Storm Approaches
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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)

October, 2000

Thursday, October 19, 2000.(All photos expandable.) Peregrine is on her cradle, the firewood is stacked, and winter preparation chores are either completed or at some risk forgotten. What better excuse to take advantage of a beautiful Indian Summer day and go for a long hike in the bush. So off I went, unfortunately without my wiser companion Abby the Wonderdog, still convalescing in Minneapolis, but full of confidence that a short hike past beautiful Lake Eliza and on to the Copper Falls stamp mill site, some five miles and less than two hours round trip, was within my physical capacity. And so it was, but as one irresistible tempting turn in the trail led to another, the tally at days end included visits to Copper Falls and Central, a climb of over 700 feet, a travel distance of nearly thirteen miles, and a time on task of over six hours. Abby would have been smarter than that.

The first part was easy. After a delightful delay conversing with Patti Keith as she planted next Spring's tulip bulbs at her beautiful little garden at Pine and 7th Street (where I learned that if you ring tulips with daffodils, the deer won't eat them). I tread my way through the soft sand of the Pinery to the old Copper Falls Mine stamping mill, the location of Rich Boggio's remarkable 1999, or was it 1998, two headed deer bagging. I munched a picnic sandwich as I watched deer and fox covert on the expanse of stamp sands below the overlook, the mine tailings flooding what must have been a sparkling little lake or at least a wild life laden marsh before man decided to utilize it as a waste pit.

Then the tough climb up the rocky trail, past the old Padberg home on White-Stocking Row, to what remains of the Copper Falls community. I stopped for a cool drink from the stream emptying from the mine adit just above the old stamp mill - Abby's favorite stop on our Copper Falls excursions. The flow was barley perceptible, giving me pause, but thirst born of tromping through the bush on a warm day is not very discerning. As my heart pounded heavily on the trek up the hill, water poisoning was the least of my concerns.

Copper Falls, the home for over a half a century for more folks than now call Eagle Harbor home, including such still familiar Harbor area names as Jacka, Clark, Vivian and Fisher, is now just a scattered collection of lovingly maintained "camps", deteriorating mine buildings, and trap and ash bed poor rock piles - all yielding to the smothering embrace of struggling birch, new growth pine, old spruce, and sumac ablaze in its fall finery.

As I trudged by the old mine homes, and up the steep and rugged trail to the summit, the difficult task of the miners who hauled the heavy equipment and supplies needed to exploit the copper bearing veins exposed by the scouring of Owl Creek, was all too apparent. I investigated a dark shape looming in the woods alongside the trail and discovered the stacked stone of what is left of either the engine or boiler house at one of the hillside shafts. Nearby was a massive poor rock pile, sufficiently hidden from view that it's slopes had not been extensively worked by the rock hounds. At its origin there was a large depression, obviously the covered over shaft. I walked gingerly around it, respecting the risk of treading too near these old shafts.

I soon discovered the reason for the trickle of water leaving the mine's adit down at the stamp mill site. The creek, which leaks down the old shafts and then drains out through the adit, is dry, suffering the fate of almost all Keweenaw watercourses in this unusually dry year.

The view from the bare rock outcrop on the summit high above Copper Falls was both affirming and disturbing. Affirming in the grandeur that treats the eye as it sweeps across over two miles of colorful wooded slope stretching out to lakeshore dunes, and then across the deep blue waters of the big lake to the faint outline of Isle Royale floating on the horizon some forty miles distant. The view is likely the same seen by the ancient miners who mined the veins of the nearby Owl Creek and no doubt stood on this summit over 5,000 years ago. The view from Brockway is perhaps more grand, but there is something special about the view from summits reached after a difficult climb of several hours up old mine or logging trails. It's not just the delicious blueberries that abound on our own Mount Baldy that attracts us up its slope to stand atop its barren summit each summer.

The disturbing aspect of my summit visit was the landscape havoc and clutter of trash scattered about the treeless hilltop and alongside the trail up the hill, apparently left by visitors who accessed the summit with the aid of all terrain vehicles. The last several score feet of steep slope up to the summit is badly scarred by the tracks of these vehicles, as is the summit itself. Trash, including pop and beer cans, paper, and the other debris of irresponsible visitors littered the summit, and the vehicle battered trail up was a dumping ground for batteries and tires. The miners of old certainly left their own marks on the landscape, as evident by the stamp sands, poor rock piles, and the rusting junk of tools and equipment, but their indiscretion was associated with hard and hazardous work, trying to eke out an existence in the harsh Keweenaw environment - not the indifference and callousness of man at play.

