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

The (Almost ) Daily 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, 2000

Friday, January 28th. It's mid-day, sunny, and nearly thirty degrees. I'm not sure which is the more startling, the temperature or the sun. I guess the sun. It's been hiding behind the persistent cloud cover for nearly two months. I sure don't need a light box today. The bright sunlight playing over the pristine pure white snow is dazzling to the eye. Abby and I just returned from a "photo-op" at the lighthouse. The pictures have been loaded into the computer and are pretty good. It's amazing what a little sun can do for one's picture taking prowess. I'll upload them to the Harbor Web tonight. If, like me, you never tire of lighthouse and lake images, be sure to tune in tomorrow. In a few minutes we'll begin another scoot around the 10k Harbor ski trail. Because of health, weather and trail conditions I'd not been on the trail until Wednesday. Temperatures in the mid-twenties, little wind and reports of good trail conditions on that day convinced me that I'd run out of excuses, so off we went. I'm convinced the Wonderdog sizes up an outdoor adventure opportunity by which boots I put on. When I slip on the rubber pull-ons for a trip to the woodpile, she just rolls over to her other side. The hiking boots get her pacing about, and the ski boots are cause for a lot of barking and 360 degree twirls. She's easy to please. The trail was great! Soft, and just slow enough to keep me upright as I dusted off my long dormant skiing skills. We were first out, and with a couple of inches of new snow since the last grooming the track was discernable without being controlling. Perfect. We glided along, or I did as Abby scampered merrily up and down every deer and snowshoe track we encountered. The silence I wrote of yesterday was intense, with just brief whispers of breeze through the trees and an occasional "caw-caw" of a crow to alert the ear. Snow rested heavily on the drooping evergreen boughs. Pauses for breath and beauty were commonplace, but why hurry. So it took a couple of hours to complete the course. Is there any better way to spend a winter afternoon at Eagle Harbor? I think not

Thursday, January 27th. My noisy neighbor seems to have left town. An eerie stillness prevails. I'd become so acclimated to the steady roar from next door that the noise became closeted in my subconscious. I noticed the change yesterday while engaged in a predawn gathering of fireplace wood. The ice hard dry wood crackled as I stacked it in my arms. I hesitated in my task - something was amiss. I suddenly realized that there was no other sound. No wind nosily working its way through the trees, no flapping of the flag atop the flagpole, no roar of waves - yes, that was it! The lake. It's been noisily thrashing about since early October, but had suddenly stilled. It wasn't simply the lack of wind to rile its surface. It's constantly moving - either responding to some far off push and pull, or still reverberating from storms long forgotten by those of us of lesser mass and memory. No, the lack of wind would not account for my neighbor's new behavior. Suddenly an extended and very loud "caaaa-rack!" A sound like that of close-by lightning. Now I knew. It's the lake ice. The extremely cold temperatures of the past few weeks have cooled the near shore waters to freezing and are now building ice sheets extending almost out to the current that flows about a half-mile offshore. The lake resists this intrusion, constantly battering the creeping offender, but without the aid of its partner in life, the gales of Superior, it's a losing effort. The ice moves on. The open lake retreats, and with it, its noisy demeanor. Now all is still except for the sound of the ice itself - so heady with its success that it occasionally explodes in long shrieking cracks. When the lake is conquered by ice, as it is now, at least temporarily, and the wind pauses, the Keweenaw becomes an acoustical void. A raven croaking in a pine along the far off ridge seems at hand, and when Abby flushes a grouse from a winter snow nest, the whirl of its sudden flight is startling. I converse with a neighbor scooping snow many doors away. Ski swishing and boot crunching are a noisy intrusion, even in the soft snow. Quite different and in many ways wonderful, but I'll admit to an addiction to the antics of my noisy neighbor. I hope she returns soon.

Tuesday, January 25th. The street light down the road is almost obscured by streaking snow. Another heavy band of lake effect has made its Keweenaw landfall. Conditions for lake effect are not the best. The 4 a.m. temps and wind are moderate, about 15 above and 10 mph, and the wind is almost due north. A bit colder, a bit more wind and airflow more from the longer northwest fetch across the lake would normally be necessary for heavy lake effect. It's heavy nonetheless, and not dissimilar to conditions that prevailed most of yesterday. My planned Monday trek on the Harbor ski trail went array, as poor visibility and near zero wind chills suggested a solo venture into the bush would be a bit foolhardy. Perhaps I'm getting soft (or smarter?). We do benefit from the temperature moderating effect of the relatively warm (near 40degrees) waters of our big lake neighbor. Harbor temperatures are consistently 5 to 10 degrees warmer than those reported up at the airport. Summer visitors know that the reverse effect often makes sweatshirts, not tee shirts, our normal attire. So we'll see what today offers. For now, it's the sweet smell of the cozy fire, the company of the still sacked out pooch, and a Wall Street Journal trip into a world, that from this personal, cultural and geographical vantage point, seems almost surreal.

