Storm Approaches
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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 #2, 2000

Sunday, January 28, 2001. Ann and Gerry Johnson's Winter Letter tells of grandson Charles' (Carol and Barry's son) snow shoe trek to Mt. Baldy last Friday with a couple of his Tech buddies. I'm now gazing at that aptly named summit from my window, wishing I could have been along for his jaunt, and remembering my hike up there with Abby a couple of winters ago. Charles' trip was in deeper snow, so I'm sure his joy at conquering the summit was greater than mine, but I'm equally sure the sense of wonder I felt as I gazed down and across the white tinged forested terraces to the far away ice bound harbor, was no less than his.

Most who read this journal have made the summer quest for Baldy's famous blueberries and experienced the satisfaction of reaching the cooling lake breezes along the sun drenched open ridge after the rugged one hour climb through warm woods. Few, however, have shared what, I believe, is the even more satisfying joy of standing atop the cold wind swept summit after several hours of laboring through the deep snow in the bush and gingerly working your way along the icy open ridges. The rewards for the summer climber are certainly the satisfaction of having made it, along with the delicious berries, and the splendor of the view over deep green forests and the shimmering blue lake. And few things beat the serenity of a summer day atop a remote ridge.

Winter's rewards are perhaps fewer, but in some measure richer. There are no blueberries, nor is one tempted to linger at the summit for too long. But there is a greater sense of personal accomplishment, and on a windless day, such as I experienced, a stillness so intense that waves moving against the shore ice miles away were easily heard. And, at least for me, there was an almost incomprehensible sense of detachment from the world of man. As I stood upon that summit on that cold winter day, Abby at my side, I felt as I imagined a solitary Antarctic explorer of a time long ago must have felt as he stood atop an icy escarpment with his dog team, and gazed across the vast and empty Ross ice shelf to the Weddell Sea. OK, so I'm a romantic, but I'll bet Charles knows of what I speak.

Now, of course, almost all of the winter Keweenaw summit toppers arrive by sled. I sure they find the view to be breathtaking, but I doubt they share the inner joy of those of us whom tread our way to the top. I know I'm biased, but the sight of sled tracks, or in the summer the scars left by all-terrain vehicles, on Keweenaw summits seems as a violation. Perhaps as my time of physical incapacity lengthens, I'll become more understanding.

Unfortunately, virtual summit topping is to be my lot for awhile - or at least until my skill in moving about on crutches vastly improves. It's still a bit awkward, and poor Abby is totally mystified by my stick waving. She's learned, the hard way, not to follow me as closely as she usually does, and quickly moves from her perch at my feet when I reach for the props. We both are enjoying the many visitors at our door. Abby is in dog treat heaven, and I am being blessed by good company, good deeds, and abundant goodies. This is a caring community.

I expect the icicles will return to my south facing roof eve tomorrow. The dripping will begin, even as the "never give up" weather folks issue yet another winter storm warning. Apparently Monday's expected and lamentable near 40 degree sunny high, is to be quickly followed by another of the many cold and snow "clippers" that continue to flow across the still mostly ice-free big lake. The ski trail, which I'm told is in great shape after Friday's fresh snow and Bruce's skillful grooming, will be a busy place this coming week. Alas, my ski boots sit forlornly by the front door, gathering dust. Oh well, there will be another year.

We moved the "this year" arrow on our Keweenaw Snow Sticks over the 200 inch mark this weekend. January's snowfall has been disappointing, but thanks to the December onslaught, we now have a shot at a reasonably decent seasonal total. I'll admit that my passion for abundant snow has cooled a bit in light of being restricted to camp and the arrival of boat catalogues. But, if for no other reason than maintaining our ancestral claim to fame as the Midwest's Snow Capitol, it would be good to achieve at least our seasonal average of twenty feet. I'll just sit back and watch it pile up.

Thursday, January 25, 2001. I'm rearranging the furniture this morning. Trying to clear some lanes for moving about on crutches. Abby's nervous - staked out by the front door. She must think I'm packing for a trip and doesn't want to be left. No pooch, we're not going anywhere for awhile - not even for a walk. A new adventure is for sure at hand, but it's one requiring more mobility of the mind than of the body.

