Storm Approaches
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An unofficial source of Eagle Harbor, Michigan news, views and information.

A 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)

January, 2003

Grand Marias(1/30/03) “Shucks”, or something similar to that, escaped from my lips as I climbed over the snow bank alongside Marina Road and began my ski down Goodell Road to Grand Marais. Someone had beaten me for the joy of being first to break trail on this beautiful and seldom skied path through old pine, just a stone toss or two from the rocky shore of the big lake. The usurper’s track appeared to be a day old, slightly drifted in and already evidencing the print of deer, always eager to take advantage of someone else’s labors. It was still tough going, the soft feathery snow of this January provides little under ski support, and my skis sank through the old track, a track obviously left by someone much lighter than me. Resigned to my role as a follower, I pressed on, relishing the beauty of trailside snow laden pine and the rush of wind brushing the treetops. Then, to my great delight, about a quarter mile down the trail, the trail breaker, apparently weary of the task, side stepped around in a big crazy circle of ski prints, and headed home. Untouched snow laid ahead, I was on my own.

I quickly realized why my trail breaker had returned. My skis sank even deeper in the soft snow, up above my boot tops. This was snowshoe snow, not the stuff narrow cross-country skis designed for tracked trail were intended for. Good sense, not my forte, suggested I should follow the example of the trail breaker and return to go, but nothing temps me more than an irrational choice, so I plowed on, making my signature “happy face” mark in the trailside snow so that anyone searching for me in a day or two would know I was someplace ahead.

There’s a big flat topped tree stump alongside the trail about half way to Grand Marais that always has a big “punkin head” snow clump on its head. An irresistible opportunity for some snow sculpturing with my ski pole. I though my work on this trip was especially good – a great smiling “welcome to Grand Marais” look on the going in side, and an exhausted “but don’t give up” look on the homeward side. It doesn’t take much to entertain me back in the bush.

There was a lot of drifting across the trail as I skied into Grand Marais, especially where the trail breaks out of the pine and follows along the rocky edge of the big lake. Lake ice stretched to the horizon and the near shore reefs were laden with a wonderful array of “ice volcanoes”, those mountains of ice formed by storm surged water pushed up through crevices in the shore ice and spilling out like lava flow. I reluctantly left this shore side splendor and skied down to the “boy’s shack”, the Catoni’s camp on the shore of Grand Marais, and from there out onto the ice of this beautiful little haven. Harbor Journal readers know of my reluctance for on-the-ice travel, but this little harbor is shallow and by skirting along the lee shore I was sure that even if the ice gave way, I would not be in serious trouble. (Of course, if you are up to your waist in cold water, skis firmly planted on the bottom, you might be there till spring.) It’s about a mile around the harbor’s perimeter, and except for a scary moment when I glanced towards shore and noticed some open water, a small stream discharge, I easily worked my way to the east end and the Goodell’s snow blanketed camp.

The question then was, do I backtrack along the harbor’s south shore, or take the short cut across the harbor’s opening onto the big lake. It looked pretty solid, but I remembered that just a few weeks ago big lake waves were rolling through the entry. I knew it wasn’t deep, Peregrine with her five foot keel can’t get in there, but her draft is nose deep for me, about two feet above the pocket where I’d stowed my emergency cell phone. You are no doubt not surprised to learn that I opted for the crossing. A Shackleton thing!

About two-thirds of the way across, the ice, wind shorn of its assuring yet deceptive mantle of comforting snow, began to settle under my skies, making the creaking sounds of ice under stress. Not a good situation, I thought, so I splayed my body across its rugged surface and began my crawl to the safety of the entry’s west point. This probably wasn’t necessary; ice is always complaining long before it needs to, but why test its intentions? Once near shore, and safely in what I was sure was not more than knee deep water, I got back up on my skis and worked my way along the shore down to the “girl’s shack”, climbed ashore, and began the long journey back along the trail to Marina Road.

So here I am, many hours later, back at base camp, listening to WCPE’s Thursday night opera, Massenet’s Thais, (arguably containing the most beautiful music theme in all of opera), and relishing the memory of my day pushing the envelope for the adventure of a ski to Grand Marais. The interval included an hour digging my van out of a roadside snow bank near Eagle River, but that’s an ordinary event for a Keweenaw winter day – Grand Marais was extraordinary!

Wanderlust(1/27/03) It’s about 10 p.m., very dark, eleven degrees, wind from the southwest at 15 to 20 mph, and wind-chill minus twenty. I’ve just returned from a ninety-minute hike around to the Coast Guard (Marina) - still chilled, cheeks tingling, and lungs aching from the cold air. The roadway was drifted in, no plows since mid-day, of little consequence since there were only a few several hour-old tire tracks, and on Marina Road, no tracks at all. Moonlight created a slight glow in the low hanging clouds, but out over the lake, where offshore winds were building snow clouds, it was as black as the celestial void. The cold snow was squeaky as I trod along, and once beyond the last pole barn light, a quarter way along the south shore, I relied on the tactile feel of the snow underfoot to find my way between the roadside snow windrows.

The Harbor entry range lights at Cedar Creek were sending their green blinking signals out along the range, seemingly oblivious to the nearly mile of ice between them and open water. It will be months before the first mariner follows them safely past the harbor reefs, perhaps me aboard Peregrine on my return from planned early spring sailing in Georgian Bay and the North Channel. The street light at the Marina Road intersection, its photo cell no longer spooked by the sweeping beam of the defunct harbor lighthouse, cast a steady bright light across the wind sculpted snow, producing an “Off to see the Wizard” sparkling path for me to follow as I turned down Marina Road, and once again entered into the darkness along the heavily drifted east beach. I paused for a moment to listen to the noise of the expanding ice pushing up against the soft shore – a muted growl, not the sharp, prolonged, like an echoing rifle retort, sound produced by ice battling with the Keweenaw current out on the lake. Even when covered by ice, the big lake never ceases to remind us of its awesome presence in our shoreside lives.

