Storm Approaches


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Winter Storm Approaches

The Week's Weather Journal.

"...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)

The Week Of January 18, 1998


Back on the cross-country ski trail today. The snow is crisper, packed a bit, and much faster. A little wax on my "waxless skis" also contributed to a few adrenalin bursts. Abby stayed at camp. The wonderdog is mighty lame but no less frisky. She gleefully hobbled about the camp when she saw me put on my ski boots and barked in protest when I left without her. How do you explain to a dog that staying in camp is for her own good? (And why would one think one has to?) The trail was as beautiful as it was on my last trip. About a half-dozen skiers were on the trail, most appearing to be tech students out for a Sunday afternoon jaunt. Stopped at the Inn in the evening for a hamburger and found Mary setting up many rounds of beer for a group of 15 to 20 snowmobilers from Ohio. They were on a week long tour of the UP. They hauled their sleds from Ohio to Sault Sainte Marie and drove the trails from there to Copper Harbor, traveling 150 to 200 miles a day. They were spending the night at Fanny Hooe Resort and drove the 50 trail mile round trip to Eagle Harbor for dinner. I can't imagine anything more uncomfortable or boring than hours bouncing along on a snowmobile, but they seemed energized by the experience. They and their summertime four wheeler compatriots are the urban cowboys of our era.


I opted for the Five Mile Point Road enroute to the vet in Houghton. A beautiful drive at any time but especially in winter after a major snow. Lots of winter only vistas across the lake as you wind among the snow blanketed pines dotting the dunes between Eagle River and the Five Mile Point Light. A surprisingly large number of road and lakeside camps, many of them large and recently built, seem to be occupied. Who are these folks, and where did they come from? I assume they are retired people who fell in love with this Superior soft country during summer vacation visits. For years this stretch of sand and pebble shoreline was sparsely settled by "locals" in summer camps, most of the camps being pretty sparten. That seems to be rapidly changing. Of course the "growth" phenomena exists along the entire north Keweenaw shoreline, but it seems most in evidence along this Veale Drive stretch, probably because the new camps are closer to the road and thus more visable to the passer by. Abby didn't seem to care much for the shoreline tour. She sensed immediately that we were heading to the vet and spent most of the journey wimpering. Pets seem to have a built-in vet sensor. The diagnosis was swift and sure...blown out tendons in the knee of her right rear leg. (I'd never thought of dogs having knees.) She is too old (10) for a surgical fix and tendons apparently don't grow back, so she is just going to have to adapt to not being able to support her weight on that leg. Not a happy circumstance for such an active dog. Scar tissue might build back and provide some connection between the leg bones and perhaps some leg strength. Lets hope so.


Camp clean-up day. Carol arrives tomorrow for a visit and to be with me for next week's return visit to Marquette General. I'd be embarrassed to have her witness the results of my pretty casual housekeeping style. I do keep the place clean, but it's a bit messy. Close friends, always charitably tolerate of my lifestyle deficiencies, say it's just that I like to keep things close at hand. Carol is a bit more honest in her assessment, as she can and should be. She after all, is primarily responsible for the charm and livability of this place. Months, yea years, of hard and loving work in decorating, furnishing and maintaining our camp give her more than a little credibility as stakeholder. So I spend the day putting things where they belong: tidying up closets and shelves; gathering and disposing debris; and, sweeping, scrubing and dusting. Abby is nervous, she recognizes my behavior as unusual. At days end the job is done. I view the results proudly, thinking, "This place is pretty neat, I should do this more often."


Thanks to good neighbor Dick Lantz, the ski trail is nicely groomed and tracked for my two hour jaunt. Dick is alternating groom chores with our master groomer, Bruce Olson. I'm on temporary leave as a groomer as per doc's orders. Seems strange to be in the woods without the wonderdog, but I'm sure my fellow skiers appreciate not having the track continually crisscrossed by the big pawed pooch. Temperatures remain in the mid twenties and there is little breeze to disturb the snow hanging on the trees. Everything seems frozen in place. After several questions about the pheasants I recently reported to be in abundance, I took a closer look at the few birds I flushed today. They are, as everyone but me knew, not pheasants, but ruffed grouse, or what locals call partridge. I also spotted a large snowshoe rabbit who left paw tracks in the snow as big as my hand and a nearly six foot stride as he/she bounded away. Where are the snowshoes in the summer? I've never encountered one...perhaps white is just a winter fur coat. The adaptability of animals to their environmnt is certainly superior to man's. Near Long Lake the trail was crossed by a continous trough shaped track about a foot wide and six inches deep, as if someone had dragged a log through the snow. It might have been a beaver out for a rare mid-winter gathering of saplings, or a porcupine plowing through the snow, or perhaps a couple of playful otters sliding down the slight grade. It would be interesting to travel through the winter woods in the company of a knowledgeable tracker. Other than the ruffed grouse, there were no birds in evidence...not even the ravens who usually break the silence of winter woods with their grunting call. As I return to the Eliza Dam overlook I'm struck by the beauty of the view down the lake. It's frozen and snow covered, and snow blanketed trees bending out over the banks obscure the definition of lake from land. There is a slight trickle of water flowing over the spillway, the only evidence of the true nature of the scene before me. The ground upon which I stand is a platted lot, just one of scores staked out around this natural gem. In time this may well become a neighborhood of camps hugging the lake, complete with roads, street lights, vehicles parked about, and the "no tresspassing" signs that man employs to scent his territory. I cringe at the prospect. What a waste.