On Monday I wrote of creeping camp fever and it's symptoms of listlessness, observing that not even near perfect ski trail conditions back in the pinery were tempting me from the comfort of camp. On Tuesday morning, as the Marquette weather pros were hoisting the "big snow" warning flags, the persistent gray clouds suddenly parted and bright sunlight flooded our snowy landscape. Gosh, it was beautiful! The "get outdoors" juices began to flow. With the big snow just over the horizon, I thought, "George, if you're going to hit the trail, now is the time." Even the snoozing pooch perked up, and as I reached for the ski boots, she bounded about the room in obvious delight. We climbed in the van for the short ride to trailhead, Abby barking away as she paced back and forth on the back seat. She was excited. So was I. It's amazing what a shot of sunlight will do to a case of camp fever.

The trail was fast, but the tracking laid down by either Bruce or Rich a few days earlier was mostly obscured by drifting. One skier was out ahead of us, my guess being Cathy Wright. Cathy and Mary Probst are often on the trail in the morning, use very narrow skis, and herringbone up the slopes. However, Mary always has her big pawed pooch along and no pooch tracks were visible. (I'm getting to be a people tracker.) I'd carried along my emergency gear, a cell phone and a chunk of cheese, but it's comforting to know someone else is on the trail. Abby, as usual, began zigzagging back and forth across the trail, checking out scent trails left by the bush critters, large and small. There were lots of deer tracks in the two-day old snow surface, but I was puzzled by the absence of the happy-go-lucky track trails of the snowshoe rabbits. Could there be a bobcat nearby, I wondered. Better keep an eye on Abby.

We skied down to Sand Bay and then back to the main trail and the long loop around the marshes southwest of Long Lake. By the time we arrived at the dip down to the trail along the east side of the lake we had traveled about 11 km (about seven miles). The Wonderdog had had her fill of deep snow scampering and was slowly trailing along in my ski track. We had stopped several times so that I could dig big ice clusters out of her paws. I paused at the top of the slope for a brief rest, as Abby trotted by - apparently anxious to get back to her warm spot in the van just a mile ahead. I pushed off, only to find the pooch sitting in the trail gnawing at the ice clumps in her paws. I yelled some dog talk, but my stone-deaf friend didn't move. We collided.

I heard a snap and felt a searing pain run up my right leg as my face was buried in a trailside snow bank. Unlike down hill skis, cross-country skis don't self-release, and as I cleared the snow out of my mouth and eyes and looked back, my right ski and foot were pointing backward. Not good! The first task was to get the ski off, and after squirming around on my belly for a few minutes, I unlocked the clamp. There was immediate relief from the pain. Maybe it's not broken, I thought, just a sprain. If so, I could walk on to the van. I released the left ski and staggered up on my feet. Abby, apparently puzzled by all the commotion in the snow bank, just sat down and watched. I said something unkind to her about pooches blocking ski trails. She didn't hear me, of course, but got the message and began to trot down the trail, looking back sheepishly when she realized I wasn't following.

I tried, but immediately collapsed when my weight shifted to my right foot. I dug in my coat pocket for the cell phone, chuckling as I thought how surprised my winter neighbors would be that I'd had sense enough to bring it along. I hesitated. Surely I could get out of this mess without riling up the town. My overblown, certainly unwarranted, nonetheless strong sense of self-sufficiency took hold. Perhaps if I got my skis back on, thus able to carry most of my weight on the left ski as the right ski dragged along, I could get myself back to the van. By this time Abby was back alongside - offering her solace, her encouragement, and her forgiveness for my inappropriate scolding. (If you have such a pooch, you will understand.) I said, "OK Wonderdog, if you're game, lets give it a try."

But first some nourishment, the cheese - the other half of my emergency preparation. Abby got half of it. It took some doing to get the skis back on since I had to kneel down and then get back up in the process, but once up and after a few hesitant slides forward, the scheme seemed to be workable. We moved on, taking forever to get up the hills, and sliding terrifyingly fast on the downgrades. Mostly, tho, we just plodded along, with lots of pauses to give the right foot some "time off task". It took about an hour, but we traveled the mile to the van and clumsily climbed aboard. Abby had to be lifted in, and I dragged myself into the front seat. We headed for home. I noticed that my right foot, while hurting like hell, seemed to have no sense of feel on the brake or "foot feed" (Iowa talk).

By the time I arrived home I'd convinced myself that it was just a sprain. Someone once told me that if you could wiggle your toes, nothing's broken. I could wiggle my toes. (ER docs laughed when I shared this medical wisdom.) I got cleaned up, packed my foot and ankle in ice, and joined my neighbor Barb for a nice dinner party with friends. By Wednesday morning, however, I began to wonder about the wiggle your toes bit. My ankle had swollen to the size of a cantaloupe, and really ached. I called my doc's office. They said we better take a picture, go to the ER. When I arrived at the ER, the staff, by now all first name friends, got ready to haul out the bad heart stuff, thinking I was there for my usual reason. We took the picture. Wow, it was a heck of a break!