As I passed the soft glow in the windows of Charlotte and Tottie Catoni’s camp, our sole east end of the harbor winter residents, I was tempted to stop for a chat and the always graciously offered glass of sherry, but the hour was late. I looked into the Goodell Road opening, considered following it down to Grand Marais, but after encountering its heavy drifts, decided to save it for a cross-country ski adventure. Snow blown across the harbor by a full day of southerly winds filled the exposed portions of the road leading on to the marina, and I often found myself suddenly in a knee deep drift, wondering whether I wandered off the road in the darkness.

Upon reaching the marina, I crawled down to the icy rock beach that shoulders the harbor. Our little town far across the frozen bay seemed asleep, as indeed it was, with only the bright white star atop the lighthouse and the string of phosphorus street lights behind the swimming beach, appearing like a necklace of luminous gold nuggets, distinguishing our winter home from the enveloping dark forest. The big pines and birch at my back moaned as they were assulted by the wind gusts as rapidly moving swirls of lifted snow danced across the harbor's ice covered surface, disappearing into the blackness over the big lake. Awesome! I lingered a bit to savor the moment, finding a big beach log to shelter me from the wind, and the soft snow drifted in behind it as a place to borrow out a sitting spot. I didn’t stay in my snow hutch for more than a few minutes, then quickly retreated to the comfort of my harborside camp. What a great way to spend an Eagle Harbor January evening.

Earlier in the day, a neighbor, noting my absence at the Harbor Super Bowl party Sunday evening, said everyone assumed that I was out tramping or skiing in the bush. Not the reason, as I’m sure most knew, but I chuckled at the notion that my affinity for solo excursions into the deep bush and across the deep waters has apparently defined me as a bit of wanderlust, a hopeless nomad. In part true – in fact I’d planned a night tour around our ski trail with a canal city sailing friend for that big game evening, only to have it aborted by low wind-chills, a cloud hidden moon, and poor visibility caused by blowing snow. (We'll try again.) But I’m sure this journal’s tale of marina beach sitting, like an earlier account of huddled by a Lake Breeze beach fire on another January night to watch Orion and his buddies move across the night sky, simply adds fodder to the speculation that I’ve lost touch with reality.

Could be, but for me, and I suspect for others, time spent on a beach, even in winter, watching brilliant celestrial shows or observing and listening to the many moods of big waters; like time in the deep bush, "up close and personal" with the wonders of our natural environment and in the presence of remnants left by earlier peoples of this place; or weeks aboard Peregrine exploring remote shores and confronting Superior's tempests , are all a precious part of life – the reality I'm in touch with and cherish.

A wanderlust I may be, but an aimless roaming nomad I'm not. My wanderings are a purposeful quest of the riches of this blessed place. As was the outcome tonight, I'm often amply rewarded.

A Happy Camper(1/25/03) I’m a Happy Camper! Two terrific tours around an absolutely beautiful cross-country Harbor ski trail in as many days. Each about nine miles in length and two-and-one-half hours in duration. What bliss! Our snow is late in arriving, but with almost two feet in the last ten days, it’s just gorgeous back in the bush. My trips are solo, like my summer sails across the lake, which I relish, but I’ll admit that as I passed beneath the heavy snow laden pine boughs hanging over the trail, I thought what great fun it would be to give them a poke and send a cascade of chilling snow down the collar of an unsuspecting skiing partner.

Yesterday’s ski was in mid morn, and at the start, just a few minutes behind our good neighbor and ace trail groomer, Bruce Olson. The track he laid was fresh, easy to follow, and perfect for those of us who need the security of deep track to keep us upright. A light fluffy flake snow was falling, augmented by frequent showers of snow crystals blown off the tops of trailside pines by the persistent lake winds. Occasionally, a large clump of snow would slide off an overburdened pine bough, sounding a muted “thump” as it fell onto the trail. (A couple clumps falling on my head, giving me the startling, but invigorating, snow shower I’d wished for others.) I couldn’t keep up with the groomer, so by mid tour the track became filled with fresh snow; still my directional guide, but no longer affording the sure footing I need. I began to flounder, occasionally skiing off-trail, winding up in an embarrassing flurry of exploding snow as I bounded headfirst into trailside drifts. But even that was wonderful – nothing tastes sweeter to a weary skier than a mouthful of pristine snow.

Today’s trek was different, but just as glorious, perhaps even more so. Four to six inches of fresh snow overnight had totally obliterated Bruce’s good work, and for much of my tour I was breaking trail. That’s cross-country skiing at its best, but a lot more work. I don’t think anyone shared the trail with me yesterday, but today, as I returned on the out-and-back loop to Great Sand Bay, I encountered two following skiers; and, later I followed the track of a couple of skiers (perhaps Mary and Kelly of the Inn – light track with lots of uphill herringbone – but no evidence of their pooch.) It seemed colder, and my fingers , getting little blood circulation these days – my arteries must be like the town’s aging, but younger than I am, rust filled water pipes - ached until I stopped and stuffed them into my pant’s pockets for awhile (hand warmers do little for fingers.) I’m proud to report that on both tours about the trail, my nemesis, Calamity Gully, was conquered without mishap.

