Storm Approaches
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)

Saturday, February 5th.Standing on the rocky cliff at the base of the Eagle Harbor Light tower on a moonless winter night, watching the white beam sweep through the dark void hanging over the frozen big lake, is a sure cure for cabin fever. Such was my good fortune late Thursday evening. I rarely venture up to the light on cold winter nights, but moderate temperatures and just a whisper of wind proved too tempting after a couple of days restricted to camp. The road up, polished to icy hardness by the scores of snowmobiles that visit the site each day, was a bit of a challenge in the dark. Abby, enjoying the stability of four big paws and the advantage of lower ground clearance, scampered quickly ahead, only to repeatedly return to check my slow shuffle progress. (I don't know if her "stick close to the provider" tendencies are a matter of loyalty or dependency. Either way, she's a joy.) Once past the entry gate, we sank into the drifting in the lee of the rocky ledge that runs along the path between the keepers' quarters to the light. Trudging through deep snow drifts is exhausting, especially for the snow swimming pooch. (Too many biscuits of late for the "walk on water" routine.) Our effort was rewarded as we worked our way around to the lake side of the tower. Gale force winds of a few days ago had swept away the snow from this exposed perch, allowing easy movement. The burden of camp confinement was quickly swept away as I stood on this remote rocky precipice, staring out across unseen ice and water into the darkness. The beacon atop the tower whirled away; sending it's alternating red and white beams out into the blackness. The effect was hypnotic, as the steady rhythm of the long sweeps of light above, coupled with the sense of weightlessness provoked by the intense black of the night, cast their spell. Stars hid behind the overcast, offering no means of spatial orientation. I backed up against the ancient brick, seeking some bodily contact, some anchor in this dark void. Abby sat alongside, nuzzling against my leg, apparently spooked by the darkness and my motionless state. The sense of being detached from worldly matter was heightened by the absence of sound, with only the faint rumble of far off and unseen ice shelf and lake territorial squabbling perceptible. I felt as if I was adrift in some enormous dark nebula, following the probing beam of white light to an unseen and uncertain interstellar destination. The cold of a mid-winter night began to penetrate into my consciousness, and the journey was interrupted. I dragged a hand along the brick wall, seeking an outlet from the dark cave. A distant street light came into view as I rounded the tower. I was home, cleansed of any feeling of confinement, once again eager to enjoy the coziness of winter camp.

