Storm Approaches
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Winter Storm Approaches

"...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)

February, 2000

Saturday, February 24, 2001. The weather station at the airport is reporting visibility at 0 miles. That's for sure! A fierce southeast gale has lifted the top several inches of the bush snow pack and is hurtling it towards Canada. Camp rattling gusts of over 50 miles per hour are hammering away at my front door. I've had to prop one of my crutches against the door to keep it closed. The outside storm door, still with its summer screen, I've temporarily secured with a shock cord drawn through the inner door edge, but it still bangs about as the wind does its best to add it to the shingles, tree limbs and other debris I see heading for the lake. Duct tape covers the wide cracks around the door, keeping out the wind driven snow, if not the wind itself. The house framing moans and snaps, doorsills eerily hum, and the fireplace flue howls - the combined blizzard serenade causing the seemingly stone-deaf Wonderdog to crawl under a bed in the back bedroom. What a wimp!

A couple hours ago our mailman, Brad, staggered to my door to report his truck was stuck in a mid-road drift about a hundred feet away. I couldn't see it. We called Don Koop, old mister reliable when it comes to hauling helpless souls out of snowbanks (and for lots of other things as well). Don arrived quickly, and in short order was also stuck. I watched as several vague shapes appeared in the swirling snow, apparently rescuers armed with shovels. (I've learned the "shapes" were the two healtiest guys in town - Rich Probst and Rich Boggio - just back from a Bohemia ski trip and out checking the Harbor drift show. Left the main road to check out the lighthouse and were surprised to find Don and Brad's trucks buried in the snow.) I called the sheriff to see if a plow was anywhere near. They reported a plow had just left Eagle River heading for the Harbor. A bit later Don's truck was dug out and a long chain was dragged back to Brad's mail truck. I lost sight of the event, but have since learned that as the tugging began, someone apparently searching for Tom and Jean Ellis house drove down the road and didn't see the two trucks until they were just a few feet away. Now three vehicles in a roadway rapidly filling with the snow drifting in behind the upwind six foot high roadside windrow. Somehow they all were extracted just as the big plow arrived from Eagle River. I know the "through rain, sleet or snow, the mail must go through" reputation of the postal service was at stake, but blizzards, Brad, are beyond the call. They're killers.

The snow-forecast maps for the next twenty-four hours have painted the Keweenaw in deep blue, the 8" to 12" indicator. It's hard to believe snow could actually fall in this wind. At best it seems to be flying by in horizontal moving squadrons, and at times seems to be moving up, not down. One of those famous "Yooper Uppers" I've written about in the past.

Suddenly, at about 5:30 p.m. the wind has stopped. Abby crawls out from her underbed sanctuary and I pause as the silence of this moment is as pervasive as was the howling blizzard. My wind gauge, for several hours recording 30 to 55 mph winds, now says 3 mph. This change is less than two or three minutes. Weird. We are obviously in the eye of the storm. My flagpole, no longer frightfully leaning towards the lake, rights itself as the flag atop begins to evidence a backing wind. The weather pros said there would be a "lull" before the heavy wet snow moving in from the southwest arrives, but this is dramatic. The clouds are dropping lower, and an eerie darkening of sky and mood wraps about us. The once again brave pooch scratches at the door. I pull off the duct tape, set aside the crutch props, release the storm door shock cord and let her out. She's back in a flash. Something out there spooked her. It's spooking me too. Something's up!

Thursday, February 22, 2001. If you have ever wondered what the term "deep winter" means, I'd suggest an early visit to Eagle Harbor. This is indeed "deep". It's cold, at least by our standards (single digit above), the snow is piled high over our landscape, and the sun has yet to prevail over the massive lake effect snow clouds that stream in from the lake. The lake is in turmoil as gales rile its surface, the ridges behind the harbor are shrouded in snowy haze, and nine of every ten camps are dark. I love it!

Of course, I observe all this from the comfort of a warm and cozy camp, a furry and friendly pooch draped across my feet, and caring Harbor neighbors catering to my every need as I wait for my ankle to heal. My mind, nonetheless, transports me up the hill into the mining locations of long ago, and I marvel at the capacity of those hardy people to not simply survive in such a winter, but to wrest the copper from its eons old vein lodging, bear and raise their children, and find sufficient comfort and strength in their faith and in their religious and social institutions - the lodges, Sunday schools, churches, and schools.