So now I’m back at camp, feeling pretty foxy, and wonderfully exhausted – the good feeling one’s body has after prolonged exercise. I’ll sleep well. I basked in a warm shower after each trek, not for warmth, but to wash away the sweat – yes sweat - these jaunts are soul satisfying, but strenuous. I’m relishing the comfort of my ever present fireplace fire, looking out into the gathering darkness, and blessed by the few remaining but still colorful, dancing in the wind, lights on my outdoor winter holiday tree.

LES clouds continue to roll in off the lake and temperatures, after another super cold blast tomorrow, are expected to climb into the twenties in a few days, so it seems the skiing will get even better. Such a joy. Don’t you wish you were here, enjoying a romp around the trail? Can’t you feel the delightful shower of cooling snow trickling down your back from the snow laden pine bough I just poked?

Reality Check(1/22/03) I’m hesitant to say anything derogatory about my friend, the big lake, the gracious and forgiving host, so far, of my summer adventures, but I’m a bit peeved. How could it be that it failed to warm the frigid Canadian artic air during its 100-mile journey across open, and thus 32-degree plus, waters? It is absorbing the lake's warm surface, as evident by the seemingly non-stop lake effect snow showers. Nonetheless, upon its arrival the air's temperature is below zero, suggesting that when it departed Thunder Bay it must have been double score in the hellish zone. I often tell our summer lighthouse visitors that the big lake’s open waters protect us from such Midwest hinterland abuses – apparently I’ll have to temper my reverence. I suppose there is not much the lake can do about windchills, although it seems hell bent for the last several months to remind us that it’s a gale producer as well. The good news is that the LES clouds continue to roll up the Keweenaw ridge, salvaging what seemed destined to be an embarrassingly low seasonal snow total for the “snow capitol of the Midwest.” However, snow saddled with 40 plus below windchills, (expected tonight), offers little more than through window nourishment. I might as well be in the Gopher State.

I’m hunkered in, as it seems are most of my few Harbor neighbors. Even the “never say die” snowmobilers seem to have departed. I’m looking across the room at my almost depleted indoor woodpile, dreading the inevitable need to venture out to the frozen, snow buried, woodpile. A quick trip to the mailbox was all I could handle today, although I did venture out yesterday for a short walk about our near vacant town. I felt like Captain Scott on the last leg of his ill-fated quest for the Pole. It’s brutal out there – not just the cold, but the eyelash freezing and skin pricking bite of the hard, wind driven, LES snow crystals.

This is good single malt scotch sipping weather. Anything with ice cubes in it seems repulsive, and even the best refrigerator cooled white wines or beer are shunned. I do have a little of the warm, heavy, and belly warming, French Merlot left, and may cozy up to the fire later with the last glass before crawling under the warm quilts for the night. I’ll forgo the Isle Royale fisherman journals this evening and delve instead into summertime thoughts with the aid of my book of the year, the West Marine sailing stuff catalogue.

In looking over this journal entry, and my last few reports from Eagle Harbor, I am struck by the absence of anything that might encourage folks below the 48th parallel to consider selling the farm and moving up here – at least for the several months of winter. Probably not fair considering the beauty so often present, and the joy of our usual lot of tramping and skiing through the snow laden bush. But with that is the reality, never touted by our chamber, that winters in Keweenaw can also be harsh, a test of one’s perseverance and self reliance. Indeed, some of my wintertime neighbors, probably with justification, often chide me for “false advertising”, suggesting that in my unabashed boosterism for Keweenaw in winter, I’m leading folks astray, creating unjustified land and camp demand, and ultimately driving up property values – meaning higher taxable values for all of us. Oh, if only my rambling discourses might have such impact. But I do acknowledge the need to inject a dose of reality now and then – an easy assignment on days like today. This is not for everyone!

The reality of life here in the grasp of winter was so evident today as I watched several of my Harbor neighbors, our volunteer firemen, climb aboard their big red trucks for what turned out to be four or five hours in the bitter cold as they aided Base (Keweenaw Academy) personnel struggling with a potentially highly dangerous leak in their big propane tank. I know, public safety people do this everywhere, but here, a place of big and rugged geography and, in winter, so few people, we are so dependent on a few committed souls to keep us from harm’s way. And. unlike their counterparts in many big city suburb volunteer fire departments, often paid and richly pensioned for their services, our guys and gals do it for only the satisfaction of serving their community. Living here, especially in winter, demands that we all generously apply whatever talents we have to the common good. This is no place, at least in winter, for overdone individualism. Indeed, it is this strong shared sense of community, not just our bountiful snow, that makes Eagle Harbor such a special wintertime venue.

“Break”, that’s what the young Coast Guard station watch tenders at the Soo say as during their twice daily radio reports on big lake weather forecasts and Notices to Mariners they stumble upon the word Keweenaw and go off air. (I’m sure to consult their pronunciation guide.) That’s what I’ve just done - take a break.

