Storm Approaches
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The Harbor Journal.

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)

October, 2001

Halloween, 2001. I've been out carousing for treats with Zorro, Robin Hood, Piglet, and Pooh Bear. While it might sound like the usual assortment of Harbor characters, my compatriots were instead my grandchildren and daughter. Unlike my Harbor neighbors, who are usually only into tricks (they have a few "treats" before heading out), my Whitefish Bay entourage was focused only on treats - Kit Kats being the treat of choice. The only trick was the date. Not Halloween, but last Sunday late afternoon - a time preferred, actually dictated, by community grown-ups apparently worried about goblins. Is nothing sacred?

We do have our pumpkins out on the front stoop for the Halloween passerbys to admire. They're pretty good, not scary or sad, but goofy-happy. The kids designed their smiling faces (a good sign), but grandpa had to perform the surgery. All three agreed that the gutting of the pumpkin interiors was "too gross." I probably lost them when I explained the cutting of the hole at the top was like brain surgery.

So, I'm not at the Harbor to enjoy the sight and smell of the patch of glowing pumpkins on the Eagle Harbor Store steps. I left a couple of pumpkins for the event, but they were carved so long ago that I wonder if they made it to the big show. I suspect the patch is a bit small given how few folks are there, and I hear that the weather has been wet and windy - not good for pumpkins or pumpkin tenders. I expect someone will send a report, and hopefully, a picture or two. If not, when I return on Monday I'll see what I can scrounge up to share on our web site.

It's good for me to be away from the Harbor for a while. Certainly the opportunity for Carol and I to be with Sarah and her three youngsters during this time of their, and our, grief and adjustment is of benefit to all of us. Each day is a little better, and it's good to share the good moments while being available to each other when the challenge seems so difficult. It's a time of growing, both spiritually, and as a family.

Short forays from the quiet and isolation of the Harbor are also essential to my personal sense of place - how I and the community I so dearly love connect to the worlds of society, commerce, body politic, and thought that lie beyond the big waters and high ridges that seemingly define our Eagle Harbor world.

Sure, we have access to all the boundary less communication marvels of our time, albeit when compared to those in more urbanized areas they are somewhat limited and relatively primitive. Nonetheless, when something of great consequence happens beyond the hills, we get the word. What we miss is the buzz, the steady hum of smaller events that shape lives and happenings in more urban and more connected places - and, indirectly, our Keweenaw lives, whether we realize it or not.

Our place, our Keweenaw, is often referred to as a bypassed frontier - indeed that is part of its charm. Once in the main channel of the river of exploration, exploitation, and the march of humanity, our place is now simply a relic of those headier times. The main channels have moved elsewhere, their turbulent waters only a distant and barely perceptible rumble in our lives.

It's easy to hunker in in a place like this - and that's what many of us do. By choice. A yearning for detachment from the perceived, perhaps real, ills and stresses of the life along the main channels can be a powerful incentive for packing it up and moving to the Keweenaw, especially when "that other world" seems so uncertain, so threatening - as is now the case. Call it escapism if you wish. Yes, many of us would bristle at the charge, but few here would dismiss its influence on our decision to move and/or stay here.

There are, of course, plenty of positive reasons to hunker in the beauty of Keweenaw. For those who have an affinity for living in a natural environment, the opportunities for personal and family enjoyment and satisfaction are endless. The people are interesting and friendly. We have relatively few constraints on our lives, except for our self-imposed accommodation to our sense of community and neighborliness. These positive aspects of the little world in which we live more than offset whatever inconveniences our existence outside the mainstream may engender.

But whether our reason for being here is born of escapism or opportunity, or both, the effect of a prolonged immersion in an isolated side water of worldly events, can be the loss of an understating and appreciation of how our lives are shaped, for better or worse, by events in places and among peoples that we have lost connection with.

Sure, we can maintain a connection of sorts through our marvelous communication avenues, but for a people tempered to communicate and co-exist through personal ties and community gatherings, the messages beamed our way from afar are more often than not beyond the limited band width receivers we have self imposed. It arrives as unwelcome static, simply "noise" from the main channels of national and international life. We hear it, but it tells us little. Much of it just doesn't seem relevant to our comfortable lives.

This disconnect is not as apparent to me while I am at the Harbor. It's only when I spend time "beyond the hills", as I am now, that I appreciate how important these brief exposures to a world and lives outside the cocoon of Keweenaw is to developing a truer sense of my own place in the greater scheme of life, and a heightened understanding the interconnect of my beloved Keweenaw and world beyond.

So what does all of this have to do with Halloween? Not much, but since the good people of Whitefish Bay have decreed that I can't be out trick-or-treating on this spooky evening, I'm engaging in this bit of philosophical mischief.

