Storm Approaches
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"...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)

Summer - Fall, 2002

Tuesday Update. (10/15/02) "At Sea, Or Just Adrift?"

It's 2:30 am. Not sure why I'm still up at this very un-senior hour, but the juices are running and I feel compelled to write. Perhaps it's the crackling fire across the room, or the exhilarating affect of a trip to the woodpile in the chill of a late fall "frost is on the punkin" night. (Or less romantically, the lingering effects of a shot of single malt I had a few hours ago!)

A friend, and fellow traveler on one of this summer's cruises to Canada, puzzled by a stagnant Harbor Web and continued "At the beep" responses to her phone calls, finally left a message inquiring whether I was, "still at sea, or just adrift." A lot of Harbor Web regulars have shared similar sentiments, although few so cleverly condensed the options for my absence and inattention.

Yes. I've been at sea - three days out of every four for the past four months. The good ship Peregrine and I cruised much of our big lake, a total of 2,431 miles, visiting anchorages and ports extending from Bayfield, WI and Grand Marais, MN to the west to Mackinaw Island to the southeast. There were several sails to Isle Royale (the skipper of Keweenaw Star said I was making a milk run of the 40 mile Eagle Harbor to Isle Royals's Chippewa Harbor route), and three extended sails into the beautiful remoteness of Ontario's rugged Superior coast. The last cruise was a 400-mile jaunt along the lake's soft south shore over to the Soo, down the St. Mary River to Mackinaw Island and Mackinaw City, where Peregrine was placed on her winter roost for the next seven months. She will be back in the water next May, with a planned month of sailing in Lake Huron's Georgian Bay and North Channel before pushing our way upstream through the strong spring currents in the St Mary, through the lock, and back into the welcoming but still cold waters of the big lake.

It's been exciting. Probably the best sailing conditions in several years. Yes, there was lots and lots of very thick fog (so thick that when it lifted you could hear the fish falling back into the lake), some gargantuan winds and waves, and a few rock shoals now bear Peregrine's keel signature. As always, some terrific company - both on board and on the small collection of rag tag and scrumptious sail and power (mostly lovingly converted fish tugs) cruising boats I encounter along the way. About half of the sailing was single-handed, my special joy, but as I count the candles crowding my birthday cake, I sense the growing challenge and risk of such foolishness. I am reminded of this each of the several times I climb the mast to repair rigging or work my way forward in heavy sea to secure deck gear or sails. There is an axiom shared by seasoned sailors - "One should not attempt to sail tighter into the wind than his age plus ten degrees." If you are a sailor, you recognize that for me that means life is a beam reach - and so it is. Love it!

I'm going to soon share my log book entries for one of my summer 2002 cruises (probably the 13 day late August and early September cruise to Isle Royale and Canada) with Harbor Web viewers. I've told a few folks of a close encounter with a large moose on this trip. They usually ask, "How close did you get, George." Want to see? Look. This is also the cruise when I darn near poked an eye out when a screwdriver slipped while I was up the mast doing some repair work while anchored alone in a remote Canadian anchorage. Peregrine's foredeck still evidences the bloodletting from that escapade.

But now, with my good boat "on the hard" and scheduled for some needed surgery over her winter, I'm on the beach and once again adjusting to life ashore. Eagle Harbor and environs offers many marvelous distractions in the glory of a Keweenaw fall, making my convoluted adjustment to the coming routine and rigor of winter appear, as my sailing friend put it, as if I were "adrift."

It's certainly been a spectacular fall. The mosaic of reds, yellows and greens stretching across the everlasting hills that form the backdrop of my view across the sparkling sun lit blue harbor waters has seldom been as intense as it is this year. Now waning, but just a weekend from its full glory, "color season", as the locals call it, has not only enriched the coffers of local businesses, but the souls of all of us fortunate to enjoy prolonged basking in its presence.

