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 February 1, 1998


What a gorgeous spring day. Too bad it isn't spring. Not a cloud in the bright blue sky, the fathomless intense blue that we see only in mid-winter. The sunlight sparkles as it reflects off the ripples that scurry about the water surface of the mostly open harbor. The harbor's two entry rock sentries look majestic in their brilliant white ice coats as they ride in the blue sea. A gentle west breeze pushes some remaining ice pack into the harbor's east bay. The open roads are suddenly filled with folks out for a Sunday ride. Temperatures creep into the mid-forties. I yield to it all, and despite a continuing soreness and exhaustion from last week's medical adventure, Abby and I leave camp for a stroll in the warm sun. We are a pathetic sight, the wonderdog trotting awarkwardly along on her three good legs, and I favoring a right leg that is yet to recover from the fem stop and surgical affronts. We hobble to the Shoreline, our intended turn-about point. Damn, it feels good! The invigorating lake cleansed air, a warm sun on the face, the soothing sound of water on the move. Abby rolls in the snow...I wish I could. We pass our destination, pressing on to the range light, and I at least (Abby is too busy checking around the empty "gold coast" cottages), am fixed on the view across the harbor and out into the open lake. Sailing instincts surge within me and I daydream of upcoming journeys across the beckoning horizon. We pause at the Cedar Creek beach. I walk out to water edge, Abby ventures even further and soon is enjoying a short swim. The lighthouse seems close, a visual trick of the usually clear air and the rich red brick and white painted tower standing in sharp contrast to the deep blue of sky and reflecting lake. I feel stronger and Abby is clearly energized by her swim. So we journey on, now surrounded by the spruce and pine along the road as it winds to the east beach. I'm sure it is only memory triggered by the warm and bright sun, but the sweet smell of forest responding to awakening sun invades my senses. White ice flows dance in the light blue surf of the east bay. Sunlight, now slanting to earth from the southwest, sparkles off the water across the harbor as I stroll slowly along the east beach. We stop at the Catonis, and while Abby bounds about in pursuit of of deer scent and squirrels, I enjoy a visit with friends of now forty years. Charlotte insists on driving me home, but I decline. Now refreshed in body and soul, I relish the prospect of the return journey. Abby scratches at the door, announcing her own eagerness to continue the journey we so tentatively embarked upon. We venture forth on the four good legs we collectively share. About an hour later we are back at camp, a little tired but comfortable as we huddle by the cozy fire. Abby gets her reward for being such a good trooper....a bowl of her favorite Knibbles 'n Chips instead of the discount store dog food that, sadly, has been her lot of late. I finish the day with some good wine and several chapters of Jon Krakauer's, "Into Thin Air". His gripping account of a Mount Everest ascent certainly gives perspective to my little jaunt around the harbor!


I finally pulled the plug on the Christmas lights I had draped around a young pine alongside my camp. I'd left them on each evening because they just looked great glowing against the fresh snow in dark winter night. I've noticed that Bob and Alice Black have occasionally turned on the lighted tree they have on their dock at the far end of the harbor. It always warms my heart to see it. Kind of a friendly hello from unseen neighbors. I suppose I had left mine on for the same reason. Harbor winter residents often comment on how assuring it is to see lights in the windows of the few neighbors we have. It is our way of signaling to each other that all is well. Recently, however, my tree lights have seemed simply out of place, almost garish, as they bob about in warm breeze in the snowless environ. It seemed an act of mercy to pull the plug and spare the young tree further embarrassment.


Snow showers, or is it snow mist, obscures the upper half of Mt. Baldy and the range of hills easterly towards Copper Harbor. The harbor waters lie quiet, showing no more life than the barometer, which hasn't moved in days. A grey day. I stay in camp, nuturing a damaged leg and catching up with some investment tracking, household bookkeeping, and email responding. The fireplace burns brightly, occasionally issuing a loud crack, snap and shower of sparks that startles the hearth dozing wonderdog. There is some birch in the indoor wood box today and its burning fills the room with a sweet smell. The birch is "road kill" wood, logs left alongside summer roads by road crews clearing space for storing snow and improving deer sighting. They also leave popular, all in stacks of 16" cut. The crews take the better burning hardwoods home with them. Easy pickings but I gather and use little of it. It provides a bright fire with all the wonderful sounds and sparks, but doesn't burn very hot and its sap lines the flue, greatly adding to the risk of a chimney fire. I always burn it with hardwood to get enough heat to fully vaporize the sap. A trip to the woodpile today was discouraging. I've used almost all of three fifteen feet long, five foot high stacks...only one full stack remaining. Fortunately, with so little snow the wood providers will be able to get to their wood storage, but I don't look forward to the winter splitting and stacking. Great fun in the summer and fall (bugs rule out spring), but cold hands and unstable footing make winter work uncomfortable and hazardous. Of course, I won't freeze if I run out of fireplace wood. I do have a propane heater and, if all else fails, some too expensive to use electric baseboard, but the bright and lively fireplace fire is my primary source of "soul heat". Perhaps its just a primeval urging lurking in my psyche, but the company of a gentle open fire on a cold and grey day, or in the mystery of night, is both peaceful and pleasurable. Somehow, watching waves roll, reading a good book, scratching a dog's ear, or simply contemplating life, each in the company of a propane stove or baseboard heater, just doesn't suffice.


