Storm Approaches
Eagle Harbor Web
An unofficial source of Eagle Harbor, Michigan news, views and information.

Winter Storm Approaches

A Harbor 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)

Fall - Winter 2008-2009

Why So Little Of Late (03/08/09)

The pen has been dry of late. Reading alongside my cozy fire is a more attractive free-time option than chasing the cursor in the cold drafts pouncing on my writing spot. Plus I've been busy with the to be expected, but always distracting Keweenaw winter chores - repairing frozen and busted water pipes, trying to entice repairman to travel up to the Harbor to fix a kaput furnace, and now, contending with a dead car battery. Perhaps I'll do some writing when, and if, this week's promised winter storm arrives. Storms always stimulate my writing instincts. (And I'm depleting my winter reading reserve. It's always a late winter quandary - what do I run out of first: books or firewood?)

The beautiful moonlight stroking the harbor ice Sunday night provoked a late night camera excursion, but alas the natural light of the moon proved to be no match for the competing artificial ground light (those pesky streetlights.) A trek to the east end of the harbor and a long time exposure might have done the trick, but there are limits to my dedication to duty, especially at two AM with single digit temps,

I recently learned of of New Zealand's success in attracting "astro tourists" by establishing "starlight preserves." What a great idea for the Keweenaw! (Don't get your hopes up. In this era of a suspected bogie man behind every bush, the "light up the darknes" crowd seems to control the agenda.)

Seeking Adventure (02/20/09)

Our “mini blizzard” stirred the blood, but not much else. The ground snow got a little exercise but little new company. Old Glory now hangs limply from its pole perch, looking rather tired after a few days of trying desperately to be released from its tether and join the gale force off lake winds seeking shelter in the dark forest behind the harbor. Indeed, on this sunny day after the tumult, even the snow scattered across my yard and piled alongside the road looks a bit frazzled. I’m sure glad to have survived the early February meltdown, and probably darn tired of having its snooze continually interrupted by tormenting winter winds. The rising sun, now poking its haze fuzzied face above the Baldy top as early as 8:30 AM, does provoke a smattering of crystal sparkles from the still frisky new arrivals, but the old snow just frowns.

I feel a bit like that old snow – tired. Not physically tired, although some of that too, but tired of inactivity; tired of the lack of adventure. The exciting prospect of a trek across the harbor ice, perhaps even out onto the big lake ice shelf, stirred my juices – only to have them dampened once again as the blizzard whiteouts forced reason to overcome exuberance. But for a brief moment I did taste adventure, the elixir of my summertimes aboard Peregrine. And the tang lingers, causing longing glances at the now quiet frozen harbor surface and a building urge to wander out onto its vastness. I am a bit concerned that the big lake winds of a day or two ago may have pushed unseen wave swells under the ice cap, especially near the exposed harbor entry, causing the ice to move about and possibly weaken. I’ll check to see if our fanatical fisherman and his pooch are out there. If so, I’m off!

Until last winter I was able to get all the wintertime outdoor adventure I needed by donning my cross-country skis and snowshoes and trekking through the bush. But something happened, I believe it’s called aging, and the stumbling about became too common, tasking my endurance and self-confidence. The fun was compromised. So I’ve relegated myself to strolls along the harbor roads, the four-mile jaunts to the marina and to Cat Harbor are still favorites. The solitude and splendor of our alongside lake environment in winter is the special joy of this place and I always return richly nourished. But now I’ve noticed that my cold tolerance is diminishing – not surprising as a failing heart’s ability to pump warm blood into extremities is weakened. So if the temps are single digit, especially if there is a brisk wind, I stay in camp. It just hurts too much.

My wintertime salvation is that I remain blessed with an active and imaginative mind. I am able to find adventure in the pages of the many authors I’m fortunate to encounter – mind journeying with them through history and contemporary times. This winter I’ve traveled with Alexander the Great in his conquest of Persia, with Queen Elizabeth I as she struggled to gain the throne and then transform England into a world powerhouse, followed the amazing life and travels of explorer and writer Sir Richard Burton, and was immersed in the travails and triumphs of the head chopping Tudor kings. And now, just this month, have been absolutely mesmerized by Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and deeply touched by the loving story of the building of the Taj Majal by a Mughal emperor grieving the death of his queen. This evening I'll continue my journey of adventure with a wandering storyteller and would-be barb in the cahos and contradictions of 6th century Britain.

But summertime will soon be here and the books set aside. I can still sail, thanks to the availability of young, able and enthusiastic crew, and the endless and real time adventures aboard Peregrine offered by my friend and soul brother, Gitchi Gumee, will more than satisfy my appetite for adventure and generate memories that will sustain me through another winter.

That's assuming, of course, that I get back safely from today's tempting adventure.

No fishermen, but out I went. It was GREAT. Now safely at camp, tucked alongside a warming fireplace and with my Welch storyteller. I'm posting some photos of today's real time adventure.

A Walk To The Marina( 02/17/09)

A couple of nasty tumbles as my hiking boots lost traction with underfoot ice covered with a brushing of slippery fresh snow, but otherwise my trek over to the marina and back this morning was a real delight. Certainly not one of those days when brilliant sun teases sparkles from virgin snow, but a hazy sun, just a cloud diffused disk of cream tinged white, did crawl along the south hill’s ridge as my company as I plodded along. I didn’t glance at it often, my eyes downcast and focused on finding the next patch of ice and new snow. I carry a walking stick, and it often steadies me as sense a slip, and when toppled, gives me the support I need to get back on my feet, my weakened legs now unable on their own to save their owner from being road kill.

