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)

November and December, 2003 - January through May, 2004

Humpty-Dumpty (5/3/04) Perched like Humpty-Dumpty atop the seawall in front of my Harbor place on a warm April evening last week, sipping some good chardonnay, I listened to the waves lapping quietly against the rocky shore at my feet, tossed a few rocks at the pesky geese, and was humored by the gulls noisily squabbling over roosting rights on the nearby Raley dock.

I looked fondly at the forested hills lying behind our still sparsely populated harbor town. They have been off-limits too long and I am anxious to be once again tramping across their pine needle laden floor and enjoying the sweet scent of new growth. It appeared, however, that they have yet to feel the tug of spring, as only a faint hint of green is mixed in the winter brown and gray. Eliza and Cedar creeks gurgled quietly in the distance as they continue to contribute snowmelt to the thirsty big lake, but their flow has greatly diminished over the past few weeks.

As I enjoyed this early spring scene a pair of deer were nibbling on the greening grass, actually weeds, in my yard. Scores of them are daily evening visitors to harbor camps and their growing presence on roadside berms, especially along the harbor’s cutoff road, is causing our even most rambunctious drivers to be especially wary. While it seems much too early, there are reports of yard bird feeders entertaining prowling hungry bears. An eagle flew gracefully by, making its daily tour around the harbor in search of an evening snack. The too abundant crows, their constant chatter silenced for a blissful moment, cowered in the safety of the big oak at my back. Even the gulls abandoned their squabbling until the eagle disappeared.

I searched in vain for the migratory birds that are such a springtime delight for those of us living along the harbor shore. Where are the loons, the artic bound ducks and mergansers, and the snow geese? Perhaps I missed them while having fun at Marquette General, or they are yet to arrive, but there are usually scores of them bobbing on harbor waters at this time of year – enjoying a short rest before winging northward over the big lake. (I did spot a pair of sandhill cranes behind the harbor about a week ago.) Some say global warming is altering migratory timing and routes. Could be. This winter’s Isle Royale moose census decline (from 900 to 750) and wolf count increase (19 to 29) is attributed to the very noticeable warmer climate on the island. (Moose are weakened by the stress and tick infestations brought on by warmer temperatures, and thus easier prey for the thriving wolves.)

I thought of these changes in the rhythms of our natural world while indulging in the Humpty-Dumpty routine on the seawall, concluding once again that one shouldn’t mess around with Mother Nature – unless, apparently, you are a wolf.

The egg-shaped star of that ancient nursery rhyme seems at times like a metaphor for the rhythm of my own life of late. I too experienced a great fall, in my case from the grace of reasonably good health. But unlike the fate of the born too soon Humpty, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” of today’s medical kingdom have been able to put the pieces together again. Yes, there are some underlying cracks behind the veneer of recovery, but thanks to the skill of docs and surgeons, and, as importantly the support of family and friends, I can once again climb atop the wall to enjoy the blessings of life.

Indeed, as my caregivers constantly press upon me, some adjustments in my life-style are probably in order. Carefree several hour jaunts around the ski trail, mid-winter climbs to Baldy, and month-long single-handed sails into the northern reaches of the big lake, are all likely now but fond memories. I’ve eagerly added chores like yard care to their list, and accept the caution that some more enjoyable tasks, like firewood chopping and hauling, will need to be done in moderation. But I’ll soon be back in the bush and out upon the lake – once again finding nourishment in rich contacts with the remarkable and stimulating natural environment of this remote outpost along the rocky shore of Superior.

My quandary at the moment is the debilitating effect of a heart struggling to regain its strength. Even in my marathoning days, I realized that when over-exertion depleted the life-giving oxygen carried by the blood pumped from the heart, lungs would ache, muscles cramp, and brain cells become befuddled. Now, as a heart shattered by decay and the scars of too many surgical excursions seeks to heal itself, the effect of a weakened pump is similiar - all too noticeable in my daily life. Walks over to the marina, just a warm-up jaunt not too long ago, are a trial. I'm sure followers of these periodic journals about my Harbor life have noticed that even writing, one of the joys of my life, has been greatly diminished by an inability to transform thoughts to writing. Reading, another joy, is laborious. I know that with time, meds and better behavior this will all pass, but for the moment it’s a real bummer.

Nonetheless, there are precious and encouraging moments – like my delightful spell upon the seawall a few evenings ago. Even this labored attempt at journal writing has done wonders for my growing confidence. The now almost daily encounters with newly returned Harbor snowbirds are a joyus stimulant. The big lake, the provoker of much of the rhythm in my life, now awakened from its wintertime slumber by spring storms charging up from the warming hinterlands, is once again sending the sound of its happy fury ashore and stirring my soul. And Peregrine, my summer sailing obsession and solace, beckons mightily from its Pequaming winter perch. Yes, all will be well.

Humpty-Dumpty, at the moment a bit tattered by the trauma of the fall, will soon be back in business!

Fair Winds (2/25/04) Not sure where this entry in my Harbor Journal will lead, given my zapped concentration and composition prowess, but the writing juices have been stirred up by the experience of our truly first “spring is on the way” day. Gosh, it was nice! Bright sunlight, warm temperatures (low 40s), soft westerly breeze, wonderful icicles working down from roof eves, and even a delightful, albeit forbidden, walk up to my therapy place, the lighthouse, to take a few pictures for our web site and soak in the beauty of the snow covered ice still blanketing the harbor and near-shore big lake. Our streets are now mostly bare and there are even little patches of green beginning to appear in our yards. I’m sure a crocus or two will soon appear. Yes, my friends, spring is on the way! I'm reminded of the phrase sailors share at parting, "Fair winds" - Mother Nature seems to be saying that to me as I depart on my quest for a healing heart.

Perhaps we are just being teased. Keweenaw late winters often offer some surprises – big wet snows are frequent visitors in March and April as evidenced by average snowfalls of 28 and 10 inches for these shoulder months. (The records are 78 and 35 inches, but that was before we started poking holes in the ozone.) But of late an aging Heikki Lunta's snow dancing seems to be slowing down. No doubt he's still a bit frazzled by the few years he spent flirting with the babe of the warm seas, El Nino. Perhaps he too needs a heart job.

The only down side of this February tease is that our waning snowscape begins to look a bit shaggy, even ugly. Fortunately our Keweenaw road crews spread little of the black stamp sands that so mar the late winter roadsides in the towns up the hill so we are at least spared that blight. But after months of being dazzled by big piles of wind sculpted pristine snow, almost daily freshened with a layer of fluffy and sparkling new cover, we now look out at jagged and weary snow, showing all the signs of old age as it yields to the ever higher and warmer sunlight. It appears desperate and forlorn, seemingly to be grudgingly awaiting its fate. For some in our community, especially for those whose muscles and patience have grown weary of constant scooping and roof shoveling, a disappearing snow bank is a thing of great joy and beauty, but for we snow groupies the sight of waxing snow generates a touch of sadness.

