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)

February, 2000

Tuesday, February 29th A fierce south wind has been blowing all night. The cracking sounds of a camp under stress, the howl in the fireplace flue, and the "juice harp" serenade of wind blowing across the front door's brass sill weather strip, are spooking Abby. She's tucked herself between my feet. Not a good beginning for her Leap Year Birthday. It's her third, which makes her twelve. Her seemingly boundless enthusiasm and still bountiful energy belie her advanced dog age, but the graying eyebrows and diminished hearing are telltales. Strangers encountered on our hikes still ask, "How old is the puppy"? Our scamper up to Copper Falls yesterday was a bit of a test for both of us, resulting in a late afternoon nap, not unusual for her, but rare for me. We strolled along the beach on the way home. I gathered beachwood for the fireplace, while the Wonderdog crawled out on the gathering shoreline slush ice in search of a refreshing drink. The ice had blown over from the harbor's east bay, carried along by a cool, almost cold, northeast wind off the lake. Quite a change from the weekend's warmth, but the sun was warm on my back, and it's hard to beat the feel and taste of fresh, crisp air off the now open lake, and the wonderful scents of a sandy shoreline emerging from its winter slumber. Today's weather offering is a bit uncertain. We're clearly in a time of seasonal transition, as south winds begin to dominate. The wind now shuttering the camp is quite strong and very gusty. It tore the storm window out of my front storm door during the night, and a few minutes ago I heard the rumble of my woodpile toppling. My guess is the wind will continue to veer to the west and after another warm day, things will begin to cool down as the big lake reminds these blowhards from the Gulf who's in charge around here. Abby and I will travel to town today - Abby because it's her birthday and she loves to tag along (especially to the Mohawk bank where she gets lots of caresses and dog biscuits), and me to get a flat tire fixed (I suspect a snowmobile tread stud), wander the aisles of Ace Hardware, and enjoy a few free donut balls and the ongoing weather chat at Fraki's. (Fraki's is running what is the Copper Country version of "You Want To Be A Millionaire?, a raffle for a chance to vacation in Hawaii. Big deal up here - or at least it was until last week's warm spell. I'll pass.) The weather chat is predictable. Those who don't like snow will speak of the lurking big March blizzards that still haunt them from their childhood, while those of us who believe lots of snow is what the Keweenaw is all about, will vent our frustration with this year by assuring the February light sweater crowd that bears will prowl before the Irish pubs fill with St. Patty's Day revelers. It's almost safer to talk of politics. I think I'll shoplift one of those donut balls for the patiently waiting Birthday Dog.

Saturday, February 26th Abby is bagged out on her new "birthday present" LL Bean dog bed (nothing but the best for this pooch), and I'm recovering from our walk around the harbor with a glass of Chateau St Michelle Chardonnay (same for me). Life is tough up here! It's about dinnertime, and my Harbor weather station is reporting an unbelievable 60 degrees. Yes, on the 26th of February. This must be a record. I doubt the Keweenaw Tourism Council will note this achievement in their marketing brochures. The west end of the harbor is completely free of ice, and, except for the ice castles clinging to our offshore reefs, the big lake is regaled in its summertime blue. While walking about, we encountered a few pickups pulling trailers laden with snowmobiles. I shoved the Wonderdog off the road and kept my distance. These are not happy folks and who knows what recourse they might take on us locals. I should, in fairness, note that last evening at the Friday night gathering of the Harbor Lodge members at the Inn, I shared a not as good bottle of Chardonnay with a couple of "take in all in stride" snowmobilers who had succumbed to the Tourism Council's lure and driven up here all the way from West Palm Beach, Florida for some fun in the snow. (Their preference for wines exposing them as "gold coasters".) They marveled at the beauty of Keweenaw, even though they had observed it as their sleds bounced along on bare and dirty trails. One of the two, a policeman approaching early retirement after years of working with his partner, a police dog, spoke of the joy of that working relationship. I thought, here's two guys with more than good cause to complain, and all I hear is acclaim for the land we locals too often take for granted, and a reaffirmation of the joy of "partnership", whether it be with human or animal. (Only those who are animal owners will understand this pairing.) Back to the walk. Cedar Creek and Eliza Creek are open and gushing with the snowmelt, although, given the sparse snow pack, neither will make much of an impact on the beaches through which they traverse. As the ice retreats, the evidence of the extremely low lake level becomes apparent. The boathouses in the east bay are perched awkwardly above the retreating ice and the docks of the "Eagle Harbor Yacht Club" (a fantasy locale for local harbor bound mariners), are gasping for water to justify the toil and sweat of their builders. As we neared home, Abby sprinted, well stumbled, to the town's swimming beach, crunched across some slush pushed up along the shore, and enjoyed what must be the first swim of the season. "The season" - sounds strange doesn't it, but given what's going on, this past week of February spring could well be the harbinger of the summer at hand. (I say this, of course, hoping to be embarrassed and blindsided by a freak March two foot blizzard - one can always hope.)