The stumbling trek back down the hill to the trail just above the Harbor cutoff road was accompanied by the eerie sound of a building wind working its way through the tops of ridgeline trees now shed of leaves. Summer winds cause a rustling, most often soothing, sound as they sweep through the heavy foliage. The back woods experience of a brisk late fall or winter wind howling by bare treetops is quite different - borderline scary, certainly spooky. It keeps one's sensory system on edge.

I followed another tempting little trail part way back up the hill to visit the Copper Falls' picturesque "steeple" camp. I encountered several new property line stakes; little lath sticks with bright pink ribbons attached and lot numbers scrawled on their surface. They are now to be found all along the Harbor Road, hopefully not signaling the impending end to our ability to freely roam through these old mining locations, but given the growing presence of posted and gated properties, it's not likely that my grandchildren will be able to duplicate my journey of this Indian Summer day.

Now to Central, not my original destination, but the result of yielding to the many temptations offered by hiking through the bush on a delightful Indian Summer day. The old Central road is a challenge, especially the section of the road just above the Harbor Road. This, of course is the original route to the Harbor, the road my mother's and other Calumet families often traveled by carriage in the early 1900s. It's smoother now, recently covered with crushed mine rock to support the logging trucks that are today its main travelers. Except for a solitary spiffy car that raced by me, and a hoot owl that seemed to follow me along in adjacent treetops, the hike alongside the several old Central mine shafts and across the marsh of Central Lake was accompanied only by the warming sun now beginning its afternoon descent. My legs welcomed the final descent into old Central, the "Duchy of Cornwall", and once home for over 1200 people , miners and their families.

Luckily, my friend Ted was still in his camp alongside the historic Central Methodist Church. He offered a glass of most welcomed water and a brief rest among the fascinating clutter of relics of an earlier time that grace the cozy interior of his lovingly cared for old miner's home. No antiques or things of worth, just "stuff", the kinds of things you might have found in the place when it was occupied by a hard working miner and his family over a century ago. Ted's place is truly "camp"; not the fancy digs I live in and loosely refer to as camp.

My Indian Summer day hike was now nearly in it's fifth hour and the shadows were creeping down from the hills. It was time to begin the long, but thankfully mostly downhill hike home. Once more up and over the hill above Central, but now following the barely perceptible old road that linked Central and the high slope mines at Copper Falls by a route along the ridge at the north edge of Owl Lake, the marshy headwaters of Owl Creek. The route travels through several large grassy clearings near the upper end of Owl Creek, most certainly the place of some long disappeared settlements or mine facilities. I wished Abby was along, she would have relished romping through the tall grass in search of critters, both feathered and furry. Of course, by this time she would have been as tired as I was. I certainly didn't feel like romping.

The view of the Harbor and the lighthouse alongside my "camp" as I rounded the last turn on the road coming down the hill, is always a special treat, but never more so than as I neared the end of this journey. All was quiet in our little village as I strolled along the smooth beach, nary a footprint nor a person in sight. A very strong wind, almost gale force, had followed me down from the hills, stirring up whitecaps in the Harbor.

I crawled out on the seawall in front of my place to rest, cool down in the new breeze, and gaze back up into the hills I had just visited. The distant and still fall hued trees shielded the old settlements and mine workings from my view - but they remained riveted in my mind. A day well spent.

Sunday, October 15, 2000. Just as we were drifting along in the warm embrace of a lulling bit of Indian Summer, with the weather wizards assuring us of more to come, Mother Nature pulls the rug from under our serenity and sends in a fierce northeaster. Dark, angry-looking waves, pushed ashore by gale force winds laced with cold rain, broke as they passed over the Harbor's outlying shoals, and then rushed madly across the entry cribs, sending up giant plumes of spray, before ending their nearly one hundred mile journey as they roared up the ancient rock battlement protecting the cottages along the Gold Coast. It was quite a sight!