I also note that the thin ice in the center of the harbor, swept clean of snow by wind whistling through the exposed harbor entry, is turning black – a sure sign that is about to sink into the cold water. (Oliver Otter will be happy.) The forested ridges behind the harbor are still a lifeless gray-brown and probably will remain so for another month or two. Yet, this evening’s setting sun, now almost due west, cast its golden glow on the hills, creating an almost fall like beautiful copper hue across the landscape – a striking contrast to the brilliant white of the ice and snow covered waters and the deep blue of the cloud free evening sky. Despite the dispirited snow, there is still great beauty to behold.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are few of us now here to witness this wonderful change of season – probably fewer than a couple dozen souls, not counting the also dwindling number of snowmobilers and skiers. I, as you might guess, relish this time of harbor solitude. Sure, I eagerly await the return of my much missed migrating harbor neighbors, but the awesome silence and so peaceful presence of the Keweenaw at this time of year is a rich tonic for my soul as I uneasily contemplate yet another surgical assult and the memories of rugged recoveries. I’m storing up peace of mind. Just one of the blessings of a life in this special place.

I’ve also been blessed by the scores of “good wishes” messages sent my way by Harbor Web followers. Many have shared encouraging stories of their, or friends, encounters with fading hearts, good reminders for me that in this era of modern medical practices such frailties of the body are routinely and competently remedied. I share that confidence, but these messages are of great comfort. I thank you all. Our little Harbor Web community is such a rich source of support!

So spring is seemingly at hand. I suspect by the time I return (in about three weeks), brimming with restored vigor, there will be open water in the harbor and the first of waterfowl headed north to the artic tundra will be arriving – always a welcomed sight. There might even be a hint of green in the hills and Eliza and Cedar creeks will likely be flowing once again. My “snowbird” neighbors will still be pushing their toes into warm sand (they are not as easily duped, as I, by this spring tease), but by then the time of their much welcomed return will be measured in weeks, not months. The pace of life in the harbor will still be wonderfully slow, but seldom seen wintertime neighbors will be out poking about in their yards, gathering up the winter debris and admiring the tenacity and beauty of colorful crocus pushing up through the remaining snow. And eager, as always, for a friendly chat. My favorite springtime reading, the West Marine catalogue, will be in my mailbox, tantalizing me with goodies I really don’t need but will hopelessly order. And just think, I’ll still have time to fess up to Uncle Sam’s tax collectors.

Now, as the darkness of this February day arrives, I wander outside to breath in the intoxicating Keweenaw air, saturated this night with the luxurious moisture of evaporated snow, and gaze up into the clear night sky at Orion, my celestial guardian, shining brightly in the high southern sky. He offers his usually reassurance, as he has for eons of mortals like me - "You are safe. All will be well."

May God bless us all.

Fair winds!

Winter Entertainment(213/04) Oliver Otter is back onstage; his antics out on the harbor ice pack once again providing a primary source of entertainment for the few souls still hunkered in their harbor view winter camps. (Yes, things are pretty slow up here.) Apparently spending the winter in Eliza Creek, he crawls through one of the big snow buried culverts under Front Street, slides down the snow covered beach and then slithers lickety-split across the ice to open water near the harbor entry to do a little fishing. I marvel at his ability to sense the presence of open water nearly a half-mile from his winter abode. Open water is a rare event; only present for a few hours after gale driven waves rolling in from the big lake destroy the ice pack Perhaps he’s figured out the correlation of big winds and good mid harbor fishing. One savvy critter!

He must be a good fisherman, because as soon as he surfaces from his first dive, his nemesis, two big eagles, begin to circle overhead looking for a free lunch. They dive at him the minute he crawls up on the ice shelf with his catch. He dives back in the cold water, apparently with his catch, and the frustrated eagles resume their circling, waiting for him to pop up again. This cat and mouse game goes on for an hour or so, Oliver seemingly enjoying the chase and always one ice flow ahead of the big birds. Of course, the birds must at last enjoy success - why would they return? My guess is that Oliver at some point humors them by leaving some catch on a flow, taking advantage of their distraction for a quick dash back across the ice to the safety of Eliza Creek. It’s quite a show!

We enjoyed another form of entertainment yesterday afternoon and evening. Massive clouds of swirling snow whipped up by near forty mile per hour northwest winds – all at a time when the sky above was a brilliant blue. The inch or two of fresh and very fluffy snow we have enjoyed for each of the last several days, not yet packed down into a heavy mass, became airborne, producing at times whiteout conditions. I’d been suckered into a hike around to the marina by the mid-twenties temperature and beautiful sunshine, but quickly found myself engulfed in swirling snow and near zero wind chills. Nonetheless, it was an exhilarating experience, made even more so by occasional bursts of bright sunshine that transformed the surrounding landscape into a brilliant spectrum of pristine white, sparkling blue and lively forest green.

More winter entertainment awaited my return – splitting fireplace wood. It’s not on my heart docs list of recommended exercise, but it needs to be done if I’m to be able to enjoy the cozy fires I relish, and I enjoy the task. The wood pile is of course buried in snow and frozen, so the chopping can’t begin until I’ve dug out and hammered loose the logs, the most challenging part of the job. Then the splitting, the activity I most enjoy. Sort of a test of my eye-arm coordination and my stamina, made even more so yesterday by the swirling snow and cold wind. It takes a few whacks of the big splitting axe before my aim places the blade in the center of the upended log, but once in the groove, I’m a happy, albeit inept, woodsman. Frozen logs make a loud and sharp crack as the meet their fate, a sound that is pleasing to my ear and satisfying to my sense of achievement. My daily allotment is about nine logs – split, quartered, stacked and then hauled into the woodbin alongside the fireplace, enough to keep the fire going for another day and evening. Great fun, but exhausting – yet the pleasing sense of exhaustion I relished after the long runs of my running days.

I do solely miss my favorite winter entertainment, treks on the ski trail. As important to me in winter as sailing is in the summer. But the ski trail is at the top of my doc’s taboo list, so for now I’ll at least mind my ways. I get checked out next week, so hopefully I’ll get the green light to get back on the trails before what I’m told are the best conditioned trails in years begin their inevitable yielding to the coming spring. Snowshoeing, another mainstay of Harbor winter entertainment is unfortunately also on the no-no list. The good news is that what would normally be trail time has been consumed by cozying up to the fire and finally enjoying my ever expanding library of good books – perhaps the richest blessing of this winter.

So, for now the antics of Oliver Otter, exhilarating walks in swirling snow, the satisfaction of wood chopping, and armchair adventuring will have to suffice. Hey, perhaps not your idea of great entertainment, but it sure beats going to work everyday!