Friday, February 25th If April showers bring May flowers, what might February thunderstorms up here in the high latitudes portend? A March black fly infestation? Or more positively, March "beach days"? About a month ago I shared a report of a robin spotting back on the then snowy ski trail. I believe I labeled this harbinger of an early spring as "bewildered". It now seems that it is we of the big brains that were and are bewildered. The lesson of life in the natural setting of Keweenaw is to listen to and watch the world of flora and fauna in which we are immersed - it has much to teach us. A lesson I too often forget. Indeed, the joy of a life lived in this remote wilderness outpost on the shore of the big lake, is the unique opportunity to observe the wonders of nature with minimal distraction. The observer with the keen eye and ear, and the ability to discern patterns is richly rewarded. Experienced local big lake fishermen recognize the good fishing potential of surface "slicks", bands of nutrient laden and thus fish attracting deep water upheavals forced by sinking thermal bars. (The edge of the nearby Keweenaw Current is an especially good place to observe this phenomenon.) Big lake sailors watch the relative movement of lower cumulus and higher cirrus clouds, knowing that cirrus crossing from the right portends stormy seas. The prehistoric copper miners of the area were thought to be able to discern the presence of copper bearing veins by the effect of air seeking from exposed veins on ground foliage. I watch flocks of northward migrating birds gathering in the harbor, noting an extended stay usually portends a strengthening northerly wind within the next 24 hours. And while a groundhog might be coaxed out of its burrow earlier than it deems advisable for the obligatory photo-shoot, who would doubt spring is here to stay when the black bear emerges? My LacLaBelle friend Sandy Britton, author of Mendota Musings, is perhaps Keweenaw's best observer and chronicler of our local natural world. Her musings are always an interesting and an often-amusing report on the patterns of the life in the backwaters and high hills of Keweenaw. I lack Sandy's knowledge of what's going on, but I share her fascination with the life outside our doors. On a late afternoon in early December, while hiking back from everybody's favorite blueberry hill, I encountered a marten, the big black cat like member of the weasel family, beginning its nocturnal hunt. They are rare and this was my first sighting. What a thrill! Few events in my corporate life were as rewarding. Just one more of the joys of life in the bush.