Monday, January 24th. "It's blowing like heck, and I can't see a thing!" That message, picked up on my radio scanner, was a report by Harbor neighbor Jon Davis from atop Brockway as the fearless cross country skiers started last Saturday's trek up the Mountain Drive. Jon and Marcia were on ham radio safety patrol, manning the check point at the top. John estimated the wind speed at 60+ mph. With the temperature in single digits, the wind chill along the nine-mile course must have been cruel. Th strong southerlies that prevailed all Saturday had a merry time with Friday's fresh lake effect snow. Visibility throughout Keweenaw was virtually zero. All 55 skiers reportedly made it safely to Copper Harbor, although most of them suffered two or three hours of this torture. I believe the winner, some young and healthy "extreme sport" fanatic, zoomed down that final steep and twisting hill into Copper Harbor in an hour and twenty minutes. Key sponsor, Coca-Cola, was at the finish line with ice cold freebies of their product. Sort of a final test of one's bravado. By evening the wind began to veer around to the north and the lake effect machine cranked up once more. There is an inexhaustible fuel supply out there. Snow bands moved through Saturday night and all day Sunday producing enough accumulation that I finally had to put the yooper scooper to work. The Wonderdog had a joyous romp and roll in the fresh snow as I labored to clear a path to the woodpile. The gorgeous snow scene tempted a run on the ski trail, but extreme wind chills and poor visibility kept me in camp. Temperatures and wind are forecast to moderate a bit today, so it's time to wax up.

Saturday, January 22nd. At mid-morning today scores of fearless souls will begin the annual Nordic Challenge - a cross-country ski race along the challenging Brockway Mountain Drive. Our version of the Pikes Peak downhill. It's madness! On a nine mile route of packed ice, thanks to the heavy snowmobile traffic, the skiers will race up from the Silver River start, try to keep from getting blown off the top, and then begin what must be a high adrenaline swoop down to Copper Harbor. I thought about giving it a try a few years ago, but fortunately the event was postponed because of high winds. I regained my sanity before the restart. I note that the two local hospitals are the principal race sponsors. Figures! The Brockway track was blessed by the wave after wave of lake effect snow bands that moved through the Keweenaw yesterday. Our snowfall continues to be way below normal (only 8 feet so far), but what we have is incredibly beautiful. The Seven Drafts would never find Snow White is this scene. It's that beauty that brought my Wednesday lunch companions all the way from North Carolina to the Keweenaw. Richard Creed, a retired 37-year journalist and still weekly columnist with the Winston-Salem Journal, and wife Maria, stumbled unto this web site in a search for "snow". Dick emailed saying that he had used some Harbor Web stuff in a weekly column, and suggested we have lunch. They were here in the winter of 1990-1991 (another lousy snow year - only 183"), enjoyed it, and after several disappointing trips in search of snow in the Northeast in the following years, decided to return to the "sure bet". In an apparent search for justification for his own snow fixation, Dick used his highly honed reporter skills in an attempt to uncover whatever it is that makes me so snow friendly. You know the routine, but it will be interesting to read what Dick writes in his column next Saturday. I'll report.

Friday, January 21st. The street light down the road is my night time snowfall gauge. It and the Harbor's one pay phone further down the road are the only lights I see as I search through the blackness for evidence of the promised lake effect snow dumping. (Actually [my five year old grandson's most favorite new word], there is another pay phone at the Inn, but since our "overboard swim to the harbor sailor" made the Harbor's corner phone booth an "only phone in town" national news story, we'll stick to the "hick town" image.) Anyway [his second most favorite new word], if there is snow in the air the glow from the street light gives it a brief moment in the limelight,and I can detect its intensity, speed and direction. The stage is now empty: the air below the light is clear. Once again the nearly full moon is peeking around clouds in the northwestern sky. What happened? Jon Dee, our LES Professor, concluded his Wednesday lake effect snow lesson with the reminder that LES "can be a fickle thing" For sure! My fascination (infatuation?) with snow, was the topic of a wonderful Inn lunch conversation yesterday with some nice folks who drove up here all the way from North Carolina just to make snow angels. More about our chat tomorrow.

