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)

Late Winter - Spring - Summer - 2002

Tuesday Update. (5/14/02) Mallard Lessons

I sat for a spell last evening, say about 9 p.m., when it was still light, on the sea wall out in front of my place soaking in the diffused sights and soft mummers of Eagle Harbor on a late mid May evening. The cottages around the bay are all dark, and during the nearly hour I remained on my perch, nothing moved - no cars on the Harbor circling road, nor a single late evening stroller. The air was cool, with a slight wind out of the west, but I was comfortable in my Shetland wool sailing sweater. I sipped my wine as I contemplated the sernerity of the scene and moment, and thought of the events in my life in this blessed place since my last entry in this journal of my life at Eagle Harbor.

Like most who live active lives, my recent days have been marked by gains and losses - but like life itself, a continuing journey of discovery and, hopefully, growth. The transition from our solitary winter to the excitement of arriving spring is always traumatic, and so it has been this year. My physical health is pretty good (at least my heart's behaving - the pumping part), for which I am most thankful. But I've learned that our minds can generate as much havoc as the deadliest disease - not only to yourself, but to others who are important in your life. And so it has been with me, with the impact felt by many of my Harbor friends and my family.

As I sat on the wall, a pair of Mallards flew in from the south shore and splashed quietly into the rippling water just off shore. We sized each other up for awhile, and after a few guarded moments they paddled in near my dangling legs. We spoke, me of my admiration of their adherence to the age-old ritual of migration, and they of the pleasures of certainty in one's life. After awhile they winged off on their continuing migration across the big lake, leaving me with their lesson of the beauty of adherence to ritual and norms. I was grateful for their visit.

In a week or so I will embark on my own migration - getting the good sailing vessel Peregrine off her winter perch and out across the lake to the wonders of Isle Royale and the isolated beauty of the Canadian north and east shores. I've been building harbor swimming beach fires in April and early May, much to the puzzlement of my Harbor neighbors. But these cool, often cold, evenings gathered closely to the sweet smelling warmth of burning drift wood are what I experience and greatly enjoy on summer nights in north shore anchorages. In places where the brilliance of stars are unhindered by unnatural light, and no person is within several score miles. The calls of loons are my only company.

Summers, especially summers spent sailing about the big lake, are for me an opportunity to recharge and redirect my life. Our too long and all too dark winters, despite their at times awesome beauty, take their toll on one's spirit. I often find myself becoming too self focused, too withdrawn, and too insensitive to the needs and cares of others. We few who are here through the long winter huddle, gaining strength and personal warmth from each other, but inevitably find ourselves tiring of jokes, stories, accomplishments and laments, shared so beautifully, but, alas, too many times. We, or at least I, begin to yearn for the return of our seasonal residents and summer family visitors, and listening to and sharing in their adventures during their time away. This provides, for me, a nice bridge between my wintertime and my escape to the big lake.

But the big lake calls, and so I'll be off. Someone, who once tried to unravel my attraction to the sea, speculated that my gene stock must have been the last to emerge from the sea and become amphibious. Could be. I do admit to an almost intrinsic attraction, actually allure, to the homing call of the big waters. I think of it as the place of my birth, and, hopefully, the place of my after life resting. There is sureness, a certainty, about the sea - not unlike the message left by my earlier evening Mallard visitors. I just hope for a few more seasons atop the waters - not below.

Tuesday Update. (3/28/02) First Laker Tuesday Update. A phone call from a neighbor at Cat Harbor last evening alerted me to the arrival of the new shipping season's first downbound laker. Given the paucity of excitement around here at this time of the year, I immediately rushed to the light station and climbed up onto the observation deck to witness this momentous event. Sure enough, there she was, probably six miles out, deeply laden, and steaming slowly with her load of iron pellets for her date with the Soo locks, which opened yesterday. Some places mark the passage of winter with the arrival of migratory birds and butterflies; we do it with ships. If my Lake Breeze Resort neighbors had left the big bell out on the porch, I would have given it a few twirls, as they did in the days of mining when the first ship arrived with provisions for near starving miners. The sight of the first ship out on the lake is still a happy event, especially for we too long locked-in-ice sailors.

The reality, of course, is that it is likely two more months before my good ship Peregrine will wet her keel. And even then, perhaps another month before the big winds and waves of spring will calm down enough to permit safe passage to favorite cruising grounds in the northern reaches of the big lake. Yet, when yesterday's laker slipped over the horizon and I returned to my cozy camp fire, I pounced on my boat catalogues and lake charts with great relish, making lists of needed outfitting equipment and supplies, and laying out a summer sailing plan. It doesn't take much to get me going.