Wednesday, February 23rd. I'm getting the "How could you?" look from the Wonderdog. She's ticked because I didn't take her along for a short trip along the ski trail. It's a good thing there are no neighbors about, as I believe she sat by the window and barked the whole time I was gone. Just a squeak left in her when I arrived home. Yesterday, when I did take her for an extended jaunt that did us both in, she was so exhausted at trail-end that she had to be lifted into the van for the trip home. She has a short memory. (I'm sure I'll get some advice and admonition from some of Abby's many fans.) We did enjoy ourselves. The trail was approaching the mush state as a result of the current thaw and thus more of a slog-slog than the swish-swish I favor, but the warm sun felt good and the sights, sounds, and smells of forest shedding its winter mantle were pleasant. The trailside bush, encouraged and perhaps misled by the warm sun, is asserting itself from the snow pack, reaching out to scratch the intruder and seek the life restoring sunlight. The softening snow slowed Abby's sashays down deer trails, but she plunged in and out of the still deep snow pack with careless abandon. I stuck to the almost indistinguishable ski track, mindful of the trail head admonition to not abandon one's common sense in the presence of the Pinery's many temptations. The admonition is included in a little safe travel reminder Harbor Ski Trail impresario Jon recently nailed to the "Welcome" sign at km 0. It responds to a very scary incident last week when a young family of skiers, new to the trail, and perplexed by the several route choices the expanding trail now offers, could not find their way out. As night fell, snow was falling heavily and worried friends called the Inn to report the missing skiers. Good Neighbors Rich Probst and Rick Finke immediately cranked up their snowmobiles and began the search in the now low visibility and cold night. Rick soon found the family, once more embarked on a wrong route to safety. They had been on the trail for over seven hours. One can only imagine how scared the youngsters of that family must have been, if not the parents. All ended happily as the family was soon back at the Inn in the comfort of concerned Harbor neighbors. So the new trailhead sign suggests that in addition to letting someone know where you are, which the young family had fortunately done, one should be sure to bring six things for a trip along the trail. A trail map; a flashlight; warm clothing; some emergency food; a cell phone; and, your brain (i.e., common sense.) I took a good look at the sign when I sloshed back to the start after my long trek, Abby now dragging along in my track. Well, I though, I'd survived with just two of the six - an apple and a cell phone. I suspect Abby was wondering why I'd forgotten item number six.

Monday, February 21st. I'll allow the fire baking Abby's backside to burn itself out this morning. Warm sunlight is already streaming through my harbor view window as we embark on what promises to be a major meltdown week. Temperatures in the mid to high forties, cloudless skies, and southwesterly winds are all in the week's daytime forecasts - a sure formula for an end to the harbor ice and the snow packed on our roadways. The roadside snow bank out front, at four to five feet only a third of its normal winter height, is sure to wither away before the week is out. Cold nighttime temperatures will slow the process a bit, but pools of snow melt and patches of open ground by weekend seem inevitable. A not unexpected early end to a disappointing snow season. The shaded and wind protected ski trail will be more resistant to this early spring onslaught, and the light jacket and bare headed skiing will be pleasant for another week or two. Our two-to-three feet of snow cover did look beautiful in the glow of last night's full moon. I left a Houghton winter gathering of ice-bound Copper Country sailors at about 8 p.m., and as I climbed up the Quincy Hill and away from the lights of the canal cities, the rising moon, its presence greatly enlarged by the optics of the earth's atmosphere, loomed brightly alongside the Quincy Shafthouse. I slowed to savor the view. A "Keweenaw Moment"! The snow draped townscapes along the roadway for the next several miles shimmered in the moon's bright light - the soft lights in windows being the sole evidence of life among the dark, snow laden, building hulks. The occasional streetlights drifted by, like lighted buoys in a dark harbor channel. Once past the lights of Mohawk, the large disk of the moon and its reflected glory reigned supreme over the landscape. The snow-covered road was empty, not another vehicle encountered in the remaining sixteen miles, and easily followed in the bright moonlight. I switched off my lights. I know, not smart, but the view across the moonlit Keweenaw valleys was magical. The rugged cliffs bordering the winding road loomed ominously in their cloaks of gray, the dark moonlight shadows of their crevices, outcrops, and tree clusters reaching out and retreating as I traveled by. The moon slipped behind wisps of high clouds as I drove through Phoenix, diffusing the light and removing definition and depth from the collage of century old structures and poor rock piles usually so visually evident in that nearly abandoned place. A coyote came into view as I rounded the corner onto the road to the Harbor, breaking the spell of seemingly being the sole inhabitant of the lands through which I was travelling. I slowed, as the night hunter, either unperturbed by or unknowing of my presence, trotted slowly ahead. We parted as my fellow traveler forked onto the Garden City snowmobile trail and I continued my moonlight ride down the hills to the Harbor. The Harbor streetlights were an irritating intrusion (they always are) as I drove along the ghostly white snow covered beach. I parked my van in the space so nicely plowed out by my good neighbor Jim, and walked to the Lake Breeze rock beach to savor the winter moon. Full moons floating above the harbor are always things of great beauty and awe, but the winter moons, alone in the stillness and darkness of a rare clear Keweenaw winter night, and sharing their reflected glory with the snow and ice covered landscape of this rugged outcrop, are truly awesome.