So here I am, with one of those big plaster of paris gismos anchoring me down, and a brand new set of crutches for transportation. The good news is that all should be well by sailing season. In the meantime, it promises to be quite an adventure.

Monday, January 22, 2001. A covey of snowmobilers flagged me down as I walked by the Shoreline and asked, "Does anybody live in this town?" They were looking for "action", something we are a bit short of right now. (Actually, except for the big 4th shindig, Bill's pig roast, and our ad hoc New Year's gatherings, "action", or at least the kind I believe they were looking for, is in short supply most of the time around here.) They had cruised by the shuttered doors of the Inn and the Shoreline, checked out the neighborhood, and were dismayed that a place the Tourism Council had worked so hard to entice them to, had nothing but bumpy trails to offer.

I suggested Keweenaw's winter downtown, Phoenix, with its headliners, The Vansville Inn and the Cliff View Inn. That brought a groan as one, or both, of these local favorites had been on their lunch stop. I think they were looking for something a bit more upscale, say like a Wisconsin steak house. I mentioned the new place at Lac La Belle, (the old Landings), which I hear has an "upscale" menu, but after consulting their trail maps, they thought they better head back to Houghton. I was tempted to invite them over to my camp for a couple of Bell's Ambers and pasties. No, I thought, if I do that, and the word gets out, sleds searching for the "Bells and pasty" place will overrun little Eagle Harbor. So off they went, the large flumes of snow kicked up by their roaring sleds testimony to their frustration.

This encounter occurred in the early stages of a late afternoon walk around the harbor. They were right, the town is hibernating. I felt like the last man on earth. Our "who's in town" count at the Inn last Friday was 57 souls hiding out somewhere between the Marina and the Sunset Gables (now Royce's abode.) A few have since left (Paul and Bobbie jumped ship to California), but a scoot about town shows little evidence of this reported population surge. We have been engaging in this bit of mid-January nosiness for the last several years, with last year's low total of about 37 souls requiring a bit of forgiveness for folks who were not really here, but had not drained their water pipes - the true test of escaping. This year's count was less forgiving, someone had to actually see you in the last week, but even at that we all agreed that there were nearly six score of us scooping our way through January. Where have all these new folks come from, and if they are here, where the heck are they?

It's likely we are experiencing the early stages of camp fever. Not epidemic proportion yet: just enough to put a damper on outdoor frolicking - or for that matter anything requiring much energy. I know I have a touch, as does the Wonderdog. She's snoozing more and I'm escaping by a somewhat listless pursuit of several books I've stashed away for just such an emergency. The ski trail beckons, and I know my good friends Bruce and Jeane are out there almost every day, but I've convinced myself that it's too cold for fingers frostbitten a few years back, or too risky for my imperfect heart. I rationalize my laziness by thinking I am, for once, being smart, but in truth I'm hibernating - as, apparently, are many of my 56 winter neighbors. A good blizzard would cure this.

I was somewhat heartened near the end of my walk by the appearance of a dark band of high clouds moving slowly across the lake from the northwest. Once more there is little snow in our forecast, and the winds are still from the southwest, but something is stirring aloft. My sailing axiom is that when high clouds are moving at right angles to the wind on your face, and are moving in from your right, it's time to seek a safe anchorage. No need to worry now, Peregrine is safely perched on her winter roost, but could these approaching clouds be the harbinger of a good snow? One can always hope. Even better, a blizzard! We hunker in the height of these big blows, but as they begin to taper off, we are all out cavorting in the drifts like excited youngsters. A sure camp fever tonic.

Indeed, watching the movement of clouds, the wanderings of harbor and lake ice, and speculating about storms, are a large portion of our winter entertainment - our "action". Thanks to an unusually windy winter, the cloud show has been lively and varied. While ridge hugging pewter hued "overcasts" have dominated, and their persistent presence has greatly contributed to the emergence of camp fever, the turbulence created by this winter's strong winds has at least sculpted their bottoms, giving even these dullards of the cloud family some degree of character.

And, of course the winds are to be thanked for the beautiful snow clouds. Cold Canadian air, warmed and filled with moisture as it is carried by the wind across the big lake, builds into the beautiful, pink tinged, almost transparent cloud clusters we see moving through blue sky and onto our shore. As the wind pushes them away from the warm lake and up the Keweenaw ridge, and they are cooled, they literally explode in a shower of snow. It's always quite a show.