Winter Moon (2/8/04) A couple of nights ago I was roused from fitful sleep by a bright light steaming through my window, brighter even than the pesky street light down the road. Curious, I abandoned my warm and cozy comforter, stumbled over to the cold window, and lo and behold, parked high in a clear night sky was the moon, not just any old moon but the stark white February full moon, the first observable nighttime celestial event of this cloud prone year.

Unlike our big golden summer moons, their reflected light richly hued, magnified and diffused by high altitude wind born chaff from the blooming western prairies, a mid-winter moon, its light unencumbered by celestial trash, is seemingly smaller, more like a dime than the big half-dollar of summer moons, certainly brighter, and with edges so distinct that crater ridges seem to project from its profile. It appeared cold and barren; projecting a sense of aloofness, almost distain, as it looked down at the dark side of mother earth from its high perch. Summer moons, by contrast, always appear in high spirits and friendly, seemingly enjoying the sounds of moon worshiping songs drifting up from beach fire gatherings. Not surprisingly, there is no such worshiping for the winter full moon, but undeterred, it faithfully performs its eons old ritual of turning a dark Keweenaw winter landscape into a magical scene of fresh snow crystals sparkling like diamonds. Its light was intense, reminding me, mercifully just briefly, of the terrifying sight of a locomotive headlight bearing down on me as I, in an ill-advised youthful adventure, walked at night across a long railroad trestle on a dare.

My February moon, however, seemed more forgiving, more comforting, not rushing towards me, but hanging motionless in the star studded sky, its bright beams flowing harmlessly across pristine snow piled deeply around my camp. Indeed, its quiet presence and the magical scene its light was producing on the snowscape, unlocked the always at the ready sense of romanticism that seems to dominate my senses in these, the “golden years”, of my life. I quickly donned some warm clothes, laced up the Bean hoofers, and headed for the lighthouse, anxious to experience this magic up close and personal. I was richly rewarded.

Despite the bright light, getting up to the lighthouse was not an easy task. Scores of snowmobilers have packed the road up to the gate, affording good footing, but once inside the gate, the drifting snow grasped my legs and smothered my boot tops, sending little cool trickles of melting snow down into my socks, hopefully not awakening the pneumonia bugs that have plagued me of late. Moonlit snowscapes lack definition, and depth perception, never my strong suite, was nil. I floundered about, leaving a track of involuntary snow angels. The big drift in the lee of the tower proved impassable, so I retreated to the lighthouse’s windward lake facing side, leaning against the red brick wall for support as I worked my way to the tower base. It’s now about two a.m. and I’m standing on my favorite lake and night sky viewing spot.

The beam of the big light up above swept across the ice pack, finding little to justify its winter existence, seemingly just enjoying the competition with the moon for attention. The air was still; the far off open waters of the big lake enjoying a well-earned quiet rest from the gales that have riled its surface for the past month. The moon’s bright light played across the rough surface of the ice shelf extending out about a half-mile to the edge of the Keweenaw current. The ice ridges cast long gray shadows, creating a fascinating pattern of gray and white, not unlike the shadows playing across the rugged terrain of the moon itself. I could hear the churning of the ice at the edge of the current – carrying out the never ending battle of determined expanding ice and the equally determined current for winter dominance. Even in winters when the pack ice stretches to the horizon, the current, apparently a product of prevailing westerlies attempting to push the big lake’s waters around the obstructing Keweenaw Peninsula, maintains some open water, or at least slowly moving slush ice, along our rocky Eagle Harbor shoreline.

I learned about this a few years ago, at a time when the ice appeared solid to Canada, as I ventured out on the ice shelf to test the validly of off told stories of treks across the ice to Isle Royale. Another ill-advised adventure, this time not the product of youthful exuberance or an irresistible dare, but just a brain deadening creeping curiosity. Fortunately, I beat a hasty retreat when I realized the hard ice was suddenly getting soft – and moving. I thought of this adventure as I leaned against the moonlit tower, remembering that the storied across lake treks were supposedly conducted with the aid of a mid-winter full moon’s bright light. The only rational explanation for these stories, and there are few, if any, is that the trekers supposedly used Copper Harbor as a Keweenaw base. My summer sailing suggests that the Keweenaw current begins to lose its punch further up the coast, perhaps losing its battle with the lake ice near Copper Harbor. I wonder.

Yes, as I huddled by the base of the lighthouse tower, mesmermized by the brightly lit scene around me, my mind began to wander to thoughts of other times and peoples, and the mysteries of our natural world and celestial setting. The lighthouse perch seems to always have that effect on me – the vast expanse of lake and sky seemingly drawing my inner self out into the enormous and enticing abyss of time immortal and unrestricted space. This sense of fathomless time and space is most pronounced on nights such as this night of the winter moon – when there is just enough light to provide a bearing for who and where you are, but enough murky darkness and celestial display to transport your being beyond the undefined horizon and boundaryless space into the mysterious realm of the unknown.

I stayed for about a half-hour before cold feet intruded on my consciousness. I reluctantly bid the February moon a fond adieu and returned to camp, seeking the comfort of dry feet and a warm bed. As I climbed up the brightly moon lit snow covered steps of my cottage, I glanced up at Mr. Moon. He winked, or so I imagined; no doubt pleased by my worship. My fitful night of sleep was over - cleansed of its restlessness and contemporary worries by the embrace of our winter full moon and the wonderful journey of mind and soul it engendered.

Recovery(1/31/04) Snowfall of 100 inches or more in a single month is a rarity even in Keweenaw, the self appointed “snow capitol of the Midwest.” In the nearly five decades our world class snow pushers have been keeping the snow tally, it’s happened fewer times than the fingers on your hands. But this, the dawning month of the recently celebrated, “Year of the Monkey”, is such a month. And with a light snow trickling down on this, the last day of January, we celebrate an even more rare phenomenon, snowfall on every day of a month. We are so blessed!

It’s hard to grasp the enormity of this happy circumstance. Imagine, a monthly snowfall in excess of the height of the room you are likely ensconced in as you read this journal. Sure, it packs under the pressure of its weight, now settled down to nearly four feet of snow cover, but have you ever attempted to tromp through waist deep snow? Even skis flounder in such conditions, unless, of course, the trail has been groomed and tracked by our stalwart machine assisted groomers, or you are swooping down one of Keweenaw’s mighty hills. But for most of us, a trek in the bush is now only possible with the aid of one of man’s (American Indians) earliest traveling-about breakthroughs, the snowshoe.

Alas, for me, this month of great snow has been simply a thing of great wonder and beauty – not a time of trekking and skiing through the snow-laden bush. A bout of pneumonia and pleurisy, triggering unstable angina, put the kibosh on outdoor fun – and, as I’m sure you noticed, zapped my writing energy. I’ve been, and remain, effectively under house arrest; faithfully downing my daily dose of anti-biotics and feel better pills. A hard drive crash early in the month added to my dismay, and made its own contribution to the lassitude of the Harbor Web over the past several weeks. Recovery, both for the magic box, and for me is well underway, and I hope to be back “on the job” soon.

