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)

November, 2000

Tuesday, November 28, 2000. Just my luck. I escape to the big cities for a week and miss two momentous events in the life of the Copper Country. The only snow storm worth mentioning in the past couple of years, and ripe bananas at Fraki's.

Unfortunately, by the time of my return last evening, the snow, about twelve inches at the Harbor early last week, had yielded to what seems to have become a seasonal "unseasonable" warm spell. Harbor roads are bare, roadsides wallow in dirty slush, and open yards seem ripe for one more cutting. And yes, a quick return trip stop at my favorite Calumet food emporium witnessed the overly ripe remains of what must have been, just a few days earlier, a stalk of state fair class bananas. As in life, for good snow and ripe bananas, timing is everything.

Nonetheless, as Abby and I stepped and jumped out of the van upon our late afternoon arrival at our Harbor camp, I was immediately compensated for my big city trip losses by the cocoon of silence that wrapped about us. (Abby's stone deaf, so it was no big deal for her.) The stillness of this place, along with the bracing and lung cleansing air off the lake, are always first impressions as I return from my jaunts into the heartland. All who travel here share this experience.

Life in the big city has many advantages, but each time I'm there I'm discombobulated by what seems to be unrelenting sound - the whir of tire noise on nearby freeways, the roar of jets arriving and departing from hub airports, and in summer, the steady hum of numerous neighborhood air conditioning compressors. When I tell my city friends of Harbor nights so still that softly sung songs can be exchanged between beach fire gatherings on the Harbor's east and west beaches, nearly a mile apart, they wonder if perhaps I've been in the bush too long.

Yes, we do have sound. Nature can be boisterous. The steady roar of gale driven big lake waves crashing against the rocky shore after their hundred-mile journey, penetrates deep into the hillside forest, serving as directional guide for the bush hiker. All who venture into the bush on a windy summer day also know the bustling yet soothing sound of wind brushing through the tops of tall pines. And, in winter, the eerie, sometimes frightening, howl of swirling wind protesting the interference of bare limbs of trees shorn of their summer splendor.

Even when the wind is at bay, the restless harbor waters lap quietly, but noticeably, up and down the shore. And in winter, as the cooled water increases in density, heavy waves steadily slap against the frozen beaches. Gulls squawk their protests as they quarrel over entry crib perches, crows and ravens croak their warnings from tops of tall pines, giant pileated woodpeckers hammer away in search of a meal, and visiting loons warble their remarkable repertoire in late evening and early morn.

The sounds of nature, however, never seem intrusive. It's not noise, at least in the same sense as the sounds of the city. Nature's sounds are easy on the ear, comforting to the soul, and, for me at least, a source of orientation - reinforcing the many ways the messages of the natural world establish one's place in the order of things.

That's not to say the noises of man at work and play are not also a part of Harbor life. But there is little of that in this long interval after warm season merriment and before snow season frolicking. No noisy waterdoos, or whatever they are called, churning about the harbor, and no whine of snowmobiles charging along bush trails and harbor roadways. There is the buzz of chainsaws from deep in the bush as wood gatherers labor, and, of late, the startling resonance of a gun shots as hunters sight their quarry. Carpenters pound away across the bay as they seek enclosure on a new cottage before winter's expected, but delayed, arrival - their conversation as easily discernable as their whacking. Yet these sounds of man are infrequent, and their presence simply reinforces one's awareness of the compelling silence.

I finish this journal entry on Wednesday eve, having set it aside for a "research" trip to our Eagle River county office archives. More about that later (although it's worth noting that I discovered there is an "official" Keweenaw County song), but upon my return I laced up the hiking boots and set out for the four mile round trip to the "Coast Guard" (what younger Harborites mistakenly refer to as the "Marina".)

