Storm Approaches


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

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 March 15, 1998


Surprise! Surprise! The harbor is full of slush ice, at least the west half. In retrospect, not a surprise given the cold temperatures of the past few days and the strong northeasterly winds. Nonetheless, after a week of getting in the spring swing of things, a harbor filled with ice is a bit of a shock. It's beautiful though, a jagged array of intense white ice set against the bright blue of the open water in the center of the harbor. The ice sparkles in the bright sunlight, as if its surface is sprinkled with diamonds. The harbor entry rocks and the rocky south shoreline, still ice coated from last week's storm, glisten in their pristine settings. The surrounding forest and hills seem to be ignoring this show of color and sparkle. They steadfastly retain the somber dull brown and grey of winter, their latent juices of fresh greening not yet sufficiently aroused by a sun still seeking its March equinox destiny. The pattern of persistent grey cloud cover, our lot for the many winter months, seems to be finally broken. Pale blue skies now dominate our days and when clouds enter the skyscape, they are white and fluffy. Nights are cold and days remain cool, but the mid-day sun is warm. Abby snoozes in sun patches by the south windows, moving from west to east as the day progresses. I loiter in the warmth of the sun drenched front stoop, sheltered from cooling lake breezes, and enjoying the sight and sound of the harbor ice jostling at my doorstep. Mindless, but oh so comforting!


Not a cloud in the pale blue sky as the bright red sun climbs above the east beach at about 7:30 a.m. A warming trend is in the making and by noon the sparkling blue open water in mid harbor had spread almost to the west beach, aided by a soft southerly breeze. The ice is disappearing and my guess is that we will see no more this winter. The "Great Lakes" newsgroup is alive with chatter about the early start to the shipping season. The Soo Locks open in a week, on the 23rd, but lakers are already on the move. Lots of, "old timers can't remember a milder winter" reports. Indeed, the Coast Guard reports that the traditional "harbor breakouts" (the icebreakers cutting a path through blocking channel ice) will be mostly ceremonial in the usually ice bound Duluth and Thunder Bay ports and in Whitefish Bay. Quite a contrast from years as recent as 1996, when aerial photos on March 12th showed Lake Superior almost totally covered with ice. My guess is that the first Eagle Harbor boat sightings will be Saturday as taconite laden lakers from Duluth/Superior make their first downbound journey of the year. I'll keep a watch. Not sure why, but while most of the upper midwest revels in the first robin sighting, we Keweennaw winter types mark the arrival of spring with the joyous sighting of a laker hullup on the western horizon. In times of old the first boat sighting of the Keweenaw year would cause the big bell at the old Raley warehouse to be rung for hours, and all within hearing would quit work for a day of dockside celebration. I'll give the school house bell a tug and we'll see what happens.


I was surprised on a recent trip to Red Jacket to find a good deal of snow "up the hill", especially along the Cliff Road. I guess I shouldn't have been. While the Harbor has received almost no measurable snow this month, my friends up at the Road Commission report that almost ten inches has been measured at the nearby Delaware "measuring stick". Last weekend was the annual "Delaware Ride In", a snowmobile rally now sponsored by the always aggressive Copper Harbor business types. The Gazette reported a good turnout and good snowmobiling conditions. The Eagle Harbor Inn is still open six days a week, but very few snowmobilers stop there as the trails adjacent to the Harbor are almost bare. The gathering of the Harbor clan at the Inn last Friday eve was also sparse. Nancy & John Wakeman, Jeanne & Bruce Olson, Jean & Tom Ellis, and I were the sole "family table" occupants. Pete and Dorothy Boggio and Mil and Keith Willoughby (now year-around residents), trying to enjoy a quiet dinner together at a nearby table, just smiled as a "family table" discussion about the useful order of the five senses began to fill the near empty dining room. (Hey folks, when you have the same wonderful dinner companions for months on end, the discussions tend to get a bit esoteric!) That was about it! The Inn closes this weekend and reopens Mother's Day weekend. Mary told me that next year they plan to stay open all winter. Good news. Summer residents know how blessed we are to have places like the Inn and the Shoreline in our little town. But in winter, when the Inn is the only show in town, and daily contact with neighbors is limited due to weather and/or sparsity, the Inn becomes more than a place of food and's our community "common room". A place to revel in the company of good companions, exchange news of family and friends, share a few good (and bad) stories, catch up on the latest scuttlebutt, and enjoy a good meal together. A place to sooth and nourish the soul as well as the palate.


Abby's annual spring haircut day. I was a bit more considerate this year. Last March, when spring was not as imminent as it seems to be this year, the wonderdog returned from her visit to the Traprock Valley groomer looking more like a Doberman pinscher than a Springer. She shivered on the hearth for weeks and was either too chilled or to embarrassed to venture outside. The shearing is not as short this year, but she is just a wisp of her former self. She is huddled on the hearth now, giving me another of those, "I thought you were my friend" looks. It's always a treat to have reason to venture into the Traprock Valley. Not many north of the ridge folks, especially summer residents and visitors, visit this arguably most beautiful area of the Keweenaw. The views out over the valley and north into the Keweenaw ridge from atop the valley rim just down the road from Kersarge are spectacular. The gently rolling valley is dotted with rough pasture, deserted and working farmsteads, and stands of trees (a lot of the firewood we buy was cut in the Valley). The road follows the Traprock River's gently winding course through the valley on its journey to Torch Lake and Lake Linden. (Where's the lake named Linden?) I'll return when the valley greens. It should be even more beautiful.


