Storm Approaches
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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)

April, 2000

Thursday, April 13th. By the time most Harbor Web aficionados stumble into this entry in the saga of life next to the big lake, your correspondent will be choo-chooing his way to California and back. Yep, it's time to take a break and touch base with my family. I'll be back for the local May Pole dancing.

The Wonderdog and I leave early tomorrow for the big sleep (Abby) to the Twin Cities (as unalike as our local canal and copper town "twins"). It's misty snow outside my window this morning, with more of the same forecasted for tomorrow, so once again I'll be glad that I resisted the warm spell urge to chuck the snow tires. I'm a bit weary of the indecisive turf struggle between the seemingly entrenched old man winter and the spring usurper emboldened by the growing presence of ole Sol and warm breezes from the Gulf. Perhaps by the time I return from the warm clutches of the Golden State, things will be resolved. Let's hope so - I'm anxious to wet my keel.

Carol and I will visit with daughter Mary and newly minted spouse Bert - Carol to cluck lovingly about as only mothers can, and me to depart a bit of unnecessary and always graciously and skillfully deflected fatherly advice. I sent out an order of Pasty Central's yummy pasties this week to get them in the proper frame of mind for my yarns of life in the bush. Carol, more astute in the needs of the newly married entertaining the folks, sent money.

I'm adding to the adventure ante by making the trip by train. About nine days in total, journeying, as trains do, through the worn out industrial areas of wonderful towns called Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, San Antonio, Tucson, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, and St Paul. There is a lot of wonderfully scenic country along the route as well: the Rio Grand Valley, the Arizona desert, which should be in bloom, the California coast, the Cascades, and finally the Lewis & Clark route up the Columbia and back across the high northern Rockies and the Big Sky country.

The best part of train travel is the people meeting - real solid folks of all ages and all walks of life, enjoying themselves and each other. Such a pleasant contrast to the crowds of cramped, strapped in, tired and up-tight business types I was party to for years on the business planes.

I know it's slow, but I wouldn't be living in Eagle Harbor if getting some place in a hurry was important, and I sure as heck wouldn't own a sailboat.

Carol, who took such a trip with me a few years ago, is a quicker read and has a better memory, so she'll fly and meet me at the depot on both ends. I just like trains - another one of my quirks.

So no journal entries, no walkabouts, and no scuttlebutt for awhile. If you're really hooked on this Internet "Harbor fix", this might be an opportunity to delve into the bowels (there is probably a better word) of the Harbor Web. Like my camp closets and attic, this web site is rarely cleaned out and has stuff (hidden treasures) buried so deep that even it's author is surprised when it occasional pops to the top of the pile. Let me know if you find anything interesting.

Take care.

Tuesday, April 11th. Another dawn has arrived; its light disclosing massive gray clouds hugging the Keweenaw spine and a black, glassy harbor surface. The cold night has left a little skim ice for the pesky geese to ponder. The camp flag, its flayed edge evidencing the fierce winds of the past few weeks, now hangs listlessly from its high perch. A crackling, cozy colorful, and sweet smelling dry oak fire across the room provides a pleasing contrast to the drab scene out my window.

A drive to the canal cities yesterday witnessed just how strong our recent winds have been and how man's tampering with the bounty of nature can have unintended results. In the construction of the mile or so of passing lane along US-41 between Calumet and the airport, construction crews removed about a 20 deep swath of the tall pine and spruce that so beautifully distinguished that otherwise boring and heavily traveled stretch of Copper Country roadway. The cutback was about a third of the tree stand's total depth. Then, several months later, the big winter winds arrived. The road bordering trees, which have stood firm against winter storms for decades, now apparently weakened by the loss of a third of their mass, were devastated. The roadside is lined with fallen trees, many snapped off above the ground, some simply uprooted. It's a sad sight. Their loss now places those who survived at even greater risk when the winds of another winter storm blast their way across the Keweenaw. As the old saying goes. "One should not mess around with Mother Nature."

I was also surprised at the amount of snow still lurking in shadowy places. Our harbor landscape is now snow free and even the ice caps nestled atop and among the craggy shoreline rock are gone. Yet, In the land of "higher terrain", the snows of a few weeks back still linger, defying the general sentiment amongst the populace, and seemingly awaiting reinforcements brought by a still possible April storm.

