steve was an investigator that they had met with a couple times, but that he had a lot of hard questions. So that's what I was expecting when we came up and knocked on his door. When he opened the door, we shook his hand and we came inside. But Steve seemed really strange. He seemed pretty agitated. First he told us exactly where he wanted each of us to sit. Then he started saying that he wanted to learn more about what our religion thought about prophets. He told us that in his own religion, whose name he could not disclose, he was considered a "minor prophet". He then got even more agitated and told us that he shouldn't even be meeting with us, and if his church leaders or his gods found out they would be angry with him. Before we could start talking he excused himself, and went into the bathroom. We heard a sound of thunder and lightning that sounded like it was coming from a small toy, and then we heard a pounding on the walls and Steve shouting some made-up words, something like "Babbala Hassabah Cootoo!" or something like that several times. He then stepped out of the bathroom, looked at us and asked "What's so funny?" I was pretty weirded-out by then, but managed to keep a smile off my face and say, "Nothing, everything's fine". Steve then walked into his bedroom and did the same thing as before, except with other words. Elder McMurtie turned to me and was laughing a little bit, and told me that Steve had never done anything like that before in the other times that they had visited him, and said in a kind of worried voice that maybe we should get out of there. Then Steve came back out of the bedroom and sat down again. He was about to start talking, but then just burst out laughing and said that he count keep it up anymore. Then Elder McMurdie introduced us to each other and told me that he was the Ward Mission Leader. It was pretty funny, and we all laughed a bit after that. Steve actually did a really good job acting, and it was totally believable the way he did it, so I believed it right up until he started laughing.
The whole thing was hilarious and I still laugh a little when I think about it. Especially because Steve is actually such a nice guy. He's really friendly and he and Elder McMurdie get along really well, even though teases him and bugs him about everything imaginable. But that's just his personality, and Steve does it right back. It's actually pretty funny to watch them. It'll be good getting to work with them though. They actually have taught me how to play cribbage already too, and we've played a few games. It's actually a pretty fun game. The work here is moving kind of slowly, there isn't much going on. Hopefully we can find some new investigators and people to teach in the next few weeks. I think things will get better though.
Conference was amazing by the way. There were so many good talks, I dont' want to wait for the Ensign to come next month. I'm actually going to print off about 10 or 15 of my favorite talks before I leave the library, there are some that I can't wait to read again. I hope that everyone got a chance to really listen to the speakers and the messages they shared. They were very powerful, and I learned a lot.I probably took about 7 or 8 pages of notes too during conference. Priesthood Session was particularly good, I hope that Stephen gets a chance to see it. But all of the talks by the Apostles were especially powerful. I really felt the Spirit and felt edified listening to them speak. It's truly a great blessing to have these amazing men and women here today. There hadn't been Apostles and Prophets on the earth for over a thousand years before Joseph Smith, but we have them here today and we get to hear all of them speak twice a year. As I've been studying more from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and New Testament, I've understood more and more how amazing and necessary that really is. We're incredibly blessed to be able to be part of this Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I'm blessed to be serving a mission here for the Lord.
I need to go, we've been here at the Library for a while now and have to go to a wedding soon. We're actually going to a wedding for one of our investigators here. She's getting married in the church here today, and then next weekend she will get baptized and confirmed! That'll be a really neat experience. So I'll talk to you next week; thanks for all the emails and letters you've sent, and I'll respond to them soon. I know I'm taking a while to respond but I promise I'll get back to you! I hope everyone has a great week and can find a way to apply something that they learned listening to conference!
Elder Trevor Casper