Wednesday, Jnuary 19th.Well, this is more like it! Lots of snow in the air today, and much of it's new. The weather gang in Marquette and John Dee, the Copper Country based private forecaster (and, like me, a snow nut), all agree that we are in for a good dumping, perhaps a foot or more over the next 24 to 36 hours. The bad news is that it's supposed to get extremely cold, but that's the reason for the bullish forecast. Very cold air moving across the still relatively warm open lake and "bingo", lots of lake effect. I've never figured out just how much differential there needs to be to get the lake effect machine really cranked up. Perhaps a reader of this will let me know. There isn't much likelihood that this snow season can be saved from setting or coming close to a record low snowfall, but, what the heck, let's enjoy! The storm will give me a chance to respond to several great email messages sent this way recently. Isn't that a wonderfull note from Bill Penprase about the history of some of our local roads (see above)? Bill says, "he wanted to stay in the Keweenaw but could not." He's here as much as any of us! And how about the note from the retired Saginaw snow plow driver. See Messages, (but ignore the note from my friend Sue Adams suggesting a "light box" to cure whatever it is that's got me figuring out how many lighthouse flashes before the lakers start moving again.) What's a guy in Saginaw doing monitoring the Harbor Web? I've never understood why so many folks from so many distant places stumble onto this site - and seem to get some good vibes from it. The up.net crew reports over 5,000 visits a month to a web site designed for the few on this planet who know where the "Popeye Rock" is. Must be the snow!

Tuesday, January 18th. "Crunch" "Crunch" - that's the sound of my boots punching through the new hard crystal lake effect snow now drifting in around the lee of my camp. I just scampered back in after an early morning trip to the woodpile. (Abby, the coward, couldn't be budged from the warmth and of the hearth. If she can retrive sticks, why not logs for her fire?) The wind, which blew at gale force strength from the hills all yesterday, has quieted down and shifted to off the lake. Surprisingly, its warmer, now almost 27 degrees, despite the northerly wind shift. Wind chill, sinking to a very unlike Keweenaw 40 below yesterday, is now above the can't tolerate zone. The lake effect machine is still going, but it takes days of this extremely fine snow to produce notable accumulations. It does, however, blow about like crazy, so even if not much is falling, a little wind can quickly produce the kind of white-out conditions that prevailed yesterday. As it begins to lighten, I note that the big blow did push most of the pack ice out of the harbor. Northerly gales are in our forecast today, so our ice will be back. The big orange plows were busy on the main roads yesterday, but they will be by soon to push away the drift out front and wave at the "dog in the window". Driving these monster trucks along the dark and twisting Keweenaw roads in white-out conditions, peering through snow and frost covered windshields to spot the road edge and obstruction marker sticks, must be a real adrenaline trip. One of these trucks tumbled down the hill above Lake Bailey a few years ago, but such events are fortunately rare. Working for the Road Commission is the most coveted job in Keweenaw and most of the jobs are handed down generation to generation, but I certainly wouldn't relish the "opportunity". The plows and their skilled drivers are often our lifeline. Thanks guys!

Sunday, January 16th. The ice blows in and the ice blows out. That's been the story for the last few days as first strong southerlies and now gale northerlies move the harbor pack ice about. Just a few winters ago there were fishing shanties out by the entry cribs. That apparently won't be possible this year. We have reached that time of the year when watching harbor ice move about is about the only action in town. Lots of time to ponder the imponderable - such as the evidence that people inhabitated this rocky lake shore more than a half score of millenniums ago. I thought of that last evening as our little (but rapidly growing) band of Keweenaw history afficionados gathered to applaud ourselves for the progress we've made in preserving, restoring and interpretating the history of the nineteeth century Keweenaw mining community. As Peter Van Pelt appropriately noted in his year-end message to Society members, this 160 year perspective of our local history is but "a mere blink of an eye" to some historians. As I type at this marveleous tool of our time, my computer; tucked comfortably in my camp full of convenience goodies, I contemplate the collection of working tools of an earlier time, the rock cutting stones of the prehistoric Keweenaw copper mining nomads, housed in the Light Station museum just a few feet from my door. Except for these artifacts, still being unearthed as we dig about our landscape, and the "pits" dug by these ancient people, now but small and mostly filled depressions we occasionally encounter in our hikes into "the bush", these earliest peoples of our place have come and gone without notice. Only their tools and work sites remain. Their "historical societies" were the stories and legends they orally passed from generation to generation. As the people disappeared, so did their history. We, who have occupied this rocky peninsula for less than two century, have difficulty comprehending the scope of their existence. For thousands of years, people now forgotten, hunted in the silent hills around us, fished the waters of the nearby big lake, dug and scraped the rock beneath us in search of the red metal, colonized in places now our hamlets, raised children, buried their dead. Awesome!
If the fascinating story of these prehistoric people and their copper mining is of interest, I highly recommend a recent publication by our Agate Harbor neighbor, Susan Martin. It's "Wonderful Power", published by Wayne State University Press. You can mail order it from North Wind Books (Suomi College.) Call toll free,1-888-285-8363.