This had to be a triple happy face sticker day for my sunny day recording neighbor. In early afternoon the sun broke through the clouds and for the first time this still young year, Eagle Harbor was treated to a couple of hours of sunshine. A brilliant white scene unfolded. Eye pupils, long set at a very low f-stop to best gather in the dim light of what seems like months of grey overcast days, suddenly shut down to the small aperture sufficient for the intense light. I searched unsuccessfully for sun glasses, probably stowed away in last summer's sailing gear. I was surprised by the height of the sun above the hills to our south. We are a month past soltice, as evident by daylight that now lingers until nearly 6 pm, but I had assumed that the hidden source of this additional light was still scraping along the edge of the hilltops. Not so. It's at least three or four fists, or 30 to 40 degrees above the hills at mid day. The slant of the sunlight and its reflection off the snow speaks of approaching spring...the angle more acute, the atmospheric filtering less intense, the resulting color sharper and brighter. In the local finnish tradition this is the time of heikkin paiva...the time when winter's back will be broken and the bear will roll over in his den. They say that if your hay loft is at least half full, you have sufficient supply till the next harvest. I check my wood pile. It's more than half gone.


A snow day. Not much, perhaps 3 to 6 inches, but always in the air. Lake effect stuff. We will probably see much more of this since the lake shows little sign of freezing...leaving us exposed as long as the prevailing winds are northerly, and very vulnerable to artic cold air masses that might be sent south from our Canadian neighbors. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which snow camp one is in, el nino and other macro weather influences seem to be mitigating the development of these Alberta Clippers. Carol gets her first tour of the snowstick factory, and joins its happy crew in the painting of sticks 600 - 800. We are ahead of the demand curve, but want to build up the inventory so that when "outdoor" weather entices us to boats and trails, we will be ready. A drive through the fresh snow to Mohawk to mail some sticks and stock up with Jo Ann's Cousin Jacks from Slims (best in the Copper Country) is a sensory delight. The Harbor cut-off road, in summer a teeth rattling and car bashing experience, is smooth as silk with its surface of soft snow. The rolling crunch of sure footed tires through the snow pack is an assuring and pleasant sound. We travel the sixteen miles back to the Harbor without encountering another vehicle, a not unusual winter experience in an keweenaw north of Mohawk. The velvety world of unbroken snow is ours alone to enjoy. A private tour of one of the natural world's most beautiful offerings. We roll into the Harbor at dusk. All is quiet and serene.


A day of contrasts. Sun in the morning, snow showers in the afternoon. At last some spunk in our weather. As days lengthen and the warming sun has more opportunity to churn the air, our atmosphere begins to stir from its mid winter slumber. The flat lifeless cloud cover that has been our sky canopy for what seems like months, is slowly but surely yielding to distinctive three dimensional dark bottomed, white topped cloud banks seperated by occasional peeks at the deep blue of our daytime universe. The late morning sun and a "warming" northerly breeze off the temperate open lake, combine to loosen the snow draped on woodland evergreen. The muffled thump of falling snow clumps and periodic snow clump showers are the special attractions of today's leisurely tour of the ski trail. A much more rigorous ski adventure is underway to the east...the annual cross-country race up and down Brockway Mountain Drive. Starting at Silver River and ending at Copper Harbor, this year's race in perfect conditions attracts more than ninety hardy participants. I can imagine tackling the long arduous trek to the top from Silver, but the steep, twisting downhill run from the top to Copper Harbor must be pure terror. Harbor neighbor and Copper Country impresario Jon Davis is not surprisingly an organizer of this event and as I scanner monitor local ham radio operators manning the race safety check points, Jon and wife Marcia are at the very windy summit helping out. Later in the day, Jon, who established the Eagle Harbor ski trail and provides the snowmobile and grooming equipment needed to keep it in good condition, is back at the Harbor and grooming the trail. If you use the Harbor trail, be sure to let Jon know how much you appreciate his contribution.

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