The beauty of the Harbor this time of year is that there is no one around to witness your tumbling embarrassments. Just two cars today in the 90 minutes it takes this old geezer (Thor’s ungracious label for anyone wiser than he is) to make this four mile trek, and only my hardy and fitness focused winter neighbors Pat and Anna encountered to exchange the customary “beautiful day” greeting as we passed; all of us down headed focused on our search for snow disguised ice. I carefully scrutinize the tire and foot tracks in the driveways of possible winter neighbor camps; noting with satisfaction that Neil and Susan. Mike, and even Andy, staying at Laura Leaf’s place, are all here, but am dismayed to see that Rick, Charlotte’s son, needed to make an emergency trip here to assist sister Tottie, as my almost life-long and dear friend Charlotte struggles with illness.

At the marina I encounter the truck left by the Harbor’s most fanatical ice fisherperson. He, and his lively pooch, seem to be out tempting shifting ice fates daily, mostly parking their portable ice fishing shack near the harbor entry cribs, bur occasionally, as was the case yesterday, deeper in the harbor, near where I anchor Peregrine in the summer. (I say “their” – only those of you who have partnered with a pooch would understand.). I can’t imagine what they’re fishing for – no one fishes these spots in the summer. I was tempted to crawl out onto the ice, perhaps take a shortcut home across the harbor entry, and ask him what justified such obsession, but I’m a coward when it comes to walking on ice. (Several years ago I risked walking across the entry to Little Grand Marais Harbor – not a happy experience as the ice began to sink beneath my feet and I had to toss myself on my belly and crawl ashore – there’s a Journal about that adventure buried someplace in the Journal archives,)

But I’m tempted. Maybe tomorrow I’ll give it a try. If you don’t hear from me for a couple weeks, you’ll know where I am.

Steinbeck ( 02/05/09)

I’m reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden, one of five books I now have open alongside my rocker. (Sort of a test of my brain’s multi-tasking capacity.) Steinbeck’s long been among my provocateurs; constantly reminding me that the winds of turmoil and hardship that occasionally pounce upon our contemporary reverie are but mere wind whispers compared to the gales of inhumanity, exploitation and just plain bad luck that so smothered the lives and souls of the generations that founded the blessed places we now call home.

We, here in the Copper Country, know of that era, charitably labeled here as a time of “benevolent paternalism”. But as Steinbeck so eloquently and powerfully documents in his novels, the lives of Dust Bowl refugees lured to the California crop valleys, and frustrated gold searchers trapped in the Pacific canneries, make our miner era seem amost truly benevolent. I’m just in the early chapters of East of Eden, and it’s mesmerizing, reminding me what really gifted writing is all about. But I sense a calamity approaching. Steinbeck's stories are true to their times; - life is tough, often unfair, full of inexplicable challenges to survival and self worth, and exploitation is rampant. The spirit of soul often prevails, but in Stenbeck's novels there are few “happy endings”. ( Hollywood implanted a “happy ending” in its film version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, an inexcusable abomination of Steinbeck’s story; offering, as Hollywood often does, and we too often seek, succor and phantom sanctuary from the realities of life. )

I thought of all this as I ventured out a day or so ago to hike about our town and environs; attempting in some small way to address the physical inactivity that probably contributed to my scary nighttime adventure in the snow bank while gathering firewood. There was little wind, unusual for us in wintertime, and a rare and warming sun felt so pleasant as it flooded my face. My Steinbeck induced thoughts were intact, not distracted but reinforced by the solitude and beauty of our place. The soft crunch of snow underfoot and the visual allure of wind sculpted drifts of sparkling snow at roadside and banked up against the almost all now vacant Harbor cottages, simply adding to the sense of serenity that fosters a mind to contemplate the larger aspects of life.

I tread into the center of town, rattling the door at Town Hall to pay my winter taxes, but found no one at home – indeed, there was no sign of life anywhere. Not a soul within sight, although I suspect a few were peeking out their windows wondering what their seldom seen neighbor was up to. I moseyed deeper into town, along streets so devoid of winter inhabitants that they are not plowed, and then on to our cemetery, deep in the pine grove at town’s edge, where snow capped stones attesting to the lives of souls, many of a substance Steinbeck would celebrate, stood stoically in a soft blanket of winter covering.

Then east along Pine Street, our little town’s most populated winter street, with some eight or so hardy souls as candidates for Friday eve Inn gatherings, but again no evidence, other than plowed driveways, that the roadside cottages were more than nighttime abodes. Plodded up to my good friend Frank’s place to thank him for plowing out my camp, but, once again, my door rattling found no response. I thought, is some great winter calamity about to befall us that all but I have not seen fit to flee?

Not dismayed, I proceeded on down to the Shoreline corner, and contemplated how much more trekking an already complaining heart could tolerate. I paused at the corner, glancing up at the now almost totally gray hills shouldering the harbor’s backside. Steinbeck resurfaced as I thought of the men and boys who labored in the dark and dangerous mines dug into that hard rock almost two centuries ago, and their desperately poor, disease ridden but always hopeful families. Today’s laments seem inconsequently in comparison.

I should have headed for home, but I’d heard of a fine new home being built up in Eagle Harbor South, our so far fruitless attempt to establish a suburb, so headed up the Cut-Off Road to see this new wonder. Not a good decision.

The climb up to the suburb, looks flat, but is deceptive. By the time I reached the suburb’s portal, across the road from the trail entry to Baldy, the climb had taken its toll, I was gasping for breath and digging into my pocket for nitro. I rested for a while, thinking I should accept any good Samaritan’s offer for a ride back to camp, but it’s mid-winter and good Samaritans are a once every half-day happenstance. So I gazed longingly at the flat road into the suburb, now plowed because of the new home under construction, and wandered the about quarter-mile to the construction site. What a house! Things are certainly looking up for Eagle Harbor.

I’ve burdened you enough with this story. I made it home safely, albeit not sure if this little attempt to remedy the causes of my evening in the woodpile snow bank was having the desired affect, but richly blessed by the experience. I need and relish time in the sanctity of our little town in its winter solitude – and in the aged, history rich and legend-laden environment within which it is set.