Sunday, October 21, 2001Peregrine slipped quietly away from her Hay Bay mooring and cruised slowly through the early morning mist, the soft murmur of her throttled back engine barely perceptible above the gurgle of her bow wave and the warble of a pair of startled loons. Listless gray clouds hugged the tops of shoreline trees, obscuring the nearby Greenstone Ridge. In our wake Mistress Quickly and Simpatico, beautiful and well sailed cruising sailboats from the warm water lakes, and frequent Superior anchorage partners with Peregrine, sat motionless over their anchors, their sailing couple crews sleeping late after an evening of feasting on a thirty pound lake trout. As we rounded the protecting point and nosed into Isle Royale's broad Siskiwit Bay, a trickle of wind moving off the land stirred little ripples on the lake surface. A good omen, or so I thought.

Peter Reynolds, Alison Raley's husband, was at the bow washing down and stowing the anchor. Their son, Tim, was curled in his sleeping bag on the starboard bunk, like most 14 year olds not easily roused before mid-morning absent the call of school. I was sympathetic, We had played well into the preceding late July evening, stalking with our dingy first a majestically adorned very large bull moose feeding shoulder deep in the grassy bottom near our anchorage, and then a wary cow with her calf swimming across the small bay. Tim was excited, quickly learning the stalking technique of lying motionless with our paddles as the near-sighted bull had his weed laden antlers and head above water, and then paddling like mad towards him as he grazed on the bottom. We got much too close, and I kept a nervous hand on the outboard's starter cord.

We were leaving Hay Bay and embarking on the forty-five mile sail back to Eagle Harbor after six days of cruising and exploring along Isle Royale's south ramparts from Chippewa Harbor to Windego. It was Peter's and Tim's first trip to the island and first sail on the big lake. The weather had been at its summer best, the wind almost always sailing friendly, and the bugs apparently inland feeding on the sweaty campers. We feasted on pasties, coho, taco's (a first for Peregrine), and luckily were invited to join a festive gathering of Grand Marais (MN) sailors and power boaters for their annual Windego dock fish fry, including what my New Hampshire crew called the best fish chowder that had ever eaten. Dad and son learned quickly that swimming was not part of the cruise plan, after jumping off the Chippewa dock into 44-degree water.

So it was a happy and well rested crew that motored across Siskiwet Bay and snaked Peregrine through the tricky shoal boarded Houghton Passage and out into the big lake. Our early departure had been prompted by a forecasted building wind from the southwest, which I knew could be formidable as it funneled along the Keweenaw coastline. As expected, the wind picked up as we left the protection of the island, so I killed the engine and with Peter's help raised Peregrine's big sail. Peter went below to prepare a hot breakfast, mandatory feeding for sailors embarking for a ten to twelve hour sail across the chilly lake. I set a SE course to the Harbor, thinking the expected SW blow would assure a quick and exciting sail.

A sudden northerly and very cold wind shift caused me to look astern and back at the island, now about a mile distant. The low hanging clouds had lifted and an ominous black sky was creeping over the now visible Greenstone Ridge. I yelled down to Peter that heavy weather was moving in and we needed to button up the cockpit side curtains and get ready to put a reef in the sail. He stashed the cookware and joined me in the cockpit, taking the helm as I struggled with the side canvas. I could feel Peregrine surging as the wind filled her sail and the lee rail began to dip toward the sea. I looked astern once again, and to my horror saw a very mean looking black squall line race across the ridge, tumble down to the shore and move quickly towards Peregrine. I learned later that this squall line had emerged out of Thunder Bay, moved southeasterly toward Isle Royale at 60 to 70 knots, packing winds of the same velocity. The high ridges of Isle Royale had kept it from view until it was almost on top of us.

I quickly released the main sheet, told Peter to round the boat up into the wind and reached for the lines to drop the sail. Too late! Peregrine rolled over on her side as it shot ahead, her wishbone (boom) now plowing a deep furrow through the crazed sea. Wind shirked through the rigging, the overburdened sail snapped in protest, water cascaded down the deck from the buried bow, and everything below, including the sleeping Tim, changed position in a noisy crescendo of flying gear and galley equipment. My shipboard library was plucked from its shelf and tossed across the cabin. To my great relief, the 4500 pounds of lead deep in Peregrine's belly exerted its influence, and Peregrine popped back up. Unfortunately, the big sail was once again exposed to the full fury of the sixty knot plus wind, and before the now released halyard could run out, dropping the sail, the sail exploded into shreds, the noise so loud that I thought for a minute a propane tank had exploded.

Tim poked his head out of the companionway, asking if anything was wrong. I laughed, and Peter, locked tightly in a death wish embrace of Peregrine's wheel, looked incredulous as he contemplated his all too cool teenage son. Tensions eased. What was left of Peregrine's sail fell to the deck.