My trek was a lesson in the wonder of life at the Harbor in this late November lull. Nary a vehicle, nor a person, encountered in the over one hour "on task". My sole company was the steady clamour of waves breaking over near shore reefs and onto the rocky shoreline. Night was falling, as it does so early in this near winter solstice time, accentuating in its darkness the wave chatter, and with it the omnipresence of the "big lake" in the consciousness of those who stroll along its shore.

Lamentations about missed snowfalls, and certainly any bemoaning about muffed ripe banana opportunities, seem so trite when weighed against the soul enriching experience of a quiet early winter day at the Harbor.

Thursday, November 16, 2000.Yesterday, as I was opening my wallet (actually, credit card) for a dose of medical services, a few more "necessities" from Ace, and some of Fraki's famous rock hard green bananas, I thought of a long ago posting on one of Keweenaw's many internet message boards. It expressed concern over our area's continued economic vitality; noting our dependence on a declining forestry industry, our reliance on a tourism trade struggling to compete with the advent of cruise ships and inexpensive travel to more exotic places, and the trend towards reductions in the growth rate of public enterprises, a major supplier of Copper Country jobs and support income.

What, lamented the poster, would sustain the local economy in the decades ahead?

A few, more optimistic than our poster, have, with justification, pointed to the emergence of several "new economy", value added businesses in the area - many of them Tech spin-offs. Others, equally sanguine, remind us of the continued vitality of several "old economy", also value added Copper Country businesses, such as Pettibone in Baraga, and Horner Flooring in Dollar Bay. Others, perhaps more desperate, gaze admiringly at new ski hills, assured that old Heikka Lunta will be blessedly abundant and the world will beat a path to our doorstep, thus assuring us of an economic bonanza "next to Tech" in importance.

Well, I'd like to put in a good word for us "old duffers" and "dufferetts" - the many who choose the Keweenaw as a place to prosper after many years of work. As I wander through my checkbook ledgers and credit card billings, I'm reminded what a local economic force I am. Sure, I'm a big spender, with a big sailboat and all the trimmings, but when I total up all my Harbor Inn indiscretions, all my Keweenaw Memorial vacations, all my hoards of green bananas from Fraki's, all the closets full of still packaged "necessities" from Ace, all the services of local tradesmen who keep my camp from ruin, all the dollars I drop in local public piggy banks for the blessed snow plows, and for the schools "up the hill" - and multiply my little extravagances by the growing number of similarly situated "duffers", young as well as old - I begin to see a silver lining in the uncertain cloak of Keweenaw's economic morrow.

We're a growth industry! Just look around. Long time Keweenaw seasonal cottages now have windows that sparkle brightly on winter evenings (after their owners have invested heavily at 41 Lumber). New year-around homes, too resplendent to be called cottages, carefully crafted by all too scarce local tradesmen, are filling in the checkerboard of vacant lots in our historic hamlets. Even the bush has witnessed the arrival of new, or "soon to be" retirees with building plans in hand. Who do you expect will be the primary occupants of the 45 new lots in Eagle Harbor South or the new lots in Copper Harbor's "fake lake" neighborhood? (That's what the locals have dubbed the Copper Harbor development, just as some, equally ungracious, refer to Eagle Harbor South as "dumpside acres". Change is sometimes hard to accept. I'm sure the Copper Harbor project has a more enticing name and that both will turn out to be great places for duffers to live and assets to these two harbor communities. I digress.)

Our individual "contributions" to Keweenaw's economy may not cause much of a ripple, but in aggregate our growing impact is cause for hope. Heck, we're "low intensity", seemingly the test for worthiness of late. Not a cure-all by any measure, but probably destined to be a major player in the economic future of this place. Yet, no one seems to seizing upon this opportunity. Where are our champions? Chambers tout and enable business growth, and tourism councils spend big bucks to entice drives up US 41, but who "markets" Keweenaw as a place to retire, and works to represent and assist those who make such a choice? Where is AARP when we need them!