As I approached my camp, noting the alongside shipping dock and warehouse remnants of the golden days of our copper mining heritage, I thought of the men and women of that era, and the stories men as gifted as Steinbeck could write about their lives. Even if their stories have not been as well told, I feel them in my heart. They offer me much needed perspective as I, and perhaps you, cope with the winds of turmoil and hardship now pouncing on our lives.

Sun Storm ( 01/30/09)

I’ve become a wimp. When I reluctantly extracted myself from underneath the warm and cozy bed comforter yesterday morning and peered into the midwinter darkness that seems to linger till mid-morning, I was dismayed to see snow flurries gathering like moths around the gleaming globe of the all too near pesky streetlight our town mamas and pappas maintain at my corner to guard us from the deviant social impulses often generated by over exposure to starlight. and moonbeams. (And who knows what dire consequences there might be if northern lights were permitted to dance about the Harbor unchecked!)

Dismayed? This the reaction of one of Heikki Lunta’s most ardent disciples? Yes, I’m sad to say, I was in fact dismayed - well, at least, greatly disappointed. The prior day was our first extended exposure to sunlight since well before last Halloween and even tho the air was still bug proof cold, I’d spent much of the day out sun worshiping. A bit too early for yard work, but there was snow to scoop, firewood to restack, a mailbox to dig out and even an attempt at building another snowbear. (The snow was too dry and cold for that.) And then at evening, as I sat alongside my blazing fireplace, savoring the day’s experience, I was delighted to learn that the weather hot shots promised another day of such bliss before the next snow train, with its baggage car full of low hanging and lifeless clouds, was due to arrive. I began to make plans for a real romp in the sun, perhaps strapping on the snowshoes for an attempt at Baldy. I crawled under the comforter, a happy camper.

So, the sight of the snowflakes drifting down threw the phosphorous beams of the corner guardian was a disappointment, made even more so when a hurried check of the weather page disclosed that the next snow laden weather system, apparently frowning at our sun frolicking (yes, I observed that some of my now very few Harbor neighbors also found excuses to sunbath), decided it had lingered about the ice box states long enough and hurried across the western regions of the big lake to pounce on Keweenaw, ostensible, I suppose, to remind us who’s in charge around here.

(The good news is that someone is obviously looking out for me. Rolling and lifting snow for a snowbear, or an ill-advised snowshoe trek to Baldy would likely have contributed greatly to the Medicare deficit.)

Denied another day of life invigorating sunshine, I was relegated to a trip to Houghton for an all day indoor meeting of local history types. I’d been certain that the confab would be cancelled if we experienced such a rare winter weather event as a two-day “sun storm”. But, alas, that was not to be, so another high adrenalin adventure driving along very slippery snow covered roadways in at times near complete whiteout conditions was my entertainment for the day. I was still in a bit of a funk when I returned back to my at home snow piles last evening.

Don’t fret; I recovered quickly. In fact, as I punch these keys on this early morn, I can see even more snowflakes drifting down through the streetlight beam; and I’m excited with the prospect that we might complete our nineteenth foot of snowfall today, this last day of January, with at least two good snow months left before the bugs return. Aren’t we the lucky ones!

Inaugration Day 01/22/09)

It’s a magical, albeit a bit spooky, late evening. Fierce northwesterly winds are producing eerie screeches as they bend arround the now winter bared branches of the old oak that stands guard alongside my camp. Above that howl I can hear the clash of waves and ice as the expanding lake ice shelf, encouraged in its desire to conquer the still open waters by the sub zero temperatures, vies for supremacy with the big waves generated by the gale force winds that brought the cold ashore.

It’s been this way all day. At dawn there were a few teasing glimpses of blue sky, as our rising sun, still a late riser from its slumber behind the hills backing the Harbor, cast a pinkish hue across the bottoms of clouds scooting by so fast they seem to have had no time to unleash the snow in their dark bellies. As the day progressed, however, the patches of blue yielded to our omnipresent cloud blanket and color lost meaning. And then more snow. I love the snow, but the persistent cloud cover, which I know is part of the equation, is a bit depressing – if I ever quite rebelling against it you’ll know I’m approaching senility, which you have probably already sensed.

So, I’m wrapped in a blanket as I sit at Harbor Web Central, with a little electric heater frantically attempting to thaw out cold numbed legs. I should have gloves on, but my keyboard skills are bad enough without that burden. So if what you’re reading makes little sense, be forgiving – it’s not only limbs that are numbed by persistent cold immersion.

Wind chills are reported to be life threatening tomorrow, so except for a quick dash to the dump in the morning, I intend to stay in camp. Yesterday’s planned trip to town for grub was aborted as whiteout conditions prevailed. But I’m reasonably well provisioned – not as well as I should be given last Tuesday’s (Inauguration Day) trip uptown, but that little adventure was sidetracked by my “history tour” partner’s attraction to the 50 cent a mug beer Inauguration Day special at Laurium’s Mickey’s Pub. Just us, barkeeper Julie and a bar regular, the latter bragging about his first President, Eisenhower. I trumped him with Hoover. I suppose the 50 cent beer was in celebration of a Democratic President; this is, afterall, country where pictures of FDR and JFK still adorn the back bars. It's not liberal land, NRA rules supreme, but the fond memories of New Deals and Great Societies keep folks in the blue camp. The south may have its Dixiecrats - here we have the Articcrats. I’m adverse to crowds, so just the four of us, and the pleasing warmth from the pub's big wood stove, was an OK setting for watching the big event.

