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)

March, 2000

Wednesday, March 29th.. It was quite a shock to encounter big piles of snow in the Copper towns yesterday. Calumet and Laurium streets and yards that had been snow free for almost a month lie buried in 14" to 16" of heavy wet snow, the "higher terrain" version of the rain we "banana belt" Harbor folks experienced in Monday's storm. Lots of snow scoops and blowers at work, their long frustrated operators in seemingly good spirit with something at long last to do and the knowledge that this would probably be the end of it. In a snow season that is destined to be the low total record breaker, this foot plus snowfall, hardly worth noting in most years, was the cause for much good natured chatter in the Fraki Finer Food check out lanes. Grown ups acting like kids in a season's first snow.

Abby and I left the snow free Harbor at mid-morning for her postponed encounter with the dog clipper. Monday's appointment cancelled as the roads "up the hill" were snow clogged and in whiteout conditions. Power outages on storm day were widespread, with power at the Harbor out for over seven hours. It was not a good computer day, as even when the juice was flowing there were frequent momentary outages. It's been three or four years since we experienced as much power outage. I assume the very heavy snow, unusual for the Copper Country, dropped out-of-shape tree branches down across the lines. At times I wondered if the designated caller, whomever she or he might be, had notified the power command center that our little outpost was dark.

All seems back to normal as I write on this early Wednesday morn. The Wonderdog seems at ease with her new haircut, snoring away on the warm hearth - not "traumatized" as at least one of her many web admirers noted after viewing the "post-shearing" photo. Not much wind at the moment, although I just listened to a radio report from 1,000 footer Burns Harbor, about 12 miles out from the harbor, reporting 33 knot winds and big swells. A warming spell is apparently on its way, so the creeks snaking down from the "higher terrain" will soon swell with the melt from the storm. Gosh knows the lake needs the water. I've installed an Ace yardstick harbor water level measuring station over at the Marina, and can report about a half-inch rise in the last week or so. This could be just storm surge.

We are also experiencing very noticeable seiches, rapid changes in level caused by divergent barometric pressures over the big lake. Harbor summer visitors sometimes notice what seem to be strong tides moving in and out of the passages between the harbor's entry rocks. Those are seiches, and they can sometimes cause one to three foot level changes in fifteen to thirty minutes. That's why deep keel cruising sailors like me always like to have a cushion of two or three feet of water under the keel at an anchorage.

Yes, it's sailing, not snow, that dominates my thought as we await another early spring day.

Monday, March 27th. The barometer has fallen nearly a full inch in the last 24 hours and now seems to have bottomed out at 29.02 inches - pretty low. Something's up! Marquette forecasters have issued a "winter storm alert", with assurances of gale force winds off the lake and hints of snow in "higher terrain", what we refer to as "up the hill". We really don't want snow (too little - too late) but the wave watching should be great. I just hope the forecasted 50-mph winds don't topple my weakened camp-hugging tree.

Abby's over by the fire, blissfully unaware that on this "winter storm warning" day, she is going to get her spring shearing. I better load up the inside wood box. She's going to be a fire groupie.

Yesterday's hike into the bush was a study in contrasts. Warm enough that my jacket could be shed, yet cool enough to preserve snow tucked in tree and ridge shadows. The brooks are babbling, and snow melt is standing in ditches and trail depressions, but bent trailside bushes and underfoot ground cover are extremely dry, a foretelling of summertime trouble. Lots of snapping and cracking as I wander about and the Wonderdog crashes through the undergrowth in search of whatever it is that turns her on. (In the process gathering burs, twigs and gobs of dirt in her big furry paws and long leg and belly feathers - the reason for the upcoming haircut.) The bushes in sunlight clearings are beginning to bud, and birds and ground critters are scurrying about in springtime revelry. Yet, late in our trek, a sudden chilliness brought on by gathering clouds and a northerly wind shift, and the spooky moaning of building wind working through the treetops, suggested the frolickers may need to temper their activities for awhile. Perhaps what I perceived as revelry, was instead preparation for a storm - the four legged and feathered seem to sense such things long before their two legged, big brain brethren are able to decipher weather station reports.

The dawn of this new day is still a few hours away. I suspect its light will unveil a scene of turbulent water, scurrying gray clouds, and streaking rain. I can hear the wind whistling through the nearby trees. It's not yet at camp rattling force, but clearly building. Cabin lights and the monitor displaying these words are flickering. Better shut down.

This promises to be an eventful day.