I for one have been lulled into carelessness by the long ago departure of snow from the "banana belt" coastal area. A hurried trip to Lac La Belle on this past Sunday almost became a nightmare as, in my haste, I decided to ignore the seasonal "road closed" barricade on the Delaware Road. (The county does not plow roads such as the Delaware shortcut or the Garden City Road.) Not to worry, I thought, there is little or no snow and it has been dry enough to harden the gravel roadway. Oh, so wrong.

I immediately encountered a mushy surface, and tires grasped for traction in the slippery slope. (I was glad that I had not followed through with plans to remove my snow tires the previous week.) Water from the surprisingly deep melting snow pack along the roadway ran down widened ditches, leaving insufficient road width for a retreating turnaround. The first mile is a steep uphill, and as I pressed hard against the "foot feed" (a quaint, still in use, Iowa term for accelerator) for the push to mount the steep grade, the slipping about became excessive. The soft ditches seemed to be reaching out to grasp this careless traveler, like sand traps lure the careless golfer.

I knew that at top of this first steep grade, the hard rock of the Keweenaw spine would mingle with the gravel roadbed, adding to its stability. So I labored on, seeking its safety. Well, it's a harder surface up there, but it's also "higher terrain". As I finally mounted the initial, mile long, grade, perspiration on my brow, and relief in my quickening heart, I encountered hubcap deep snow.

I dared not stop, fearing the loss of momentum would allow the snow to hold me firmly in its grasp, but the prospect of two more miles of crawling along a roadbed I could no longer see, feeling for the firmness of its middle, was daunting. By this time, of course, I could have been to Lac La Belle and back, if I'd been smart enough to follow the paved longer route. I was glad Abby wasn't along. She has a good sense of when I've done something dumb, and barks excessively in her back pew. (Probably picks up my nervous vibes.)

Well, I made it up to the snow free US 41 at Delaware, but it took over an hour to mush my way up the just over three miles. I almost jumped out to kiss the dry pavement. Lets hope I don't forget this little lesson of respect for the vagaries of a Keweenaw late winter. As noted earlier, "One shouldn't mess around with Mother Nature."

Thursday, April 6th. It's difficult to imagine the conflux of the gentle creek flowing down from the highlands above Phoenix and the mighty storm tossed lake as a place where one would establish a port. There is no protection from the fierce northerly storms that rage across the lake, such as there is at Eagle Harbor, and the lurking offshore shallow waters and reefs are among the most treacherous along the Keweenaw shore. Even at flood, the creek is impossible to navigate. The creek was apparently promoted to river status by the PR types accompanying the 18th century "La Voyageurs". They found the nearby sand and pebble beaches and the warmer waters of the stream irresistible. I'm sure many a "pipe" was smoked at this resting-place as these hardy men of King Louie traveled about the lake in their pursuit of pelts. They named this popular gathering place "Eagle's Nest River"; a name still associated with an historic lodging up along the Garden City Road.

Yet here, at this mere dent in the in the thick pine forests that crowded to the shore, a handful of mid 19th century miners, promoters and the inevitable grab bag of saloon keepers, shop keepers and hotel magnets established the port of Eagle River. A large warehouse laden pier was thrust out into the lake, a lighthouse constructed, several hotels were erected, including the famous Phoenix, the finest in the U.P., a school and post office opened, lodges and churches were established, shopkeepers prospered, saloons entertained thirsty and bored miners, and a massive dam was built across the river's cascade to power the settlement's major industry, a fuse factory. A "Great Conflagration ' as big fires were more colorfully called in those days, practically burned the settlement off the map at the close of the Civil War, but wood and spirit (of all types) were plentiful, and the town quickly rebuilt.

Alas, the rich veins in the mines up the river petered out, and as the settlements at Clifton and Phoenix drifted into the sleep that still holds them in its grasp, the Eagle River show came to an end. The lake claimed the pier, the historic Phoenix hotel and many of its neighbors, closed, rotted and eventually burned, saloons emptied, and the shopkeepers headed for the richer conglomerate lodes. By the end of the century of its founding, Eagle River became the quaint and peaceful settlement of old Keweenaw families and summer cottages that it is today.