All has not been for naught, however. Each day brought the splendor of beautiful new snow, the arrival of gorgeous and absolutely awesome massive blue sky tinged lake effect snow clouds rolling in from the lake, and the opportunity for cozying up for hours alongside a blazing fire with a good book – an all too rare treat when I’m normally out seeking a new adventure in the bush. I’m now an armchair companion to the adventures of early Pacific explorers Magellan, Cook, Bligh, and Wilkes – men of extraordinary skill, tenacity and courage, whose several year excursions through uncharted Pacific waters from Antarctica to the Artic pale into insignificance my wanderings in our hospitable bush. The specter of warm Polynesian seas and islands has certainly been a balm as our temperatures toyed with the zero mark.

I’ve also been reminded once again of the value of good neighbors. I’ve made a couple of trips up to the copper city for docs, grub (the rock hard green bananas are back at my favorite emporium), and pills. But for the most part, it’s been the assistance and nurturing of my Harbor neighbors that has sustained me during this little household adventure. The “chicken soup” remedies have been brought to my door, firewood dug out of the rapidly diminishing and snow covered woodpile and stacked alongside my fireplace, snow plowed away from my stoop and car park, and daily checks to see how I’m doing and what needs I might have. I’m so fortunate!

House arrest has also afforded more than usual attention to the changing scene outside my Harbor view windows. Harbor waters are now frozen solid and blanketed in snow, but big waves pushed ashore by each of our several January northerly gales have savaged the yet young ice, producing large areas of pewter hued open water. As the gales abate, the ice quickly regroups, its storm induced flaws quickly obscured by the never-ending snow. Each day seems to bring another foot or two to the height of the massive snow bank across the road – the work of the big plow that's been passing by several times a day, its driver and wingman pausing to send a friendly wave to the face in the window. (I think they are still looking for the late Wonderdog, whose antics and barking at the sight of the big orange truck, seemed to delight them.) I’m also closely watching the snow piling up on the relatively flat roof of the little summer cottage I have on my property, wondering if I should get it shoveled off before its weight flattens my summer haven, an all too common Keweenaw calamity in years of big snow. (You no doubt remember the old story of a young reporter sent up here by a Detroit newspaper to see how we cope with big snow, who upon observing a man up shoveling his roof, and wishing to interview him,inquired as to how long he’d be up there, and was told, “Well, I usual get down for the Fourth celebration.”) Strong winds have pushed much of the snow over the lee eave of the summer cottage, it’s now drooping down three or four feet, miraculously held together by some inner strength that I’ve never been able to fathom. (There is probably a lesson about "hanging in there" for me in that.)

At night, I watch the dwindling number of camps with glowing windows. There are now only a few left, almost none among the bay facing cottages. It’s bail out time for all but the most hardy, or stubborn, or folks like me who get their jollies out big snow and splendid isolation. I sometimes chuckle upon reading the many messages I receive from “Keweenaw want-a-bees”, many former or decendent Copper Country folks, wondering if they have suffered a memory loss, or truly grasp the reality of our long, dark and challenging winters. It’s not a haven for anyone pampered by the convenience and stimulation of a more urban existence, or for those who find their own company insufficient. Yet, for others, those who find solace and nurturing in a place where one is immersed in the wonder and daily lessons of a life “in the bush”, it can be a salvation – as it has been for me. As Nancy Lord so aptly states in the quote at the masthead of these journals,
“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."

So, as this month of big snow and my personal trials and tribulations comes to a close, I am at peace. Yes, the lure of the bountiful snow, and the happy frolicking it would afford, are oh so tempting, and there are still some near term medical adventures to experience, but there is much to be thankful for – not the least of which are the care and concern of neighbors, the blessing of recovery, and an added appreciation of my good fortune of being in such a nurturing environment.

'Tis The Season (12/20/03)(click image to enlarge) It’s very late in the evening, on the Saturday before Christmas. A brightly burning fire in the fireplace casts its warm and flickering glow throughout the room. The candles on my big farm table add their own dancing light, their flames teased by the always present drafts in this old, but cozy camp. A trip to the attic this afternoon uncovered my old, and a bit frazzled, lighted wreath, which now hangs precariously on the pine paneled wall, adding a touch of sparkling red, green and orange to the dimly lit scene. The radio, tuned as usual to the wonderful North Carolina classical station brought to us by neighbor Bill Jackson’s Eagle Harbor Cable, softly plays holiday music – a personal favorite, Jessye Norman singing Schubert’s Ave Maria, now adding to the richness of this moment. Beautifully wrapped presents sent to me by my family are piled high on a fireside chair, ready to give me pleasure on Christmas day. Ah, ‘tis the season!

Outside, all is still – and magical. A light adorned small “nodding head” deer fixture, sent to me today by a daughter, shines brightly in the darkness, its dazzling light delighting the nearby Snow Bear and casting its bright radiance across the snow covered yard. My outdoor holiday tree, a twenty-foot pine just outside my window is loaded with colorful lights dancing a slow waltz in tonight’s gentle wind. Other lighted trees and beautifully decorated homes adorn the harbor shore, their happy countenance doubled as they reflect on the harbor waters. The yellow-orange phosphorus street lights, too often a bane in my life, tonight seem to have joined in the holiday spirit, giving shape and shadow to the fresh snow, and extending long flickering candle shaped reflections across the rippling harbor to my appreciative eye.

It’s quiet – just the soft murmur of the restless big lake, the muted wash of gentle waves rolling slowly onto the beach, and the swish of light breeze playing in the treetops. There is little evidence of the gathering holiday families; just a few lights in cottages that were dark a few nights ago. No one seems to be out enjoying this magical evening – it’s late, and our always welcomed holiday visitors are likely snug in their warm beds, sleeping soundly in the fresh Keweenaw air after a long journey from their winter home. Indeed, the Harbor Inn was quiet last evening, just a handful of the Friday night regulars, the rest apparently at home to welcome kids and grandchildren.

Our exciting ski trail (it will change from “exciting” to “beautiful” when I regain my ski balance) is also quiet. Friday’s trip around the entire trail, all thirteen kilometers, was solo except for one equally beleaguered skier encountered deep in the bush. We met as old friends, albeit our first meeting, eager to share our mutual joy of the fresh snow, good track, and the golden glow of late day sunlight filtering down through the stately tall pine. I managed to remain upright, even as I swooped down into my old nemesis, Calamity Gully, until I encountered a steep hill on a nice new trail segment Bruce has opened near Lake Eliza to avoid the nearby, and hazardous, snowmobile trail. I just couldn’t muster the strength to get up it, finally resorting to crawling after failing with my inept herringbone and side stepping maneuvers. Fortunately, the new testing ground is less than a kilometer from trailhead, so, although thoroughly spent and a bit rattled by the encounter, I easily swooped down the final segment slope along Eliza Creek in the fading daylight to my awaiting van.