Like the Pics? 01/22/09 Yesterday’s brief teasing of sunshine has yielded to the Keweenaw default – more snowfall drifting down from the lethargic clouds seemingly languishing perpetually overhead. The lake effect machine has been temporarily throttled down by a southerly wind shift (bringing the warm air needed to thaw out our frozen pipes and spirits), but our happily dancing Snow God, ole Heikki Lunta (or is it Loony), has apparently decided we need some good old fashioned snow: the big, beautiful, slowly fluttering down fluffy flakes that song writers and essayists rhapsodize about. It is a treat to the eye and senses – only a die-hard snow cynic could deny its salutary affect, but without the benefit of at least the occasional bursts of sunlight that are interspersed in classic lake-effect, we are denied the brilliant moments of the full rainbow spectrum color that transform ordinary snowfalls into feasts for the eye and spirit.

I did take advantage of yesterday’s brief sunny respite to hike up to the Light Station to gather a few photo images of the now ice capped near shore waters to share with my Harbor Web patrons. My intent was to wander over to the Harbor entry overlook, but I soon found myself in thigh deep snow; unable, without risking a trip to Marquette General, or worse yet, becoming a spring thaw frozen discovery, to get much beyond the entry gate. So I followed the track of our visiting snowmobilers down into the parking lot and then their footprints up to and atop the lake view deck our Historical Society so wonderfully provides. Hence the pictures you found on the web site today. Getting up to the deck was a test; the steps up buried in snow and only by crawling on all fours was the ascent accomplished.

Hoped you liked the pics.

Grub and Grog (01/18/09)

The Soo Locks closed Thursday and yesterday the last laker gingerly worked its way thru the ice clogging Duluth Harbor for winter layup. So we are now officially in mid-winter, or as it's not so affectionally called up here, the "dead of winter." It looked and felt like it yesterday as I drove "up the hill" for grub and grog. My vehicle partners overnight with my woodpile in winter, sharing a snow drift and the icy blasts off the lake. I don't use the sledge to access the van, but it does take a few thumps from my boot to loosen the frozen doors and a brief prayer to convince it to start. Then a "full astern" to extract it from the snow drift, hoping the growing plow built bank of snow at harborside will arrest the launch. Then, as was the case yesterday, the challenge of distinquishing the snow packed roadway from the lurking roadside drifts, always eager to entrap the unwary traveler. Old guys like me, with draft exempt eyes and slow afoot reflexes, are prime candidates for off-road ensnarement. But I'm careful; keeping both side windows open to visually assure equal spacing between roadside snowbanks and a light foot on the throttle. Yes, it's a bit chilly, especially in the sub-zero temps of this week, but the choice between dying in comfort or surviving in discomfort, is still within my grasp. And yes, this middle-of-the-road slow speed strategy means I'm often in the opposing lane and a prime candidate for frontal surprises or being rear-ended. But no worry, between the Harbor and at least Mohawk, the odds of encountering another vehicle in the "dead of winter" are in my favor. Yesterday, however, the ante was raised as new and blowing snow obscured anything beyond the big dent in my engine hood from last winter's deer encounter. And I damn near wet my pants when suddenly head lights loomed ahead through the blowing snow and I had to quickly revert to Plan Two, veering to starboard until I could feel and hear the roadside snowbank rejoice with its "I gottcha" and then lightly tapping the brake (a spin would be would be most unwecomed), hoping my encounteree (probably a carefree visitor on his way to Bohemia) . was being equally wary. He was, and as I subsequently arrived in snowbound Mohawk, I doused my lingering adrenaline at a local aid station. Just another snippet in my Copper Country life!

Enduring Hope (11/19//08)

The wind is beginning to howl, the overstressed timbers of my camp are noisily complaining, and dark swirling streaks of disturbed water are dancing upon the pewter hued harbor surface. Darkness is rapidly descending – there is a sense of impending change, perhaps of epic proportions. My music box, tuned to Wagner’s Ring Cycle, simply adds to the drama.

I wonder if the sense of impending change, the uneasiness, I’m experiencing is actually weather related. Could there be something else at work? Why do I find myself using the word “epic”? That’s pretty serious stuff.

But, for a fact, our weather gurus say we might have six to twelve inches of lake effect snow before tomorrow eve. That’s impressive for so early in our snow year. I doubt it, but just the prospect fuels hope among us snow junkies and probably dismay among many of my Harbor neighbors who live a more normal life. Just in case, I’ve pulled my van off the road and parked it alongside the woodpile, where it will roost in a snow bank, while off road, for the remainder of the winter, leaving the road space out front unobstructed for the plow driver. Brought some more firewood in as well, adding it to the big stack that dominates my living room – aptly named, as this is where I hunker in for all but my sleeping time while cooped up in camp. The room now has a real Yooper décor, kind of the “woodshed” look that is so popular up here.

After getting my last propane heating bill, the rate per gallon up 30% over that of this last Spring, I closed off and all but shut down the camp spaces I only occasionally occupy, including the bedroom, setting the thermostats to about 45 degrees and relying more on my inefficient wood burning fireplace in the “woodshed” for needed warmth (65 degrees on a windless winter day,) All this in an attempt to be the miser and avoid the costly propane. I don’t linger long when I hop out of the shower!

My propensity for prudence, at least with my pocketbook, is nothing new. I’ve always been sort of a tightwad, or in a more positive light, a saver. I reckon a gene implanted in many Great Depression babies. Thru decades of boom and bust, we dutifully practiced our miserly skills and prudently adhered to the adage of “tuck-a-buck-a-day-away”, always expecting the return of the grim economic reaper. We avoided loans and big mortgages, hesitantly and only halfheartedly embraced credit cards, and lived comfortable but hardly lavish lifestyles. No clubs, country or health, in our background. We focused our few major investments to the education and well being of our kids. We mostly resisted Detroit’s high powered advertising of its latest fin fancies, driving our beaters until they either rusted away or saddled us with repair bills that exceeded their value (which happened all to quickly until I gave up on the automakers now audaciously seeking our bailout for their years of poor management, operational inefficiencies and buyer indifference. Such gall! )

To the great surprise of many of us, we arrived at our retirement years reasonably well off, often far better off than our parents. The little nest eggs we patiently and prudently accumulated offering a source of pride and assurance that we could continue to live independent lives – something we value.