What, I wonder, would be the consequences of an ankle injury in such a time. Probably not simply the inconvenience I feel, but more likely the loss of income to sustain my self and my family. And I'd no doubt struggle with the severely reduced capacity to carryout such life sustaining tasks as gathering wood for heat. Neighbors and fellow workers would rally to my assistance, as they do now, but surely the hardships imposed by such a situation would be almost unbearably. Especially so for the many of us who in this era of convenience fret about plowed in driveways, fuzzy TVs caused by snow on the satellite receivers, propane consuming drafty camps, and long drives in warm cars for green bananas.

And now, with my good friend Dick struggling with a serious health problem, and my own still vivid memories of similar encounters, I wonder (actually, I know) what would be our lot if such an event would have happened to us in the winter bound mining locations of those earlier Keweenaw times.

So it's little wonder that I can, in this early third millennium era, be so upbeat about being in Eagle Harbor in the heart of a better than average Keweenaw winter. The remoteness, once so threatening, is now a blessing - assuring that I and the few others who choose to stay here in deep winter can witness this remarkable natural world "tour de force" event from our private box seats, unmolested by the clamor of crowd.

We are free to move about (unless, of course, there is a blizzard, or one's foot and leg are in a rigid cast), sampling the array of delightful groomed ski trails, adrenaline pumping downhill slopes, and heart thumping deep snow snowshoe treks, or simply enjoy a pleasant drive in a warm car on open roads among snow draped trees or along the rugged ice capped lakeshore. Thanks to an efficient and highly dedicated road crew, we can easily avail ourselves of the necessities of life, and even some of its frivolities, in less than the time its takes to bake a pasty. And should trouble of heart or lung occur, we can be whisked off to competent care in short order.

Perhaps more important, we, especially those of us who have retired up here, have time to think, to read, to write, to contemplate, and to wonder. Sure, deep winter camp fever can infest an idle mind, but the solace, yea the wonder, of a cozy camp nestled in deep drifts at the base of majestic hills and overlooking the churning lake or harbor, is fertile ground for an active imagination, a never fully satisfied curiosity, or for probing for the meaning of the imponderables of life.

The rich plains that lie beyond the watersheds of the big lake at our door are likely more hospitable to those whose lives are dedicated to the production and distribution of the goods and foods that sustain us all. But few places beyond the shoulders of the great lake are more generous to the mind of man.

In the splendor of our physical isolation and in our unbounded consciousness, we can enjoy the "space" for thought. The omnipresent and everlasting hills and the eternal lake both stretch and contain our thoughts, distancing our minds from the distractions of everyday life, while reminding us of the relative significance of our temporal existence. And in our daily encounter with the enlightening perspective of the natural world in which we are so immersed, we develop an understanding of how we interact with the natural world, and it with us, and its evolutionary influences on our lives. Yes, this is indeed a place for thought; a thinking spot.

Carol, my keeper of faith, gave me, The Sacred Journey, an account of the author's (Frederick Buechner) "listening" to his own story of the initial 50 years of his life journey for "whatever of meaning, of holiness, of God, there may be in it to hear." I need to do that (my journey's a bit longer). Eagle Harbor is the perfect place for such thought, such introspective contemplation - and Eagle Harbor in "deep winter" is the perfect time.

Friday, February 16, 2001. In the interest of full disclosure I acknowledge that as I begin this Journal entry, I haven't the foggiest idea of what I'll write. I just have a writing itch.

I should report on what a fine day it was in Eagle Harbor yesterday. When I cranked up the computer at about 4 a.m. and noted the airport weather station reporting an 8 degree below temperature, and then looked at my Harbor station's reading of 12 above, I knew we Harborites had a leg up on the world. Our bigger than life and often boisterous neighbor, ole Gitche Gumee, was once more casting her marvelous spell over those of us who live along her shore. "Heat" radiating from her bosom was creeping up and over the basalt lip of her confinement and spilling into our little hamlet. The air was still, allowing the warm blanket of lake air to linger, toasting our toes and causing envy among the populace "up the hill". As dawn moved in from the east, I noted a gathering of many small birds in the decaying cherry trees alongside my cottage, apparently drawn out of the cold backing hills by the prospect of basking in the warmth of Keweenaw's "banana belt."