Tomorrow will be a testing time for my snow bear. Mid thirties temperatures are forecast, and apparently a southerly breeze will cause unseasonable warmth to linger for a day or two. Cloud cover will hopefully give the snow bear some respite. The snow bear will welcome, as will I and all who gather at the Harbor for the holiday, the forecasted mid-week wind shift to the north and the accompanying colder air, resulting, I’m confident, in lake snow flurries for our Christmas eve and day. We will all gather Christmas Eve at our little candle lit church for a service of worship, thanksgiving and the warm fellowship of friends and family. Eagle Harbor’s newest born, little Lucy Ione Westlake, will be christened, reminding us all of the joy of the birth of the babe in the manager.

The hour is now late, and sleep intrudes into my being. The soaring sound of Handle’s Messiah now floods my cozy camp, and the twinkling holiday lights in our little town still burn brightly around the dark waters of the harbor. I’m reluctant to leave this magical scene. Perhaps just a few more minutes alongside my dwindling fire. ‘Tis surely “the season.”

A Merry Christmas to all who follow this journal of my life in this remote, but very special, outpost on the shore of the big lake. May your own Christmas be of equal joy as you gather with friends and family in your special place.

The Three Score And Ten Snow Bear (12/16/03)(click image to enlarge) Sunday’s trek around the yet pristine ski trail reminded me that at age three score and ten plus there are some physical limitations in my life that I’ve yet to properly acknowledge. Sure, there are some septuagenarians in our company, living a more pristine life, who would view my huffing and puffing of Sunday with casual disdain. (I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of my many body abuse transgressions). But even when I whip myself back into sailing season condition, the reality of a mature life is that I perhaps need to, as many have suggested, start acting my age. I’ll add that to my voluminous list of resolutions for the New Year – destined, I’m sure, to the same dismal fate as has befallen most such declarations of years past.

Harbor life, especially in winter, is always a testing time. My cozy camp, with its warm fire, abundant books and a fine collection of the music I most enjoy, offers comfortable and often tempting refuge. But the even more plentiful temptations of the opportunities for getting out and enjoying treks and adventures on the trails through the Keweenaw hills, bush and snow are both the joy and bane of my life. When I cease yielding to these siren songs, life will truly be incomplete. As it is, while my muscles and lungs might cry out for relief, and my heart beat a bit faster than it should, my sojourns into the wonder that is our everyday companion in this gorgeous spot on earth are rich food for my soul. For me, that’s more than just compensation.

Sunday’s trek, while tiring, and probably a bit unwise, is a case in point. Few experiences in life are richer than being in the bush after the winter season’s first good snowfall. (Yes, we enjoyed our earlier snows, but only snowfalls that bring out the monster plows merit a “good” rating in the Keweenaw, and the big plows were out in force for the first time this winter.) I paused several times on this trek, in part to catch my breath and allow the heart to settle down, but mostly to admire the beauty of the freshly fallen and wind sculptured snow, unmarked except for the erratic and seemingly happy track patterns of critters, and to be comforted by the eerie but wonderful silence of the bush in the aftermath of a storm.

Deer, apparently still sensing the presence of hunters, stayed clear of my fading eyesight, but their abundant tracks evidenced their success in once again outwitting the frustrated hunters. (This despite the widespread practice of baiting. I wish bear had an equal chance of survival, but with dogs to chase and tree the prey, the odds are, I believe, unfairly stacked.) I was greatly amused by the wallowing track of an otter that scooted along the ski trail for almost a quarter mile – probably having a much fun as I was. And is there any track more interesting than the giant leaps of the snowshoe rabbit, especially with the track of a fox in close pursuit?

Is it any wonder then, that as I scooted down the last hill to my awaiting trail head van, panting and body weary, my rapidly beating heart was filled with unspeakable joy – once again my soul nourished by the wonder of our natural environment. Yes, I’d been tested, but the rewards were plentiful.

Now, two days later, we are reveling in yet another beautiful snow. The winter storm warning flags went up yesterday, but as this morning dawned, the weather pros lost their nerve, and pulled them down to half-mast – saying we would have to settle for light rain mixed with snow showers, with the prospect of the dreaded black ice on our roads. Such a forecast usually means that those of us camped along the shore of the still warm big lake, the banana belt, will likely only experience mist and sleet. Imagine our surprise and delight when soon after the arrival of our now so late arriving dawn, big, and very wet, snowflakes began to trickle down from the ever-present cloud cover. Not a big snow, only a few inches, but oh so beautiful and tempting. The trees, their snow burden of last week’s storm brushed away by big winds, are once again heavily laden in lush white snow. Gosh it’s beautiful!

The scanner banter speaks of very slippery roads in the “higher terrain”, so I’m glad I cancelled a trip to the copper cities to do some Christmas shopping for my grandkids. The ski trail beckoned, especially after being so beautifully groomed and tracked on Monday, but I’m not yet sufficiently recovered from Sunday’s trek. So what to do – the situation called for more than sitting back and soaking in the beautiful scene outside my camp. A delimma.

So, doing what any mature and responsible adult would do given the circumstances, I ventured out into the fresh snow to make a snowman.

It’s been much too long since I’d attempted a snowman, and I was a bit concerned that if my neighbors witnessed what some call the “elderly person” out rolling in the snow, they might call for the crazy person van. Indeed, my ineptness at rolling wet snow into big balls, was, I’m sure, painfully obvious. What started out as a traditional snowman, soon became a snow bear as the burden of lifting the snowman’s belly atop the big base was more than I could handle. Actually, the prospect of a snow bear seemed even more appropriate for the Keweenaw and much more appealing to my funny bone. Such fun, and while my bear would be embarrased at Tech’s Winter Carnival, I like it.

I sent a picture of grandpa’s Eagle Harbor snow bear to my kids and grandchildren. The grandkids will probably enjoy it more than the Christmas presents I’m yet to buy, and in their childlike innocence and love of life, will likely see just a funny looking bear, and not its many imperfections. "Awesome!", as one of them is prone to say. As for my daughters, I expect they will just roll their eyes and exclaim, “Oh dad!”. That too will please me.

So what’s this nonsense about the physical limitations of a three score and ten life, and acting my age? My soul is almost daily amply nourished by my bush adventures, and I’m having fun!

One more item to cross off my dwindling list of New Year resolutions.

An Apple Pie Day (11/23/03) Harbor streetlight huggers can barely contain their glee as they revel in the surprising news that Eagle Harbor has been named as the nation's top place to stargaze. A lot of good natured ribbing of the guy who keeps complaining to a receptive web site audience about “pesky” streetlights impeding one’s inherent right to view the beautiful night skies of the Keweenaw. My only plausible defense is that the stargazer who so elevated our standing among celestial groupies, visited our town during one of our increasingly frequent blackouts – or perhaps during one of my BB gun rampages.