Saturday was a day to hunker in. A day to pull the rocker closer to the bright flame and warmth of the fireplace, and settle back with a good book as I watched and listened to the storm vent its energy on the Keweenaw shore. On several occasions the temptation to taste and feel its fury became irresistible and I would venture down to the Lake Breeze rocks, or up to the Light Station. Laker skippers were reporting over 40 knot winds and ten to twelve foot seas, and as I leaned into the howling wind and felt the cold spray of the cresting waves nosily and majestically ending their journey on the nearby rock, I thought of sailors out upon the frenzied lake, and how glad I was not to be among them.

One such venture away from the comfort of camp was to the Harbor beach in search of driftwood for the hungry fireplace. Each storm offers a new supply, either washed in from far away shores, or exposed from sandy burial by the churning waves. Northeasters seem especially good as driftwood suppliers. The waves driven in from the northeast ricochet off the hard south shore, their remnants surging northwesterly across the Harbor and up the gentle slope of the soft sand swimming beach. As I picked each piece, and sifted through the other debris washed ashore, I wondered of its origin and how long it might have been on its journey.

This past summer, our Historical Society's program for harbor kids included a session focused on the children's book, "Paddle-to-the-Sea", a magical story of a child's carving of a little boat, tossed into the tributary of a great lake, and finding its way across storm tossed seas to some foreign land. Our kids listened to the story, made their little boats, but unlike the story, apparently thought of their achievement as art, to be taken home to admiring family. Their boats sit somewhere on shelves, gathering dust, not rocking in gentle swells nor tossing in turbulent seas on their journey to a faraway shore, where some beachcomber, such as I, might find it and wonder of its origin. They missed the point and magic of the story completely!

I found a "Paddle-to-the-Sea" boat a few summers ago on a remote Superior pebble beach. A simple, childlike, offering of painted design on a piece of boat shaped driftwood. A metal tag, like a GI's dog tag, was attached. The maker's name and home address were stamped on the tag, along with his request that I report the location and date of the finding, and then toss it back into the sea to continue its journey. I copied the information and tossed the little boat out into the lake. I dutifully sent the report of my finding to the young boy and quickly received a response from a clearly delighted child. He lived near Whitefish Point and had launched his little vessel into the lake at that infamous graveyard of Superior ships. He said he and his third grade classmates had read the story, made and launched their boats, and were tracking the reports of their journeys on a map of the world - yes, the world! They got the point, felt the wonder of the story. (Their teacher deserves a kudo.)

I didn't find such a gem as I picked through the offering of yesterday's northeaster. But as I returned to my fireside rocker and watched the waves breaking on our Harbor shore, I thought of this now young man and his little vessel - wondering where their journeys have taken them. Lake storms, even fierce northeasters, conjure an appreciation of the beauty and awesome power of the natural world, as well as an increased awareness of the varied ways we who share this life along the volatile lake, respond to its presence.

Thursday, October 12, 2000. Once again the smiling countenance of the full faced man-in-the-moon is peeking over my pixel window to the world, relishing, I suppose, the sight of the warm fireplace fire at my back as he rides through the cold black heaven of a mid October night. My body doesn't need the warmth of the burning oak, it's already nearly 50 degrees outside, but its flickering flame and sweet smell nurture my soul.

The aging body does need some relief tho. I'm a bit sore and spent after two days of preparing Peregrine, my summer home afloat, for her nearly eight months of cradle rest on the shore of Keweenaw Bay. Yes, nearly two-thirds of the year "on the hard", as sailors term the time when the boat's ashore. The big lake's hospitality is short lived, allowing those of us who venture upon it, just a few months to relish its beauty and inexhaustible opportunity for adventure. Peregrine and I will be afloat as spring flowers emerge, but until then she will enjoy the solitude of the crumbling remnant of Henry Ford's long deserted Pequaming "Woodie" body assembly and shipping facility, while I nourish the triumphs and traumas of the sailing season past and happily anticipate the season ahead.

Much of my bodily wear this morning is attributable to the chores of preparing a boat for the long and cold winter of the higher latitudes. The big, and quite heavy, sail is hauled ashore for off season repair, the "wishbone" boom (the rig that prompts dockside "what is it?" chatter) is gingerly lowered to the deck, and a trio of massive lead batteries are pried loose from their bilge enclosures to be taken home and coddled through their time without engine charging. What seems like five miles of line and scores of blocks (pulleys to the non-sailor) are stripped from the rigging and carefully coiled or oiled and stowed below. And, of course, the multitude of tanks, hoses, pumps, and nooks and crannies where water is stowed, pumped, or gathers need to be discovered and drained. The most troublesome chore, at least for a guy with a history of heart problems, is cleaning the hull; a task involving much overhead application of elbow grease.