But now the Grim Economic Reaper has at long last apparently arrived. We’re not surprised; we have been expecting him. Our lifetime accumulated little nest eggs are rapidly evaporating – mine shrunk to almost half its size of just a few months ago and just today down another ten percent. I know I’m not alone, many have suffered more, but I take little personal solace in such kinship – no more than I would have if I joined the crowded mass of humanity gathered on the aft deck of the Titanic as it began it’s plunge into the icy Atlantic abyss.

We of the “tuck-a-buck-a-day-away” generation will get through this OK. Perhaps not as well as we had hoped; but patience, abiding optimism and a knack for knuckling down are our forte. Less fortunate are many of our younger friends and family, struggling to remain gainfully employed and raise families in the midst of this economic morass. Equally challenged are the many retired living on basic Social Security and Medicare benefits, supplemented, if at all, by paltry and now uncertain pensions and increasingly expensive supplemental health insurance. Too few of these younger families or just scraping by retirees have even meager nest eggs to fall back on, and if they do, the savings erosion they are suffering is likely not only painful, but also disheartening. “Hope” is the precious commodity seemingly most at risk in these troubling times.

So the strong sense of perhaps epic change I’m experiencing this evening probably has little to do with the possible arrival of a deluge of lake effect snow. That’s old hat for those of us camped along the lee shore of the big lake. In a way, the prospect of big snow is comforting. While the cracking of camp timbers can be a bit unnerving, the howling of wind funneling through alongside bare tree limbs awesomely eerie, and the repetitive and loud flapping of the tossing tarp over my woodpile more than a little annoying, I know that my after storm reward will be a beautiful and so peaceful snow blanketed landscape. It’s hard to have a care in the world when wrapped in such wonder. Indeed, the possible return of big snow is reassuring; reminding us that the cycles of our natural world continue unabated, despite man’s seemingly endless quest and capacity to screw things up in his own domain.

These are indeed hard times, but the propensity of contemporary commentators, including small potato journalists like me, to dig into our lexicons of surefire attention getting, sensational words and phrases and extract “epic” as a word of choice to depict the tenor of these economic times, or classify any event even remotely on our weather horizon, should make even the High Prophet of this art, Cecile D, DeMille, blush. Maybe the 14th Century European Black Plague, or even our own brother-against-brother, nation defining Civil War, or perhaps The Great Depression of the early 1930s are worthy of the term. But this economic down turn, with all the safety nets now in place, including a government seemingly eager to dole out billions, perhaps eventually trillions, of borrowed money to protect us from ourselves, is hardly epic. (It might be epic when the bill comes due, but that’s for our grandkids and great grandchildren to worry about.)

On the local weather front, perhaps the Great Lakes storm of 1913, when hundreds of mariners perished and scores of boats floundered in a single day might qualify. I suppose if in some coming winter we get forty rather than our usual twenty feet of snow, we might justifiably dust off the term.

Can you imagine the early mining families in this place; huddled, isolated and barely surviving for long winter months in their makeshift homes, losing half their young children to diseases now rare, and defying death each day in the dark and dangerous mines, and with no security assurances if they are out of work or at the end of their working days, doing anything but laughing at what we now consider hardship! None of us want to, or likely will, share their experience, but we could sure use their pluck!

So rattle my camp big winds, dump your lake born snow at will, and let your airways continue to carry into my presence the news of the economic turmoil now so prevalent in our society and so troubling to many. We are of sturdy stock up here and while not immune to dismay over our own plight and the plight of others, we continue to hold onto hope – a strong sense that in the end, while we will be hopefully wiser and perhaps more prudent, we will be well. The all things cycle example of the natural world, so much a presence in our everyday lives, assures us that this will be so.

An Evening With My Cursed Cursor (11/15//08)

I’m always challenged when I click on my word processor and find myself staring at a snow white screen seemingly begging for something to happen, the little pulsating cursor annoyingly sending its message, “OK George, you’re in my space, so what do you have to say?” Indeed, why am I here?

Not sure, I just feel like writing. Do you suppose truly gifted writers perch on this precipice, waiting for inspiration? Probably not. My guess is that they likely arrive at this juncture better prepared – armed with something they have been anxious to share. Perhaps a titillating story, a thoughtful message about life, or a nagging quandary they want to share with the unwary. I confess, at this moment, I have none of this.

So. I’m looking about for inspiration, any excuse to satisfy the impatient cursor, or, more importantly, your willingness to move beyond this sentence.

I do note that twilight is enveloping the harbor. It’s not really twilight, that’s the soft quality of spring and summer eves. In late fall and, indeed, throughout the early winter, it’s a sudden, almost terrifying, descent of darkness. No lingering mellowness in the western sky, no red streaked cloud underbellies, just abrupt blackness from eastern to western horizon. Persistent cloud cover magnifies the affect. No sparkling stars, no comforting constellations, just the dark hole of unadorned space. I will, as usual, adapt to this, but early on in the winter season it makes me uneasy.

So to break this spell of unease, I'm briefly ignoring my impatient cursor companion and testing your patience for a quick jaunt across the room to stroke and bank the fire in the fireplace, seeking and finding solace in its colorful glow, sweet smell and projected warmth. I glance at my well-worn but still nourishing library and at the century-old rocker warming at fireside, together offering me an escape into the worlds of fantasy (now into George RR Martin’s work) and historical fiction that I find so satisfying and instructive. My scanner speaks of an impending storm, nothing of consequence, just the arrival of our initial bout with lake effect snow, but a sufficient glimmer of hope to stir the blood of this snow junkie. I’m tempted, pondering whether to set aside this keyboard stumbling, pour a glass of wine, perhaps punch up a bit of microwave supper, find a good book, toss another log on the fire, and ease my tired body into the warm rocker. But, alas, if I do so yield, my nagging cursor will be annoyed, and you may be disappointed. I’ll press on!