Friday, February 11th. Oh' my, it looks so good around here. Gorgeous fresh snow and clearing skies. I am hesitant to leave, but leave I must. I'll be gone for a week to ten days. I should be back in time for the February 20th winter gathering of the small band of ice locked Keweenaw sailors now manning the virtual bar at the Onigaming Yacht Club. (Not as fancy as it sounds. Once a very luxurious boating and social club on the shore of Portage Lake for the big crewed yacht owning mining and business tycoons of the Copper Country, it's now a simple dock and mooring field in the backwaters of Dollar Bay where a group of happy-go-lucky real sailors keep the faith and moor their sailboats.) At last winter's gathering, they chose to select me as the "Cruiser of the Year", a distinction which raised eyebrows and generated chuckles among my non-sailing friends. It will be fun to mix it up with the gang from down along the canal. Such excursions into social gatherings in the "up-town" Copper Country world, (for Harborites anything beyond the Popeye Rock), always reinforces an awareness that things are a bit different down here. The guys in Duke's Laurium barbershop refer to the Harbor as the "Gold Coast", a connotation not unlike that applied to the "Calumet Avenue" crowd in an earlier era. Our little acre or two of summer residents, vacationers, retired people, and Harbor family descendants seems to them, and often to me, as somewhat detached from the everyday lives and norms of many who live and work in the locations and towns along the old conglomerate and amygloiad lodes. Perhaps it's just me. My friends at the barbershop are seemingly surprised to learn that anyone lives at the Harbor in winter. They assumed that we all had the where-with-all and freedom, and possibly the smarts, to escape to a warm beach when the snow became burdensome, as they would if given the opportunity. When I speak of the joys of deep snow, they seem bewildered. I dare not even mention the need for preservation and conservation. I would certainly never share my reservations of having a gun on my premises. Why anyone would own a boat that took eight hours to run to Isle Royale is a source of amusement. My van seems somewhat "suburban" in the sea of pick-up trucks and four-wheelers in area parking lots. Abby evokes "Is she a good bird dog?" not "What a cute dog," outside of the Harbor. After a meeting in a Lake Linden home last evening, we adjourned to the kitchen for a late night "snack" of rhubarb cake, banana cream pie, meatballs, taco chips, and big crackers laden with ham and enormous cheese chunks. I was the only one not to add four or five pickled boiled eggs to my intake. As is the local custom, our gracious host piled the few leftovers on paper plates to tide us over on the long drive home. It goes on-and-on, little daily reminders of what I'm missing as part of the little community of oddballs living along the Gold Coast. Oh' well, I'm off to the big city for a spell. Both "uptown" and "down among the coasties" will be looking pretty good by the time I return. Take care.

