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"A Winter Day At Eagle Harbor" by George Hite

This is a good day to respond to the many who ask, ":What's it like being in Eagle Harbor in the winter?" "What do you do with your day?" Others, seemingly concerned about my sanity, wonder how one could possibly keep mind and body gainfully occupied in the isolation of geographic remoteness, severe weather, and minimal human contact. They are often more direct: "Are you crazy?"

Today's a good day to respond because it's pretty typical -- a blizzard rages outside my window, the roads are drifted in, and my sole companion, Abby the wonder dog, is keeping her thoughts to herself. So what will the day be like?

It will be like most days spent in the magic of an Eagle Harbor winter. An early start, usually before 5 a.m., to check the weather (you become extremely weather conscious up here) and get a fire going in the fireplace. A light breakfast precedes an hour or two of computer time, usually reading and responding to e-mails and updating the Eagle Harbor Web page -- all in the glow and cozy warmth of the blazing fire. It's dark until about 8:30.

As the almost always hidden sun begins to add light to the landscape, a scene of white drifts, snow covered Harbor ice, and dark green, almost black, forested hills, slowly emerges through the swirling snow. Occasional snow squalls totally obliterate all but the massive trunk of an old maple tree, just fifteen feet away. The drifts are ever building, ever moving, as the noisy wind has its way. It's time to dig out.

There is always something to dig out. During a storm the snow drifting in against the door must be removed and access to the wood pile kept open. At storm end, the path to the road is cleared, the mail box is dug out, and the drifts smothering the van are pushed aside. Between storms, the wood pile is uncovered, the search for the propane tank begins (currently somewhere under a 15 foot high drift), and there is always a roof threatened by a heavy load. (I remember a cartoon of a Keweenaw character up on his roof shoveling and telling an inquiring downstate reporter that he only came down for Christmas and Memorial Day!)

The snowplow drivers, who seem to relish their daily task, are usually here quickly, often as the storm rages. When the snow banks get really high and begin to squeeze in on the roadway, the big rotary plow arrives -- a giant box of swirling blades topped by a tall snow chute that creates its own moving blizzard. The resulting vertical snow wall is a marbled record of each of the winter's storms.

The snow, of course, offers more than the exercise of moving it about. A day at Eagle Harbor is, for me, not complete without a six or nine mile trek along a ski trail or a snowshoe stroll through the deep snow that blankets the neighboring forests. Trails through the "soft country" between Lake Eliza and Sand Bay, through the rugged woods surrounding Central, and to and around Grand Marais are my special favorites. The crunch of your shoes or poles, or the swish of skis are the only sound, except for the muted pounding of distant lake surf. The splendor of the scene is often enhanced by softly falling snow. An encounter with a message scripted into the snow by another skier brings a smile -- and a needed reminder that, despite how it seems, I am not the only sole on the planet.

My return to the warmth of the home fire, kept going all day and evening, wraps me in the tired but wonderful "high" one feels after strenuous exercise in winter's cold. A hot shower removes the last vestiges of chill and a cup or two of hot chocolate adds warmth to the tummy. All is well with the world! It's time to spend a few hours pursuing my writing (as I am doing now) and/or engulf myself in the writings of an assortment of favorite authors.

This lasts well into the evening. The day ends early, about 10 p.m., after bringing in wood for the morning and a last check of the e-mail box. I sleep soundly.

Of course, "typical", is not the everyday experience. There are days for household chores, weekly 50 mile trips up to town for groceries, and occasional gatherings with friends. I share the ski trail grooming task with Bruce Olson. After a major storm, such as we are having now, grooming can consume much of a day.

Special endeavors, such as working with the Historical Society, assisting the Township with its computer programs, preparing for the spring launch of my sailboat, and planning a summer of sailing the Lake, are all interesting diversions from the pace of a "typical day".

As the winter deepens, the Eagle Harbor neighbors become fewer and fewer. Only a handful of us here as January comes to an end. As our numbers shrink, a wonderful feeling of small neighborhood emerges - almost a "bonding" - a clear recognition of our growing interdependence. We keep an eye out for each other and are quick to respond to each other's needs. We have fun together. Our Friday evening gatherings at the Eagle Harbor Inn are like a family reunion - stories of our winter experiences shared in the warmth of friendship, good humor, and a good meal shared. When spring and summer arrive we will all return to our separate ways, to be with returning neighbors and family and pursue our varied interests. The good memories of our shared winter experience will always be something we'll cherish.

That's my " Winter Day At Eagle Harbor". Others will have different experiences and a different perspective. Our circumstances vary. I expect we would all agree on at least one thing. It's a great place to celebrate winter!

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