Despite the chill and dampness of this early winter day, and the challenge of gathering darkness. I sit near fireside with some satisfaction; knowing that the day has been reasonably productive and perhaps worthy of the graciousness of life bestowed upon me. What more could I ask for?

At early morn, I joined a small cadre of Eagle Harbor and Historical Society friends to move the Society’s 26 foot life-saving eight man pulling surf boat onto a trailer for transportation to a boat restorer near Traverse City. The boat will return this coming year to become a key exhibit at the Society’s new Life-Saving Museum at the Eagle Harbor Marina. It will be a working exhibit – all of us cherishing the future opportunity to man its sweeps to row or sail it about the harbor. Hopefully you will be able to join us in such adventure.

As we manhandled the heavy boat from the boathouse to trailer, all of us were in awe of the young Eagle Harbor life-savers who nearly a century ago carried the boat across rocky wind swept, often icy shores, launched it into heavy surf, and rowed it through monstrous waves to vessels in distress. These young men, their skilled bosuns and legendary station chiefs, were obviously a hardy and brave group. As I gripped the boat’s gunwales to help the haul, I could feel their power and their courage implanted in the still shinny wood. Awesome!

Oh, we have such a rich and so apparent cultural history here – the old stations, shaft houses, poor rock piles, beautiful native stone structures, lighthouses, and rows of old miner’s homes all constant reminders of what was, and in some respect still is, the glory of the Copper Country. Even our little Eagle Harbor town, now just a cottage community, is blessed with a resplendent array of such historical reminders. They are a splendid complement to the natural beauty of this place.

My satisfaction with my early winter day includes another link with history. After a good deal of pondering and procrastination, I fulfilled a commitment to our Historical Society to write a fundraising letter to be soon sent to the Society’s many members (now over a thousand) and friends. As you might imagine, a challenging assignment in these dire economic times. Not sure if it’s the right touch. A draft reviewer said it reads as one of my journals. Despite this daunting assessment, the Society Board, consented to its mailing. If you are a Society member, you’ll be able to judge for yourself.

A humbling moment in the Society letter process was my receipt of the Society’s newsletter Superior Signal talented editor’s error check of my draft. Wow, the stuff I’m apparently able to get away with in these journals. The Society is understandably held to higher standards. As an aside, I’m publishing a collection of my journals, with the editing they obviously need.

(If you are not yet a Society member, you are missing out on some marvelous writing about this area in the organization’s Superior Signal. Check out their web site. Keweenaw County Historical Society )

The fireplace fire is waning. It needs a little poking and probably another log to get me to bedtime. I’m wearing out as well. Even the usually annoying cursor seems to be tiring of this game, perhaps lulled into apathy by all this rambling. You’re no doubt beginning to share the cursor’s disappointment. Oh, well, I said upfront that my eagerness to write was not matched with preparedness, so neither you nor the cursor should be too surprised that here we are, over a thousand words later, and about all you have learned is that you might get a letter asking for money. You didn’t need me to know that – it’s that time of the year.

So, dear reader, let’s call it a day. And, cursed cursor, you too have had a busy day so at my next stroke on the keyboard I’m sending you back to wherever in the bowels of this mysterious machine you abide when not dancing annoyingly on my screen. It’s probably as dark in there as it is outside my camp. Rest up; tomorrow will be another busy day.

And cozy rocker, here I come.

Summer Ends (11/10//08)

I’m putting the promised “gorgeous moose” story on hold for a while as I return to some news about the goings on in and around Eagle Harbor. Anyway, you probably yearn for a break from the offshore reporting. Summer is, after all, at end – a realization made so powerfully apparent as the first big November gale blasted ashore over the last couple of days.

Followers of this Journal know that big storms are a tonic for me, my elixir. They are best experienced ashore, but ashore or even when they pounce on me in mid-lake, they get my juices going - the adrenaline driven blood pushing aside the bad stuff clogging my arteries, restoring my vigor and clearing my brain of the minutiae accumulated during periods of inactivity. Or so I believe – my heart doc is not so sure.

So, on this still cloudy, cool and gray morning following our weekend storm I’m a happy camper. Respectable waves are still rolling in from the lake, breaking over the harbor’s guardian offshore reefs and washing high up against the rocky south shore in their final act of restlessness. Not yet fully tamed, they rebound from their shore tormentor and in a final act of defiance, pounce upon the shock absorbing soft sands of our swimming beach, leaving as their epitaph the litter of logs and sticks that have surfed their way ashore aboard their crests.

I’ve got a good fire burning in my fireplace, its woodsy aroma and cozy warmth wrapping protectively around me as I struggle with the chilling draft of the leaky window alongside my writing spot. I’d stuffed Ace’s best weather stripping into the window frame’s big gaps about a week ago, but as usual the big winds had this old camp’s timbers noisily dancing, popping the stuffing free and providing an avenue for the cold winter air looking longingly through the glass at my warming fire to invade my space. Little does it know that once inside, its attraction to the fire will be its doom – quickly sucked up the flue and once again tossed out into the cold. The only one pleased with this ongoing scenario is Dennis, my propane supplier.