Fortunately good Harbor neighbors (Pat Ryan & Fred Kellow) and a sailing friend from near Pequaming, were there to help. Pat also joined me for the nearly five hour cruise from the Houghton Marina to Pequaming. Not the least of my good fortune was the weather - beautiful and warm October Indian Summer days. I have in the past undertaken this boat storage task on snowy days in bone chilling temperatures. That's ugly! Mr. Water Rat of childhood fable fame may have good reason to proclaim, "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half as much worth doing as simply messing around in boats", but I bet he never messed around in such weather.

The trip along the Portage Canal and down Keweenaw Bay was a day Mr.Rat would have enjoyed. The very bright and warming sun sent sparkling ribbons of light off the rippled waters of Portage Lake and the South Entry canal, and extracted the last burst of fall color from the trees along the passing shore of that ancient passage. The soft hills cradling Keweenaw Bay were a golden quilt of soft hued yellow and red, laced together with ribbons of green. A gentle breeze drifted in from the south as we slowly made our way down one of the big lake's most storied bays, stirring up wavelets that gently slapped against Peregrine's hull as she traveled the last few miles of a nearly 1800 mile season of sail.

I strolled about her deck as Pat steered, absorbed by thoughts of the summer now ending - the special magic of solitary cruises, the blessed comradeship of old and new sailing friends, the beauty of newly found and long enjoyed anchorages, and the thrill of Peregrine surfing at over hull speed in near gale winds. It was right, I thought, that we were ending our summer afloat in such gentle conditions - sharing a moment of reverent reflection. The Pequaming dock was alongside much too soon, and with it the Herculean and nerve-racking task of lifting Peregrine from the water and transporting her to her waiting cradle. But that brief hectic moment, and the two taskful days that followed, will soon fade from memory as the warm thoughts of the season past, and the happy prospect of the season ahead, nurture me through the several coming months ashore.

Ah, Mr. Moon, still looking down upon me as you sail through the night sky, I wonder if in your eons of orbiting about this water blessed celestial body, somewhere deep within the soul of your cold interior, there were at least a few moments of memories and anticipations as rich as mine. Your never ending smile suggests there were - and are.

Saturday, October 7, 2000. The power went out about two hours before daybreak. I quickly kicked in my Harbor winter power out plan. Light up the kerosene lamps, throw a few more logs in the fireplace, close off the back of the camp, put the hot coffee in a thermos, and, if early morn, quickly shave and shower before the hot water tank cools. Fortunately, I'm on the township water system, which has a standby power generator, so I needn't worry about water supply. I then go up to the lighthouse to be certain the standby battery powered light is on, and report my findings to the Coast Guard crew at Station Portage.

That's how my day started yesterday. Earlier I'd checked the marine and local weather forecasts and learned of approaching gales and a winter storm warning for 8" to 12" of good old lake effect up the hill. It felt like winter approaching as I trudged through newly fallen leaves, rain puddles and a fierce lake wind up to the lighthouse. It was very dark, much like the darkness I experience when cruising with Peregrine on new moon nights in the northern reaches of the big lake. Lots of noise as unseen gale driven waves crashed across the outlying reefs and into the craggy shore at the base of the light. I can feel the cold, stinging spray as I walk around the base of the light tower.

Back at camp I pulled the rocker up tight against the hearth, and settled in, waiting for daybreak. I'm a bit uneasy, experiencing an early morn time-on-computer fix. I sense for the first time this fall, the arrival of the unpredictability associated with Harbor winters. The summer routine is gone. Now nature once again asserts herself, disrupting the pattern of living with her volatile and vigorous weather. Darkness creeps in, replacing the long and sunny days of summer in the high latitudes.

The noises of the long night become more pronounced as the woodpile tarp, the flag atop the flagpole, and loose shingles and shutters flap and snap; joining the howl of wind through barren trees, the wail of wind in the chimney flue, and the whine of wind squeezed under doors and around loose window frames. All this nighttime noise really spooks the Wonderdog, often sending her to her under bed sanctuary. It sure commands my attention.