Thursday, February 3rd. The biscuit picker and I are in the "dog house". First, Pasty Queen-to-be Ann notes the jinxing effect of all my near month-end "sure bet" commentary and reminds me that her January snowfall forecast entry was actually 67.4 inches. She added that I had "arbitrarily" rounded it down to 67 thus denying her at least a tie-breaking biscuit in the snow pile. (Ann, as township bookeeper, is not into rounding.) Then Jim, suspect that his Wonderdog friend may have purposely ignored the "J" biscuit (knowing Jim would soon provide another), makes sure that the responsible parties are unable to get to town to replenish their biscuit supply. Oh, such are the woes of well intended big stake contest impresarios and their able assistants. (I should note the "tongue-in-cheek" nature of this for those unaccustomed to the "style" of this web chronicle or the ways of Harbor camp fever sufferers. An email from one of Abby's many fans, noting the work of the snow vandal in Wednesday's photo, urged me to place the pooch in "protective custody".) In a way we are in such custody, as I am restricted to camp by whatever it is that occasionally reminds me that I better get crew aboard for my summer sails. And Abby, without me to trick her into a many mile trot through deep snow along the ski trail, is happy just snoozing on the warm hearth. We spent a quiet day yesterday stoking the fire and watching snow squalls move down the harbor. The underchallenged weather pros say we may see a few more today. It's "broom" snow - very light and fluffy and so sparse that a broom easily clears away hours of accumulation. The Keweenaw is not going to avoid the embarrassment of a below 160 inch seasonal snowfall as long as this is our daily allotment. Oh well, a good opportunity to skim through a stack of yellow aged Mining Gazettes and get caught up on the latest shenanigans in the metropolis along the canal. I believe this is Tech Winter Carnival weekend so I'm sure there will be reports of wilting ice statues and lamentations about the state of Husky hockey. I'll likely find the latest count of snowmobiles sunk through the always thin ice near the bridge (there is an annual betting pool on this), and another editorial lambasting the big spenders in our nation's capitol. (This, in a place always at the federal grant trough and with a large part of the populace eking out an existence with public assistance.) There will be some good articles about food and cooking, always a popular story line up here, and of course the usual front page listing of obituaries. When the pile is gone, I'll start on the Wall Street Journal s. That won't be nearly as much fun.
Tuesday, February 1st. February. For me the arrival of the "feast of purification" month is just that. A time to cleanse my thoughts of the waning winter and begin to think about what is to come - more light, more warmth, new growth, open waters, and the return of old friends. (Snowbirds and summer visitors as well as the more legitimately furried and feathered.) Yes, we aboard the rocky Keweenaw spine will continue our winter sojourn for another month or two, marveling at the beauty of it all and playing in its bounty of snow (I hope). But there is a growing sense of "ending", and with it, a new "beginning". Ole Sol speaks of it as he returns from the Southern Hemisphere and each day climbs ever higher above the harbor's backing ridge. A harbor ski trail traveler reports spotting a bewildered robin. The state tourism department sends an "urgent" message seeking a resupply of Historical Society brochures for their summer Welcome Centers. Wheelbarrows replace snow scoops outside my favorite Fifth Street hangout, Ace Hardware. Table talk at Slims turns from Packers to Tigers. (Packer talk ended unusually early this year.) My West Marine catalogue arrives. The lake effect machine, never really cranked up this winter, begins to noticeably slow down. What few snowflakes we have are now bigger, more feathery, and drift in from the east or south. A warm day will quickly clear the harbor of ice. (The beautiful "skating rink" pictured in Sunday's Walkabout is now a black pool. Glad I resisted the temptation to venture out!) Each day I grow more confident that my dwindling wood pile will last. My thoughts turn from skis to sails, from trails to cruises, from camps to anchorages. I begin to ponder less about the quantity of snow and more about the quantity of blueberry and thimbleberry. As I hike by long shuttered cottages and camps, my thoughts are no longer about their setting in the snowscape, but about their owners and summer occupants. Friends and neighbors who will soon bring the happy sounds and activity of summer, and convert these dark hulks of Harbor winter nights into twinkling stars along shorelines and roadsides. Soon? Is an Eagle Harbor summer "soon" from this early February vantagepoint? Should I allow my thoughts to turn from the challenges and joys of a Keweenaw winter at a time when Harbor Web snowfall forecasting contestants are still fiercely competing for four more months of fame and pasties? Is this sacrilege? Or Insanity? Am I as the robin along the ski trail, simply bewildered? Perhaps. But, dear friends and others who have stumbled into this journal, like the robin, something is stirring within me, something more attuned to the natural world that is my constant and assuring companion, and less to the "reasoned" temporal world with which I am both blessed and challenged. Of course, like the early arriving robin, I may regret the attraction of this compelling instinct, but for now it gives me pleasure - and hope!

Sunday, January 30th. The crescent of the waning January moon rises in the black sky above the summertime blueberry ridge we call "Baldy". Its faint light reflects off the clear ice in mid harbor; a band of twinkling diamonds in a layer of late night crusting frost. It's cold, seven degrees, and the air is frozen to stillness. The dry and frozen firewood clanked like bowling pins as I retrieved an armful to warm Abby's hearth. Surprisingly, it's warmer "up the hill", with the sleepy weather folks at the airport reporting twelve degrees. A temperature inversion or perhaps radiation from the neighboring lake ice field. The forecast is a repeat of yesterday's sunny warmth. My recording thermometer zoomed to the mid-thirties in the shadow of an eave. It seemed even warmer in the sun. A bareheaded and gloveless harbor walkabout in a light jacket was soothing in the long shadows of late afternoon. A morning drive through Calumet was more distressing. The melt shorn the stacked roadside snow of its pleasing garment of white, displaying the ugliness of underlying bands of leaching dark stamp sand cast up from the road. Not pretty, and fortunately unlike a melt north of Mohawk, where such road coverings are used sparingly. The snow piled by the plows alongside my camp, albeit only a third of what one might expect in late January, and quickly shrinking in the bright and warming sun, is nonetheless still as white as the day it was born. Winter road treatment has developed into a Copper Country fuss, as the Houghton County road czars have fallen under the spell of the salt barons, to the dismay of many. Long accustomed and highly skilled at navigating on packed snow, many locals are distraught by the sight and "road feel" of salt produced slushy roadways, and regard it as a violation of local norms. This is not a community that welcomes change of any sort, and the intrusion of alien salt, and the "below the bridge" mentality it implies, is a matter rising on the local public policy controversy list to the levels of logger truck "pup trailer" regulation and banning deer and bear baiting. The next thing you know, "they" will ordain that we have to turn our car lights on in dusk, whiteouts, heavy rain, and fog. I'm lucky to live in a place where such weighty matters are the stuff of barber shop, bar and breakfast cafe gathering consternation.

February, 2000

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