Storm Approaches
Eagle Harbor Web
An unofficial source of Eagle Harbor, Michigan news, views and information.

The Harbor Journal.

Winter Storm Approaches

"...when we don't live with birds or weather or waves we lose the opportunity to think hard about ourselves, to discover from nature important facts about human nature."
(excerpted from Nancy Lord's, Fishcamp)

January & February, 2002

Bears. February 9, 2002. A friend, who I suspect thinks I spend too much time in the bush, loaned me Bill Bryson's, A Walk in the Woods, the author's account of his hike along the length of the Appalachian Trail - some 2200 miles. I'm still in Georgia, he is following spring north, but I get the drift - the bush is a scary place, laden with weirdoes and woollies. He's good humored about it, it's a very funny book, but the message is clear - one enters into natures realm at one's risk. He has a particular fetish about black bears, devoting most of an early chapter to his scrupulous research of bears feasting on unwary wanderers. It seems they are particularly fond of Snicker bar carriers. That got my attention - I almost always tuck an emergency ration Snicker bar in my pocket when I boot up for the bush.

So, yesterday, when I set aside good sense, and yielded to the sirens luring me to snow capped Mt Baldy, I left the Snickers in camp. Of course, the odds of encountering a Keweenaw black bear in February are no better than my fortune in the Packer pools, but with the warmth of this winter, one never knows. Perhaps lured from his or her den by the appearance, or maybe the reality, of winter ending, stomach growling from too much fasting, pa or ma bear might be out looking for someone to eat. The pickings are pretty slim in February - not many tasty bipedals wandering about this time of year. Under these meager circumstances, even an old geezer like me might look pretty tempting.

I think Bryson is a bit paranoid about all this canine chomping, but his research is compelling. I once thought that if accosted by a bear, one could avoid the inevitable by playing dead. Bryson says that only sometimes work with grizzlies (who seemingly are in it for the hunt), never with black bears. Black bears, the kind we have, are harvesters, compulsive nibblers. Of course, no one I know has ever been eaten by a bear, nor is spooky story telling time around late night beach fires laced with bear attack stories, but perhaps the subject is taboo. Would anyone ever confess that a bear had eaten a kin or acquaintance? Such accounts would also surely put a damper on our tourist trade, perhaps resulting in the closing of our beloved Harbor inn. The Gazette is ominously quiet on the subject.

So I properly prepared myself for yesterday's trek. No sweet smelling soap for my morning shower; fresh unscented clothing for warmth; coat pockets and gloves combed for evidence of cookie or old Snicker bar crumbs. I even substituted plain old water for my usual bottle of sugary Coke. I equipped myself with a sturdy and sharp pointed old ski pole, thinking I might, so armed, be a match for an emaciated bear. As a last resort strategy, I tucked a couple of granola bars, laced with my most powerful angina painkillers, into a tightly sealed plastic bag. This might serve as an alternative snack item for the hungry bear, allowing me a few moments of idle chatter with my adversary as the drug took effect - then stealing away as the bear went into the land of Oz.

Well, as is evident by the happy event of my being here to write this account, I managed to spend several hours in the spring-tinged winter bush without becoming an entrée at a bear feast. Whether the result of my careful preparation, or the absence of fuzzy diners, I know not. I suppose one might question the basic premise, the bear's propensity for people snacks. Bryson is careful to note that the incidence of bears dining on their superior specie is rare, but I suppose if I shared that bit of knowledge with a bear about to chomp on my nicely toned pot belly, the bear would simply say, "So this is my lucky day!"

My trek, while uneventful as a dining experience, was not without some misfortune. As I ambled back to camp, my own hunger pains beginning to mount, I absentmindedly reached into my pocket, pulled out a delicious looking granola bar, and chomped it down. Ten minutes later I was bathing in Cedar Creek, unable to keep my balance as I attempted to cross the creek by walking along a downed tree - a trick of little consequence a few hours earlier. I bet the stalking bears thought it funny.

Sleds. February 3, 2002. I crunched my way over to the marina early yesterday evening, marveling, as I passed Cedar Beach, at the sight of the darkening flat overcast sky seamlessly melding with the gray slate hued waters of the passive lake. Sky and lake became one. Both lifeless, each seemingly in a torpor. The air was still, laced only lightly with a trace of lake effect snow. Our resident eagle (I believe from nearby Silver Island) glided along the shoreline, making his regular evening flight around the harbor. A raven croaked, perhaps responding to the periodic "tat-tat-tat" of a Pileated woodpecker seeking an early evening snack far back in the bush. The red brick lighthouse with its white tower stood boldly against the gray backdrop on its rocky perch across the harbor; its alternating very bright flashes of red and white light the sole evidence of man or his proxy. Cedar Creek gurgled quietly as it flowed into the harbor. Gurgles, squeaky boots, the call and sight of bird, lighthouse flashes, and the melding of a pewter hued sky and lake - my sole sensory companions. I paused, awash in the solitude of a perfect Eagle Harbor in deep winter moment.