Saturday, March 25th. I've been a bit lax in my daily journal writing this week - stretching the meaning of "almost" a bit. But heck, with nothing but leaking gray skies, empty streets and trails, and, other than the arrival of the town's new fire truck, no news of even little consequence, there just isn't much to write about.

We did chop a tree down a few days ago, a big one at that. The Harbor population about doubled when twenty or so power company and county workers showed up on Front Street and began sawing away at the century plus old pine out in front of Carlton's. A grand tree, made even more special because it was the lone remaining tree of note along our beachfront.

It's been showing its age the last few years, shedding limbs and rotting at its core, and posed a toppling threat to nearby power lines. Its size dictated a top down removal, so chain saw laden workers were lifted aloft in bucket rigs and began the dismantling. I watched for a few minutes, saddened by the fate of this harbor landmark and impressed by the respectful way this army of workers conducted their surgery.

A few chunks have been saved for a millennium celebration beach fire this summer, but another old friend has been carted up the road and laid to rest in the town's brush pile.

Another ancient tree, the big popular that stands guard alongside my camp, will soon make her own trip up the hill. It's badly rotted and beginning to split down the middle. It moans mightily in even the fairest of breezes, and in a fierce wind, such as we are experiencing this morning, the creaking and cracking is ominous. If it topples, either my place or that of my neighbor, will be split open to the foundation. I've called and left desperate messages with every tree guy in the phone book, but if you know Copper Country customs you are not surprised to learn that I'm still waiting for the return calls.

Another calamity about to happen is the closing of the Harbor Inn this evening so that Mary and Dick can take a well-deserved six-week break. We all gathered last evening for the wake, lingering a bit longer than usual and testing Mary's abundant patience and always cheery disposition as table turn lagged and folks from up the hill and down the road began to stack up in the waiting area. She added to her woes by offering a special desert for the occasion - a yummy toasted banana cream cheese cake that fostered slow savoring and cups of conversation coffee.

I departed reluctantly - the listlessness of a week of rotten weather and "tree chopping is news", replaced by the energy and good spirit of Harbor comradery.

A follow up note from Bob Carlton."You may be interested in a bit of background to the now fallen tree that watched over Lot 26 Front Street for well over a century.

A general store, Raley and Shapley, which had been a bustling business during the early lumber and mining days, was located on this corner. The first ODD FELLOWS lodge (Lodge #68 IOOF) installed in the Upper Peninsula, was located on the second floor of the general store. Lodge #68 moved from Eagle Harbor to Cliff Mine then Keweenaw Lodge #82 was established at the Eagle Harbor location in October 1863 and by 1883 had 63 members. In 1902 the building had all but been abandoned and in May 1903 my grandfather, F.S. Carlton purchased the lot and empty building. The building was demolished and he built the FIRST SUMMER COTTAGE in Eagle Harbor on the site in 1903.

The tree was large enough for the Carlton children, of that generation, to spike climbing rungs into the trunk and erect a tree house in it's sturdy limbs. Some of the old photos taken prior to 1890 show the tree in all "her' majesty.

I climbed to the top ,circa 1938, and took pictures with and old box camera, of the Harbor, which are around somewhere. At that time the tree had no visible signs of rot or lightning damage.

Just before the 1939-40 school session was about to start, the family members were gathered around the Zenith radio on the front porch, the news beaming from CKPR Port Arthur, the Nazi's were invading Poland at lightning speed. There was a blinding flash of light and a simultaneous explosion that startled all in the group on the porch, blew away the antenna that was strung to the tree. A bolt of lightning struck the tree at the top and stripped bark all the way to the ground.

That 1939 lightning strike, and several others in later years, mortally wounded the "old girl" and in the year 2000 it took chain saws to put her 'rest'."

Friday, March 17th. "Ouch!" and "ouch!" again. First the former CEO of Lake Superior Land Company ends an op-ed piece in the Gazette by labeling all who have doubts about the wisdom of public financing for the private development of Mount Bohemia and the blanket commercial zoning of Lac La Belle as "environmental fanatics". And then his patron saint, the Daily Mining Gazette, piles it on in an editorial by using the old war-horse "extremists" in identifying the enemies of unfettered growth. The Land Company guy begins his piece by observing "Nothing stays the same". Perhaps so, but the first group the "company" and its puppet press teamed up to contemptuously vilify were the "fanatical" and "extremist" miners who in 1913 dared to challenge their paternalistic employer and refused to be bullied back into the mines as they sought a living wage and better working conditions. Some things do stay the same!