Saturday, January 15th. The beam of light from atop Lake Superior's most photographed lighthouse now sweeps across an empty sweetwater sea. My now eeirly quiet ships channel scanner crackled to life at about 4 this morning with a weather condition message from the Lee. A. Tregurtha, the last in a string of empty lakers heading upbound for winter layup in the western lake ports. They will lie at their berths until late March. Undeterred by its diminished role, the Eagle Harbor light will continue to cast its beam into the dark void, and the Coast Guard's morning and evening Lake Superior forecasts will continue to warn absent mariners of approaching storms. Seems senseless, but I for one derive some comfort in this squander. The young Coast Guardsman's voice from "Group 2" is a welcomed daily visitor in the quiet of my winter camp. (I chuckle as he struggles with the pronunciation of the place names of our French and Ojibwa heritage. "Grand Maris"! "Ke-we-ney"!) The white flash enveloping my camp every sixteen seconds is reassuring - sort of a "all is still well", and "this will soon end" signal. Let's see, at 16 seconds per flash, and just 2 and 1/2 monthts until the locks reopen - that's just 405,000 more flashes until one bounces back off a laker's beam! (You can tell the darkness is getting to me.)

Friday, January 14th. WOW! That and "shoot" (or something close) were about all I could utter as I drifted around a curve on snow packed 41 yesterday and encountered a spectacular show of snow draped evergreens and snow crusted hardwood trees sparkling in a sudden burst of bright sun. The "shoot" when I realized my camera was back at camp getting its batteries relit. The wetter snow of Wednesday's NE driven lake effect system was softly nestled on everything that could hold it. No wind and cold, actually quite cold (about 10), temperature preserved this beauty show for most of the day. The sight of the sun alone was a rare January treat. The moment was brief, but made my day. There is considerably more snow, at least two feet more, "up the hill". Lake effect snow likes higher, and cooler, terrain. I scurried down to the Harbor, picked up the camera and returned. But, alas, all for naught as the omnipresent grey of January once again prevailed. The sun has returned this Friday morning, but so has the wind. I suspect the snow is off the hardwoods, but I'll check. It's a good morning for the Wonderdog and I to check out the trails.

Wednesday, January 12th.Monday's depressing rain changed to a spirit lifting snowfall on Tuesday. Lake effect snow fell all day, and while only a few inches accumulated, it was beautiful to behold. At least it looks like winter, or will when it gets light in a few hours. Abby, reluctantly, and I stuck to camp while I updated the Harbor Web and tidied up the Historical Society's books. I learned the ski trail needs several inches of snow to be safe, so not all was lost. The big news, of course, was the Gazette article about the state grant to purchase the Lake Eliza "dunes/marsh" area. Supervisor Jim, who travelled to Lansing a few months ago to "sell" the project, was absolutely giddy when he stopped by a few weeks ago to share the good news. In deference to the current and often contentious debate throughtout Keweenaw about lands being set aside for conservation and recreation, we thought it best to keep a low profile on this event until things firmed up. But, of course, in a small outpost like this, news travels fast and eventually caught the ear of our local rag. In fact, there was a bit of a celebration at the New Year's party at the School House, with our leader Jim on the receiving end of a Governor Engler signed Legislative proclamation, telling the world what we already new - Jim's a great guy doing good things for his town. There are still some big hurdles to cross, but the Trust Fund Board recommendation is a major step in achieving this enormously significant project. Lots of local folks share the credit for this success. They will get their due in our Good Neighbors section.


Return To Harbor Web