We have not been able to enjoy many such moments of late. While our reputation as a snow haven has become a bit tarnished, we are apparently a playground of last resort for the thousands of upper-Midwest snowmobilers trapped in a weather pattern that is affording them little opportunity to pursue their favorite pastime. At times it seems like summer, the air filled with a buzz of two-cycle motors, not unlike the sound of the squadron of boats and jet skis that bounce across a wake strewn harbor on a sunny summer weekend.

With just a dusting on the sled trails over the holidays, then the January thaw, the couple feet or so of snow over the past several days has unleashed a horde of frustrated snowmobilers. For many of our winter visitors, the joy and ritual of time on trail is akin to the pleasure and camaraderie so revered by of our late fall deer hunters. Most of our sled drivers arrive in groups, culminating many months of anticipation and planning. This is mobile deer camp in the snow! I understand their plight - it's not unlike my dismay when summer storms keep my beloved Peregrine in harbor.

It's also true that snowmobilers make it possible for our little cadre of Harbor winter residents to enjoy the hospitality and goodies of the Harbor Inn and the Shoreline - my favorite winter indoor hangouts. While we would do our best, our consumption of the munchables and sipables would hardly pay to heat these haunts. If not for the snowmobiler trade, Mary and Dick would be enjoying a much-deserved respite from the summer crunch, and Lissa and Tracy relishing the additional time with their kids. We, my social craved winter harbor neighbors and I, would be relegated to the likes of Slims and the Whitehouse, or worse yet, engaged in a never ending round of Harbor rotating dinner parties (like the good old days). It's not that these options are bad, indeed they are in many ways appealing (rub shoulders with new folks, expand our palette, get our camps cleaned up, and force me to be more hospitable), but I'm not sure our constitutions could handle it. (Well, I should just speak for myself. My neighbors, no doubt, are more tolerant of change, and of hardier stock.)

So what's a winter solitude junkie like me to do? Is it the sound, or perhaps merely the presence of so much man and machine, that has me perplexed? My counselors at Fraki's suggest, "Lighten up, George!" Perhaps they are right. A couple of trends are working my way. One, my deteriorating hearing, will probably resolve the noise issue (although, with it the gurgle of creeks, the roar of waves, the call of birds, the rush of wind through tall pine - a bad trade-off!) And how about global warming? A snowmobile season, now being squeezed into just a few frantic weeks, may just disappear as frustrated sledders chase the retreating glaciers up into the arctic. Of course, glaciers retreat even slower than my intolerance wanes, and with the retreat may come a year-around onslaught of equally troublesome all terrain vehicles.

I suppose I could go with the flow - get a sled. They snowmobilers do seem to be having a lot of fun, and I like the clothes. It's probably also true that as my hiking about day's wane, it's either a horse or a horse stand-in if I want to be back in the bush. I'm not sure my neighbors would enjoy the horse - I'm not good about picking up things out in my yard. So that leaves me with the horses for contemporary machos, sleds, ATVs, and Hummers (or their poorer siblings). Perhaps with the big new military buildup, there will be a glut of old tanks available to the clamoring senior citizen market. Hmmm, 'tis a puzzlement.

Well, for now, I think I'll just live with my cantankerous nature, perhaps softened with a dash of the counselors' advice, and wander about, savoring even more thoroughly the precious winter solitude moments I stumble upon - like last evening at Cedar Beach.

Calamity Gully. January 27, 2002. I paused at the top of a knoll about eleven kilometers into my trek along our Harbor cross-country ski trail. A bit weary, I savored the short reprieve, but felt some anxiety as I looked with some trepidation at the little gully I was about to ski down into - the scene of last February's collision with the Wonderdog that resulted in a broken ankle. This, my first return to the place where last winter's ski season ended, was the moment I'd feared since embarking on the trail almost two hours earlier. It's my least favorite trail segment; a steep bumpy drop into a tight, tree hugged curve. I've taken several spills here; my once upon a time reasonably good downhill skills now rusty from nonuse and my balance regressed to near toddler status.