Those of us blessed with a history of such fall color exuberance have learned the risk of allowing it to distract us from the many tasks needed to prepare for the coming several months of darkness and isolation. But distracted we are, at least I am. It's not that I don't look forward to a Keweenaw winter. Even the most inattentive Harbor Web viewer can easily sense my addiction to the coming unearthly quiet, moderate temperatures, and big snows. But too much of a good thing (like seven months) can easily damper one's enthusiasm for even the greatest delicacies of life. So I struggle with the daily dilemma of choosing between grasping the last threads of our all too short and idyllic season of warm water and tempting bush, and the need for winter preparation and return to the normalcy of life. Do I tightly restack the woodpile, or hike to Central. I hike. How about attending a township board meeting or taking a pasty down to the hotel rocks and listening to waves break against a darkened shore. I feast on the pasty. Would you do otherwise? So why do some feel I am adrift?

An incident earlier today, good neighbor Don Koop's fall from a tempting apple tree, resulting in a broken back, reminded me once again how abruptly and completely one's life can change in just a wisp of time. Life, the good life, is tenuous and all so precious. I need to be responsible and responsive to the needs of others, especially my family, my neighbors, my community, and my precious friends, but I also need to be responsible to myself. So, I am at times selfishly "at sea, or just adrift." No regrets.

It's now nearly 4 am. The fire languishes and the malt has lost its hold on me. Long past time for crawling under the comforter and allowing the every twenty second white flash of the Eagle Harbor lighthouse to lull me to sleep. Good night.

Tuesday Update. (8/13/02) Summer Sails and Celebrations

At about midnight last night I parked myself on the sea wall in front of my camp to watch a thunderstorm move in from the west. The host clouds, which had obscured the much anticipated meteor shower, more than compensated for their disappointing presence by serving as a generator of a spectacular and startling lighting and thunder display. I encounter many such storms while sailing on the big lake - a constant source of concern for boat and personal safety. The drill is to drop sails, get below, keep the body from anything metallic, and pray. However, on land a thunderstorm's awesome power and majesty can be cherished with much less apprehension. Last night's storm turned to be pretty much of a bust, less than a half inch of badly needed rain and only a few wind gusts, but the visual and sound effects were awesome.

This afternoon I contemplated an evening hike up to Baldy to witness the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower and the chance to see the space station it one of its rare passes over this part of the continent. However, as the clouds crowded the late afternoon sky and the prospect of hiking back alone to the harbor in new moon darkness dampened my enthusiasm for the idea, I opted instead to drive up to Brockway in the hope the skies would at the last moment clear. Alas. that was not to be, so I coasted on down to what appeared to be a very tourist clogged Copper Harbor, and then enjoyed a leisurely drive along Lake Shore Drive, arguably our most scenic roadway, back to the harbor. All was not for naught, however, as a brilliant red setting sun dropped below the horizon cloud cover and cast its magic across the scalloped cloud cover bottom, creating surely the most spectacular sunset of this summer. The lake viewing deck at the Eagle Harbor Light Station was a mass of awe struck humanity.

In truth, I've had more than my fair share of spectacular night skies as I've sailed the big lake over the last several weeks. The log is clicking close to 1600 miles of summer sailing and Peregrine has been my host for 43 days and nights since wetting her keel in Keweenaw Bay on June 2nd. Isle Royale has become a summer place of residence, as has the far north and eastern reaches of the lake along the rugged and awesome beauty of the remote Ontario coast. There have been cruises west to the Apostles and the Minnesota north shore, and east to the legendary Ojibway "floating isle of spirits", Michipicoten. The last leg of the most recent cruise was a 133 mile, 27 hour, big wind, sleepless trek from Michipicoten back to the harbor last Saturday and Sunday. Saturday night was mesmerizing - the soothing sound of water racing along the hull, running light lit waves cascading from the bow, the creak of rigging stressed by the power of wind on the sail, millions of brilliant stars in the jet black sky, northern lights, and a host of shooting stars - the initial wave of the Perseid meteor shower. Ah, what a night, one to remember and cherish as I sit by the cozy fireplace over the winter to come.