And then the sun, an infrequent Harbor visitor these past many months. It poked its brow over the hill we call Baldy at about one bell and within the span of the time needed for our Silver Isle eagle to make her early morning breakfast flight around the harbor, the slanting sun beams had transformed the dimensionless gray surface of the harbor ice pack into a spellbinding display of diamond tipped golden ice ridges set among deep blue shadows. As dawn became morning, and morning mid-day, and the sunlight was cleansed of the colors induced by its longer early day travel through the earth's increasingly suspect atmosphere, an intense white light reflecting from the deep blanket of pristine Keweenaw snow invaded every crevice of my physical surroundings and inner psyche. Bright light flooded through the large south facing windows, working its way to the normally darker spaces at the back of my camp. (And, unfortunately, making painfully obvious the dust accumulated over the winter months.) My spirit lifted, stimulated to a quiet joy by the liveliness of the sparkling scene outside my window. Abby moved to a sunny patch on the rug near the window and with a satisfying moan stretched her winter coat at full-extended length to absorb the warm sunrays. I pulled a chair alongside her, and I too soon felt the comforting and healing warmth.

Yesterday would have been a perfect day for a trek about the harbor, or better yet, a jaunt along the ski trail. Not our good fortune, of course, but I noted many of my neighbors leisurely and seemingly happily engaged in scooping away the few inches of our latest snowfall, or making slow treks to their mailboxes. Mary, our always sunny innkeeper, stopped by with three days supply of her delicious homemade soups and a box of those scrumptious chocolate goodies she whips up to tantalize Inn customers on Valentine's Day. That to further satisfy a tummy and soul wonderfully treated the evening before by the best crab cakes I've ever eaten, the loving product of a day long cooking odyssey by Rick, our always upbeat water system impresario. Hey, this broken ankle life does have its upsides. Yes, life is good, and yesterday was indeed a day to cherish.

And, of course, there was the good news of supervisor Jim's success in finding another $75,000 in grant money to assist in our quest to preserve the pinery between Like Eliza and the Copper Falls stamp sands. Jim would be the first to acknowledge the important roles several other Harbor neighbors have and are playing in this effort to assure that we and all who follow us will always have access to the unique natural assets and recreational opportunities of this beautiful dunes-marsh woodland, but he's the deal's chief cheerleader and closer. More of Jim's deft negotiating skill still needs to be applied to bring full closure to this undertaking, but yesterday's announcement and the considerable cooperation we are being afforded by representatives of Lake Superior Land Company are cause for optimism.

Yes, yesterday was indeed a fine day to be in Eagle Harbor. I guess my itch was not as much for writing as it was for just sharing my joy.

Sunday, February 11, 2001. The tumbled snow windrow along the road at the front of my place is now over six feet in height. It's pure white, not a blemish. Snow pushed to the top by the big wing plow straddles its ridge in giant clumps, creating in my mind an impression of some far away snow encrusted rugged mountain range, say the Himalayas. I imagine little figures linked by barely perceptible safety lines crawling up its side - mountaineers scaling the giant ice falls on their way to the summit.

Cabin fever? Perhaps. Or maybe the mind altering effect of the painkillers I'm taking to soften the implications of swelling inside my rigid ankle cast, and the angina at work in my heart. Whatever, the mind is a marvelous thing - enabling mid-winter virtual treks along leaf strewn Keweenaw trails on a crisp Fall day, an imagined rail down sail in rolling seas along the rugged north shore of the big lake, even a sense of the sweet smell, crackle and warmth of a beach fire as you settle your backside into the warm sand on a cool summer night and gaze up at the star filled sky. Ah, such luscious thoughts as I gaze across the top of my imaginary mountain to the frozen bay and snow squall masked hills beyond.

The Keweenaw in mid-winter is an enigma - almost beyond the capacity of the human mind to fully understand; surely dismissive of any attempt on my part to convey the full range of the emotions it engenders. How can you convey the overwhelming sense of awe, indeed pure joy, you experience as you pause on the ski trail among beautifully sculpted white drifts and lusciously snow draped evergreens, and gaze up through pink tinged clouds into the bluest blue imaginable in the sky overhead? Or, is there any way to express the true magnitude of the depressing effect of day after day of gray clouds lying low overhead, seemingly smothering the will and vitality of all within its lingering grasp? And how does one describe the solace bequeathed by softly falling snow, or the adrenaline charged anxiety of a dark night drive along a heavily drifted shoreline road as your headlights strive to pierce through streaking snow in white-out blizzard conditions? Or is there a way to relate the peacefulness, yea blissful feeling of detachment, of living in isolation from much of the turmoil in our world - or the gnawing need for companionship and worldly contact that same isolation can sometimes provoke?