And the ice. It's constantly on the move as strong winds from all points of the compass have had their way with it. A few weeks ago, the pack ice along the Keweenaw shore extended out into the lake as far as the Keweenaw current. Then a strong southerly and it was gone. Now its back, at least some of it, but if there is a storm brewing out on the lake, the ice will be on the move again. The harbor ice is in the same state of flux. Frozen solid just a few days ago, the west bay is now mostly open as strong southwesterly winds broke up and pushed the pack away from the beach. In most winters, stationary high-pressure ridges begin to dominate by early January, the winds cease, and ice builds out from shore, unmolested by wind and wave. Not this year. It's been a lot more interesting.

So my friends on the sleds looking for some "action". Look about you.

Wednesday, January 17, 2001. Bright sunlight is flooding over my computer workspace even as light snow flurries sparkle and dance about in the cold air outside my harbor view window. They reflect my mood - restless. Seemingly unsure about where or even whether to join our wintry landscape, the flakes (outside) flutter about in the light southwesterly breeze. They appear to be defying gravity, perhaps attempting to return to the rapidly passing snow cloud that carried them here from a place far to our west. Stay, I mutter, you are among friends here.

Some have. I'll check with our official snowfall measurer when he returns from Delaware, but over the past several hours a couple more inches of snow have decided to make Keweenaw their winter home. All is white once again, the blemishes of last week's thaw now hidden beneath a pristine blanket of fresh snow. The harbor's surface is brilliantly white. Monday's northeaster drove the wandering pack ice back through the harbor entry. It now completely fills our nick in the hard Keweenaw coast with tightly packed and motionless ice. The ice surface is ragged, a jumbled snow covered mass of once bustling ice now locked together in what may well be a "till spring do us part" embrace.

I drove along the road to Eagle River yesterday as snow squalls swept in from the lake. Arguably, the prettiest stretch of road in Keweenaw in any season, it's especially so in the winter. The dense evergreens closely hugging and reaching out over the roadway are always heavily laden with snow. And the many lake overlooks afford breathtaking vistas of massive snow clouds moving ashore. It's also a hazardous road. Drifts quickly build along the many sections exposed to the wind off the lake, especially at Great Sand Bay. And the absence of road shoulders for storing plowed snow means that as winter progresses, roadside snow banks creep steadily onto the already narrow roadway. Everyone avoids this road in blizzard conditions, and no one relishes driving it on a winter night.

The road is also filled with whitetail deer. They use its plowed surface as an effortless trail to the deer feeding stations at Road 6 and at the Eagle River sheriff's station and roadside park. The desperately hungry deer rarely encounter vehicles along this route, one of Keweenaw's least traveled winter roadways. The deer, seemingly more puzzled than frightened by the appearance of a vehicle, lope ahead or alongside seeking a break in the roadside windrow for temporary refuge in the nearby woods. Local folks drive very slowly along this road, respecting the deers' plight and marveling at their toughness as they seek to survive a big snow winter. Yesterday in mid-afternoon we, Abby and I, encountered only a few score of these beautiful animals, but by early evening there are hundreds, especially when the snow pack in the bush is deep, as it is this winter. Abby, safely and comfortably tucked in the warm van, barks mightily and continually at our fellow travelers. By the time we return from our winter drive along this deer route, the Wonderdog is just a weak croak of her former fierceness.

I'm not barking (yet), but I am a bit "edgy". I've noticed that the Abby, normally my shadow, is keeping some distance, perhaps sensing my restlessness. In small part my behavior is simply a touch of camp fever, but mostly I'm evidencing the side effects of some stuff the docs have prescribed to placate a complaining heart. It helps, but like the flakes outside, I am having trouble settling down. A slow drive along a snowy road, like yesterday's jaunt to Eagle River, smoothes things out a bit, as does my easy watch over the slowly changing harbor scene. But "tasks" - writing, reading, anything drawing on my powers of concentration, even patience, certainly creativity, are disturbingly difficult.

Perhaps what I need is a "cleansing" or "purging" - a good sauna, a hard trek in the bush, even a high adrenaline event of some sort. Well, I can probably do without the latter, and the likes of the first two the docs say should be set aside for awhile. Carol, my loving partner in life, suggests I consider the "cleansing" power of a strong faith - getting in touch with my maker. She's right of course, but I need a lot of work in that area. It will take time. In the meantime, what can serve as a sort of "bridge loan"? A short term fix while I arrange for a more substantive remedy?

Well, for a starter - I could savor a pasty!

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