I left you for the woodpile trip, and was so stimulated by the exhilaration of the winter evening that I ventured up to the lighthouse – wrapped warmly in my heavy coat, almost to the shoulder winter cap, double gloved, and a scarf tightly wrapped across my face, leaving only a small slit for my eyes. The pelting lake effect snow was nearly horizontal, almost blinding, as it blew in from the lake in the building wind. The road, barely discernable in the blackness of this winter night, was filled with fresh, untracked, and beautifully wind sculpted snow - and squeaky underfoot. I was disappointed that the big light was still shut down, its sweeping beam not plowing through the snow-laden sky. But I was captivated by the eerie howling of the cold wind as it rushed ashore, protesting the interference of rocky outcrops, shore edge trees and light station structures. The roar of waves relentlessly chewing on the distant edge of the ice pack combined with the sharp, almost like the crack of lighting, noise of expanding ice combating with the forces of the Keweenaw Current, a quarter mile off-shore. I didn’t stay long as I huddled in the lee of the big tower, wind chills were already approaching thirty below, but left reluctantly, cherishing my brief immersion in the wild winter night. I felt more like the determined Shackleton than than the desperate Scott as I stumbled home, confident that a warm bunk awaited me. But like all who venture out near Superior’s icy shores in polar gales, I was awed by the thought that, for many who traveled along and occupied these shores centuries ago, there were few opportunities to savor the shelter so easily accessible to me.

Now for the warming Merlot, the comfort of my brightly burning fireplace fire, and the escape into West Marine’s summer sailing enticements. My reality is not so bad after all.

Heikki Lunta Is Dancing(1/19/03) No, that's not our snow god (or maybe it is!), but if you should walk by my camp, unlikely given my end of road at end of road location (the only one who does is UPPCO’s meter reader on his way to read the Lake Breeze meter, why, I don’t know, since their power has been shut down since mid September), you would notice a menagerie of animal look-a-likes perched along the base of my window. There’s a white furred mutt with a big red bull’s eye around his left eye, appropriately attired in a red cap, a holiday offering of my old employer, Target; a sleeping black bear, my grandkid’s favorite; and, a floppy antlered moose, a gift from Santa, I’m sure to dissuade me from getting a new pooch. Another moose, Liz Sivertson’s whimsical two-panel centerfold painting (click images to enlarge) for North Country Spring, a wonderful collaboration with writer Reeve Lindbergh, and one of my most cherished collected arts, adorns the wall behind the window. They all stare out at the snow swirling across the ice filled harbor, and except for the indifferent hibernating bear, seem to revel in the camp’s cozy warmth as they contemplate what life must be like for their real life kin outside the window. I’m their empathic companion.

It’s cold outside, low teens, sometimes single digits, an unusual challenge for those of us residing alongside the lee shore of the still open and relatively warm big lake, and darn uncomfortable. The lake effect snow machine is really cranked up, giving us our first good snow dusting, but it’s too damn cold to go out and enjoy it. The west wall of my camp, the windward side, practically devoid of insulation, radiates cold, and the big cracks around the west window and door are a steady source of unwelcome air conditioning. I keep stuffing the cracks, but the camp moves so much in big winds that the cracks reopen and the makeshift weather caulking falls out. This writing machine is backed up against this polar wall, so I peck away (I’m still a two fingered typist) attired in my heavy Norwegian sailing sweater, thermal underwear and snow boots. Gloves don't go well with keyboards, so I retreat often to the fireplace across the room for a bit of hand warming.

I know, I should move the Harbor Web womb over by the fireplace, which I might do if this bout of intense cold and big wind lingers too long. But as a computer landlord you know the frustration of grappling with the tangle of wires and cables that are needed to make these things work (which, by the way, you never see in the manufactures’ glossy pictorials of their wares.) Wiring things up has never been my forte. If you should find the Harbor Web offline, you’ll know that the cold finally forced my hand and I’m busy trying to fathom how to get plug A into socket A, and Z to Z.

The sledders are here in abundance. The trail conditions south of our lake effect world must be terrible. They aren’t good here – too little snow and too many sledders have made the task of our trail groomers almost impossible. But they are here nonetheless – more sleds than any of us can remember. Yesterday, Saturday, was especially busy, with many snowmobile club groups; ten to twenty sleds at a time weaving their way along Keweenaw trails and roads like giant caterpillars. At one point, I noticed a group of seventeen parked in a long string along the road above our beach, engines belching a big cloud of blue smoke as the drivers wandered down to the ice edge, probably to see if the ice might support a zoom about the harbor. It probably would, but my guess is they were cautious given the rash of sleds through the ice lately and the resulting unfortunate loss of life. They eventually saddled up and roared up the hill by the store, probably destined for the Inn. The changeover to the four cycle, less noisy and less polluting, albeit less powerful, sled engines will hopefully happen soon.

It’s now Sunday morning and the snow is flying, mostly blowing snow at the moment but new stuff is on the way. Gales, first SW and then NW, are predicted, with perhaps another foot of snow to add to the 8 to 12 inches we were blessed with yesterday. Love it!! Visibility is zilch (can’t see across the harbor at the moment), and I’m sure there will be a good deal of drifting across the roads, especially along the lake. The downer is that it’s expected to get even colder – near zero, a warm day in Minnesota, but bad enough for the stalwart Copper Country folks to reach for their mackinaws. (I note that MN Public Radio is off air this morning –do you suppose it’s so cold there that the radio air waves have frozen and fallen to the icy tundra?) The current conditions have not deterred our resolute sledders - a covey of a dozen or so just roared by my camp on their way up to the lighthouse.

Local sailors are gathering this evening in Houghton to get whipped up about the coming sailing season. Part of our winter therapy. (This is the same group, the Onigaming Yacht Club, that a couple years ago honored me as “cruiser-of-the-year”, which generated a lot of chuckles among my Harbor neighbors.) I’m unsure about making the 70 mile round trip in this storm, especially at night. I’m also a bit trip-shy given my frozen hiking experience of last Thursday (I’m still cold), and a Friday wipe-out on M-26 at Jacob’s Falls, that for a terrifying moment I was sure was going to send my careening van right up to the counter at the monk’s Jam Pot. Fortunately, I bounced off a roadside tree, accomplished a graceful 360 degree spin across the road, rebounded off a tree on the other side, and wound up once more pointed towards home - all without stopping and with just minimal damage! (However, I darn near wet my pants!) This was at least a 9, possibly a 10, in our Keweenaw winter Olympic sport of wipeouts.