As this day dawns, the sun, which is beginning to get up almost as early as I do (well, not today, I've been up since three), is doing its best to poke a few holes in the low overcast, and its warming influence is already evident. The temperature at dawn is already in the mid thirties, with low forties forecast over the next few days. That should pretty well take care of the snow cover in exposed areas. The harbor, however, appears to be completely covered by the ice formed in the recent cold spell, with its surface beautifully smoothed by the little lake effect snow that twirled in our air for much of yesterday. I'll bet my frequent visitor, Mr. Oliver Otter, will be out on the ice this morning. I hope so, his antics delight me.

Saturday Update. (3/23/02) Moving On We are finally at 18 feet of snow, two short of our seasonal average, but we are not getting much help from several consecutive days of lake effect storm warnings. The conditions seem ripe, cold northwesterlies off the big lake, but except for three or four inches Wednesday night, not much has happened. As I write it's in the mid-twenties with a 10 to 20 knot wind straight out of the north. No snow in the air. But 50 plus inches in March - that's pretty good. The most since the March of the big snow year, 1978-1979 (390.4 total). Too bad December, January and February of this year were such dismal flops. The snowmobilers seem to be giving up. Very few around for the past few days. Mary and Dick have shut the Inn down, except for weekends. I haven't been on the ski trail for a week, and don't have the urge to go. We are moving on - checking our boating and seed catalogues. The coming several weeks, the season between snow fun and black flies, is always the quietest of the year. Even the most winter dedicated of the harbor faithful find it a good time to sneak away for a few days or a few weeks to visit children and grandchildren, or just seek a bit of warm sun. For those of us who stay, it's a good time to work on the "to do" list we started last fall and have put off all winter. Mine's quite long, headed by just a general throw away of much of the stuff that litters my camp - several months of magazines, piles of now obsolete records and manuscripts from my winter projects, lots of clothing I've grown out of or tired of, a couple dozen old running shoes, and just plain old junk that for some reason once felt comfortable to have around. I have my first big load ready for its trip to the dump this morning. Better get going.

Sunday Update. (3/17/02) Snow Overload Friday morning's foot plus of snow has now been scooped out of our drives and from around our mailboxes. The warming sun of Saturday has once again cleared the roadways. All seems serene as we await a predicted mid week snowfall. With nearly four feet of snow at mid month we are already about two feet above the monthly average for March, but the all time record of 78", set a quarter century ago, doesn't seem at risk. Several of our more optimistic snowfall forecasters have guesses in the fifties, so it looks like the competition for the prize pasties will be spirited. As I write this a very big and orange sun is rising above the east beach, reflecting its brilliance off the morning sheet ice and onto the fronts of the cottages behind the swimming beach. They look gold plated. The sheet ice will soon give way to the warming sun, so a day of sparkling blue water, speckled with pristine white little ice flows can be expected. The snow banks along our roadways are quite respectable, the one in front of my camp is about six feet high, and the open spaces around our cottages are blanketed in beautiful drifted snow. Looks like about two feet of ground cover here at the harbor, although the county reports nearly four feet up at Delaware. It was good to be out yesterday. The cool air drifting in off the lake was almost intoxicating, and the warm sunrays penetrated through my clothing. Very cozy, despite temperatures in the mid twenties and a biting wind. I might not be able to enjoy this today. A bit too much scooping yesterday morning, followed by a jaunt on the ski trail, which I had to abort, has laid me low. Awake most of the night. Concentration and motor skills this morning are marginal at best. I'll see how things go this morning, but this may be the last update for awhile. Maybe it's just snow overload. Wouldn't that be nice! Have a great day.