Well, I thought, it's been a good life, so momentarily bolstered by that assurance, I pushed off. Adrenaline surged, leg muscles locked, skis rattled, and trailside trees, seemingly ballooned into colossal size, rushed at me. I shut my eyes, committing myself to the inevitable tumble, hoping to be spared the smack of an overaggressive tree. Suddenly all was quiet, and to my great surprise and relief my eyes opened to a blissful scene of the trail snaking up the gully's far slope. I was upright, badly shaken, but pretty darn pleased with myself. Abby would have been nonplused, but I wish she had been there to witness my conquest - more mental than athletic.

The remainder of my journey was less eventful, as indeed had been the pre calamity gully segment. We have had very little snow and several stretches of trail sheltered by overhanging pine have barely enough snow cover to lay down a track. Good neighbor Bruce Olson, our ace trail groomer, has made several passes over the nearly seven miles of trail, but not until the four or five inches of fresh snow of this past week had there been enough snow to groom and track the entire trail. (Readers of these journals have surely noticed how often Bruce's name appears when good deeds are mentioned.) I returned to the trail yesterday, but stayed on the better condition three-mile stretch that parallels the coast from the cemetery to Sand Bay. Trail segments further inland are still rough, have less snow cover, are often icy, and are strewn with lots of protruding sticks, rocks and bare ground. Not much fun. Staying on the coast trail also allowed me to avoid calamity gully.

Skiing will surely improve if we get lucky and the "up to" eight inches of lake effect snow in tomorrow's "Winter Weather Alert" forecast is close to the tantalizing "up to" amount. So far, Eagle Harbor hasn't come close to these "up to" forecasts. I'm told by weather bureau advocates that our dismal share is a product of warm, lake tempered, air hanging along the coast (the old banana belt routine), forcing the moisture laden air coming in off the lake to ride up to higher elevations before it cools enough to produce the "up to" lake effect snowfalls. I suppose they are correct, but do wonder if these "up to" forecasts might instead be simply good-natured ruses perpetrated by bored weatherpersons. (I just noticed that my two-year-old MS Word spell checker challenges "xxxpersons". Hurrah for Bill!)

We do seem to be getting "Winter Weather Alerts" for everything but sunshine (which truly deserves alert status). You no doubt remember, as I do, that these storm alerts were once reserved for storms of truly giant proportions, storms that justified a frantic rush to Fraki's to stock up on green bananas and other non-perishables to succor us during the expected several days of clogged roads and woodstove heating. Now a four or five inch snowfall forecast seemingly warrants an alert, which, to no one's surprise, produces a mere ho-hum among the supposedly threatened local populace - and generates little much needed business for the only store in town that requires back packs to be checked at the door. (Must have something to do with homeland security.)

I digress. In fact, attempts to establish social intercourse with anything other than laments or lauding about our dismal snowfall experience have become digressions in themselves. For example, a few Harbor friends, struggling with long nights and snowless days, have resorted to coming up with new names for many of the delicious menu items at the Shoreline. Lissa, our local kid turned resort impresario extraordinaire, brought this on herself by unlicensed use of cherished local icons, Popeye and Baldy, the latter for a lumberjack breakfast (I assume in honor of all the guys who made Baldy bald), and then fancying up a delicious alcoholic beverage by naming it a "Schubie", honoring a local socialite who's on the wagon. Discretion (this is a family web site) dictates a non-disclosure policy for most of the new menu item names, but I expect you will encounter some, but only a few, of them on the summer menu.

Others, my good neighbors Jean and Barb included, have joined me in fostering another digression, a new form of entertainment - diagramming sentences. Yes, we fondly remember standing by the school blackboard, chalk in hand, and under the watchful eye of an adored, but no-nonsense English teacher, gleefully showing off our sentence-diagramming prowess before our jealous classmates - or so we thought. We are not deterred by the realization that sentence diagramming was long ago relegated to the curriculum trash pile. It was great fun and good brain food - and as readers of these journals have no doubt noticed, I could use some reminders about good sentence structure. The discovery of one of the original painted blackboards in the beautifully restored Eagle Harbor School seems the perfect venue for our little enterprise. So when you return next summer, and cruise director Nancy trots out her tempting menu of summer fun, don't be surprised if sentence diagramming confabs join the likes of bridge parties and ice cream socials on the menu.

If you were searching for evidence of how our little clan of Harbor year-arounders are coping with a snow lean winter, this journal has no doubt been of service. Not good, as the short-list of digressions certainly implies. Let's hope the promised snowfall is up to "up to". If so, we'll be back in the bush, allowing the fresh, pine scented, air to clear our minds of such nonsense. I'll be back on the trail, and, emboldened by my recent conquest, all set for another encounter with calamity gully.