I’ll be spared further ribbing today. Just in the nick of time a big winter storm has moved in, forcing the huggers to cancel some sort of a solidarity march on the citadel of the prince of darkness - my camp. I am prepared for their lamentations, having yesterday installed my Christmas lights on the pine out front with the intent of distracting the artificial light lovers with an unexpected outpouring of its dazzling display.

Yes, it’s stormy today. Hardly the storm of the century envisioned by our seemingly weather news desperate local media pretty faces, but respectable nonetheless. Gale force northwest winds have the big lake dancing, making a heck of a ruckus as big black, white crested rollers end their hundred-mile journey in a furious display of anger as they encounter our unyielding rocky shore. Not much snow so far along the shoreline banana belt, but if I’ve properly translated the Finish laden scanner chatter of the plow drivers, conditions in the hinterland are going from bad to worse. I’d planned to drive to the Twin Cities today to join my family for the big turkey roast, but the sailor survivor instincts in me cautioned against such folly. Perhaps tomorrow. For now, I’ll sit alongside my cozy fire, watch the waves, crank up the music box, do some writing, catch up on my reading, and treat myself to a homemade apple pie. My kind of day!

Before embarking on this little verbal hike about the Harbor, I checked with the Internet byte counters to see if anyone has been knocking on the door of this electronic connection with the world. And, if so, which of the many pages of this hometown paper seem to be of interest to those who either stumble upon it, or for lack of anything better to do, dial it up.

My goodness! Such a pleasant surprise! Anywhere from 600 to 800 folks are stopping by each day. That’s more people than I thought even knew Eagle Harbor existed, certainly many more than I ever envisioned would for long tolerate the confusion of the site’s layout, or the need for some local insight to understand what’s going on. It is also interesting to note that visits are less during the weekends, a time when folks have better things to do, but pick up during the week – no doubt testimony that there are a lot of slow days at the office. There must be a lot of lurkers since not much of what crawls into this space gets folks riled up enough to rattle the editor, or is interesting enough to cause comment. An old newspaper friend once told me that his standard for writing and editing was to cause ma or pa, as he or she pursues your work, to say suddenly to their spouse, “My God, have you seen this!”

The byte counter report also provided some insight about what, if anything, beyond the front-page people find of sufficient intrigue to turn to. Pictures of anything connected to this little outpost on the big lake are a clear first choice. I guess folks are captivated by what it’s like up here in winter. I need to get the camera cranked up, even if the lack of sun in early winter and my general ineptness in romanticizing color blandness, produces photos that, at least to me, seem lifeless.

These journals of my Harbor life apparently have an audience. Not sure why, perhaps because they are at least a substitute, albeit a poor one, for the missing photos. It might also be that their kooky content, peculiar style, and irreverent tone appeal to readers seeking an alternative to the pabulum represented in too much of what is generally regarded as good public journalizing. (Private journals are another matter - they need be more truthful.) The journal response also tells me that any reporting of life at the Harbor will have an audience, no matter how convoluted and far-fetched it might be. The message page also has a lot of visitors – we all like to eavesdrop.

It’s also instructive to learn that stories, memories, news, whatever, submitted by Harbor Web followers are very popular. We need more of this. Indeed, it is the interactive aspect of this web site that represents its core strength and appeal. Send something in!

Enough of this – now back to the storm. Anything facing north is now sheeted in wet snow, and the roads appear to be a driver’s nightmare. A quick dash to the woodpile a few minutes ago disclosed some fresh deer tracks in my yard – deer perhaps driven down from the deep snow building in the hills in search of food. They apparently sense that the hunters are all hunkered in their warm digs, waiting out the blow, and lining up in front of the tubes for the Packer game – about the only thing around here that takes precedence over the annual hunt.

If the storm lifts by tomorrow, as it appears it might, I’ll test my winter driving skills and adrenaline reserve by slipping and sliding my way to Minneapolis to join my family – a rare and much anticipated all family gathering. A new grandson will be there, a now over year-old child I’ve not seen since he was an infant. I’m in charge of pie baking, about my only culinary skill. My few Harbor neighbors will be busy digging out, or at least chipping away at the ice that seems to be our share of this storm’s wrath. I’ll plug my too early Christmas lights into the timer so that any of the huggers who might venture this way will not be disappointed by my absence.

The wonderful aroma of today’s almost baked apple pie is now in the air. It’s time to end this bit of writing, and tend to my kitchen duties – and then sit by my roaring fire, watching the storm, and enjoying my pie. Don’t you wish you were here?

My best wishes to all for a joyous and safe Thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for, – including, I suppose, our ill-gotten status as the nation’s best stargazing town.

Silver Linings (11/18/03) Looking through my rain splattered window yesterday at the pewter hued harbor waters lifelessly wallowing about in the chilling, but light west breeze, and then up to the brooding low hanging clouds obscuring the hills beyond, I searched vainly for a silver lining to this depressing scene. Surely, I thought, there must be some glimmer of beauty, some hint of color, or at least some motion, to raise my spirit. Alas, as the coal black of our increasingly early nighfalls crept in under the clouds; not even the sometime playful patterns of rain streaking down my window were visible. An ugly day!

Today’s a bit better. The clouds are still with us, but lifting and not as thick, freeing the hills from their grasp, and allowing some muted sun light to play across the harbor water, turning its surface from yesterday’s dull pewter to a shiny silver. It’s still raw outside, not conducive to comfortable treks along the shore roads, but the rain has ended – much to the relief of my rain soaked and beleaguered woodpile. And with the wind once again blowing hard from the west, there are wonderful sounds from the big lake. Tomorrow is supposed to be even more lively, with sunshine to give the scene some sparkle and temperatures that bode well for drying the firewood, and offering an opportunity for a little outdoor adventure. Even as I type, some patches of blue sky are appearing to the west – truly a silver lining.

My mood yesterday was dampened a bit as I contemplated a sign I encountered the day before as I hiked along Great Sand Bay. Perhaps you have seen it; I’m told it’s been there since mid summer. Apparently placed there by our County Road Commission at the request of the private owners of much of the beach, it declares the wide expanse of beach to the east of the place where we park to access the beach as “Private Beach”, and the beach to the west towards Owl Creek as “Public Beach”. We, the public, still have plenty of good beach to play and swim, and I assume, or at least hope, we will continue to be able to walk further west to the big dunes and the fabulous pebble beach where generations of Keweenaw residents and vacationers have searched for “pretty rocks” and the evasive agate. Nonetheless, the awareness that a big chunk of arguably Keweenaw’s most beautiful, most swim friendly, and most popular beaches is now “off limits” was a bit unsettling.

