Storm Approaches
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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)

Storm Preparedness. December 8, 2001. I had a hunch that my comment that our weather was "too nice" and the photo of warm golden sunlight flooding the harbor might stir old Heikka Lunta from his slumber. Sure enough, before the postings carried very far into cyberspace, the snow began to fall. Not much, just an inch or two, but it was soft to the skin and pleasant to the eye. The "Snow Capitol of the Midwest" looks a bit more respectable.

The fresh snow soothed nerves still a bit on edge from our encounter with the fierce westerly winds that ravaged the Keweenaw and the big lake on Wednesday night. My roof top wind speed instrument whirled at over 50 mph for several hours, with several gusts over 60. It peaked at 64 at about 2 AM. Waves of 29 feet were reported out on the lake. I assume the mid lake lakers scurried to the Bete Gris anchorage, safely in the lee of the Keweenaw escarpment.

I receive a lot of good natured, but well directed, ribbing about my many references to my beautiful little harbor side Cape Cod as "camp." Well, it certainly felt like camp that night. Huddled by the blazing fireplace for warmth, and peering through the soft glow of kerosene lamps out into the night, a night as black as a coal bin thanks to the absence of the power deprived street and yard lights that normally spoil our evenings, I was barraged by the eerie sound of wind whistling through the many door, window and wall cracks inherent in a summer cottage posing as a winter haven. I felt with some concern the movement of the aging timbers that attempt to hold this place together. (A spooked Abby would have been hiding under the bed on such a night.) The big tarp covering the nearby woodpile billowed and snapped like a mainsail in distress, finally toppling the stacked wood in a noisy rattle that reminded me of my days setting pins in the bowling alley. Peregrine's eight-foot fiberglass dinghy, moored on the back deck for the winter, went for a little sail across the yard. Even the heavy picnic table did a somersault.

The sturdy old oak out front and the fifty foot tall poplar nestled all too close aside the back of the camp, were moaning in the agony of having their limbs torn asunder by the big gusts. A loud crack sent adrenaline through my veins as I waited for the crash of the age weakened poplar through my roof, or more likely the roof of my downwind neighbor. I beamed a flashlight out towards the flagpole to see if it, and Old Glory, were still there. They were.

Tempting fate, I yielded to the always-irresistible lure of witnessing "up close and personal" the big lake in the grip of a storm, and ventured up to the lighthouse not long after the wind speed gauge hit 64 mph. I proceeded slowly, buffeted to a crawl by the strong wind and the caution of searching carefully for downed power lines whipping through the air or lying underfoot. The noise of crashing surf was incredible, and as I hung tightly to the fence atop the high bluff that hosts the lighthouse, I was deluged by the stinging spray of big waves contesting unsuccessfully with the hard rock shoreline twenty feet below. I couldn't see a thing. The backup, and much weaker, battery driven lighthouse lamp perched on the rail forty feet above was no match for the black of this night. It doesn't rotate like the big light, just flashes white at the prescribed twenty second interval, so no beam swept out into the night, just a periodic lighting like flash - adding just one more frightening aspect to buffeting, noisy blackness. I stayed for awhile, perhaps a half-hour, mesmerized by the rhythm and sound of the unseen monster waves rolling ashore.

The hike back to camp was quicker, my body pushed dangerously fast down the dark Lighthouse Road by the wind blasting on my backside. I gathered up some of the firewood strewn across my front entry and once again retreated to the warmth of the fireplace in a rapidly cooling camp to await the dawn.

As I sat in the rocker, watching the flickering flame of a candle struggling with the big time indoor drafts, a blanket tucked around my shoulders and feet resting on the warm hearth, I thought how recklessly unprepared I'd been for this predicted storm. Two of my kerosene lamps had empty bowls, the others almost empty and no reserve lamp oil in camp. The woodpile tarp was not securely fastened and my almost gas empty van was parked precariously underneath the moaning limbs of the big oak, all no brainers for Harbor storm veterans. Outdoor gear: the dingy, picnic table, my yooper scooper, tree lighting ladder and an assortment of lesser but no less lethal wind driven projectiles were left about the place for the wind to play with. The chain saw chain was broken. The icebox and food locker, while bulging with frozen goodies and other cookable foods, was empty of trail and other wait out a storm ready-to-eat edibles. (I did have a big supply of Cheerios, an accidental but happy result of a big sale at Fraki's. I also have a good supply of dog food if things get really desperate.) Fortunately, my goodneighbor Pat had repaired my front door, so I no longer need to duct tape it to keep the snow out, but neither the doors nor the windows have been weather stripped. My cellular phone was uncharged.

Thank goodness dawn arrived before I could complete this distressing self-assessment. Hopefully I've learned my lesson. A generation or two ago people lost lives up here by being so storm unprepared. My consequences would be less severe, but life during and after a big Keweenaw storm would be a lot easier, and I'd feel less like the fool if I'd get my preparedness act together.