Of equal importance, are the many "non-economic" contributions this wave of retirees are offering to our community. Who's organizing community events, volunteering at local organizations, manning our volunteer fire departments, accepting the duties of local public office? Indeed, the value of the reservoir of life experiences and skills being offered so generously by this cadre of Keweenaw retirees may exceed their economic worth.

A similar economic and public service case can be made for our summer residents; many of who extend their sojourn in the Keweenaw into late spring and early fall. These always welcomed neighbors are not tourists", but "residents", albeit not yet sufficiently enamoured with Keweenaw winters that they are prepared to quit their jobs, or leave lifetime homes, or the nearness of family, and join in our wintertime search for ripe bananas. While I don't see many tourists at Fraki's, the IGA, Ace, 41 Lumber, etc., our summer neighbors, both duffers and duffers to be, are no strangers to these local emporiums. I suspect their annual economic impact exceeds the more heralded US 41 travelers. I also note their presence among our July 4th event helpers, and as volunteer hosts and hostesses at the Harbor lighthouse.

So let's hear a cheer for the Keweenaw "old duffers & dufferetts" residing in our midst, and all who aspire to such a worthy and wonderful calling. The silver in our hair, what's left of it, could be the silver lining in Keweenaw's future economic well being.

Saturday, November 11, 2000.I returned from the Inn late last evening, and rather than settling down to read the latest doom and gloom from Wall Street, I banked the fire and went for a long hike in the bush. I just needed some space.

I know the events in the Keweenaw over the past few weeks seem tame compared to the national turmoil surrounding the presidential election. Yet for many of us, perhaps for too long accustomed to the saneness and civility of life in the Keweenaw, the quarrelling over land development issues has been unsettling. I found myself drawn into the affair, unable to resist the emergence of a long dormant but once intense addiction to public policy debate. The juices were flowing once again, not driven as much by the substance of the debate as with its manner. Feelings running amuck over thinking, contempt replacing civility, procedural disarray rather than due process. It was not, at least from my life perspective, a pretty sight.

Thank goodness deer-hunting season is at hand. Nothing has a more salutary affect on ragged Keweenaw nerves and relationships than our annual return to the primeval ritual of wild game harvest. I'm not a hunter, so will hunker in rather than hanker out when the season opens on November 15th, but my once general aversion to the practice of gunning down proud bucks has been replaced by a growing appreciation of the significant and positive role deer hunting plays in the lives of Copper Country people.

Most of what I know about deer hunting I've learned, not in the woods, but at Duke's, my Laurium barbershop. As I patiently wait the hour or two it usually takes to earn my time in the chair, I listen to stories of legendary hunts, sense the joyful camaraderie of deer camp, and learn the rituals associated with transferring the skills and an appreciation of deer hunting from one generation to another. Many speak lovingly of hunts with dad or a child. I'm struck by the respect these hunters have for their elusive quarry. Some tell of a favorite big buck they have stalked for years - with such obvious admiration for their quarry that I wonder once again what they would do if this buck ever came with killing range.

There are funny stories too - of does "accidentally" shot and hauled home in half opened car trunks with sticks stuck in their ears to fool the watchful wardens. The story telling becomes quite animated, as rapturous memories of hunts of yore and the joyful anticipation of hunts yet to be cast their infectious and wonderfully pleasing spell over the assembled cast of barbershop patrons. It does slow the already agonizingly slow chair turn, with Duke, our host and a deer hunter extraordinaire, often setting aside his scissors to orchestrate the lively discussion. I feel no sense of complaint, and leave reluctantly; seduced by this glimpse of the soul of one of the Copper Country's most cherished cultural tenants.