Peregrine is now lashed to the marina dock wall - scrubbed and ready to once more sail through the harbor entry cribs out onto the lake in search of more adventure. Tentative plans are an early September cruise back to the Apostles and participation in the single handed race around Madeline Island, another visit or two to Isle Royale, and then a two or three week cruise along the lake's south soft shore over to the Soo, down the St Mary's into Lake Huron's North Channel, and finally over to Mackinaw City for winter lay-up and maintenance. Both the boat and its skipper will be ready for a rest by that time.

The summer sailing has kept me off the beach during all the wonderful Harbor celebrations - the July 4th parade, games and feasting; the world renowned Bill Smith birthday pig roast; and, just last weekend, the Harbor Art Fair and community yard sale. Lots of people to thank for the many hours of volunteer effort they provide to make these events so delicious, but a special nod of thanks is due to Barb Sickler and Anne Boggio for their many year commitment to make the 4th celebrations so wonderful; to Bill Smith for his generous continuation of a long ago 40th birthday party that popular demand has not allowed to end; to our Harbor food service impresario, Doug Schubert, for so delightfully catering to our junk food weaknesses; and, an extra special nod to our summer cruise director, Nancy Clarkson, for her creative and energetic orchestration of the yard sale - now, along with Doug's garage snack shop and the for sale temptations donated by a host of Harbor cooks (organized by Gracia Scrutton and Charlotte Barber), have combined to become a major source of funding for meeting community needs. I hear this summer's events generated about $6,000 to purchase defibrillators - wonderful news for all of us with a history of heart disease, or those of you who are unknowing candidates!

Of course, our summer also has been touched by some sadness. Two very gracious, very gallant, and very classy Harbor ladies succumbed to cancer - Dr. Ruth Rhines and Marcia Davis. I thought of them as I for the first time read the Copper Country classic, Lady Unafraid while sailing Peregrine along the lake's north shore. It's the story of a seventeen year old young woman who in 1862 journeyed alone from the Victorian comfort of a cultivated Ann Arbor home and family to spend a year as a missionary teacher in a little Indian village near what is now the town of L'Anse on Keweenaw Bay - the only white woman in the area. Her courage and resourcefulness, along with her pioneering spirit, were remarkable. Much like that of our two Harbor neighbors, Ruth and Marcia, who several generations later, exhibited these same qualities in their lives. There is much to celebrate in such lives, but we also mourn their passing and extend to their families, especially Marcia's caring husband, Jon, our sincerest sympathy.

Many of Marcia's family and friends gathered on the afternoon of August 16 at Eagle Harbor Cemetery to be with Jon as Marcia's ashes, lovingly enclosed in a beautiful wood box crafted by Jon, were committed to the soil of the land she so cherished. Many spoke eloquently of Marcia's impact on their lives and on our community. A soft and cooling breeze wafted through the tall pines filtering the bright sun. Shadow, Jon and Marcia's devoted dog, and my Abby's good friend, laid quietly alongside Marcia's interment site, nuzzling Jon, and bringing tears to my eyes. A young man who was graciously hosted in the Davis home a few years ago, offered in celebration of Marcia a touching Welch hymn in a voice that would make any Welshman proud. Marcia's choral group, returned just that day from a concert in Brazil, closed our remembrance and celebration of this good and meaningful life with a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Marcia, I'm sure, was pleased with this very moving commitment, celebration, and reverent acknowledgement of her good life - a life that made such a difference to all who were graced by her friendship.

Mid August is the time when of our summer neighbors, especially the young families, begin to close up their camps and cottages and head home for school or work obligations. I'll soon return to the lake to witness and absorb for a final time the wonders of a Lake Superior summer. Fall beckons, you can sense it in the evening and early morning light, in the growing restlessness of the big lake, and in the fading forest green. Each night a few more brightly-lit summer cottages are darkened. It's getting quiet. I'm at peace.

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