So old Heikka, when you get around to treating us with something more than the light dusting of yesterday, and you team up with whomever is in charge of the big winds, I'll be prepared. Just give me a couple days to get ready.

Ramblings. December 3, 2001. I embark on this Harbor Journal entry feeling a tinge of guilt. I really should be processing a stack of Historical Society membership renewals that have flooded my mail box of late, or drafting a set of Township planning objectives and strategies I promised to have ready for a meeting tomorrow evening. But with a good fire blazing in the fireplace, some Strauss waltzes oozing from the music box, my lungs and muscles still aglow from the long hike along the ski trail I just returned from, and a glass of good port in my hand, I feel more persuaded to clutter the Internet band width with some more of my ramblings.

I'm not sure I'm really up to this. In truth, the loss of my pooch, Abby the Wonderdog, my faithful, always accepting and always forgiving, canine companion in countless Harbor adventures, has me in a bit of a funk. I'll recover, not too soon I hope (she has earned this pause in the course of my life), but for the moment I'm a bit sidetracked. Coming on the heels of David's death, the loving husband of my first born, Sarah, and devoted father of my all too young grandchildren, Abby's peaceful demise, while of little consequence by comparison, has nonetheless temporarily sucked the last breath of spunk from my spirit.

Abby died while I was in the Twin Cities to be with my family for the celebration of all that we have to be thankful for - much despite our recent loss. She hung in there until Sarah and the kids had departed for home, sparing them the trauma of yet another death in their presence. Her last moments were as she would have liked - fanny tucked up against a warm hearth and her long time buddies, Carol and I, close alongside. I hope I am as fortunate.

I thought of her often as I returned to the Harbor. It was on the day of the big storm, last Tuesday. The roads were awful, glazed with packed new snow and windswept. Cars and trucks littered the roadside. I was on an adrenaline binge, pulling often onto the shoulder to relieve the tension and get my bearings. Abby, who normally snoozes peacefully for the eight hours trek to the Harbor, would have been on her haunches and barking loudly for the entire eleven hours of this escapade - she always sensed and shared my tension.

Long after the Keweenaw nightfall I, actually we (Abby's presence being so evident), pulled into my store of choice, Fraki's (the anti-Christ of my highly efficient, sparkling big box Target work pilgrimage), to forage for the necessities of life - milk, Cheerios and bananas. Alas, I was not disappointed. The bananas were green and as hard as rocks. I knew I was home, and it felt good.

Now I flourish in the surprising abundance of thoughtful remembrances of the Wonderdog I daily find in my email and mailbox. How is it, I wonder, that this mere mortal of the smaller (but I think, more humane) brain specie, has seemingly touched so many lives? Sure, thanks to the reach of Internet, she got a lot of good press from an adoring and totally prejudiced press agent, but there must have been something in her projected demeanor, her perceived spirit, that resonated with folks who knew her only as a cyberspace canine celebrity.

I sloshed through melting snow (can you believe it's supposed to be over fifty degrees tomorrow) along the ski trail today, always expecting the Wonderdog to stumble into my path and send me sprawling into the pools of snow melt, or crashing into the trail side snow windrows left by the trail rutting ATVs. For the last few weeks these modern cowboy steeds transported our well-armed and well "stocked" deer slayers in what turned out for most to be a fruitless hunt. (The deer won this year!) I'm told the annual Deer Slayers Ball at the Cliff View Inn was the usual freefall event, but not many deer (usually stacked in the pickups parked outside) attended this uniquely Copper Country rite.

In any event, my stroll today was strenuous, the crunchy snow grasping L.L. Bean's finest and sending me home with a bit of scary angina. Now with my Strauss, my cozy fire, and my port, I'm at peace and ready to share my thoughts with any whom will listen - but I miss my pooch!

Deer Season Eve, 2001. November 14th and it's sixty degrees at the Harbor. Jeepers, a November beach day! Problem is there's practically no one here to enjoy it. I did spot a big deer meandering along the beach at dawn, probably just out taunting the local would be Daniel Boones. To the best of my knowledge no one has set up a deer stand on our strand of sand so maybe the beach is the safest place for our four footed friends. If I were a deer, I wouldn't count on it. My advice to those who decide to soak in some rays at the beach tomorrow, opening deer season day, (another warm and sunny day is expected), is to wear their bright orange swim suits.

I'm prone to funks when it's summer in November, but it did feel good to be out in the warm sun and balmy breezes today. One of the nice things about this interval between fall color aficionados and winter revelers is that you can hike along the centerline of M-26 for hours without being molested by anything more than crows still noisily quarreling over last months road kill. There might be a pickup truck every half-hour or so, but it's usually moving very slowly and occupied by orange jacketed would be hunters scoping out deer hunting sites. Pretty quiet too, just the murmur of distant surf and the sound of gentle wind brushing the roadside pine and spruce. There is the occasional whir of a woodchopper's chainsaw back in the bush, and, of late, the muffled boom of a rifle being sighted.