The wind seems to be easing a bit, and I note my flag is shifting around to accommodate a veering to the northwest wind. Just what the weather gurus predicted. The barometer is darn low, promising a heck of a blow when the back of this low arrives. With the air rushing off the lake, old Heikki Lunta will renew his dance, and new snow will soon be here in abundance – or so I hope. Sooner or later, hopefully before spring, the sun will break through the clouds, warming the snow-laden landscape, and we can get out and play in comfort. For now, I’ll take advantage of this brief moment of decent visibility and dig a load of firewood out of the snow blanketed and tightly frozen log pile. I’m going to need it.

Frozen(1/16/03)Today’s hike up the hill to the old Central Road (about 7 miles round trip) didn’t go well. Returned to camp shivering, eyes frosted over, and hands so frozen I couldn’t pick up a few pieces of firewood. Don’t know why, conditions were not much different than a few days ago when I returned toasty warm. Breezy yes, swirling snow yes, and cold, low teens, but so were the conditions on my last trek. Perhaps my mistake was to remove a glove and drop my face covering scarf for a few minutes at the top of the hill to peel and eat one of the wonderful oranges from a giant fruit basket left at my camp over the holidays by my good Harbor Web readers, Richard and Becky Arola. Cold crept in, and I never recovered. A long warm shower and several minutes of hands soaking in hot water took away the ache, but even now, two hours later; I’m still shivering. A sobering experience.

What a fooler today has been. When the sun poked its upper rim over the Keweenaw ridge at about 8:30 this morning, the sky was a wonderful clear blue and temperatures were above twenty. Intense sunlight flooded into my camp through the big south facing windows, warming the place sufficiently that I felt compelled to turn down the thermostat. Thoughts of a sweatshirt clad early afternoon run around the improving ski trail entered my mind. By noon, however, the lake effect snow clouds had once again moved in, the temperature began to drop, and the wind picked up. I scrapped the ski plan and bundled up for the afternoon hike. Now as night falls, and I hug the warming hearth, we are once again gripped in the penetrating cold and spirit sapping bleakness of a January Keweenaw day.

I’ve become color deficient. Bill Jackson told me recently that his many wintertime Harbor Cam viewers constantly complain that the camera has seemingly lost its color capacity. Not the camera’s fault folks, it’s faithfully telling it as it is. There is no color to report. Yes, at times, when the snow clouds clear, and the sky and lake are a beautiful intense blue, the snow a brilliant blanket of sparkling diamonds, and the trees strut their wonderful greens, our souls are nourished. But these rare and oh so welcomed bursts of light’s full spectrum are just teasers – reminding us of the wonder of spring, summer and fall, the handful of months that conjure up such rich visual memories of Keweenaw for the many who share those few months with us.

I keep my colorful outdoor holiday lights on well into March, well beyond the time most think appropriate. They give me comfort, and I wish more of my few wintertime neighbors would do the same. Some do, probably for the reason I do. I even set the timer so that they are sending their merry message when I awake, several hours before sunrise. The little lighted indoor wreath I salvaged from an Ace Hardware clearance sale stays on all day and night, a small but blessed part of my wintertime color medication. Yes, I’m grasping at color straws, but one does what one must to survive a winter in the high latitudes.

Another of my winter survival tactics is immersing myself in books, especially books that transport me into other, non-winter, mindsets and venues. My great interest in polar explorations takes a back seat in winter. Instead I read of the adventures and lives of people in warmer, sun blessed, venues. The now finished Memories of Cleopatra, with its rich and fascinating account of some of the always open water Mediterranean’s most colorful and significant historical characters and times was good tonic as I watched the ice build in the harbor. I’m now reading the Diaries of an Isle Royale Fisherman, certainly a departure from the weighty historical import of the intriguing times of Cleopatra, Caesar and Mark Anthony, but a delight to anyone captivated, as I am, with the lives of the big island’s early twentieth century fisherman. (A new publication available from the Isle Royale Natural History Association.) On my shelf, ready to help me through the fading months of this winter, are Peter Nichols’ A Voyage For Madmen, an account of the first single-handed circumnavigation of the globe nonstop sailing race, and Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, the work of a Trappist monk recommended to me by a Harbor Journal reader, Joseph duBois, after reading my, Mediations on Christmas Eve. Certainly an eclectic collection, but wonderful diversions as I grapple with the colorless cold of this snow deprived winter.

I just opened a bottle of Reserve Henri Marc, a French Merlot, one of my rare over $10 wine purchases. Probably just a table wine in that wine blessed country, but so good, well worth the extravagance - and doing wonders to warm my tummy as I strive to recover from my afternoon jaunt. I’ll leave you now, mosey over to my creaky family heirloom rocker alongside the fireplace, and savor the wine and warm fire as I listen to WCPE’s Thursday night opera. The outside tree lights are beautiful.

Skating(1/14/03)Evening doesn’t linger in January, especially when a blanket of gray snow clouds are brushing the top of the Keweenaw ridge, as is the case this evening. Unlike June and July when the last gasps of one day kiss the dawn of the next, our winter days retire early and rise late, much like the retiring and rising habits of those of us who choose to experience winter in the high latitudes.