Well, some of the "snowbirds" have returned...the crows and seagulls. Big flocks are scurrying about the harbor edge, happily revisting old haunts. The seagull flock is about a dozen or two in number, about the same number as seemed to make the harbor home port last year. The entry rocks, their usual roost, are still iced over so they seem to be hanging about the beach near Eliza Creek. They are ranging up and down the harbor searching for food, and perhaps nesting places. I have no recollection of a rookery anywhere near the harbor. Perhaps in more isolated places like Silver Island. About half the flock appear to be brown or spotted, which I believe is characteristic of young birds. Nice to see youngsters about the place. The crows are their usual noisy nuisance. About a dozen have taken up residency, I hope temporarily, in the pines around my camp and about the Lakebreeze. They do keep Abby entertained. Crows obviously nest and hatch their young, but it must be atop the big pines back in the woods (let's hope so). I'm not sure I've seen a crows nest in the harbor area. In fact I believe the only "crows nest" I've ever seen was atop the clipper ship berthed on the wharf in San Diego. I'm obviously not into birds or birding, but few things in the natural world give me more pleasure than watching and admiring the powerful, yet graceful flight of gulls. A solitary gull is a frequent and always welcomed companion on my summer sailing jaunts about the big lake. The gull must know I have no food to offer (no fish or fishing gear in sight). Perhaps it's fascinated by or feels a kinship with a vessel moving, as it does, in the lift and power of wind on a large white wing. I watch the gull, wishing it would share the secrets of its mastery of wind and wing.


A quiet dawn. No wind to whistle around still bare tree boughs. Just a muffled murmer of the jostling slush ice still trapped in the harbor's west bay. The big lake is at rest. Long low swells move slowly into the harbor. Venus is bright in the southeastern pre-dawn sky, sitting astride Mt. Baldy. A perfect setting for the 7 a.m. copper red arrival of ole sol on the day of its vernal equinox. It commands and has center stage as, at its zenith, its relentless trek northward from its winter soltice first touches the equatorial plane... announcing the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere. A celebration ensues. The bright blue of the harbor sky is reflected and absorbed by harbor waters, turning them into an even deeper blue. The floating ice is a brilliant white. Pine trees suddenly seem greener. The birds, especially the crows, are unusually active. Crow "caw, caws" and gull "yak, yaks" penetrate the stillness. Abby and I stroll along the harbor beach, feeling the cold radiating from the nearby icepack, yet warmed by the bright sun now high overhead. The air we breath is crisp, clean, with just the slight scent of the big lake. Eliza Creek, a torrent of spring melt in most years, is now just a trickle. Its waters move quietly under the awaiting beach ice. The debris of winter storms lies about the exposed, still frozen sand. Sticks for Abby to playfully retrive, some small beach kindling for me, a few interesting stones to admire. The sunlight reflecting brightly off the blue water and white ice is lively, almost playful, as it engages the eye. A passerby, there were none, might think of us as being alone, but the feeling of being in the midst of nature's equinoctial celebration was strong.


This started out as a tirade about this morning's deliberate burning of a couple of the old miner homes that lie alonside U.S. 41 at Delaware. After a hundred words or so, and in a more thoughtful moment, I realized that such "editorial" carrying on really belonged on my "Musings" page of this web site. So that's where its gone. It might show up in a day or so. This is a another beautiful day. A high warming sun, light cooling breeze off the lake, and the harbor surface a feast of light as sunlight reflects from the rippled surface in an array of brilliant silver sparkles. I think about PEREGRINE, my sailboat now perched on its winter roost in Pequaming. On blue water days such as this I visualize it moored out in the harbor, tugging at its chain, drifting with the changing wind, patiently awaiting the mariner that will give it the freedom to roam the big lake. How long before that visualization becomes a reality? A month, mid April? - probably not. Two months, mid May? - a real possibility given the early spring. Three months, mid June? - for sure! My challenge this year is handling the boat with a leg that isn't of much use as a result of some of my wintertime medical adventures. Solo sailing, except for some day sails in moderate air, seems to be inadvisable. Fortunately, for more extended jaunts, say to Isle Royale, or around to Lac La Belle, several Harbor neighbors are eager to join the fun. (I'm not sure about the level of their enthusiasm for some of the unpredictable heavy weather that is a part of Superior sailing.) None the less, it will great to have them aboard, not just for the good company and the joyful sharing of Lake Superior sail cruising experiences, but, of course, for their good help in cranking the winches, handling the sheets, manning the helm, securing dock lines and the several other tasks that sometimes have to be done almost simultaneously. For more extended cruising, I am blessed with a valued sailing partner of many years, and many wonderful cruises. For now, in this first week of spring, it's back to the West Marine catalog, the several sailing web sites, the preparation of check lists, and, of course, the dreaming of cruises to come.

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