Wednesday Update. (3/13/02) Spiritual Experience Last evening, as the darkness of a new moon night completely enveloped the harbor, I walked around to the Coast Guard, known to anyone born in the second half of the past century as the marina. It was warm, just above forty degrees, producing a thin film of melt atop the rutted road ice left over from last weekend's freakish rain. I proceeded gingerly, but found myself in several adrenaline producing slips and slides, and a couple of muscle bruising tumbles. My consolation was the blissful quiet of a winter night, made even more still by the temporary suspension of the big winds that have lately been roaring through the pines and rattling the lake. Some thin high clouds aloft, but as I peered through the tree canopy I could see the winter constellations of our high latitude, and a very bright planet, I believe Jupitur. A rare treat for those of us in the lee of the big lake and its seemingly constant bequest of wintertime cloud cover. I crawled down to the cobblestone beach that sits aside the harbor entry, dug out a sitting place, and settled down for about a half-hour of listening to the many voices of the lake, and watching the lights of the little settlement across the harbor. The pesky street and yard lights, strung like a string of shining amber jewels along the dark horizon, seemed like another constellation, like Orion high in the sky above them. The intense sweeping white beam of the lighthouse, and its fainter red ghost, were in my mind like shooting stars. Our far away sleeping harbor town seemed at peace, as indeed it is in early March. I thought of the crackling fire awaiting me back in my camp; a sick neighbor snug in her comforter; the friendly chatter of the faithful gathered about the bar at the Inn; and, my dear friend glued to his new mind boggling, latest tech TV. But most of all I thought of long gone parents, grandparents, and the thousands whose spirits resonate in the Keweenaw hills. They all seemed to be with me, sitting alongside, sharing once again the wonder of this blessed place - and its special people. A spiritual experience.

Sunday Update. (3/10/02) Big Blow. My wind chill meter is reading minus 32 degrees, the wind near 50 mph, and the camp timbers are groaning and snapping. This is a blow! There doesn't appear to be much new snow overnight, but the foot or two of the past few days is moving about in great swirls, like little tornadoes. My last trip out last evening, about midnight, encountered near zero visibility, knock you off your feet wind blasts, and the just incredible noise of a very angry lake and wind shrieking through tortured trees. To my great surprise and relief (actually, an edge of disappointment) the power has remained on. When it gets lighter, I'll attempt to take some storm wave photos to share with you. All this follows a really weird day yesterday, beginning with a very frightening lightening bolt as dawn broke (I thought a nearby transformer had exploded), the roll of thunder across a very surprised snowy landscape, an unbelievable rain shower, and then just an eerie calm as the barometer bottomed out at about 29.2 in late afternoon. As the backside of the low moved in, and the wind began to build from the northwest, the temperature, above freezing all day, plummeted - down to just above ten degrees in just an hour or so. Thick lake effect for awhile, but as the wind climbed over the 30 mark, the LES machine shut down. When the air over the lake is moving too fast, it apparently doesn't have the time to pick up moisture. Even without the shrieking sirens from the weather bureau, it was quite evident we were in for a wild night - and so it was. My Lighthouse Road neighbors are gone, so my sense of splendid isolation was enhanced. I loaded up the woodbox, built a roaring fire, wrapped myself in a blanket in my fireside rocker, grabbed my provoking History of God, and watched and listened as the storm developed. My kind of night.

Thursday Update. (3/7/02). A Scent of Spring. There's a strong sense and scent of change in the air. I noticed it while out on the ski trail yesterday. Just a wisp, but the longer days and higher sun have awakened the bush from its winter sleep - and in some way, me as well. I dropped down into a little wind sheltered hollow, felt the gathered warmth, and smelled, for the first time in months, the sweet scent of growing pine. I lingered, wrapped in this appetiser of spring. At several places along the trail, trailside bushes are reaching out of the wind smoothed snow pack, seeking the life giving sunlight. The day was not warm, mid-twenties, but in the quiet of the bush, with a bright sun filtering down through the tall pine, the sense of warmth was strong. I doffed my stocking cap, shed my gloves and opened up my jacket - reaching, like the bushes, for the soul food of the sun. By the end of my two hour trek, I was sweating and tired, yet intoxicated with the combination of lungs filled with the cool fresh air of the northwoods, the pleasant ache of exercised muscle, and an overload of the sensory delights of the bush in late winter. I was surprised to be alone, the skiing conditions could not have been better, but it's likely that others too are feeling the tug of the long awaited season change and are moving on to new pursuits. As a winter devotee, I'm a bit slower, perhaps more resistent, to this normal course of our lives along the big lake, but the feeling of impending change has it's grip on me. Yes, there is some uneasiness, some sense of loss, but also the comfort of a return to cherished venues, and the exciting prospect of new adventures. My day ended on a more settled course - a savory pasty, a glass of sherry (OK, two), a warm fire, a favorite opera (Norma), and a good book. A book about God. What else!