Why, I wondered, would anyone deny public access to such a beautiful and unique resource? The owners of the now private beach I’m sure are like most who choose the Keweenaw as a place to invest, live and play – not simply resource covetous, but careful and considerate stewards of the beautiful lands and waters we have inherited. The answer, I’m told, is that a few inconsiderate members of our public community have made a nuisance of themselves, showing considerable disrespect for the rights and privacy of the now private beach’s adjacent residents. One can sympathize with the plight of these residents – trying to reconcile their sense of stewardship with their understandable desire for the privacy we all seek, and their right to unfettered enjoyment of their property. There are no easy answers to such situations – situations unfortunately becoming more common as the lure of the Keweenaw draws more people here as residents and vacationers.

Indeed, the Great Sand Bay beach dilemma is not unique. Each year more and more of our Keweenaw shoreline, our inland lakes, and our forested areas, for generations open to all to enjoy, are being closed to public access. Gates close popular hiking trails; beautiful beaches become private; spectacular Superior, harbor and inland lake shorelines fill with private homes; and even pristine roadside vistas yield to the development axe and, or, are decked with “no trespassing” signs. For those of us who live here this creeping change is not readily apparent; it often takes an unexpected encounter with a trail gate, or the appearance of a “closed” sign at a popular spot, to get our attention. But, I expect for our many vacationers, many think the mainstay of our local economy, the change is striking, and perhaps more disturbing.

Fortunately, and here’s the silver lining to today’s soap box oratory, our public bodies and many private groups and individuals are doing something to assure that many of the splendid natural resources of the Keweenaw will forever be available for us and for the generations who will follow us to this special place along the shore of the big lake. Our own township, bless their souls, is exhibiting considerable leadership in this worthy task.

Within a month, our Township Board will complete the purchase of another big parcel, creating public access, and, as importantly, wildlife habitat protection, to nearly a thousand acres of stunning lands, lakes and marshes stretching from Lake Eliza to the Great Sand Bay dunes. Our friends in the Copper Harbor community are taking steps to protect Hunter’s Point, one of our Superior shoreline gems. Conservation groups have given protection to the mouth of the Gratiot River, the beautiful Seven Mile Point beach, our own Mt. Baldy, important bird sanctuaries at Brockway and Lake Bailey; and several thousand acres at the tip of the Keweenaw. Private owners are giving such protection to places as precious as Dan’s Point, Gratiot Lake and Horseshoe Harbor. And lets not forget the foresight of earlier generations, leaving us the likes of Esery, Veale and Hebbard parks, the many Michigan Nature Association preserves, and even our Keweenaw Mountain lodge. The list grows!

Yes, we’ll lose some of the special places we have enjoyed for years – some because there will, unfortunately, always be a few disrespectful souls in our midst that will force private landowners to take actions they would rather avoid – and some because the public and private resources we can muster will be overwhelmed by the economics of land in high demand. But the growing cognizance of the challenge, and the much in evidence will and creativity of our public institutions, conservation groups, and committed private citizens, gives cause for hope.

Like today’s clearing clouds, and the arriving patches of blue sky, there is a silver lining in all of this – even a challenge as great as protecting the great places of Keweenaw.

Storm Savvy (11/12/03) The big Superior storm forecast for tonight has me wondering what I would do if I were the captain of Morning Star, a 45’ sailing vessel, about to embark for the Soo on this date in 1860 from the Taylor dock in Eagle Harbor with a load of Central Mine copper ore. Not many sailing days left before big winter storms and lake ice close the shipping season, so it’s critical that Morning Star make the run to the Soo and get back to the Harbor with provisions the mines and miners will need to get through the long Keweenaw winter. Perhaps, on that morning, like on this gray November morn, the wind was just a gentle southeasterly and the lake almost flat. Yes, the barometer has been dropping, but slowly. There is no hint of one of the big lake’s fierce November storms lurking beyond the shimmering lake and the hazy horizon. I’d likely toss off the dock lines and head to sea, not knowing that by the time Morning Star cleared Manitou Island and headed out into the vast open waters to the east, the lake would become a tempest of 15 to 20 foot waves stirred up by the 50 knot winds shredding the sails and lashing the rigging. Morning Star perhaps destined to be just one of the many hundreds of wrecks driven to shore as we attempt to seek safety in the lee of Whitefish Point.

Unlike Captain George of Morning Star, skipper George on this mid November day, blessed with all the marvels of today’s weather forecasts, would toss on a few more dock lines and head to the warm confines of cabin or the Inn to ride out the big storm. How much simpler and safer life is for we 21st century mariners! Today’s captains, aboard their 800 to 1,000 foot lakers, will of course heed the warning of big wind and seas, many of these colossal 20th century boats scurrying to the calm waters of Bete Grise to ride out the northerly storm. It’s not always so predictable, as the tragic November sinking of the giant Edward Fitzgerald in our time attests, but the graveyard of Superior shipping has seen few new arrivals since the advent of modern weather forecasting and the abundant navigation and communication systems now available to us.

I’m often asked what it’s like to be out on the lake in my 30’ sailboat Peregrine in a big Superior summer storm. Well, there have been a few such experiences, each memorable for their majesty and for their testing of boat strength and the skipper’s meddle, but neither Peregrine nor I seek them out. Sometimes, given the spontaneity of weather systems on the big lake, they can’t be avoided, but I am careful to be safely tucked in a snug anchorage when the lake is on a rampage. Summer squalls, like the one off Isle Royale a few years ago that put Peregrine on her side and blew the big sail to bits, are the most difficult to predict, or avoid, but they are short lived and except for a few terror filled minutes, quickly pass by. Storms, like the one we are going to experience tonight, are another matter, and thanks to today’s good weather reporting, avoidable.

My first task each morning aboard Peregrine is to copy down the MAYFOR, the 24-hour coded lake weather and sea condition reports broadcast each day by NOAA and Environment Canada. They are careful to add the caveat, “wind and waves may vary considerably due to shoreline effect”, as indeed they do, but the big picture is sufficient to avoid venturing out into a major storm. Retirement is a blessing, giving me the freedom from work obligations and schedules to hunker in a remote anchorage or stay safely on a dock until a storm passes. It’s not always been so easy – the need to make it back to port to return to work too often tempted me to make a calculated, yet risky, decision to venture out into a storm, usually with a harrowing result. I often see such risks taken as I sail about the unforgiving lake – work burdened skippers nosing their boats out into pounding seas as I bob quietly in a protected harbor. Most of the awesome stories you hear as sailors engage in one-upmanship about marina bars have their genesis in such adventures.