Some, residing in such bustling places as Eagle Harbor, think of our neighbor down the coast as now almost a ghost town.

I write of Eagle River because of my recent participation in a festive gathering in the wonderfully restored Cornish saloon on Main Street alongside the old Long hotel. Now a private bar and pool club, called the "Men's Club" by its otherwise female friendly energetic owners and restorers, Jim Vivian and his son Jim, the old saloon, is once again as it was in its days of raucous carousing and bar room brawls. (I assume it was Cornish. It thrived at a time when the "Great American Melting Pot" was still cool. Every ethnic group had their own saloon, church, lodge and neighborhood.)

The rough cut and dark stained pine slab floors are worn smooth by decades of rough boots. The wall and ceilings, now scrubbed clean, display the décor of their day. The Brunswick bar and back bar are the original issue, returned lovingly to the matching indentations in the floor after brief flings in Phoenix, Calumet and Lac La Belle. The Vivian's are archivist of Copper Country memorabilia, especially related to our time as a world famous mining place. Much of their collection adorns the shadowy walls and ceiling. It's a remarkable restoration - a gem!

I thought of my grandfather, the miner, as I reveled in the atmosphere of this old Cornish saloon and the joyous comradery of good friends. In the latter years of his tenure in hard rock mining, when Captain Allan Cameron donned the white coat, the more subdued and proper demeanor of the Miscowaubik Club was his social venue; (much I'm sure to the delight of my autocratic grandmother, Martha Jane). I'll bet, however, that in his early days he was no stranger to the likes of the Long Saloon - perhaps this very place. (I'm not sure where the Scots hung out.)

I looked at the boot polished floor wondering if his boots were among those that honed the rough pine. Did he cozy up to the old Brunswick bar, leaning as I did on its rail, enjoying a good cigar? I did so, my first (and probably last) cigar in over twenty years. A gift of our gracious host, perhaps puzzled by my contemplative demeanor. It just seemed appropriate.

The happy chatter of the crowd faded as my thoughts were transfixed by the ghost of Allan, my hard rock miner grampa, standing alongside at the old bar, a stiff drink and a good cigar in hand, discussing with me and any others who would listen, the fortunes of mines up the road. A magic moment.

The pier and the majestic Phoenix Hotel may be gone, and jam making has replaced fuse making, but thanks to the Vivians and others in that little community working hard to restore it's historic properties, Eagle River is very much alive. Not a ghost town, but surely a place of ghosts.

Sunday, April 2nd..This is real walkabout weather. A cool and exhilarating breeze off the lake, a warm sun, and no bugs. The all too short pre and post bug interludes at the beginning of spring and the end of fall, are my favorite times to be out in the bush. An added attraction is the lack of undergrowth to block progress and viewing, and the hard and dry underfoot. Abby seems to enjoy it as well. It's easier to scamper about, there are lots of good smells and little critters to pursue, and fewer burrs and creepy crawly things to find a new home in her fur. So on Saturday we ventured down to the Lake Bailey access. A good trek, but lots of stops along the way and frequent excursions back off the road made it less tiresome.

One such excursion was at the Beaver Pond near Grand Marais. As I watched with a combination of admiration and concern, the Wonderdog waded out to the very large beaver lodge, I suppose to see if anyone was home. Recent cuttings about the lodge suggested that the beavers were in fact home, and active. I was unsure how ma and pa beaver would react to "Eagle Harbor's foremost canine character" (Abby loved her Carolina press.) crawling upon the lodge, and was sure that if they took offence, the placid wonderdog would be in big trouble. Fortunately, the keepers of the lodge were either our foraging or in slumber and after standing proudly atop the lodge, the beaver hunter waded ashore from her adventure with that "so what's the big deal" look for her nervous companion.

We continued on, encountering the growing number of Copper Country folks out for the after winter weekend inspection drive around the Keweenaw loop. (OK, so there were less than a dozen or two vehicles in the three hours of our trek, but that's more than we see in most days at this time of the year.) I took that drive a few weeks ago. Beginning at the bridge, along M-26 to Lake Linden, then along the county roads to Rice Lake, Little Traverse, Big Traverse, Gay, Betsi, and Lac La Belle, and then up the hill to US 41. Down to Copper Harbor, then along M-26 to Eagle Harbor, Eagle River, Five-Mile Point, Ahmeek and back along US 41 to the Copper towns. The last leg is along M 203 from Calumet to McClain Park and along the Canal to the bridge. The Keweenaw Loop must be over a hundred miles in length. It's always a treat - and an eye-opener.