My walk this mid-morning was east along M-26 to the Lake Bailey boat access and back - about seven miles. A couple hours of easy stroll and the opportunity to once again marvel at the uniqueness and splendor of our remote piece of the globe and think about its future. Abby the Wonderdog, never the one for contemplative excursions, stayed contently in camp. She's now almost fourteen, pretty old for a springer, and is a bit lame. We stroll about the harbor together, but I'm afraid her days crawling up and down old mine roads, and tripping me up back on the ski trail are over. Without Abby on the point to flush birds and spook the deer, I'm finding that my passage through their habitats is quieter. The feathered and furry apparently just staying motionless and unseen as I ramble by. I miss her mischievous ways.

As I hiked up the steep curve that reaches the Grand Marais overlook this morning, the beautiful little lilly pond that lies alongside the road and at the northern base of the Mt. Baldy ridge, was shrouded in mist. The sun roaming along the ridge top was still tinged in orange, as yet unable to shred its sunrise mantle. Beavers were busily preparing for winter in the pond, their jaws grasping saplings destined for their winter lodges as they swam across the glassy surface.(Click image to enlarge.)

I sat for awhile on a pine needle strewn knoll that overlooks the pond. The beavers, now less than a hundred feet away, paid me no heed. They certainly were aware of my presence, but without my usual rambunctious partner, they apparently considered me harmless - as indeed I was. A raven rested atop a nearby pine, busily croaking either a friendly hello or a get the heck out of here message. I croaked back, and the surprised raven flew out across the pond and up over the forest that climbs up the Mt. Baldy ridge. I followed its smooth flight into the mist until it was but a mere speck, although its call was still easily heard. I felt a kinship with this solitary morning traveler.

As I followed her flight up the ridge, my eyes rested on the barren top of our favorite blueberry hill, Mt Baldy. Its top is some 730 feet above the big lake, and all who hike up there from Eagle Harbor know they will be rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of Superior and our little lighthouse beckoning lakeside community. At it's highest elevations wind has clearly contorted the shrubby cedar. Naturalists tell me the plant community at the top is among the rarest in Michigan - I believe they call it "northern bald". It's thought to be the only site with natural alpine-like vegetation in Michigan. I know the summit best as the site of many happy gatherings of trail weary friends and family relishing their accomplishment and enjoying a view that only a small portion of Keweenaw visitors have shared. Abby and I have made several early and late winter jaunts up there. That's truly special!(Click image to enlarge.)

The slap of a beaver's tail as it dove to its lodge underwater entrance, broke my summit reverie, reminding me that, like the beaver, I needed to return to my lodge for my own last minute winter preparations. I quietly backed away from my pond overlook, realizing as I rose that Abby is not the only one experiencing the stiffness of aging limbs. During the short trek back to the road I stumbled upon a big snow shoe rabbit, still in its summer camouflage, its whopping leap to safety giving me quite a start.

As I continued my hike along the empty road past the splendor of the Grand Marais overlook and along the beautiful birch laden shoreline of Lake Bailey, I thought how fortunate we are that all these special places are so preserved and accessible. Our windfall of splendid visuals and nourishing on -site experiences due in the main to the benevolence of private landowners, the timber companies being especially good neighbors. What, I wondered will happen to these ponds, summits, unique habitats, forestlands and accessible lake shores as major Keweenaw property owners accelerate the divestiture programs already underway in response to corporate belt tightening and growing development demand. One needs to spend only a few hours wandering about the Keweenaw to recognize the growing presence of gated trails, posted properties, and the intrusion of the stamp of contemporary man on many long treasured natural and historic locales.

Fortunately, those of us who cherish these places have sympathetic and capable partners. Our own township officials, working with motivated citizens, are thoughtfully and skillfully taking steps to acquire nearly 600 acres of the unique dunes-marsh lands that lie between Lake Eliza and Sand Bay. The Nature Conservancy is enabling the conservation of, and continued public access to, over 1500 forested acres south of Lake Bailey, including the rare "northern bald" summit of Mt. Baldy and the summit to the west. The scope of this undertaking depending only on whether we who support such enterprise are willing to partner in the initial acquisition and subsequent land stewardship. Our Keweenaw Historical Society is actively moving to preserve our most important historical sites and structures, like Central and the Eagle Harbor light and lifesaving stations. We are certainly blessed by the number and level of commitment of all these preservation and conservation partners.

On my way back to camp and the anxiously awaiting Abby, I thought of legacy - a subject that's been much on my mind of late. Not mine, but that of those of us who now collectively hold in trust the special place we call Eagle Harbor, and its environs. As I once again passed by the busy beavers, gazed up the forest slope to the ridgetops, looked out over the beauty of Grand Marais, trod by the harbor beaches, and looked more appreciatively at the abundance of historic structures that grace our little community, I realized what I hope our legacy will be - the people who preserved these special, but in many ways now threatened, places.

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