Now see, they have gotten me all worked up. I need to focus on the coming summer of sailing. In truth, such contemporary public accusations pale in comparison to the utterances of publishers and mining tycoons in the early days of our beloved Copper Country. I was reminded of that as I browsed through the Michigan Tech Library archives in search of information about our Eagle Harbor schoolhouse.

I stumbled upon a history of the five newspapers published in our little mining port between 1860 and 1876. There was a fierce battle between such upstarts and the older Mining Gazette for the circulation and, more importantly, advertising revenue from the mining companies, local merchants, and mine suppliers. It was a no holds barred match with little attention to truth or scruples. At one point the Keweenaw Times, the fourth of the group, wound up in the hands of Reverend W. H. Benton, the Methodist Church (now the King/Boutwell cottage) minister. Rev. Benton was apparently a "fire and brimstone" character who waged a mighty struggle with the "establishment" paper for reader and advertiser attention. Here's how the Gazette wound up an editorial about the competition; our local preacher turned publisher.

"Such is W.H. Benton, the self-exposed slanderer, dirt-eating, villifier, swindling, lying, devil-turned preacher, and bought up champion of a band of thieves. He has become the High Priest of the Father of Lies!"

Now there's a real "ouch". Such scurrilous attacks were common in those days. Recently selected by a room full of presidential scholars as our nation's "best" president, Abe Lincoln was often so vilified as he campaigned and carried out his duties in the time of our nation's great trial. Makes today's so called "attack ads" seem harmless by comparison.

So with that perspective, I now return to watching eagles sore and wondering if my 10" March snowfall forecast will prove to be a pasty generator in our all but forgotten forecasting competition. My mood is further mellowed by the nearby presence of sky blue harbor waters slowly undulating as they await the gale force winds predicted for the coming night. It appears as if a large bowl of slow dancing blue jelly. The blues of sunny early spring days are intense, especially when the calm surface of the big lake and the sparkling clear air above team up in a frenzy of reflected light. The effect is further heightened by the presence of fresh and brilliant white snow nestled among the red hued rocks and in the crooks of pines now beginning to show the sheen of spring greening.

The wonders of the natural world are a constant source of solace and healing - nourishment for the soul. I suppose that's why I and my "fanatical" friends sometimes mount the green battlement and endure the stones and arrows of the encroaching developer infidels and their beholden heralds.

Monday, March 13th. Last week included the rare sighting of six of the nine planets in the night sky, a beautiful lake storm, and the first report of a bear out of hibernation. This coming week may not match such wonders of the celestial and natural world, but promises to be equally of interest. Over the next couple of days our township's Board of Review will be meeting to listen to the pleas of those who feel their properties have been assessed incorrectly. Tonight, the Township Board will meet to establish the budget for the coming fiscal year and discuss the Mount Bohemia development proposal. On Wednesday evening the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the question of the County's requesting about $900,000 in state funds to pay for water and sewerage systems to serve the Mount Bohemia development. A sizable gathering is expected at that meeting as the matter of public funds being used to subsidize private development has generated some controversy. The County Planning Commission will conduct a hearing on March 28th to consider the request that about 700 acres down at Lac La Belle be zoned like Copper Harbor. That meeting should also be lively. And, of course, the big news for the Harbor crowd is the arrival of the new fire truck late Wednesday. All and all, an eventful time for the few of us not able and/or willing to give up the promise of snow for the promise of swaying palms. (Cynics suggest the full agenda of public hearings at a time when most property owners are absent is not coincidental.) As for me, I've shared my views on all these weighty matters with the powers to be, but will pass on the big meetings. I've had enough of such contentious encounters in my private and public careers. I would now rather spend the time watching the waves, looking for planets, trekking the trails, and searching for bears. To each his own.
Thursday, March 9th. No Cheerios bobbing in cold milk today. This is a morning for good old hot oatmeal. A powerfull and beautiful to behold Lake Superior storm rages outside. A strong low-pressure system burst out of the Dakota's last evening and quickly ended the tranquility of our early spring. The calm harbor water surface reflected the first lighting strikes in mid afternoon, and by nightfall was riddled by bands of heavy rain showers. The weather pros said, "hang onto your hats" as radar displayed a rapidly advancing array of heavy weather cells moving from the plains towards the big lake. These "out of the plains" storms usually get bounced off their northeasterly tracks by the cold heavy air over the lake and past close to our south. Such is apparently now the case as the strong and warm southerly winds of late afternoon, the bearers of the heavy showers, have been replaced by a cold gale force northeasterly blowing down the backside of the low. The lake is alive - and very noisy. Big rollers blow into shore and through the harbor entry, ending their hundred mile journeys in bursts of flying spray. Whitecaps rush across the turbulent and pewter hued harbor surface. The town swimming beach is taking a beating as waves roar up its slope, sucking the sand of our summer fun into their backwash. My camp, buffeted by the gale, groans and cracks as timbers stretch and compress. The tarp over the woodpile and the flag atop the bending flagpole snap like whips, provoking muffled woofs of protest from the Wonderdog huddled at my feet. There is little snow; just enough white dusting to hide some of the scars of the recent melt. The forecast suggests 5" to 10" of snow, but only in the higher terrain, most likely in the Tri Mountain area south of Houghton. The splintered trunk of the several decade old oak tree out front groans as it moves about ominously in the gusty wind, causing consternation about its ability to withstand gale force wind in its summer garb. A seagull dips up and down but hangs suspended over the center of the harbor; its rapidly flapping wings unable to forward its progress against the strong wind. Yes, it's a great morning for storm groupies, made even more special by the scarcity of good lake storms over the past several months. I savor its fury as the morning porridge warms my tummy, the sweet smell of the oak burning in the fireplace fills the room, and the dancing rhythms of my favorite "storm music", Vivaldi concerti, audibly mirror the scene outside. Life is sweet at Eagle Harbor.

