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 December 7th


The Christmas star atop the lighthouse guides me down the last shortcut road hill into Eagle Harbor. I utter a short prayer of thanks for the safe eight hour journey from Minneapolis, for the love and care of family, and for the support of friends. The Harbor is quiet, but aglow with the lights of holiday. Surprisingly little snow. The landscape is white, but streets are bare and there is little evidence of the piles of snow I expected with the annual snowfall over the five foot mark. Three hours earlier I traveled through massive roadside snow piles in the Ironwood snow belt. I expect there is more snow on the ground "up the hill", away from the warming influence of the big lake. Rathbone School is bathed in white light, its windows adorned with glowing electric candles, and a giant lighted star shines alongside the doorway. Nearby evergreens evidence the handiwork of Harborites, young and old, who had gathered a day ago for the annual Town Tree decorating party. Our new community Christmas Tree in the island behind the Rathbone Memorial, still in it's infancy, seems mightier than it is as it sparkles brightly in its coat of colorful lights and homemade decorations. I arrive at my camp to find my van parking area and front door path, steps and porch cleared of snow...the work of my good Harbor neighbors. It's warm, about 35 degrees, and as is always the case when I return from a visit to the "cities", I'm immediately aware of the stillness. The only sound is that of waves of the still open harbor gently lapping the beach shoreline. Abby once again rolls playfully in the snow and heads to the Ellis's to beg for a treat. I build a fire, unload the van, and settle in for what I hope will be a long and healthy stay.


Bruce and Jeane Olson and I spent most of the warm (35 degree) afternoon finishing the intial batch of our replicas of the Keweenaw Snow Thermometer. We (mostly Jeane and Bruce) have now produced 210 of them, and about half have been sold or spoken for. We marvel at the apparent demand for this icon of Keweenaw winter. World class snowfall is kind of our "bragging rights". Reminds me of my days in Minnesota. I'd travel the country and folks would be spellbound by my tales of weeks-on-end of -20 to -40 degree temperature ("and you can double that for windchill!"). You have heard the stories: "boots freeze to the ground", "trees explode", "cow milk turns solid", etc. Kind of macho talk. Our claim to fame. Certifies our "manhood". Of course, such talk is not unique to the frozen tundra of Minnesota and the Dakotas, or the snow blanketed Superior south shore....Okies tell of terrorizng tornados, desert state folks of killing heat and flash floods, Gulf staters of hundred plus mph hurricane winds and rainfalls measured in feet, not inches. Perhaps in this day of our cocoon of creature comforts, or if we can't stand it, easy jet or Interstate escape, these colossal climatic claims somehow sooth a primeval human instinct to survive in a hostile natural environment. Well, whatever is at work, if it sells Keweenaw Snow Thermometers, that's fine with us.


We are experiencing a melt down. Still a lot of snow "up the hill" but mid-thirties temperatures are taking their toll. No sun as usual in early winter, so the melt is slow. Actually, it is more of a compaction of the snow cover than a melt. Little running water, just less apparent snow. Dark ominous clouds hang out over the northwest lake, but they don't move inland. Very fine snow showers seem to move across the Keweenaw ridge, obscuring the demarcation of tree line and sky. Driving demands attention to isolated and not easily detected patches of glazed snow, or worse, black ice. Despite the moderate temperatures, its raw, chilling...very uncomfortable. A product of the high humidity produced by evaporating snow. We need a good blizzard!


