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 March 15, 1998


The waning moon and its growing ever-closer night sky partner Venus, are rising above the dark Keweenaw ridge. It's Tuesday early morn and I am fireside, reconstructing thoughts born on the past Sunday. I had thought of a weeks medical leave for the Weather Journal. My medications for the leg nerve injury are interfering with mind and body. Concentration is nil and hands wander aimlessly across the computer keyboard. Stronger, however, is the joy of journal writing. I'll give it a try. The excitement Sunday was the sighting of the year's first laker. A downbound boat at about 4 p.m. It was very close in, much closer than the chart stipulated twelve miles. I assume its skipper knew there would be no boats in the closer in upbound lane until the Sault locks opened. It moved slowly, apparently biding its time until the Tuesday lock opening. (The headline of the Harbor Web, "Locks Open Monday" was, like much on this site, only an approximation of the truth, i.e., just plain wrong.) I can record with more certainty that the lake level is down…a lot! The Canadian Level News link on our Favorite Keweenaw Links page reports the lake down about a foot from last July's high. That was the February mean. It now appears to be down at least a foot-and-one-half. The level is about at its average for the 80 years good records have been kept, but its been above average so long that most of us cannot remember when its been this low. Rocks and reefs unseen for years are now dotting the lakescape. Docks, which last summer were almost awash, would now be a long and tricky step down into an alongside boat. We generally see the lake drop until about mid April, after which snowpack runoff and spring rains begin to cause it to rise. With almost no snowpack and El Nino influenced unusually low levels of precipitation (68% of winter norm across the lake basin through February), how low is the lake likely to get? Level News forecasts suggest only another three or four inches. My guess is that their computers are ignoring El Nino, and that we could experience a drop of at last another foot. Not a promising situation for us deep keeled sailors who like to poke around in the lake's many inlets and coves. (Upon rereading this, a thought crossed my wandering mind: Is it good or bad that I can devote so much time and brain cell to something as mundane as the level of Lake Superior?)


Let's see, Monday. What of the day should this retrospective journal entry note? As long as he week started with the mundane, how about recording that I ate my first ever pepper pasty. In a mindless, obviously narcotic induced moment, I mistakenly picked it off the warm pasty pan at Fraki's. With some misgiving, I report that it was not bad, actually it was quite good. My experience, however, is just more evidence that Keweenaw pasty purveyors have become a bit adventuresome, perhaps reckless. All kinds of strange pasty recipe results are now tucked alongside the much beloved and near sacred Cornish pasty. You might expect such transgressions in the more easterly UP, where pasties are more for the tourist trade than a mainstay of the local diet. But here? A place where folks get terribly upset when they learn that food stamps will not be accepted for a good Cornish pasty. If you are a fan of, you know that vegetable only pasties, or "veggies", are the rage. Fraki's now features them on Fridays ... with cheese! We now have pasty web sites that offer the "pasty of the week"... some new way to ruin a good pasty every week! (I won't record these variant URL's on this site.) Is nothing sacred anymore? I am truly surprised that the always vigilant protectors of all that is holy, our Keweenaw Cornish descendants, have not taken up the cause of defending the "real" pasty from the transgressions of these misguided, mercenary pasty merchandisers!


This sunny but cool day seemed like a good day to take a little ride and check out the after winter condition of our beaches and pick up a little beach kindling. For beach types, the news is good. The extremely low water has exposed vast areas that are normally under water and there is a lot more sand at places like Great Sand Bay, which despite its name usually has pretty skimpy sand beaches. The Harbor beaches are much deeper, especially noticeable at the east end. Bete Grise, well what can you say, it is and always has been the best beach in Keweenaw. An ominous note is the new lot property stakes that portend the construction of homes along the beach. Homeowner - beach user conflicts are inevitable. What a shame that our County officials, egged on by Grant Township's seemingly unbridled appetite for tax base, allowed this precious gem, I believe community trust, to slip into private hands. Returning to the Harbor, one cannot help but notice the great volume of sand that has blown into the streets and yards behind the main beach. The absence of beach snow cover and strong easterly winds have caused havoc for our Front Street neighbors. Recently constructed sand fences and walls have helped, but in the main afforded little protection for these properties in this windy yet unusually warm and almost snow free winter. Personally, I'd rather move a normal winter's snow than be confronted with a yard filled with sand. Perhaps we need a community sand bucket brigade party?


I devoted the entire day to preparing my tax returns. The weather was appropriately gloomy!