Monday, March 6th. Things are heating up around here - and it's not just the weather. The latest fuss is about a proposal to develop a ski hill and related facilities on the south face of Mount Bohemia, the side of the hill that looms over quiet Lac La Belle and Bete Grise. The hill, like most land in Keweenaw, is owned by Champion International (about to be merged with a Finnish paper company), and the ski facility developer is a company called Crosswinds of Novi, Michigan. I know little about Crosswinds' development or citizenship track record, or their credentials as a ski facility developer/operator, nor, to the best of my knowledge, does anyone else around here. That apparently includes the County Board, which is being asked to rezone the property (700 acres!) to a resort classification (the way Copper Harbor is zoned), and apply for about a million dollars in state grants to underwrite the endeavor. Project proponents, not unexpectedly, tout the hoards of dollars skiers would leave in the coffers of local businesses and the additional development the project would spur, while others wonder about adverse environmental impacts associated with the development on the hill and the impact of motels, condos, stores, restaurants, etc. the facility might encourage on the adjacent community. Some have asked what will happen if the project goes belly-up, and we are left with eroding trails, "resort" zoning, etc. The Houghton newspaper, which seems friendly to the project, reported that when a Lac La Belle resident asked if the County had reviewed Crosswinds' feasibility study, the answer was no and that, "If they (Crosswinds) were pursuing it, they must feel the project is feasible." Makes me shudder. I suppose a ski hill would be nice, although I thought the maxim of Ski Hill 101 was not to build one on a south-facing slope. I do wonder why we state taxpayers should anti-up nearly a million bucks to subsidize a for-profit development company's project, especially one of such dubious feasibility, limited public benefit, and mixed blessing. County officials, who I expect yearn for the "good old days" when County Boards could cater to such proposals without notice, before or after, now face stormy sessions as they meet in public hearing on March 15th to consider the grant application, and again on March 28th to consider the rezoning. I remember, none too fondly, similar late evening encounters, both as a regional shopping center developer's representative and as a community's city manager (not at the same time or in the same town). The usual cast of highly vocal characters will be present: the protectors of all that's holy (sometime labeled the "last guy in shut the door crowd"), and the better dressed, usually from out of town, proponents, dedicated to rescuing us from our economic and social doldrums. This latter group, and the libertarians who often rally around their banner, are sometimes labeled the "unfettered free enterprise zealots"- or "Greeks bearing gifts". (Some of kinder things said of me when I wore the developer hat.) There, of course, will be thoughtful people representing all views, presenting reasoned argument and posing challenging questions, but the needed dose of raw edged "democracy" will be supplied by those of greater passion. I have latent sympathies for elected and appointed officials in such situations, but I'll enjoy being able to sit in the rear pew and watch our county guys and gal squirm as they get roasted in the Keweenaw heat.
Saturday, March 4th. The sun is marching towards equinox; its day waning rays now blanketing the north slopes of the Keweenaw spine. Every ridge and valley is highlighted as I watch a mosaic of light and dark shadows play across the forested slopes. Except for the blue of sky and its fading reflection in harbor waters, there is not much color in the early evening scene to stimulate the eye, but it is pleasant nonetheless. Ice castles clinging to the entry cribs, the last remnants of a winter that never was, capture the last gasps of a fading sun and glow brilliantly against the muted background. Altogether, another, and a not unwelcome sign that the season of snow, what little we had, is at end. The seasons of bud, berry and unfortunately, bug, are at hand. A large goose, I believe a migrating white front, is swooping along the harbor shores. Perhaps an advance scout for a Gulf to Greenland bound flock still to our south. It's probably surprised to find that its cousins, the pesky Canadians, are already ensconced at the marina, just returned from their winter gatherings in the warm waters of Midwest power plant discharges. What wimps. (A favorite memory of Pete Boggio is the thought of his big black Cadillac charging up and down the road out front, horn blaring, a man possessed at the wheel, in determined pursuit of honking geese. They would scurry noisily to the roadside, seemingly enjoying the game, never taking flight. I'd release the Wonderdog for mop-up duties, their subsequent flight earning Pete's affirmation. He detested their brazenness, as do we all.) The scarcity of home and camp residents combined with the tempting snow free yards has attracted some visitors from the nearby forest. There have been several sightings of deer and fox, a few coyotes, and even a bobcat. It's time to empty the bird feeders, the soon to arrive bears favorite treat source. The clearing of the ice along the shore of the harbor's east bay has not only attracted the geese, but also disclosed how extremely low the water level is. The docks and boathouses will mostly be unusable unless there are heavy spring rains in the Superior basin - and they are not expected. Peregrine's keel will likely encounter some rocks and bottoms in the coming sailing season that have not been visited for years. The good news, of course, is the sweeping beaches we will enjoy and the strong possibility of once more being able to bask in warmer than usual water - well, water in the 60's, a temperature pool bathers would not tolerate, but warm enough that Harbor grown-ups will be tempted to join the seemingly cold blooded youngsters for a dip. It feels a bit awkward to ponder such summertime thoughts in early March, but as I now watch the gold of the setting sun give life to the sleeping hills, the bright prospects of that happy Harbor time seem imminent.

