It's been quite a week. Even Abby, the Wonderdog, seems a little spooked by it all. Her usual early morning tight curl on the warm hearth is today replaced by a stretched out side sprawl on the cool hardwood floor downwind from the drafty front door. She seems confused.
Well, why not? She has spent the better part of the week cowering under a bed as thunder and lightening startled the Copper Country with a rare, perhaps first ever February visit. She's added to her growing litany of bodily aches with none too graceful ice induced somersaults off the front stoop; and, seemingly lost her bearings in Friday's driving snow as she zigzagged down the road in a fruitless search for treat handouts from neighbors hunkered in their storm rooms. She also spent a few days as a displaced person as her keeper made yet another pilgrimage in the flashing red box to the cath temple in Marquette.
The week began well. Sunday was gorgeous. Soft new snow laced with sparkling ice diamonds, air cool to the taste yet warm to the soul, and deep blue skyscapes mirrored in the frolicking waters of the open lake. Trail sirens lured the camp fevered into the deep wood. I and a small covey of friends heeded their call, carefully threading our way through the deer clogging M-26 as we drove to Eagle River to test ourselves on the ski trail following the old North American Mine road running west from the sleepy hamlet.
All seemed serene as the old road climbed easily through red pines and snow-laden spruce. Soon, however, the ski trail abandoned the route of miners and began a challenging ascent of a ridge striking northwesterly towards Five Mile Point. Bruce, Jean, Joann and the wonderdog scampered merrily and seemingly effortlessly up and down the hills, but I began to labor. Dizziness induced several tumbles and a developing cold sweat and nausea zapped my enthusiasm for the endeavor. I bid my partners adieu, saying I'd rest and rejoin them on their way back. Abby followed the whoops and hollers over the next ridge, but soon returned. She amused herself with a few forays down freshly scented deer trails as I leaned on my poles, searching for the energy reserve that would get me home.
The return trek began, but more tumbles soon prompted a decision to hike rather than ski. The trail was uneven but hard, so the going, while unsteady, was manageable. However, after several pauses to recoup my strength and a few stumbles into the tight grip of deep trailside drifts, the pace slowed significantly. An all too familiar chest pain began to assert itself into my consciousness. I dug into pockets in search of nitro pill fixes, cursing my recklessness in the discovery that they were either forgotten or dropped into the snow in a tumble. I trudged slowly on, and was soon overtaken by the returning skiers.
We chatted. I offered assurances about my ability to hike out, encouraging them to go on and wait at trailhead which we sensed was less than a mile ahead. They were clearly skeptical, but acquiesced. Bruce lingered, never more than a ridge ahead and waiting frequently for the laggard to come into his view. Finally, about halfway up a slope of soft snow, I stopped, suddenly unable to extract myself from the snow's embrace. I rolled wearily onto the trail. Bruce, always vigilant, quickly returned. Abby paced nervously about.
Soon, Jeane and Joann also returned. A confab ensued, to which I contributed little of substance, protesting that after a rest I'd be able to get out. They would have none of it. Jeane and Joann skied ahead to alert the sheriff in Eagle River and seek a snowmobile to return to haul me out. Bruce kept a reassuring watch as my discomfort grew. The welcomed whine of a snowmobile soon penetrated the woods, and with Sheriff Ron aboard, my escape vehicle was quickly on the scene. In a few minutes I was back at trailhead.
I continued to assert that access to my nitro pill stash back at camp would get me back on my feet, but cooler heads and a deserved admonition from our friendly sheriff, resulted in a quick trip in Joann's 4-wheeler to the emergency room. With their usual competence, the emergency room crew quickly got me stabilized and analyzed. Consultation with my cardiology team in Marquette resulted in fast ambulance ride to Marquette General and into the cath lab. Bottom line: one of the five new coronary grafts installed last May and ballooned open in December after scar tissue build-up, had closed again, this time completely and in a location difficult to repair. After what seemed like an eternity, my good doc forced it open again, this time installing a steel stent, my fourth, to hopefully keep it open.
Bruce and Jeane drove to Marquette Tuesday to haul me home. I returned once again thankful for good neighbors, once again reminded that escapades in the remoteness of Keweenaw and its big lake can be dangerous, and once again reminded that life, while wonderful, is uncertain - worthy of more caution and respect than I at times give it.
I also returned to a world of ice. Our massive meltdown in early week, the rains of Wednesday and cold nights turned the Harbor and environs into a skating rink. A few weeks ago several of us chuckled when our friend Ivan showed up wearing what appeared to be tire chains under his boots. Turned out that Ivan was the Harbor fashion trendsetter. By Thursday, no well-dressed Harbor walkabouter was without these little slip over your boot gems. Fifth Street Ace Hardware, the source of much Copper Country fashion attire, quickly sold out its $12.95 stock. Even low slung, wide bodied, four big furry pawed Abby, found herself tumbling down the front stoop and sliding onto her belly while attempting to scramble across the icy road. I wonder if they have foot chains for pooches?
Of course the thunder, lightning and at times heavy rain of Thursday simply added to the chagrin of those of us who think of Harbor February as snow time. Few sights are as surreal as lightning flashes being reflecting off the snowscape. And rolling thunder! Ears, winter soft tuned to the sweet sounds of wind working through tall pines and the muffled murmur of the lake moving against the icy shore, were jolted into mid-summer acrimony as camp shaking cracks of lightning induced sound suddenly intruded and then rumbled into oblivion among the low hanging clouds. I ventured to the window to observe this unwelcomed phenomena, while the brave wonderdog scooted to her below bed sanctuary.
And then Friday, when the long dormant lake effect snow machine finally got its act together and with the aid of gale force northwesterlies, pounded us with blinding snow, snow so fine in texture that it seemed to never drop. I had the sensation of being in a river of snow. It seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere else, almost taunting us as it sped quickly by. The ugliness of our early week meltdown, the now ice layered on ice of mid-week rain crystallizing in the rapidly dropping temperature, all demanded several inches of soft new snow. But after several hours of snow so thick it obscured all but the big oak only a few feet out front, I was distressed to find in a quick trip to the woodpile that the ugliness and ice remained. Where, I thought, did all that snow go? I guessed into the forest downwind of the Harbor, where tall pines and thick spruce would bend but prevail over this energetic band of rain in winter garb.
Saturday dawns as this is written. With the early light I note that overnight either a slackening wind or heavier snow has resulted in the snow cover we so desperately need. Not much it appears, perhaps a half-foot or so, but enough. I haven't passed on this good news to the wonderdog. She seems reluctant to move from her spot, despite how uncomfortable it appears to be. My guess is that she is hesitant to return to the uncertain ice she suspects still awaits outside the door. I'll boot her out when it gets a bit brighter. A romp in the soft new snow will be good therapy for her. She's had a rough week.
As for me, well this little sashay through the events of this past week, yet another of the "winter at the Harbor" weeks that are so remarkable in their abundance of surprises and lessons, has soothed things out a bit. The isolated events, so distressing at times, now seem once again connected to the broader and richer lode of life that is my happy lot. All is well.
Of course, the fresh snow helps the most! It's the best therapy.
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