Experience counts too. I’ve learned, often the hard way, about the “shoreline effects” the weather forecasters caution against. Each shore has different characteristics, reacting to wind and current in an often-predicable pattern. The Keweenaw north shore, especially off Eagle Harbor and Keweenaw Point, is a sure bet for stronger winds and confused seas as westerly winds get funneled along the high ridges and the waves lift up the steeply rising off-shore shoals and battle the Keweenaw Current. And no experienced sailor would carry a full and tightly sheeted-in sail across the entries of many of the deep, high bluff shouldered bays along Ontario’s rugged coast when the wind is hard offshore.

Indeed, it was experience that saved many a Captain George and ships like Morning Star in the early days of Lake Superior sailing. Not blessed with reliable charts and without weather reports, and only a few dimly lit lighthouses along the treacherous coasts, the men who guided their small vessels about our cold lake relied almost completely on their experience. Each had a vast storehouse of hard gained knowledge about shoals, harbor entries, coastal landmarks, and lake weather. An experienced captain’s knowledge was often entered into a notebook, called a coastal pilot book, and the books of many such seaman were highly prized possessions in vessel captain’s quarters. I’ve long sought copies of some of these early Superior pilot books, without success, but a neighbor has a couple. I’ve been privileged to read them and am amazed at their accuracy when compared to modern day navigation aides, and the extensive and valuable information, much of it no longer available, they contain.

These men were also skilled weather readers, possessing skills that few of us, reliant as we are on the pros, now have. While skipper George may have pulled away from the Eagle Harbor dock in 1860, my hunch is that Captain George of the Morning Star, would have sensed something in the shimmer and haze on the lake, like what I see this November morn, that cautioned him against venturing out. Perhaps, challenged with the need to serve the mines and miners hunkering in for the coming winter in the copper rich hills of Keweenaw, ole Captain George would, like many of today’s big lake work burdened sailors, made the calculated, but risky decision to embark, – hoping when, and if, he reached the cozy comfort of an inn at the Soo, he would, at worst, just have a harrowing tale to tell.

Now, as I end this little tale, the barometer is beginning to nose dive, the lake has taken on a dark foreboding appearence, its waters churing restlessly as the building wind begins to back to the north, and the haze of early morn is turing into wet snow. My lights are beginning to flicker. I'll move over closer to the comforting and warming fire, get the storm oil lamps ready, and thank my good fortune for not being out there, even in a virtual way, with the likes of 19th century Captain George aboard Morning Star, no matter how storm and lake savvy he might be. Been there, done that - it's no fun!

Getting Ready (11/3/03) The season’s initial winter storm warning has been issued, although as this morning progresses the wary weather gurus keep lowering the ante. In the wee and very dark hours of this day they tantalized us with a 10” to 12” forecast, but the cold light of dawn has sobered their enthusiasm. It’s now down to 4” to 8”, but what the heck – after October’s very disappointing sub inch, anything that might hide the blemishes in my geese pecked and pooped yard would be welcomed. The reality, of course, is that those of us hugging the still warm big lake are unlikely to share the snow blessing. At this time of the year only our “higher terrain” neighbors, including the snow forecast measuring stick, get snow. We banana belters must wait for the lake effect system to get cranked up – usually after deer season.

Ah, deer season – the peaking of Keweenaw’s annual social calendar. Resplendent with raucous deer camp revelry, hunter balls at local watering holes, and savory venison victory banquets, the Keweenaw deer hunt and its associated shenanigans so dominate our community psyche that all else, including work and family, are shunted to call waiting status. We still have a few die-hard deer stalkers out in the bush, but increasingly our hunters await the unwary carrot, apple, or pumpkin crazed cervine in their cozy (yes, even TVs and heaters) vegetable surrounded shooting huts. Deer are no dummies however, the lore and lessons of past hunting seasons seemingly passed among the herd as they gather at their own deer camps, so even the deer candy seducers rarely find a good buck in their gun sights. As for those of us closeted non-hunters, risking as we do social stigma if our lack of passion for bagging bucks should be known, it’s a good time to stay out of the bush. I don’t want to wind up spread eagled atop a camper truck parked outside a hunter’s ball venue.

But deer season is not yet here, so I’ve been doing a good deal of trekking in the bush, getting the legs, lungs and heart in shape for the coming cross-country ski season. A full summer of sailing kept me reasonably fit, although amply endowed with bruises, sprains and cuts, but walking about space is pretty limited on a thirty-foot sailboat. So the call of the bush, like that of the lake, always a force in my life, finally distracted me from my winter camp preparation and boat storage chores. A slight delay as I got sidetracked with a bit of an infection, but the old LL Bean hoofers are now getting a good workout. It’s been a bit wet, and cold, but with the remaining tree canopy and protection from the wind, the soft layer of newly fallen pine needles underfoot, and the sweet smell of decaying leaves invading your nostrils, the bush in late fall is a hiker’s paradise.

I have noticed an almost total absence of wildlife along the bush trails. The deer no doubt have headed for the protection of the almost hunter impregnable thick cedar swamps, but I’m puzzled by the lack of squirrels busy stocking up their caches for winter, the seemingly disappeared snowshoe rabbits, and how quiet the normally craw and croaked laden air is. It could be that my eyesight and hearing, each appropriate for their age, but not up to bush tracker standards, are missing the telltale evidence of critter life. But perhaps it’s something else – animals and birds seem to sense natural phenomena long before man, hobbled as he is by centuries of detachment from the natural world. Could it be that we are going to have, as the Farmer’s Almanac speculates, a “burley winter”, and that the critters, relying on instincts honed by eons of experience, are already hunkered in for the onslaught? Or have we, in our cavalier attitude about the environment we share with our furry and feathered friends, so changed the rules for habitation and propagation, that co-existence is waning? I wonder.

So much for today’s dose of my philosophical sorties. My early winter Eagle Harbor days are also filling with such joys as pumpkin carving, logging snowfall forecasts, stacking wood, a computer changeover, reading (now exploring short stories), baking pumpkin pies, and, at long last, some writing. Not sure how these Harbor Journals will develop over the months ahead, I’m a bit rusty, but expect there will be much to share, and, hopefully, the will and ability to do so.

But for now I need to heed the winter storm flags flying atop the NWS Internet flagpole. Perhaps this storm will fizzle out, as now seems likely, but the warning is enough to compel me to get the snow tires on my van, pull the batteries out of Peregrine, weather-strip the big cracks around my old camp’s doors and windows, and get all the potential wind driven missiles out of the yard. It won’t be easy to vacate the cozy comfort of the crackling fireplace fire across the room, but with the light of a new day beginning to ease the darkness, and with only a few hours until night once again creeps in from the east, I need to get going.

One more winter need. A new pooch to snooze peacefully on the warm hearth as I peck away at these journals.

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April & May, 2003 Journals
February & March, 2003 Journals
December 2002 - January 2003 Journals
Fall-Winter 2002 Journals
Recent Journals
Earlier Journals
Much Earlier Journals
Journals From The Last Millennium
Editor Musings