These are all aspects of a life lived in Keweenaw in mid-winter. It's surely not a life for everyone. Indeed, for many who move up here based on their experience with our blissful summers or brief winter sojourns, the reality of our winters beyond the beauty of big snow soon suggests the need for some snowbirding, and for some, ultimately the recognition that their needs are better satisfied elsewhere. As for me, and most of my mid-winter neighbors, a certain accommodation has been reached. We are not unmindful, indeed we are respectful, of the challenges to mind and body that the Keweenaw winter affords. We take pride in our capacity for self-sufficiency, whether it be for care of mind or body, yet nurture our interdependence. We revel in the many joys bequeathed by the natural world of Keweenaw in winter, and have devised a host of ways to cope with its challenges - Friday evening gatherings at the Inn, trail head surveillance, the pursuit of a wide array of personal avocations, and an extraordinary network of guardians and helpers, are among the many. We are at peace with our wintry world.

Abby's across the room, camped out on the warm fireplace hearth, blissfully unaware, or at least not expressing, any such thought about a Keweenaw winter. She does show signs of restlessness, however, frequently climbing up on a windowsill to see across the snow stacked on the outside window boxes. Not content to satisfy her longings with my imaginary world of Himalayan Mountains and fearless climbers, she trots to the door and scratches its base. Let's get out of here and roll in the snow is her message. I'm with you pooch!

Thursday, February 8, 2001. The Marquette weather gurus are teasing us once again with the prospect of 8" to 14" of snow this evening and tomorrow. Perhaps some lake effect, it's getting a bit late for much of that, but mostly the heavier stuff sweeping up from the big towns and prairies in the lower latitudes. A promised following cool down should assure that the fresh topping on our ski trails will be fast - great skiing. At the moment, pre-dawn, the amber light beaming from the pesky street light down the road is clear. No snow in the air.

My cast and crutches will make me just a spectator of this snow event, but it pleases me that some Harbor visitors from snow-forsaken venues will be able to get out and roll about in the fresh Keweenaw snow. Bill Jacka has some guests arriving this weekend from the British Isles, and the Harbor Web's Carolina correspondent, Winston-Salem newspaper columnist Richard Creed, and his wife are now ensconced at Fanny Hoe. Dick sent an email last week from Tarheel country (what's the origin of that nickname?), asking if I needed a ripe banana delivery on Monday. Sure enough, as they completed their 1200 drive up to snow country, they stopped to deliver the promised bananas (they were a bit green - Fraki's no doubt). Keweenaw folks are not indifferent to the affect big snow can have on one's psyche, we are either delighted or dismayed with it, but it nonetheless always amazes us what lengths snow aficionados from low or no snow places will go to get a boot full of our stuff. Fly from England. Drive 1200 miles. Wow!

We talked a bit about the lure of the Keweenaw, and Eagle Harbor in particular, at the Tuesday evening meeting of the Township's planning committee. (Funny; as we listed all our "assets", no one mentioned big snow. Perhaps we are indifferent.) Readers of these journals, or my recent musing about the virtues of Eagle Harbor, can guess what the committee's asset listing included: scenic grandeur, abundant and accessible open space, "cottage" feel, rich and visible history, small scale settlements, little commercialization, etc. The other side of our community balance sheet, our liabilities, or in the jargon of planning, our deficiencies and challenges (in the always optimistic corporate life we called them "opportunities"), will be on our next agenda. That requires a bit more critical soul searching.

We touched on the "what's not so hot" about this place as we engaged in a threshold dialog about "vision", a fancy planning term for what we would like Eagle Harbor to be like in 20 years. (We figure 20 years out is about all our crystal balling can handle.) Committee members generally agreed that the Eagle Harbor (Township) community of today primarily consists of two population groups: a Spring/Summer/Fall seasonal population, perhaps 400 to 600 people, mostly vacationing working families and retirees with a wide range of life styles and interests who are here for a few weeks or a few months; and a smaller permanent year-round or near year-round population, about 200 or so, comprised primarily of retirees, but including a small number of people still in the workforce - including some working from their homes. (The year-round group seems to have doubled in the last two or three years.)

We noted the near absence of young families in the permanent population and wondered whether our planning should somehow foster the conditions that would make Eagle Harbor an attractive permanent residence option for young working families. We could certainly use their energy, their fresh insights, their involvement in community affairs, and, yes, their tax money. That option engendered discussion about the need for more nearby workplaces, perhaps more convenient commercial facilities, perhaps the larger homes families in year-round occupancy require, etc. That, some observed, would be a far different community than the one we have today, and wondered whether we could maintain many of the "assets" we currently have. Good arguments all around, and the crux of the planning process. We're really into this - and enjoying the opportunity to shape our community's future rather than just sitting back and complaining when something happens that doesn't suit our fancy.