Wednesday, February 9th. The wind frayed residue of a jet contrail hung lazily in yesterday's early morning sky, its color that of the rising golden sun. It rose over the hills from the direction of Marquette and passed directly over the Harbor. I watched it as I gathered morning firewood. I thought, "That's Pete, making one last pass over his beloved Eagle Harbor on his journey to wherever the souls of the genial and gentle are destined." A few minutes earlier, Jim Boggio had called to tell me of the death of his dad in a Marquette area nursing home during the night just past. Pete's death, at age 84, is one of several in a generation of Harborites within the past month. Bob King, Sr. at age 87 last Friday; Art Arnson, age 90, last Tuesday; and, Betty Roche at age 88 just a couple week ago. They, like almost all of their generation of Harbor regulars, are a remarkable and inspiring people. Born early in the century just past, they are witness to two great wars (many were participants in the second); the exhilaration of the "Roaring Twenties"; the devastating social and economic depression of the early thirties; the awesome transformation of our economy and social structure of the 50's and 60's; and, in the late stages of their lives, a seemingly never-ending avalanche of exciting new technology and good times. Is it any wonder that they are so resourceful, so filled with hope, so adept at achieving an enviable balance of hard work and great fun in their lives? Pete, the gentle giant of the group whose recent deaths give cause for fond memorial, knew hardship better than most, yet will always be remembered as the gracious and genial host, a man of high and good spirit. Art's life spoke eloquently of the virtues and joy of simplicity and resourcefulness. Betty, her soul brimming with happy memories of childhood summers at Eagle Harbor, dedicated her life to serving the country that had so blessed her. She was in the vanguard of those transforming the role of women in our society. Bob, a litany of loving prayer from grateful children and adoring grandchildren assuring him in his last moments, left us with a model for a life of personal accomplishment, community service, and how to have fun. These were each lives filled with purpose, lives of people who enjoyed life itself. They seemed "seasoned" by their life experiences, a source of stability and strength to those fortunate to be in their sphere. The example of their daily lives spoke to the truths they uncovered along life's way. I think of them as "characters", not simply because they were "colorful" and at times unconventional, but in the sense that these were people of distinguishable attributes. They were interesting. Men and women whose personalities and life styles seemed to have an "uniqueness", persons whose lives were instructive, inspiring, worthy of emulation. They will be missed. But surely the fruit of their lives will nourish and shape the lives of their families and Harbor neighbors for generations to come. We are thankful!

Monday, February 7th. As the sage of Wobegon would say, "It's been a quiet week at the Harbor." Yes, a bit of rustle over the weekend as the Tech Carnival crowd took the obligatory "drive up north", but the only real "action" has been the slow movement of ice in and out of the harbor. Most folks would probably not find our ice escapades of much interest, certainly unworthy of being considered a spectator sport. Indeed, being an ice spectator requires a time lapse attention span and an appreciation of minutia that only an idle romantic might possess. As I write of this, the faint yellow light of predawn is lifting over the dark Keweenaw spine. The harbor, mostly open water and skim ice after yesterday's gale, begins to shed its dark nighttime cloak and garb itself in the color of the predawn sky. The surface is rippled by a light breeze blowing in off the lake. Clouds are gathering over the southern ridge as the earth warms. They are few and drifting slowly to the Southeast, their dark bottoms just beginning to hint of the red morning sun still tucked below the horizon. Ice flows, now only in the "head of the eagle" shoreline indentation near Cedar Creek and in the far end of the harbor, rock slowly in the swell, their flat white surface in sharp contrast to the morning gray. In a few minutes the clouds will be the bright red of the coals glowing beneath Abby's morning fire, and the water and ice will take on a pink sheen for a few minutes. Then the golden sun of a Keweenaw morning will flood the harbor, its low angle casting shadows in the ice pack, seemingly bringing it to life. The skim ice, born in last night's cold and perhaps destined to die before late morning, will shimmer in the bright light, its slightly mottled surface diffusing the hill reflections apparent on the surface of the open water. At dawn yesterday, the harbor and the lake out to the Keweenaw Current were completely ice covered. As the events of that sunrise gave way to mid-day, the morning clouds surrendered to an intensely bright sun and a gale blew in from the west. Lake swells worked their way around the ice castles clinging on the outer reefs, and attacked the thinner ice shelf near shore. The ice rolled in the onslaught, lifting and cracking, allowing the lake to reclaim first ribbons and then massive pools of open water. The even thinner harbor ice quickly broke into large irregular shaped ice pods, which sailed about the harbor in the wind. Most broke into smaller chunks, which the surface water, warmed by the bright sun, quickly gobbled up. Some were pushed eastward, and gathered in a confused jumbled mass in the protection of the harbor's east bay. They are there this morning, awaiting an easterly wind and cool temperatures as they contemplate a new conquest of the center and western bay. They have reason to hope. The dropping wind and mid-teen temperatures of this new day are already allowing the skim ice to explode across the open surface. The show goes on!

Return To Harbor Web