Bruce and Jeane Olsom returned yesterday to the splendid isolation of their Cat Harbor Lake Superior outpost. They had spent three or four days in the close company of 2,400 other Caribbean cruise ship passengers and a crew of 800 on the sleek Soverign of the Seas. My mind is boggled by the contrast of these settings. Seems as if one would need an psychological decompression chamber to move so quickly from one to the other. My several decade working life was spent in the "big city" (well, Minneapolis is big by my standards), officed with thousands in tall glass towers, fighting airport conjestion, stacked for hours in rush hour traffic. Crowds, crowding and other aspects of urban confusion were my daily diet. However, the interplay of thought and the stimulus of collective enterprise was a more than satisfactory reward for this testy environment. I thrived it in. Life at the Harbor, however, has been a complete reversal of settings...and I much prefer it. Here life is uncluttered: one has time to think, to comtemplate life, to build and enjoy the bonds of village, to connect with and learn from the natural environment. Yet, through the new marvels of the information age, and the advent of "at your fingertips" electronic commerce in ideas, products and services, a person in this remote setting can contribute to and enjoy the benefits of a global society as well as inhabitants of more urban areas. I think of Eagle Harbor not as the old frontier, but the new frontier...a testing ground, perhaps even a model, for an emerging order of society. A place where the advantages of small community in rich natural environment, and the stimulus and benefit of collective society, are joined in a nuturing habitat. Eagle Harbor, a cutting edge way of that's really mind boggling! Could it be so? (You can tell there isn't much going on with the weather, or much activity about town, when I start carrying on like this.)


We wax at length about delicate June moons and robust Harvest moons, but say little about the special character of a full moon in February. Perhaps because, at least in the Keweenaw, it is rarely seen. It's either shielded by our incessant cloud cover, or it's just too cold and windy for venturing out into the night. Blowing snow does not make for good moon viewing. Last evening was an exception. After a day in camp, actually several days in camp, I decided a night time stroll down to the Lake Breeze shoreline might renew a lagging spirit. It did indeed. A little wind had blown in off the lake all day and by nightfall the waves had begun to crest. The lake and harbor waters are free of ice, so there was the sight and sound of waters busy working their way through the harbor entry. The tumble of breaking waves and the crash of water on rocky shore always seems magnified at night. A full or nearly full moon hung half way to zenith in the eastern sky, casting its almost eerie, slightly diffused, white light upon the churning waters and the motionless snow covered adjacent shores. Ice caps on the harbor entry cribs were a brilliant source of reflected moonlight, almost brighter than the moon itself. The harbor waters rose and fell in long, slow moving swells, the residue of lake waves that had dissipated their energy in surmounting the entry reefs. Moonlight worked its magic on the moving water. Not the thousands of sparkling diamonds show that we often see in summer, but moving bands of silver light alternating with bands of shimmering grey. The product of the changing angle of light reflection as the swells rose and ebbed. The bands moved from left to right, with the sweep of the swells, clashing noiselessly each twenty seconds with the first white, then red, counterclockwise sweeping beams of the Harbor lighthouse. A mesmerizing light display. Wheras in other seasons the full moon seems as one with its earthly neighbor, this February moom seemed somehow aloof from the magic it was creating on the waters below, almost stoic as it moved methodically through the cold and dark winter sky. Not the friendly "man in the moon", but simply a sun reflecting rock in the sky. No wonder poets and lyricists have not rhapsodized about a February moon. I did not linger long, Keweenaw winter moon viewing is not a time for leisurely lounging by a shoreline fire, singing old songs and patiently waiting for the distant wail of a loon. Those days will come.


Stepped out on the stoop early this morning to get a fireplace log and was surprised to encounter a light dusting of snow. It's gotten to that...snow, even a dusting, is a surprise. Even in mid February...right here in Keweenaw, the "Snow Capital of the Midwest"! The frustration of the guys and gals at the Marquette National Weather Service Office has apparently not yet reached a level that they resort to issuing "test" winter storm warning bulletins, as was the case last year, but I'm sure they are soon to come. I've noticed that the plows that any real Yooper keeps on his truck almost year around are beginning to disappear. Today there were two mergansers feeding on the harbor waters outside my window. My bird book says they should still be down at Fort Walton Beach or some such place, certainly not here. However, birds seem to know more about seasonal changes than man does, even with all our sophisticated electronic weather models and satellites, so I assume their presence means spring is upon us, the calendar notwithstanding. I should go back to Ace Hardware up on Fifth Street and apologize to the clerk I kidded a few weeks ago for setting up the flower and vegetable seed display....I think I said something like, "What a clever way to market winter bird feed...snack pacs!" I'll pick up some window box bedding soil while I'm there.


I leave today for a couple of weeks. My medical adventures over the past few months have taken their toll. I need to get away, to check in with and enjoy the company and nuturing of immediate family. To explore some "second opinions". The wonderdog will be with me. We'll be fine.

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