This was a day to relish! Warm, high 50's, light rain, and just a hint of wind. Suddenly there is a smell in the air. The smell of warm, wet earth and composted leaves and grass. The ground seems to swell as intermittent sun plays across its surface. Seagull and crows strut about, pecking for whatever delicacies the softening soil might provide. Four eagles glide overhead. The ground birds keep a wary eye on the circling predators. Abby paces frantically along the front window, anxious to engage once again in a fruitless bird chase. The wonderdog will spend hours chasing crows from tree to tree. The crows seem to enjoy the game and encourage her with constant chatter and ground swoops. I hobble along the beach to Eliza creek, now free of ice and flowing steadily with the last residue of our meager snow pack. I stand unsteadily by the juncture of creek and harbor, listening to the ripple of snow water returning to the lake of its origin. It's quiet. The cottages along the beach and the south shore stand empty, continuing their vigil of many months as they await the summer visitors that will give them life. Living in a town of empty dwellings can be daunting to one's spirit. My gaze moves from cottage to cottage and at each momentary stop I conjure up images of the summer neighbors and friends that will soon arrive: Doc Rowe; the newly wed Elaine and Rick; web buddies Jim and Jeff; our summer fun leaders Bill and Judy; sailing buddies Bob and Pat; our German ambassador Daphne; prize winners for longest trip to the Harbor, John and Xuyen; beach sand and now cancer battlers, Bill and Carol; remodeling pros Pat and Anna; future innkeepers Tom and Carol; and, everybody's favorite Harborite, Fred. My spirits lift at the prospect of their return


Things are not going well with the leg so it's a day for indoor sports, mostly catching up with the good news from Wall Street and spending a few hours with historian Samuel Morison as he tells of the European seafarers who first explored the North American Continent. As a sailor blessed with a tight ship that sails well into the wind, and charts and electronic and satellite navigation devices accurate to within a few hundred feet, the stories of the voyages of the Norsemen to Labrador and Newfoundland at the advent of the millennium we will soon see end, in the summer of 1001, almost 500 years before Columbus stumbled into the West Indies, are incredible. Of course my Norwegian friends back in Minnesota are certain that Leif, son of Eric the Red, somehow made it all the way to The Boundary Waters (and have inscribed stones to prove it), but for anyone who has put to sea, the voyage to Vinland in an open, square sailed knarr not much larger than my "Peregrine", is a sufficient wonder. It's an even greater wonder that without the aid of compass and any way to determine longitude (east-west location), and only a notched stick to sight the height of the north star and a sun shadow board as means of determining latitude (north-south position), these wanderers of the stormy northern seas were able to find there way from Norway back to new world harbors no larger than our own! Unfortunately, Leif's incredible journeys became only the stuff of obscure Norwegian saga. Columbus, on the other hand, who was sure he had found the passage to the riches of the Far East (actually thought his first landfall was an island off Japan), fared better. He captured the acclaim of the always treasure building European nobility and through their press agents, an honored place in world history, in American lore, in our school books, and on our holiday list. Poor Leif, whose more impressive voyages were not viewed with much interest or favor back home, couldn't even get his countrymen to sustain his new colony. Like any good entrepreneurial explorer, and in a moment of exuberance born of a landfall after months at sea, he proclaimed his new colony Vinland, a place of lush grapes and good wine, a clarion call for any good Norwegian. When they learned it was instead only a barren landscape of scrub bush berries of such dubious distinction that its wine was the stuff only the most heroic of Vikings could endure, the voyages across the stormy North Atlantic ended. This sobering news was too much, even for countryman who could embrace aquavit. So all Viking energies returned to the conquest and plunder of Europe, culminating in the Norman Conquest and installation of their William as King of England in 1066. It's too bad Leif never made it to the more enticing land of thimbleberry and pasty. The history of Europe might have been quite different!


Thunderstorms are moving to the south and north of us but, as is often the case, the escarpments that extend from the Porkies through the Keweenaw Ridge seem to blunt their movement along the south Superior shore. A light rain falls on welcoming ground and the sky has returned to persistent gray, but this interruption to our sunny spring seems to lack much energy. It's what in summer we regard as a good "to town" day, so off I go. Abby paces nervously in the back of the van, seemingly aware that I'm relying on a left leg to hit the brakes if deer should dart in our path. The mining locations along our way have streets lined with residual snow windrows, all now dirty with their coating of the winter's application of black stamp sand. Calumet is in similar strait. Not a pretty sight, but one the spring rains and tending homeowners will soon sweep away. There is some excitement in the stores. Unsold snow scoops no longer block the entrances; their place now occupied with yard fertilizer and seed. These items will probably linger; Copper Country folks are not really into lawn care. Perhaps because the "green" season is so short, but more likely, folks up here have better things to do with the brief summer than caring for a lawn. There is certainly none of the "maintaining neighborhood standards" that is the lot of many big city suburbanites. One's standing up here has more to do with the size of one's woodpile. Copper Country folks are, however, truly devoted to their flowers. Understandable, given the bleakness of winter, at least in the towns and the joy one so traumatized can derive from brightly colored flowers. They are planted everywhere; along roadways, in window boxes, along sidewalks, lining building foundations, in huge pots hanging over porches, even on mailboxes. No Copper Country place of business would be caught without a huge pot of flowers at its door. While the crocus and daffodil are beginning to poke up from the still night cooled ground, our flower planting time is still a few weeks away. It's nonetheless pleasurable to think about.
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