I do wonder, however, why I allow myself to be drawn back into a world of thought and work that was my passion for so many years. I didn't move up here for that. I'm a skier, sailor, writer, web master, wave watcher, snowfall counter, medical happening, adventurer, dog handler, whatever - not a community busybody. Been there. Done that. I suppose I so easily revert back to a former lifestyle because I enjoy it, and I have the good feeling of being engaged in something worthwhile. I also get to work with interesting, community committed, people, and I always learn something new about this fascinating country. Pretty hard to resist all that.

Oh well, a big snow, an "asset", is on today's plate. That will surely divert me from fussing about life's priorities.

Saturday, February 3, 2001. Abby is on her haunches at the front window barking and mumbling at the street light down the road. I suspect she's spooked by the eerie shadows its pale amber light is casting on the ragged five-foot windrow of snow across the road.

I don't bark at the light, but share her displeasure with it. It's always seemed a bit out of place. Perhaps a half dozen vehicles pass by it at night, and that's at our summer peak. There are no burglars or highwaymen around that I know of. Why do we have it? About the only use I've found for it is to judge the density of a snowfall as the flakes whirl through its beam. I'd trade that for a view of the nighttime celestial star and aurora shows the light obscures.

Maybe it's intended to serve as sort of a public light box; you know, the white light enclosures one is supposed to place one's head in during the long Keweenaw winter nights to keep from going stir crazy mad. Or perhaps it's a weaning device of some sort, like a baby's pacifier, intended to help newly arrived town folks ease through the transition to a life in the bush. Oh well, it offers comfort to some, so I suppose it will stay. I can always wander up to the lighthouse or out to the hotel rocks to see the star and northern light shows. I suspect Abby's displeasure is for less complicated reasons.

Yes, I'm getting a bit crabby. Today was a beautiful day and I was locked up. I did venture out to retrieve the mail and watch the Wonderdog frolic in the fresh snow. The about one hundred foot trek to the mail box took forever and was a bit of an adrenaline trip as my crutches slipped about on the slick packed snow in the roadway. The climb up and down the front stoop steps was a bit hairy as well, but, all in all, my moment in the sun and bright snow was a real treat. I was tempted to grab a few chunks of firewood, but my fall was on my ankle, not on my head, so I still had sense enough to let that temptation pass.

Indeed, such trips are fortunately unnecessary as my good neighbors are tending to my every need. The Ellis's, Olson's and Johnson's get me to the bone doc and the Inn, Barb Been is my mail lady, Bruce Olson keeps my wood box full, Frank Carlton does the grocery shopping, and Marilyn, Lissa and Elaine have kept my goodie larder full. Even our visitors helped out as the "Durham Dandies", Bill Medlyn and Chuck Davidson, scooped snow and hauled in firewood during their annual week long dance in our snow. And our friendly Inn proprietress, Mary, called to offer "Meals on Wheels". How about that! I'm indeed fortunate - and grateful.

I've had other callers this week, including two sets of lightly clad winter travelers who buried their vehicles in the big snowbank up at the lighthouse. Each was looking for assistance. The first young lady, a pretty little school teacher from someplace down below, pushed open my front door as I yelled, "Come in!" and once in, took a look at the crutch straddled occupant and muttered, "Oh, you won't do", without explanation. A bit taken aback, I inquired of her need, and assured her that while I was not personally going to be of much help, my shovel and van might. Abby bounded after them as they drove the van up to the light station, and by the time they returned, their car in tow, they were ready to adopt their furry helper. She does easily make friends.

My second persons in plight were clad in sweat pants and light shirts; no hats, no gloves, no boots. Same routine and same remedy, including the pooch bit, with the addition of some loaner coats, hats and gloves. I gave them a copy of my winter car kit list as they left, but held back my fatherly advice about warm clothes. Their shivering assured me they didn't need that message.

A large bald eagle, I suspect the summer nester from near Silver Island, glided by early this evening. A gorgeous sight as it swooped down low across the evening sun streaked snow-covered ice pack now filling the harbor. I though that our eagles migrated further south by mid winter. What a majestic bird! And to think, ole Ben Franklin, sufficiently savvy to assure that something as lovely (and, he thought, mineral rich) as Isle Royale was wrested from the British, nonetheless considered the lowly turkey to be more worthy of being our national emblem.

I wonder what Ben would think about my street light? He probably would think it's OK. I understand he was fooling around with electricty, and he was obviously fond of turkeys.

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January #2, 2001
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