I cranked up the diesel, throttled it up to almost 3,500 rpms (almost double our normal cruising power), punched up the autopilot and headed Peregrine into the building sea. With my safety harness clipped to the lifelines, I crawled forward to gather and lash down the sail remnants. The squall line headed for Keweenaw, replaced with 30 to 40 knot winds out of the southeast, our intended course, and a very confused sea. Waves began to build. The rain came down in torrents and lighting bolts smacked into the lake all to close for comfort. We motored ahead, the GPS reporting a speed of less than two knots, and the boat crashing about in the head-on sea.

Peter and Tim, our sleeper now wide awake, gathered up and restowed the gear littering the cabin sole, and returned to the galley to prepare some much-needed grub. Pretty amazing, I thought, a couple of greenhorn big lake sailors caught in the worst that Superior can offer, and acting like seasoned lakers. I was glad they were aboard.

It soon became obvious that the course to Eagle Harbor, dead into the wind and the big seas, was untenable. I decided to run for the North Entry to the Portage Canal, a distance of over 50 miles, but offering a quartering sea - both more comfortable and allowing a speed of about four knots. With any luck we could be in the waterway and down to the Hancock Marina by midnight. I turned off the autopilot, grabbed the wheel, and eased Peregrine off to the less stressful heading. She responded, and for the next several hours we partnered in a "head up into the swell, and accelerate down into the trough" race towards the protection of the inland waterway. The rain and lighting continued. Peter and Tim served up some soul satisfying food. Exhilarating!

By early afternoon the wind began to veer around to the south, with promise of the forecasted southwesterly. The sea moderated a bit, and after some time at the chart table, it seemed a change in heading back towards Eagle Harbor might be possible. The rain eased, replaced with thick fog. The crew, not looking forward to a late night arrival miles away from the comfort of home, readily agreed to give the new course a try. So over the helm went, and as the afternoon turned toward evening, the decision paid off.

We couldn't see a thing, but thanks to radar avoided a parade of down and unbound lakers travelling along the Keweenaw coast. A saltie passed alongside at about 200 feet. We never saw her. I searched the radar screen for the Eagle Harbor entry channel buoy, but at about a mile out of the harbor, the fog lifted, and there was my favorite lighthouse, once again welcoming me home. We cruised between the entry cribs at about 7:30 p.m., thirteen exciting hours from the peacefulness of an early July morning in Hay Bay.

I wish I could have done that when I was fourteen.

Thursday, October 18, 2001 I'm enveloped in the sweet smell of burning oak. Abby's across the room resting on the hearth, her fanny pressed up against the warmth of the fireplace fire. Her near fourteen year-old arthritic tinged limbs soothed by the warmth of the blazing fire. As she roasts, I'm watching the golden leaves of the big oak out front flutter down to the wet ground as raw winds from the northwest pluck them from the tree that is my source of cooling shade through the summer months.

This is not a photo opportunity evening. No golden rays from a setting sun flooding across the still rich fall colors in the Keweenaw ridges that shoulder us from all worldly matters. It's instead a pewter evening, both the low hanging sky and the always-mirroring waters of the harbor a lifeless gray mantle embracing the sight and soul of we who call Eagle Harbor home in the shoulder season between glorious fall and dazzling winter.

I'm focused on a hardy leaf. Watching it twist and turn in the rain soaked wind. Most of its siblings have succumbed to the inevitable call of a season at end. I admire its fortitude, but as a strong wind gust thrusts upon it, the leaf swivels, looses its grip on its summer host, and gracefully dances through the air and finally joins the tree side collage of a season of worth destined to nourish a season to be.

I think of David, my son-in-law. A hardy leaf, the source of springtime expectation and mid summer fulfillment for Sarah, his wife and my daughter, and their three young children. Plucked from the tree of life in an all too early cardiac storm, his leaf now rests peacefully among the gathering of family souls of yore and to be. I weep, as does all my family, but cherish, yea celebrate, David's all too short communion with those who loved him so dearly. I, nonetheless, search for meaning, for purpose, even justification, in all of this, but am at a loss. Sarah counsels, "In time, Dad, in time." I admire her strength.

Night falls. Rain splatters against the window, joining the darkness in obscuring the trauma of my oak wrestling with the onslaught of winter. Perhaps not trauma - more the normal order of life in our natural world. The tree knows, as we all do, that new life will emerge. I look at a late August photo of my three grandchildren gathered for the obligatory annual photo of family embracing on the steps of the Eagle Harbor Store. I see in their eyes the sparkle, the playfulness, and the goodness that so distinquished their dad. Yes, life goes on - new life will surely emerge!

Abby rolls over on the fire place hearth, cooling her hindquarters and subjecting her soft belly to the rapture of the oak in blaze. A soft sigh escapes from her freckled snout. Oh, if only I could be so easily consoled.

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Go To Daily Journal Archives:
March- April, 2001
February, 2001
January #2, 2001
January #1, 2001
December, 2000
November, 2000
October, 2000
September, 2000
May, 2000
April, 2000
March, 2000
February2, 2000
February1, 2000