We still have lots of folks in town. Lots meaning just enough to keep the Harbor Inn’s kitchen busy at our Friday evening gatherings. But our number is quickly diminishing, and as I ready myself for bed each evening and take a quick stroll outside for my nightly nightcap of fresh lake air, and, when the sky is clear (it seldom is this time of the year) to pay homage to my guardian constellation Orion, I note that there are now very few camps with windows aglow. Yes, we had an amazing nearly 250 souls cast their ballots at the town hall a week ago, but nearly half were absentee – folks who abandoned our little outpost when the swimming beach became inhospitable and/or the tentacles of job or school dragged them to their winter homes. Many of those not so afflicted will keep us company until after deer season or perhaps they have hosted holiday family gatherings, with the final out migration occurring when the lure of warm places and warm beaches at last overcomes the allegiances of even the most passionate Harbor devotees. At that point, not long after New Year’s, the few of us who of necessity or desire opt to huddle together for the long dark winter, will recaulk the windows, plug in the pipe heaters, stock up our pantries and libraries, and simply enjoy the beautiful and abundant snow as it piles up atop and around our camps.

Our winters off to a slow start. Not unusual, we typically don’t see much of Heikki Launta’s dancing results until the lake effect machine gets in gear. That takes very cold Canadian air flowing southerly across a still warm lake, probably not until late December or early January. We were blessed with an absolutely beautiful fall – warm sunlit days and spectacular foliage colors. Lots of big winds with gales almost every week since early September. A test for we late season sailors, but a treat for wave watchers. Our harbor creeks, Eliza and Cedar, are almost dry and as I hiked the harbor ski trail last week the leaf crusted trail underfoot was hard and dry. The gulls and pesky geese seemed to have flown the coop, but there are more owls and eagles than usual and the fall grouse-hunting season made for happy hunters.

There don’t seem to be many deer around, at least up here in the rugged Keweenaw. That won’t deter our deer hunters – deer season up here is a cultural event, not simply a chance to replenish the meat locker. The camps will I’m sure be the boisterous and soul satisfying experiences they always are, no matter how many, or few, bucks are strung up in the nearby trees. And of course, the big social event of the year for the Copper Country, the Cliff View’s Deer Hunters Ball, will rival the Obama inauguration for festivity and passionate embrace of mission. (Interesting – my spell checker does not yet recognize Obama, insists it’s Omaha. You can tell I’ve been out of touch. Better give it the “remember that” keystroke)

It’s good to be writing about Harbor experiences again. I probably won’t have many falling through the lake ice or into mine shaft stories to share this year, but unless my perception and imagination skills totally fail me, there will be stories and experiences to share over the coming months – even if they have to be “stretched” a bit to be more interesting. If all else fails, there is always the “gorgeous moose” waiting patiently for her story to be told!

A Letter To Ryan (11/06//08)

I'm often asked to share some of my summer sailing adventures in the Harbor Journal. I do maintain a voluminous ship logbook, but rarely dip into it for journal fodder. I'll not do so know.

But, I will share with you a letter I wrote to Ryan, a 29 year-old school teacher and one of my summer 2008 crewmates. The letter chronicles one of my late season voyages. I posted it from Isle Royale's Rock Harbor, aka Snug Harbor, in late September, several weeks after Ryan completed his stint aboard. I'd stopped there enroute back to the Keweenaw from a season ending "last hurrah" single-handed cruise north to Rossport, a sleepy little port tucked about as far north as you can get on the big lake. Ryan and I had made this trip as part of our five weeks on the lake in late June and July. (Ryan's spunky bride, Molly, with Eagle Harbor connections, joined us at Isle Royale for the last week.) The letter offers just a taste of my life on the lake and may make little sense to anyone who has not shared the experiences or the places I write about. But perhaps of interest to those who wonder what I'm doing out there and why I'm so cativated by my sailing odysseys.

September, Rock Harbor

Well, Ryan here I am again. Once more and surely for the last time this year tied to a dock at your most eagerly anticipated and likely most pleasurable 2008 cruise stopover, Rock Harbor. (Must have had something to do with Molly’s impending arrival) No other boats, just a few rangers and only a handful of this summer’s concession crew are here to share this beautiful early fall evening with me. A thunderstorm blasted through a few hours ago. But now all is calm. Actually quite warm, about 60 degrees. Everything is shut down, (even Kim, the concession manager who has given me so much grief over hiring Johnny off the dock last year, has not been down to harass me), the dock is free, and when the alongside Ranger leaves tomorrow on one of its last trips from Rock Harbor to Houghton, even the few concession hold-outs will be gone. A few rangers and Park employees will hang around for another three weeks to complete their close-up chores and accommodate the hard core backpackers who relish the special beauty and awesome serenity of late September and early October on the Island. Donny and his Queen IV, and Mike with his Voyager II (also alongside), both now traveling to the Island just twice weekly, will accommodate them. Mike says the last ferry trip to the Island will be his on October 18th; about the same time as they lock the doors at Mott and everyone heads for home. The moose and wolves will be in charge after that.

Peregrine, which was the first recreational boat at Rock this spring, will likely also be the last. At a little spontaneous park and concession employee season-end, late into the night, celebration on the dock alongside Peregrine last evening, I was good-naturedly “toasted” for my “commendable restraint in not luring away dock hands” during my several visits here this year! (I was never tempted – had good crew and the local pickings were certainly not as good as last year.) I plan to sail to Chippewa tomorrow, hike up to Lake Ritche, try not to be once again forced up a tree by a bull moose in rut, pick some remaining thimbleberries, and then, after tomorrow night’s forecasted gale blows itself out, run across the open waters of the lake to Houghton - and perhaps after a late season sail around Keweenaw, reluctantly head for Pequaming and winter lay-up.

This has been a quintessence cruise. I’ve dodged a few gales, prevailed through a couple thunderstorms, encountered some challenges, but patiently worked my way north to Rossport and back here to Isle Royale. Great sailing, most of it with wind abeam or aft which you know is what Peregrine, and its skipper, most relish. Even the wind and waves off the bow have been manageable. Stopped at Loon Harbor on my way up, and stoked up your favorite sauna. Relished a naked dash from the hot sauna into the lake, the water temp nearly 65 - perfect.