The soft glow of kerosene lamps, their sweet "camp"smell, and the crackle and warmth of the burning oak are comforting. There is not enough light to read, so I rock and wait - conjuring up "to do" lists as the reality of winter approaching and the recognition of winter preparation tasks undone sinks in. I think of friends, family, circumstances, hopes, misgivings, all the thoughts too often buried in the subconscious in the busyness of daily life. There is probably no better moment or environment for introspective survey than a solitary tending of fire and lamp in the midst of the enforced power loss darkness and the eerie noises brought by an early winter nighttime gale accosting the rugged shore of the nearby great lake.

My interlude of solitary reverie ended as dawn moved across our blueberry hill and the hard working power crews restored the energy we take for granted in summer months, and regard with more appreciation in winter. The power was out for just a couple hours, just long enough to transport me from the pleasantries of sunny summer, to the realities of a Keweenaw winter. A beneficial experience.

I banked the fire, heated up some coffee and returned to my duties as host and tour guide for the dwindling number of Keweenaw "color week " visitors stopping by the Eagle Harbor Light Station. The wind howled throughout the day, and as giant waves crashed against the adjacent shore and massive mean looking lake effect storm clouds moved onshore, my lighthouse tour spiel took on more of a "living in a Keweenaw winter" tone. Our guests, spooked by the winter storm warnings issuing from their car radios, were seemingly receptive to this chatter from their host, often lingering after our tour to roll up eyes and chuckle as I told the tall tales of snow scooping and roof shoveling. Such fun.

Tuesday, October 3, 2000. I'm the lightkeeper this week, serving as the Historical Society's host in the lighthouse each day through the upcoming weekend, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It's been awhile since I've been subjected to the discipline of a "job", but I'm catching on and having a wonderful time. Of course, in my real job, and probably in yours, a 10 to 5 day would seem like a holiday. I'm getting soft.)

We (the Society) opted to keep the Light Station open an extra week to serve the many people up here for "color week". (We also experienced a shortfall in Light Station visitations and admission revenue over the summer, so this is an opportunity to recoup. Our disappointing summer 2000 experience was like that of most Keweenaw attractions and businesses.)

A strong and bone chilling gale off the lake yesterday discouraged visits to this exposed site, but we did attract about 100 visitors. We are testing the collection of admissions down in the parking lot rather than up at the lighthouse. It seemed to go well yesterday, with many more of our visitors paying the $3 admission. Light Station admissions are an important revenue source for the Society. It would be almost impossible to maintain the growth in the Society's many preservation and restoration programs without Light Station visitor support.

My job was to share the story of our lighthouse with our visitors, folks from all over the country travelling through the Keweenaw in the quest of fall color. I've always been fascinated with the appeal of lighthouses to people who in their daily lives have no reason to give them thought. I, of course, am both a neighbor of a lighthouse and depend on their beacons as I navigate about the big lake. They are a part of my everyday life, and even though the rational for their continued operation wanes as new navigational technologies evolve, I never fail to find comfort as a light lifts over the lake's horizon. GPS satellites and loran system transmitters may become dysfunctional and metal masses cause the compass needle to wander, but the lights are rock bound, a sure navigational fix for those of us who sail upon the big lake.

The appeal to others, I suppose, is the romance associated with light keepers and their lights. The keepers are all gone as automation has arrived, but the stories of their solitary lives and their diligent devotion to duty strike a responsive chord in almost everyone. The lights themselves are architecturally distinctive, often commanding precarious perches alongside dangerous shorelines and lurking shoals. I try as best I can to share the history of our Eagle Harbor Light, and describe the daily duties of the many keepers stationed here. Visitors seem captivated with accounts of daily treks up and down the forty feet of winding staircase to tend to the light, and the dreaded anticipation of an unannounced, and potentially career ending, visit by the white gloved lighthouse inspector.

Not surprisingly, our visitors also want to know about our legendary snowfalls, (unfortunately, mostly legend given the paucity of recent snow years), and what it's like to live here through a winter. As you might imagine, I'm in my element when this question arises. I love the "I wish I could" look in their eyes as they digest my offering.

It's time to return to my post. More about this experience later.

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