Monday Update. (3/4/02). Storm Arrival. Lots of action yesterday and last night. As daylight crept across the harbor, a very large otter was playing and fishing among the few ice chunks floating out in front of my camp. I suspect he's our friend from Eliza Creek, a frequent winter visitor to my shore. Mr. Otter would roll about on a flow, often on his back, as he enjoyed his breakfast - then slide off into the water in search of another course, causing hardly a stir among the flows. Our little town began to bustle as early morning snow scoopers polished up their car spaces and entry walks. My friend from Eliza, frisky but shy, returned to his creekside camp. As the otter departed, the clear and very blue morning sky began to fill with small golden tinged snow cloud clusters, the advance scouts of an eagerly awaited off lake storm. By early afternoon light lake effect snow began to fill the air, the crystals sparkling in the full array of a rainbow as they drifted slowly through the bright sunlight - reminding me of the scene of the legendary fairy sandman bestowing the fruit of his magic wand on the brows of young Hansel and Gretel. (OK, so that's a stretch, but I'm a hopeless romantic.) As evening fell, the wind began to build, the snow now becoming heavier and slanting in from the lake. Then at about one am, all hell broke loose - the wind now straight out of the north, blowing at gale force, and moving what seemed to be mountains of snow off the lake. By two AM, when I hiked up to the lighthouse to get another storm fix, the lake was growling noisly, large snowdrifts were building, and the white sweeping beam of the lighthouse seemed to be plowing its way through the snow laden night sky. The world was now horizontal; snow, wind and, at times, even this nighttime wanderer as I stumbled happily through the drifts. I love storms and this was a beauty! Now at dawn, it's still blowing but the snow has eased, and while there are wonderful new drifts, and old Heikki did his best, there is surprisingly little new snow about my camp. Apparently it was moving too fast to find a resting place in our little hamlet. That's OK, I'm a happy camper.

Thursday Update. (2/28/02) Moonlight Bay. A bit cool, about 20 degrees, and a haze diffused Mr. Moon's moonbeams, softening the shadows, but my nocturnal adventure out on our ski trail was, well, one of those Eagle Harbor moments I'm unlikely to forget. Not surprisingly, as word of my planned moonbeam dance spread, none of my more sensible friends could move the idea from reckless to romance (even received a few "George, get a grip" messages), so I was alone - but not really. Bob Wilson, who, I suspect, is a bit of a hopeless romantic as well, and also had a devoted springer that shared many such adventures, reminded me that Abby would be along. And so she was, scooting back and forth across the shadowy trail out front in pursuit of old scents. I was glad for her company. It was a bit spooky out there. I know from my big lake sailing that familiar day lit passages and anchorages assume an entirely different persona at night, and so it was last night as I encountered dips, curves and trailside vistas that by day are ingrained in my memory. I didn't get lost, the track was easy to follow in the bright light of the moon, but the trail was unfamiliar, almost unfathomable. The soft light digested distance, dissolved depth, creating an almost surreal landscape - one without dimension, mysterious, and filled with the dark looming shapes of sleeping trees seemingly bent on devouring the unwary night wanderer. I moved along briskly, singing all the moon songs I could remember to ward off the beasts within and without. As I neared the trail end, a deer stood stoically in my path, seemingly transfixed by the approaching nocturnal apparition. I stopped, rendered another verse of Moonlight Bay, and my fellow traveler in this night of the winter moon, shaking his head in seeming disapproval of my crooning, moved silently into the trailside shadows. What a night!

Wednesday Update. (2/27/02) Hide and Seek Moon. Our late February winter storm has waned, adding only three or four more inches of snow since the scrumptious eight inches or so that so delighted us on Sunday evening. Massive lake effect snow clouds moved ashore all day yesterday, creating at times what felt and looked like blizzard conditions, but the lake effect snow is so fine that there isn't much to measure when it's all over. The good news is that our little town and surrounding woody burbs are draped in a delicious white blanket, and, with cool temperatures and occasional "fresheners" in the forecast, our good fortune may last awhile. The ski trail is awesome - Monday's jaunt being perhaps the best of the season. As I write a big, very full and looking very pleased with himself moon is playing hide and seek with big cloud clumps moving rapidly across our night sky. He seems to be winning, casting his magic cloak of dazzling moonbeams across our still pristine snowscape. It's gorgeous! It's been awhile since I've moonlight skied, but this coming night, probably early next morn, will be another such adventure. Full moon, good snow, the quiet of a night after storm. Can't beat that. This is probably not something I should be doing alone, but I doubt if any of my more cerebral Harbor friends would find enough romance in such moonlight and snow escapading to squander the comfort and safety of a cozy bed.

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