Storm Approaches
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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)

A "Thumping" Adventure

January 16, 1999.

A recent adventure has made me especially attentive to the ebb and flow of our lake ice.

The movement of the ice on the lake and in the harbor is always fascinating. Two days ago the harbor was completely ice filled and the lake ice stretched to the horizon. Then a wind shift to the southeast, offshore, and suddenly we have open water in the harbor and just offshore - along the stretch of the "Keweenaw Current". I suspect that the "ice to the horizon" I reported a day or two ago was quite thin, not able to penetrate very deep despite the near zero temperatures because the lake is still not yet fully cooled from the record high temperatures we observed this last summer and fall. Some of the more adventuresome of the remaining Harbor clan are hoping for a deep freeze before there is more snow - the prescription for good harbor skating. Not likely.

Indeed, this is "thump" weather. Temperatures today and in the forecast are in the mid-twenties. Large clumps of snow hanging from every bough and branch get heavy as the temperatures climb and "thump" to the ground, often on the heads of unsuspecting hikers and skiers. Abby and I did a "walkabout" to the Marina yesterday and were "baptized" several times. Nothing more refreshing than a cool shower of fresh snow down the back of one's collar. Our good friends at the Marquette Weather Bureau have issued special "thump" weather advisories, warning us all to stay away from roof overhangs and other such precarious places. They have also cautioned against going out on lake ice.

I got a good "thump" a couple of days ago. Not from falling snow, but rather from falling in snow. In quest of just one more perfect picture of our favorite lighthouse (I think it was lighthouse picture #12,398 on the January 12th walkabout), I crawled out on a snow covered rocky promenade between the light and the Lakebreeze. A dumb thing to do. Nobody needs another lighthouse picture and the visibility for both picture taking and finding one's way about was awful. Nonetheless, in the pursuit of keeping Harbor Web viewers living beyond the lake effect zone glued to their internet monitors, I ventured out on the rocky precipice with the Wonderdog as my guide.

I took the picture. I hope it brought pleasure to someone because as I stepped back on the snow plateau to admire my work, my world suddenly went dark, actually white. I 'd stepped on top of a ten to fifteen foot drift completely filling a large crevice in the rocky shore. I bounced a few times on rocky ledges on my way to the bottom of it all, leaving me with dark bruises that are still with me, but fortunately the hole I carved gave me a shot of daylight as I looked up from the bottom. Somehow I dug my way to the surface, only to be met by the yapping of the Wonderdog standing on the ledge overhead. She was probably giving me a good tongue lashing for being so dumb. I deserved it.

No problem, or so I thought, I'll just crawl out of here. Unfortunately the snow was soft, offering no resistance to my thrashing arms and legs, and the bottom and walls of the crevice were covered with ice, the product of waves washing into the space during freeze up. Try as I might, I could make but little headway through the snow, and when I did manage to work my way to the crevice walls, I'd just slide back along the ice to the bottom. A hell of a note, I thought to myself, here I am in a place no one will ever think to look for me - some early spring tourist, probably attracted by the still yapping Abby, will stumble upon what I'm sure they will think is the frozen corpse of some Keweenaw abominable snowman - and wonder how such a creature ever wound up with a digital camera in his pocket.

That thought, and creeping anxiety and exhaustion, motivated some thought about alternatives. It was clear that getting out by land route was impossible without help, and help was many snowdrifts away. The Wonderdog's frantic yapping, while persistent, was beyond the hearing of any living soul. That left the option of crawling down the crevice, out onto the uncertain lake ice, and over the ice ridges to the Lakebreeze shore. Not a pleasant thought, but seemingly the only possible means of escape. I decided to give it a try.

The initial stage, crawling, actually digging, my way along the ice-bottomed crevice wasn't too bad. Lots of poking from rocks protruding through the ice and many falls, but the jagged lake ice was soon underfoot. I was wary of the ice, it looked thin. The many large cracks were oozing water. Remembering my Boy Scout training, I flopped down on my belly to spread my weight, and began to wiggle my way out around a large rock outcrop protruding from shore. The yapping from shore got louder and the Wonderdog started to thrash down through the snow and out onto the ice. That I didn't need.

Then the ice ridges. There was no hope of wiggling, or even crawling over them, they had to be climbed. Not very high, perhaps three or four feet, but very slippery with sharp, uncomfortable summits. My thoughts turned to an Antarctica hero, Shackleton, and a recently read account of his brave band of early twentieth century adventurers and their encounters with the pack ice. I suddenly had a new perspective, and respect, for their trials. Nothing like the recollection of a heroic yarn to spur you on. I climbed, slid, wiggled, crawled, and stumbled my way to the Lakebreeze - arriving on safe shore fully an hour, probably an hour and half, from the time of tumble into the crevice.

My struggles through the snow and out over the ice had keep me warm, but as I stood on the shore I began to shiver intensely - an early stage of what I knew to be hypothermia. I looked for Abby. She was struggling with the ice ridges, unable to climb them despite frantic and repeated effort. A heck of a quandary - back out onto the ice to rescue the Wonderdog with hypothermia building, or retreat to the safety of camp. It had to be the ice.

I started out - shouting what I was sure were vain commands to "Go back". As I crawled over the first ice ridge I lost sight of her. Oh God, I thought, she's gone through the ice. Despair mounted. Suddenly the yapping resumed - there she was once again atop the promenade where this adventure began. I felt blessed and on the spot forgave her of all her many transgressions - including the recent romp through Fraki's. She is surely the Wonderdog.

I crawled back to shore, struggled through the snow drifts that have filled the Lakebreeze parking lot, and hiked up to the lighthouse to retrieve Abby. She knew I was on the far side of the fence separating the lighthouse from the Lakebreeze and was patrolling noisily along the fence looking for an opening. I called her from the front of the keeper's house and she happily bounded through deep drifts to a rousing reunion. A visitor happening upon this scene would have wondered how strange the bond between a man and his dog.

We quickly retreated to the safety of camp - me to a long warm shower and the Wonderdog to a deep, several hour slumber on the fireplace hearth.

It will be awhile before lighthouse picture #12,399 appears on your screen!

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