As I look out across the harbor ice this evening, barely perceptible in the fading light, and gaze through the mask of a feathery lake effect snow shower, I note that the ice, only yesterday appearing like the dimpled surface of a frozen daiquiri, is now smooth, shiny black with streaks of wind blown snow. Barring more big winds, although some are expected within a few dozen turns of the hour glass, and assuming the single or low teen digit temperatures (above, this is not Minnesota) continue to haunt us, the few skaters in our company might be able to enjoy the rare joy of skating atop the big pond. Not me.

I’ve tried, but never mastered the art, and hold to the belief that God never intended that we mere mortals should, as he allowed his earthly son to do, walk on water – frozen or not. Indeed, our local news sources are now filled with reports of the demise of many, mostly snowmobilers, whom have so defied God's intent. Despite my many years in Minnesota, where much of the populace each winter gravitates to the comfort of the warm ice (32 above is better than 32 below), and some lakes are frozen to the bottom, I remain committed to the idea that one should not attempt to walk on anything one can drink.

If you have been paying attention, and I’m sure you have, you know that I’ve drifted into another spasm of local history exploration. Winter strolls into old mining locations, where, without the cover of summer foliage, the remnants of mining structures, massive poor rock piles, and crumbling foundations filled with rotting remains of the homes of a populace long departed, are so apparent, cannot but provoke thoughts about the boom times of these historic places and the people who lived and worked there.

Copper Falls is especially interesting because descendants of many of the families of that location are my neighbors, including Bill Jacka and the Jim Vivian’s (I, II and III) whose grandfathers (great grandfathers?) were mining captains at Copper Falls. And, of course, the legendary Sam Hill (of, “what in Sam Hill” fame), was a major player in the very early days of that mine. As I hike among the ruins I think of these men and their families. I’m not ashamed to confess that a strong sense of reverence floods my soul. These are hallowed places, Shrines.

These old locations, at least those in the vicinity of Eagle Harbor, are now nearly a century and one-half past their prime. And unless groups like our Historical Society (if your're not a member, you should be) step in to protect them, as they have at Central, in another half century there will be little evidence that they were there. Even the poor rock piles are disappearing, chewed up and carted away to spread on our roads to assist winter travel. What a waste! What a shame!!

As the snow deepens (hopefully), I’ll spend less time back in the bush, except along the ski trail, and restrict my jaunts to the main roads. It’s safer. If I get in trouble, there is at least a chance that someone will drive by, and if they don’t run over my prostrate body, pick me up, and haul me to the care of our gallant First Responders. (Cell phones are worthless beyond the Shoreline.)

Today’s hike, in blowing snow and below teen temperature, up along the cut-off road to the Central Road and back was as satisfying as a stroll in the bush. The cool tingle of gentle snow against what little face I left exposed was delicious, both to touch and taste, and after a mile or so of the tough initial climb, my body and extremities were as warm as toast.

The animal tracking in the soft new snow was great, although not as varied as it is in the bush. Deer seem to be the only creatures smart, or dumb, enough to, as Clarke would say, “locomote about “ on plowed road shoulders. Not much wind today, at least in the shelter of the adjoining woods - just enough to generate a slight brushing sound in the tallest trees, and give the falling snow a bit of a swirl as it sought its resting place. Crows, ravens and woodpeckers were making their usual racket, probably protesting my intrusion, or perhaps reacting to the measured meter beat of my boots crunching through the snow. Eliza and Owl Creeks are frozen over, although I suspect there is flow beneath the ice, not from melt, but from mine leakage. A great day to be out.

My scanner just came alive with a report from a plow driver that it is “snowing like a bugger” up at Delaware. Good news for those of you with big January numbers in our snowfall-forecasting charade. However, as I peer out into the “circle of radiance” cast by the all too close *.* street light, I see little evidence that we are being so blessed. Oh’well, perhaps a favorable omen for those home sharpening their skates this evening – planning to test God’s intention that we not walk on water (and I’m sure if He thought the Sea of Galilee might ever freeze, He would have added, “ice”)

Seed Catalogues and Journals(1/10/03) The first seed catalogue arrived today. A couple of days ago, when we were lulled into thoughts of spring by mid forties temperatures, I would have been more susceptible to its lure, but today, with storm force winds roaring off the big lake and sub-zip windchills testing my water pipes, I’m a hard sell. I placed it in Saturday’s “to the dump” pile.

We are now in the “why the hell are you still here” phase of an Eagle Harbor winter. Email messages from our good neighbors Peter and Patricia Van Pelt, rhapsodizing about their round-the- world sail through southern oceans, have reinforced my interest in experiencing a winter in another venue. I’m not a candidate for the gold coasts of Florida, nor tantalized by the allure of the western deserts, but thoughts of being aboard a vessel traversing the warm waters of the Southern Hemisphere, visiting the exotic ports of the far and near east, as my Harbor neighbors scoop snow, are gaining in appeal. Perhaps a good opportunity to augment my limited celestial navigation skills.

I’ll get over it. One good trip around the Harbor cross-country ski trail will likely return me to sanity. Let’s hope the big off-lake winds of this evening bring us a little snow, making such a ski trip possible. It did feel good to slip and slide my way through blowing snow up to the copper town today to restock my grub and wine lockers (an article in today’s WSJ, lauding the heart benefits of a glass or two of wine each day, my allotment, albeit I have a large glass, provoked the medicinal trip.) And the raw beauty of the lake in tempest as I drove along the M-26 beaches on my way home reinforced my understanding of why I so cherish my Keweenaw winters. Would I miss this as I sat in my warm sun drenched freighter deck chair? You bet!!