Like most of us on the rocky side of Keweenaw, I don't often visit the soft side. It's always a revelation. On my last trip, I was saddened by the wasteland created by the clear cutting of beautiful pine stands along the east side of Rice Lake while impressed once again by the beautiful sand beaches along the seasonal road between Little and Big Traverse. The summer camp settlement just west of Big Traverse harbor - well it's our worst nightmare of what might happen along our shoreline in the absence of development controls. Among all of earth's creatures, only man seems to have the capacity to make messes like that. Gay? The town of the big stack and world famous bar looked a bit worn after the annual influx of the snowmobile hoards, but will probably get spruced up in time for the big July 4th, Gay Parade.

Lots of logging evident along the drive on up to Lac La Belle, but the stretch hugging the shoreline from Betsi east is one of the prettiest areas of our Keweenaw. Great beaches and vistas up and down the shoreline and across the big lake. Upon rounding the South Point of Bete Grise Bay (never understood why we tack "Bay" on the end of Bete), you begin to encounter the camps that populate the Lac La Belle (we don't tack "lake" on Lac) - some quite beautiful, well maintained, and respectful of their environment; others, well, they "need some work". Not unlike our own area.

After a fine dinner at Sandy's Landings and getting her latest scoop on birds, both feathered and unfeathered, I climbed up the road below beautiful Mt Bohemia, arriving once again in the more familiar land of the north coasters.

Like the springer returned from the beaver lodge, I felt the joy of yet another adventure.

Friday, March 31st... No, the big tree did not topple upon the camp. Nor, as some familiar with my medical escapades wondered, did I get hauled off in the box with the flashing red lights. It was nothing more than a simple crash of my web page connection with the big computer in the sky. As I write on this early Friday morn, the link is still severed and the Harbor Web is nothing more than a,"The document contained no data." message on most Harbor Web groupie monitors. My frustration with things of the Internet, including, of late, some of the "new economy" stocks I own, mounts as this month of all things uncertain comes to a close.

These matters are, of course, merely temporal, of little import in the greater scheme of things. I'm assured that the web site will be once again traversing the ether by tomorrow, April Fools Day. (That gives me pause.) In any event, what is worthy of note is the blissful weather we are having along the rocky Keweenaw shore. The mid day sun, too brilliant to look at as it rides across a deep blue sky, is now almost four extended fists atop the rapidly greening ridge to our south. Its rays penetrate through my light sweatshirt, warming my back even as the cool breeze off the lake raises goose bumps on arms exposed by rolled up sleeves. Abby rolls lazily on the warm ground, seeking her own warming rays to offset the loss of her winter coat. The cool northerly breeze carries the smell and taste of the big lake - distinctive in its pureness, its vitality. The kind of air that provokes one to inhale deeply, holding its exorcising tonic in your lungs as long as possible.

The lake and harbor waters sparkle as the sunlight plays across their rippled surfaces. Crows fill the air with their "craw-craws"; the gulls squawk as they fight for favorite perches on the entry cribs; and, the pesky geese, searching the shore for nesting, "honk-honk" their alarm as the large harbor eagle glides above in thermals rising from the warming land. It's magic, made even more so by the absence of human sound and movement as the harbor village still slumbers in its "closed for the season" state.

The camp fever cure weather pulls the Wonderdog and her biscuit provider down to the beach, ostensibly to chase sticks and gather driftwood from the last storm. In truth, the temptation is the promise of wading about in the gentle surf (Abby, although I was tempted), and the joy of digging one's bottom and feet into the warm sand and just watching the lake waves move through the harbor entry as the mind absorbs the peacefulness of it all. Even Abby, normally not the contemplative type, wades out of the water and sits quietly alongside, staring out across the harbor.

The worries and frustration of a down web site fade from my mind. So be it. If you were with us on the peaceful harbor beach, bathed in the bright sunlight and warm sand, listening to the sounds of water and birds, and breathing the intoxicating off lake air, you would understand.

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.

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