Exciting Times. January 16, 2002. This little snow cloud person, Weather Underground's huff and puff icon for snow in the forecast, has been popping up on my monitor almost every morning for the past several weeks. It always gets my juices flowing. Alas, so far it's been more huff than puff, more blow than snow. This morning there's a bit more huff, a tantalizing prediction of "up to 10 inches "of snow in the next day or two. We'll see. I'll admit to becoming a bit jaded about such prospects. My gosh, here we are in mid January walking along bare beaches and seemingly destined to be embarrassed by a record low monthly total. I'm tempted to say something unkind about our patron snow saint, old Heikki Lunta, but my friends up at Frakis caution against such blasphemy. I've probably sent enough barbs his way. Even my spell checker does a ho-hum when he pops up in these journals.

It's not that we are lacking for excitement around here. Heck, just yesterday we (a few representatives of the 30 or so of us still here) gathered at the east beach to witness the ice harvest. Just think, folks are driving all the way down from the big cities along the canal to chain saw out harbor ice for some igloos they are building up there. I'm not sure if they are experiencing a housing shortage, or just need something to do in light of the lousy winter tourism in the snow deprived Keweenaw. When asked why they travel all the way to Eagle Harbor for ice, they said because our ice is the best - nice and clear, great for igloos. Isn't that great! (Wait till the Harbor Chamber hears about that.)

There is a little snow pack back in the bush. Not much, certainly not enough for the sleds or cross-country skiing, but enough for a crunchy little trek among the old mine ruins. Actually, the conditions are perfect for that. Not too cold, easygoing, and with all the foliage gone, exciting views of landscapes and relics unseen in other seasons - and lots of fascinating animal tracks. It's also extraordinarily quiet - just the pecking and croaking of birds, the distant rumble of waves lapping at shore ice, the gurgle of still flowing creeks, and, occasionally, the snap of a low hanging branch being nuzzled by a deer. I'm told there are bear around, our warm winter a puzzle to them, and while I'm wary, I've not seen any (although, I'll bet I've been seen by them.) Yes, I miss my pooch partner Abby while on these treks. She'd love it.

Another special treat in this midwinter is night walking. A few nights ago, a night of the new moon and low hanging clouds, and as usual no road traffic, I hiked over to the marina and back. The pesky town road and yard lights spoiled the fun until I got past Freshwaters, but from there on it was sheer bliss - couldn't see a thing. Normally in midwinter there is enough snow piled alongside the roadway that one is not likely to wander off into the bush, but not this year. The only clue of one's whereabouts is tactile, the feel of what's underfoot and an occasional brush of low hanging roadside pine bough across the face. No stars to guide the land based nighttime mariner, but the noise from the lake always defines north, and the sweep of the harbor lighthouse beam points to home. There is a street light at the Marina Road corner, but it's either dim or out - the sweep of the lighthouse beam telling the lamps photocell that morning has arrived, but by the time it figures out that it's been tricked and starts to get its act together, the beam sweeps by again. It never learns.

And, of course, for indoor fun there is always the Packer game. Last Sunday, the local faithful, decked out in tattered fanatic fan attire from the long ago days of Packer glory, gathered at Jim and Anne's Packer headquarters to celebrate the return of their heroes to big time football. I arrived late, somewhat embarrassed by my failure to grasp the terrestrial significance of big time capitalist kids trying to kick each others brains out for the enjoyment of the masses, but after a couple of swigs from the water bottle, quickly realized the error of my ways. I was surprised they were indoors, gathered about the warmth of the wood stove. I thought true blue (literally) Packer fans thought indoor football watching was for pantywaists, like the football cherished by the dome coddled fans of the toothless Lions. Perhaps this coming weekend, when our local Packer stalwarts gather for the last hurrah of their heroes, they will have our canal town igloo builders return with their ice saws, harvest some of our world class harbor ice, and build them a more appropriate outdoor arena for game watching.

It's starting to snow. Looks as if old huff and puff might finally be getting Heikki's attention. I need to close this journal entry - there are just too many exciting things to do and enjoy around here to be pecking at a computer.

Return To Harbor Web

Go To Daily Journal Archives:
November, December, 2001
October, 2001
March/April, 2001
February, 2001
January #2, 2001
January #1, 2001
December, 2000
November, 2000
October, 2000
September, 2000
May, 2000
April, 2000
March, 2000
February2, 2000
February1, 2000

For a collection of even earlier Harbor Journals, go to Journals From The Last Millennium