The last of our lingering “head for the beaches” neighbors have now left, or are about to leave, reducing to a few score our Friday evening gatherings at the Inn, and limiting our options when we cell phone for tows when we slide off the roads. For about another month or two the sledders will liven things up, at least for our hosts at the Inn and the Shoreline, but we are clearly in the “off” season – the blessed time of introspection and self-reliance.

I’ve been using this opportunity to utilize the marvelous search capabilities of the Internet to learn as much as I can about the history of Eagle Harbor and its environs. Today’s find, perhaps known to many, was new to me, and a sheer delight. I’d purchased, via ebay, a page from an 1853 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine that contained an ink sketch of Eagle Harbor as it appeared to the artist in an 1852 visit to the Harbor. I was hesitant to make the purchase given my distaste for page by page marketing of historic publications, but the sketch (see it on the Harbor Web home page), was one of several embedded in Robert D. Clarke’s Notes From The Copper Region, a lively account of the author’s visit here within a decade of the Harbor’s first settlers. Our store may have been here “before Lincoln was President”, but Clarke was here before Messrs. Foley and Smith opened the store. He reported to his eastern readers that, “the village lies up among a stately and magnificent grove of yellow or Norwegian pines and consists of some thirty frame and log houses. It boasts one of the best public houses on Lake Superior, the Atwood House.” I am not sure of where the Atwood House stood, but wonder if it wasn’t what later was known as the Bawden House, which occupied the parcels now the sites of the Ellis, Medlyn and Been camps.

Clarke’s journal of his visit is fascinating reading (see the Harbor Web home page for a link to Cornell University’s Library digitized record), but I’m equally enthralled by Clarke’s classic and florid mid 19th century writing style. Here’s a writer of my own heart. The excerpt I've offered as a sample, Keweenaw in Winter, contains a sentence of some 64 words - I try, but can’t yet match this abuse of the period punctuation mark. (Clarke and I were well tutored in commas, dashes and colons, but he, like I, must have skipped school the day ending a sentence was discussed,) I’m going to present Clarke’s 62 word missive to a Houghton friend who shares my interest in the ancient art of sentence diagramming – it should keep us busy for a couple of hours the next time we meet at the Library Bar for drinks and diagramming.

It that doesn’t captivate you, take a look at Clarke’s, What On Earth Is So Happy As The Life Of A Gull, added to his journal as he was about to depart Eagle Harbor aboard the steamer Baltimore for his return to the Sault. His journal is filled with the interesting minutiae of early copper mining, but he’s clearly a romantic at heart. My kind of guy.

Clarke had a story to tell - a report to the many in Harper’s audience captivated by rumors of rich copper mines in the wilderness of the new country’s western frontier . Like Clarke, I too have stories to tell and impressions to share of my life in the still beautiful but no longer flourishing land of copper. The seeds for much of what occupies the electronic pages of this journal are often planted in my mind as I hike about the trails and roads that lie along the rocky shore and among the shouldering ridges of the big lake - savoring the sound of wind brushing through the tall pines, listening to the mummers and witnessing the tempests of the lake, and marveling at the ever present evidence of peoples and places now long departed. Clarke, in his shore excursions in search of the copper story, walked many of these same trails and visited many of the settlements whose ruins I encounter in my journeys.

Clarke apparently retired to the comfort and hospitality of the Atwood House to write of his experiences while visiting Eagle Harbor, much as I retire to the cozy comfort of my camp to tell my stories. I usually write in the presence of the sweet smell and crackling of my ever-present fireplace fire, often stimulated by a glass of good wine, as I suspect did Clarke. Today’s offering, prompted by a hike through the remnants of the Copper Falls location a few days ago, my witness of the rage of the lake in storm force winds, and the realization that our little settlement is in its winter hiatus, is the norm. Yes, I depart from convention on occasion, not unlike Clarke and his soliloquy on gulls, but the motivation is primarily to share my life’s experience in this blessed place. I’m no match for Clarke, a masterful journalist, but I try to be as relevant, or at least as interesting, to my readers as he was to his. Lacking his skills and his confidence as a writer, I usually wait until the following morning to post, allowing a chance for editing within the clarity of the new day. But I often wonder if much of the spontaneity is thus squandered. The evening offering is usually more tantalizing.

January seed catalogue arrivals are but a bit of spam, tempting but of little use - destined for the land fill. But the newly found journals of Clarke – they’re keepers

Beaches, Bays and Bluffs(1/6/03) Orion, the mighty hunter, slain by his love Diana, and thus earning a hallowed place among the stars (some guys do better than most of us in the aftermath of a troubled love), is now the dominant constellation in our winter night sky. He hovers high in our southeastern sky, holding aloft his mighty sword and shield above his sparkling belt and pleasing me as he has the celestial eye of eons of mankind. His presence was especially noticeable late Saturday evening as I ventured into the winter darkness to gather firewood from my quickly diminishing woodpile. The stars were brilliant, encouraging me to hike over to the rock beach near the Lake Breeze to view them without the distraction of our little town’s pesky “rings of radiance”. I built a small beach fire, huddled close, and lay back against the cold rocks to witness the celestial show. Magic!