I thought of the pending hunt as I traveled slowly along the Copper Falls trail late last evening - seeking relief from the turmoil of the week just past. Just past Eliza, I mounted a small crest in the trail and encountered a large deer standing motionless in the shadowy darkness about a hundred feet ahead. I stopped. The deer turned to look at me, but to my surprise didn't bolt for the safety of the trailside forest. We sized each other, apparently both sensing we were not a threat to each other, just fellow nighttime journeyers among the pines. My thoughts focused on the vulnerability of such trust, given the prospect of the hunting season now less than a week ahead. Would, I wondered, this beautiful animal be able to tell friend from foe? Probably. The barbershop stories included tales of hunters several seasons into their quest for an elusive buck, encountering their quarry in off-season bush treks without it bolting for safety.

I turned, yielding the trail to its more righful occupant, and began my return to camp. Apparent differences between deer hunting season and the many seasons of human encounters over the affairs of state began to emerge in my thoughts. Man and deer have found common ground in their shared respect for each other, with the deer at least seeming to have the ability to sense when trust or wariness is most appropriate. (Man's "deer baiting" practice, I believe, shows less respect for the virtues of "trust".) Unlike man's affairs of state encounters, the short adversarial relationship between man and deer leaves no ill feelings, just increased respect for each other. For man at least, the encounter is a time of much satisfaction, and who knows, perhaps as well for the deer as they skillfully thwart the intentions of their less bush savvy adversary. Admittedly, the deer pay a heavy price for failure, but just think of the millions of lives lost in the wars man has fought over affairs of state.

Are there lessons here? There usually are when we explore the delicate interrelationship of man and his natural environment?

Saturday, November 4, 2000. I returned home this evening from what seems to be an increasingly infrequent visit to the Inn, gathered a load of fresh, sweet smelling, firewood into my arms and headed for the front door, and the awaiting Abby. The air was still, yesterday's fierce southwesterly gale having first succumbed to a bracing northerly off the cooling lake, and finally wilting to a listless breeze as evening darkness enveloped the Keweenaw. I paused at the steps, mesmerized by the beauty of evening planets and early night stars rising in the eastern sky, and the gathering brightness of a waxing moon silently stalking me in the cold black void overhead.

The import of earlier Inn table and bar-side stimulating chatter about the affairs of state on the eve of this hotly contested array of election contests, ranging from President to Keweenaw ski hills, was quickly dissolved by the wonder of the night sky and the majesty of the silent moon lit hills lurking to the south. Each spoke of the vastness of time and events that encompass the minutia of our brief moment of passion, neither diminishing the significance of our actions, as they are part of the continuum of human events, nor allowing them to be elevated as more consequential than those of any time of yore or time-to-be.

I often encounter such moments of reflection while wandering about in the remoteness of the natural envelope that encompasses the little hamlet we call Eagle Harbor. The endless horizon of the big lake, the deep and dark forests, the sweep of the looming hills, the awesome breath and depth of sky - all become so omnipresent in one's consciousness. To experience their wonder, especially when it becomes a part of the daily pattern of life, is both humbling and enriching - a provocative mixture of recognizing one's existence as simply a single grain among the sands of a vast beach, while also experiencing the cleansing joy of being released from the tribulations of the day and drawn into the purifying expanse and wonder of the natural world.

Such experiences are for me, and perhaps for others, the essence of a life lived on this rocky outpost along the shore of a great lake. They give meaning and perspective to almost all I encounter in the pattern of daily life. Even the many Harbor friendships I enjoy are constructed upon an underlying common recognition and appreciation of the work and worth our shared natural world has upon our lives. As I trek among the crumbling ruins of mining locations, or investigate the ground depressions left by the miners of many millennia ago, I sense a bond with these people of earlier times in the recognition that they too shared and revered such experiences. And, of course, my many days of sailing upon the great lake, witnessing in the most intimate way possible the power of the all-encompassing natural world, offers an unequalled bounty of insight and spiritual release.

This day now ends. My brief pause to absorb the wonder of celestial display and gaze in awe at the majestic moonlit hills that gird our harbor enclave, once again providing the tonic for a night of peaceful contemplation and easy sleep.

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October, 2000
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