Abby and I hiked through the pinery to check out the condition of the ski trail today. We both evidenced signs of too much time hanging around the camp (and hospitals). Tough going even though much of the trail is almost bare. By kilometer six Abby quit bounding about in the trail-side woods and marsh, and I was pausing often to refresh the body and soak in the scenery. Pretty grim back there. Trees are bare of snow and only in open areas is there enough snow on the ground to start building the base for good skiing. We won't have decent skiing until we are blessed with a couple of heavy snows. The good news is that because of the extremely dry fall, the trail is devoid of the standing water that caused so much trouble for the groomer last year. Also, much of the trail is wide and clear of foliage as a result of heavy use by recreational and hunter vehicles over the past few months. Several light trucks have been in the area since the snow started to fly, probably deer hunters. I spotted several deer dressing sites. Absolutely no sign of animal life. The few deer left after the last couple of harsh winters are apparently still hiding back in the hills. Everything else is burrowed in for the winter or escaped to friendlier climes. I'm puzzled by the absence of our winter birds. Not even the craw of crow or tapping of woodpecker to fill the eerie sound vacuum. (Maybe it's just my lousy hearing and eyesight.) Eagles, however, seem to be abundant along the lakeshore and that might have something to do with the absence of their prey. I'm told that when eagles get desperate for food, they will swoop down and carry off small animals, even dogs. Thank goodness that Abby's recent incarnation has resulted in enough added weight to make her almost "eagle proof".


There seems to be a reverse correlation between time on task and enjoyment of task when it comes to Keweenaw attitudes about snow. Those who have been around here the longest and probably scooped tons of snow in their lifetimes, are quick to tell you what a great winter we are having. "Great" because we have, at least by our standards, almost no snow. Only 14" in December, and most of that has evaporated away! An overheard scanner conversation this morning between a couple of old timers was resplendent with accolades for what I think is a pretty dreary situation. Local news outlets report December sightings of robins and mosquitos with the same fervor and "ain't it great" attitude they display for Packer victories. I'm beginning to become a closet snow junkie. It just isn't safe to be publicly positive about snow. Too much confrontational risk. Learned this lesson in spades this past week while getting my bi-monthly haircut at Dukes, Laurium's communication center. It takes about a half-day for a Duke haircut, but the lively chatter about the affairs of the world by the assembled cast of local characters usually makes the time seem well spent. (Duke's is where I learned that there are 13 millionaires living in Eagle Harbor.) This time, however, the subject moved from the usual seasonal buck bagging bragging to what a fine winter we are having. I knew better, but finally lost my cool and confessed that I hoped we might set a new snow record this year. The ensuing hostility reminded me of my days of chairing school closing hearings. I was in the barber chair. Duke, who usually clips at a pace of a clip-a-minute as he tends to the more important task of orchestrating the chatter, suddenly revved up the sissors to what must have been a personal best, and quickly dismissed the troublemaker to the street. I was lucky to not lose an ear.

Lots of snowmobilers in the Copper Country. With little snow, the Keweenaw trails are in poor condition and there are a growing number of detours and trail closures due to the heavy logging. Nonetheless, with even less snow to the south we can expect to see many more snowmobilers in the weeks following Christmas. A group of a dozen or more from the Chicago area were at Inn last weekend. They are up here every year, often more than once. Snowmobiling is certainly important to the local economy, and while the impact of snowmobiling on our fragile eco system is a matter of debate, there is no doubt that their presence provides some benefit to those of us who winter here. The Harbor Inn, for instance, would not be open in the winter without the snowmobile trade. I've found the snowmobile crowd to be friendly and more or less of an intrusion on our way of life than the summer boating folks I hang around with. Bouncing along on a snow packed trail on a noisy machine at 30+ mph is certainly not my idea of a way to enjoy our unique winter environment, but they probably would be equally uncomfortable summer sailing at five knots through dense fog on the stormy lake.


Another raw, uncomfortable day despite temperatures once again in the mid thirties. We are, however, having beautiful sunrises, or more accurately, early morning sunglow. The winter equinox is now just a week away and the sun is only above the hills to the back of the harbor for a short period each day. At about 8:30 a.m. when there are some breaks in the cloud cover, as there is today, a red hue spreads across the undersides of dark cloud ridges creating what appears to be a sea of red waves advancing from the south. The surface of the harbor mirrors the pattern and color of the overhanging sky, with the added rippling of water stirred by wind. The display lasts only for a few fleeting moments, but the effect is dazzling when set against the dark somber winter landscape....somewhat like that of flickering fireplace flame in a dark firebox.

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