We seem to be in the grip of a weather phoneme best described as unsettling. It’s cold, as befitting early January, but absent the lake effect snow showers that would normally be our lot. Trails, both ski and snowmobile, are nearly impassable and the Keweenaw landscape looks bleak – more like the last gasps of April than the usual bounty of mid-winter. The sledders, driven more by calendar than reality, persist in their annual sojourns, but the presence of First Responder calls to sledder accidents on the scanner evidence the risks they endure in their blind allegiance to their passion. Keweenaw’s winter merchants, always grasping at the fickle straws of such uncertain characters as Heikki Lunta, are understandably uneasy, as our all of us who depend upon winter visitors to underwrite the cost of our winter nights on the town and our slope and trail passions.

I, as you might have concluded, am less at risk. Anyone who finds joy in lying on cold rocky beaches in early January, accompanied only by the flickering flame and sweet smell of driftwood put to the torch, and raptured by the celestial show in the overhead blackness, is not likely to be distracted by such mercenary discomfort. I make no apologies – that’s where I am.

Few of my diehard, after holiday, Eagle Harbor winter neighbors share my passion for “winter nights on the beach”, but I believe we all revere the solitude and beauty of mid-winter. A day, or even days, without human contact can be, if not rhapsody, satisfying. It compels one to dig deeply in the reservoir of personal treasures, finding satisfaction in one’s own passions, one's avocations, and one's appreciation for the special beauty of Keweenaw in winter.

Earlier on that Saturday I’d hiked down to Great Sand Bay, long hikes being one of my passions, and climbed up to the top the highest dune. The wide expanse of sand beach is mostly clear in this snowless winter, but cold temperatures have built the ice shelf out to the shallow sand bar that lies just offshore – the bar that gives us so much pleasure as we ride summer waves breaking across it and up to the beach. Owl Creek, barely alive in the absence of snowmelt, lies listless in its zigzag meander across the beach. Eagles hover above its channel, hunting for land critters carelessly attracted to its open flow. The scene is likely no different than it was before man first walked the beautiful sands of this big bay.

Then this afternoon I trekked up to Mt Baldy’s bluff. An annual mid-winter escapade for me, prompted today by the absence of snow in the forecast, comfortable (low twenties) temperatures, moderate west winds, and the need for diversion from the year-end Historical Society bookkeeping and membership processing that has so monopolized my life of late. It’s about an eight-mile jaunt, not much longer than the hike to Sand Bay, but much more of a challenge. Indeed, as I climbed up the first hill to the trail fork above Cedar Creek, I experienced considerable chest pain, the product of either lungs rebelling against the influx of chill air, or my life companion angina, or both. The stumble down to the creek, along with a dose of nitro, seemed to offer relief, so I pressed on.

I was prepared. A sharp pointed walking stick to steady myself on icy slopes and possibly fend off any wolves that might take a fancy to me (several sightings of late and numerous tracks evidence their growing presence); pockets filled with candy, fruit and survival gear (fire starters, butane lighters, dried soup, a cup for boiling snow into water, space blankets, etc.); and, my cell phone (unfortunately of little use tight up against the lake side of the Keweenaw ridge. A note on my camp door explained my absence to any that in a few days might wonder why I wasn’t around. It would be best to make this winter trek in the company of another adventurer, but my Harbor neighbors are too savvy to engage in such foolishness.

There was more snow than I anticipated, about 10 to 12 inches of ground cover once I got a few hundred feet above the lake. The sledders had paved the way, packing the trail and making the footing firm, sometimes icy, but generally easygoing. Lots of critter tracks alongside and on the trail, including some wolf prints. But except for a few deer, a fox, and the startling blast of grouse roused from their winter roosts, little evidence of fauna. Not unexpectedly, my nearly four hours on the trail was unencumbered by the presence of another bundled up amphibian.

Upon reaching the base of the climb up to the first bluff, the beginning of The Nature Conservancy's recent conservation purchase, I was dismayed, but not surprised, to note that the signs prohibiting mechanized travel on the sensitive slopes had been removed, no doubt now decorating the trophy case of an irresponsible sledder. Lots of sled traffic up and across the bluffs as a result. It did make my climb easier, and except for at the top, where there is little snow cover, the sleds have done little damage. But the brutalizing at the top is unconscionable.

The experience at the top was mesmerizing. As all who have made this climb know, the view out across the vast expanse of the big lake (Isle Royale, forty miles distant, was a sharp image), up and down the line of bluffs that define the Keweenaw Ridge, down into the quiet valleys the ridges shelter, and back to the appropriately shaped Eagle Harbor, its camps and lighthouse seemingly like a collection of miniature buildings gathered about the base of our Christmas trees, is always a sensory treat. But in winter, it’s extra special. Perhaps just a perception generated by the thrill of the long and tough winter climb, or the splendid sense of witness to a scene few have experienced, but a rich reward for my effort – some may say my recklessness.

I was dismayed by the damage done by those who apparently feel that all of nature’s most beautiful places are to be accessed in the most effortless way possible, with apparently little regard for the degradation their choice of travel may produce. A sad commentary on our increasing disregard for the environment entrusted to us. (In fairness, the vast majority of sledders stick to the established trails, are respectful of other's properties, and are careful to avoid sensitive sites. As in most recreation groups, including sailors, there are always a few bad apples who tarnish our image.)

I’m now safely back in camp. Tired and a bit sore, but so enriched by the experiences of my time alongside the wintertime starlit beach fire, the wonder of witnessing Great Sand Bay warped in its snow and ice mantle, and most especially, the special thrill of a January climb to the top of the beautiful bluffs of the Keweenaw Ridge.

A day of rest is in order. Perhaps some of Lissa’s wonderful Shoreline blueberry pancakes for breakfast tomorrow – something to fortify me for another adventure.

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