Thursday, March 3rd. Ol' Sam Johnson, the 18th century man of letters, explained an extended abstinence from the quill by observing that sometimes a man simply has nothing to say. I felt a kinship with Sam this morning. My blank Harbor Web "almost daily journal " screen waited expectantly for keyboard commands, but poised fingers hung listlessly above the keys. No thought traveling along the nerve fibers from left brain to tweak the finger muscles. Writer block! The bane of writers universal, or so I thought before a recent visit to Barnes & Noble. Stacks and stacks of the latest plethora of thought from a plenitude of writers seemingly never exposed to this virus. Perhaps the lure of commercial success is the antidote to "having nothing to say". (Or, as likely, they have nothing to say, but say it nonetheless.) If so, I'm destined to a life of infirmary, and happily so. As even infrequent readers of this journal have observed, I draw on the world within which I am immersed for inspiration and content. The bears, bugs, sunsets, snowfalls, barbershops, food markets, inns, pig roasts, gales, trails, and their Keweenaw ilk are my beat. It's a lode without bottom, but there are times, like this morning, when the light of my candle grows dim and the vein is lost. I set the task, actually the joy, aside, and reluctantly proceeded to "shut down", the keystroke of escapism that the likes of Bill Gates and his cronies have injected into our lives. A long hike, I thought, would be just the cure, so, Abby in tow, off I went, destination unclear. The morning was cold and gray, setting my mood, but as we waded across the meager outpourings of Eliza, the rising sun overpowered the hapless ridge clinging clouds, and showered the early morn travelers with its bright and cheering message. I felt encouraged, energized, by the abrupt change in mood, and, with a quickening pace, set Lake Bailey, some three miles distant, as our destination. Abby, blissfully unaware of the consequences of this moment of euphoria, charged happily ahead. We traveled for two hours along M-26, the summertime chorus of motorhomes and Copper Harbor fudge partakers, without notice. The Wonderdog, encouraged by her Leap Year Day avalanche of e-mail Happy Birthday wishes and thoughts of returning to camp and Elaine's gift larder of home made dog biscuits, was the "springer" of her namesake, rolling about in dirty, but cooling, roadside snow windrows, before settling down to a slow trailing trot over the last few miles. We are now back - tired in body but spirit refreshed. Abby is sacked out in her birthday L.L. Bean bag, and I've returned to the keyboard. The brain is alive. The nerve fibers twitch. I feel like writing. I have something to say. I'm sure Old Sam Johnson would understand.

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