After treating myself to some french toast the next morning I sailed the short distance up to Otter Cove and anchored in the little bay just below the falls. Rowed the dingy up the creek through heavy current to the landing where the trail to the falls begins. What a surprise, the falls, which were totally dry when I stopped there last year, were still the raging torrent of water you found earlier this summer, so much so that I dared not venture into the cascading water. (No wonder the lake is up over a foot from last year.) I did slip into the warm pool just below the falls and basked in a Jacuzzi like bath. The resident eagle flew by to check me out - you would have loved it.

A day later, after a leisurely five-hour sail along the spectacular island dotted Ontario shore, following the route of the voyagers, I pulled around the tight entry at Squaw Harbor and once again enjoyed the company of a few of my long-time Nipigon Bay friends. Even made some Indian corn for them – the only people on the lake who seem to share my enthusiasm for this high cholesterol delicacy, but a treat I don’t remember burdening you with. They asked about you.

I wasn’t much past the high rock cliff at Talbot Island the following morning when the lead sail track car jammed about two-thirds up the mast as I was raising the sail. Using the shortened sail I diverted from my intended 30nm course to Simpson Channel and on up to Rossport and headed for the protection of the cove behind Armour Island (where in 2007 Johnny and I explored the camp and sauna built by the folks attempting to start a new nation.) Dropped the sail and anchored just off the beach. Peregrine was wildly wandering about on the hook as a good breeze toyed with the noisily flapping sail. I tied down the bouncing wishbone and with some trepidation, but no alternative, hauled my mast step climbers out of the locker.

Fortunately there was little wave action deep in that cove, so the deck was relatively stable and the 55-foot mast not waving about too much. It seemed to take forever for me to get up to the jammed car, my legs not quite up to the task and my fractured ribs constantly complaining. With one hand trying to steady my wind driven swings about the mast, I used the other to force a screwdriver into the jam, finally breaking it free. The sail quickly tumbled down, draping itself over the wishbone and damn near taking me with it. The trip down was almost as difficult as the trip up as by now my legs were numb. Once down, I collapsed on the deck, having not enough leg strength left to even stand up. I crawled back to the cockpit, rested a bit, before stumbling down into the cabin to grab a cold beer. Sat for a spell on the bunk, gathering strength and settling down frayed nerves as the sail flopped merrily away on the wishbone.

Perhaps an hour later I got myself back on deck, yanked the sail down into the lazy-jacks, and after heating up and wolfing down some emergency rations, hash, called it a day. Crawled into my bunk for about ten hours of uneasy sleep, wondering if in its wandering about Peregrine might have loosened the hook. I was too beat to even check. (It didn’t.) The lesson, my friend, was clearly that I should not be out on the lake by myself. I wondered how soon I’d forget that.

The next day was beautiful with good winds driving Peregrine quickly the 20nm over to Simpson and up to Rossport. As I savored the blissful sail, I could feel the lesson of the prior day already losing its grip.

As you might expect, given this mast climbing episode, clearing the Rossport Harbor entry and pulling up to the sturdy and empty government dock, for the fourth time this summer, was a most satisfying moment. Unfortunately, my approach to the dock was in a strong off-dock wind, with no one aboard or ashore to assist me. After a couple of aborted attempts to get Peregrine alongside the dock, I was finally able to get a bowline loop I’d placed at the end of a cleated spring line over a dock cleat and keeping the boat in gear, drove a fender hard into the dock. The cleated spring held, snuggling and holding Peregrine close enough to the dock that I was able to get my less than nimble body ashore and secure the remaining dock lines. I thought, “Not bad, George, maybe you can continue your single-handed romps.” (I’m a slow leaner.) I rewarded myself with a nice glass of wine and headed for the Inn.

The Rossport Inn was nearly empty. Just two other guests, a couple of young guys, bunked in one of the cabins, who shared dinner with me (and some merlot and cards aboard Peregrine later that evening. They were flabbergasted that I had Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test aboard. I guess once the radical, always the radical!) Innkeeper Ned was in Winnipeg getting son Brett settled into his first year of college. But wife Shelagh was there and warmly welcomed and fed me, and as usual, making me feel as part of the family. It’s a special place for me, as I believe it was for you. They continued to have had a terrible summer, with business down about 50%, but, as you noted, seemed to relish the slower pace. I indulged in some good Ontario wine, and topped off a big Caesar salad (did he really invent this?) with a massive piece of their yummy warm fresh blueberry pie a la mode.

The next morning strong southerly winds were rolling whitecaps deep into the harbor so I returned to the Inn for blueberry pancakes, an offered shower and clothes washing, and a ride into Schreiber with Ned’s brother Bob for provisions and chatter (including another big earfull of his Patsy Kline CDs). Shelagh sent me off with a half a fresh baked rhubarb-custard pie. (I’d told her that you raved about the pie, even confessing that it might have been better than your mother’s. That pleased her, but she suggested you not tell your mom.) By mid-afternoon the wind had eased, so I motored down to Battle Island for the night and the beginning of my over 100nm trip home. I wondered as the little town of Rossport dipped behind Peregrine’s stern if I’d ever again be able to enjoy its charm and warm hospitality - a thought I find increasingly entering my mind as I depart favorite Superior anchorages and ports.

My 2008 logbook reports that I’ve now been 80 days at sea, with almost 2100 miles under the still unmarked keel. A good summer of sailing! It was a special blessing to have you aboard for much of it. Our cruise is something I cherish, as I hope do you.

Now, darkness has engulfed Snug Harbor and it’s awesomely still, with only the comforting call of a loon over by the America’s dock to remind me that all is normal in the world. (I learned last evening at the dock party that the market and economy have gone to hell while I’ve been out, but neither the loon nor I give a damn – we each have what we most prize.) Brilliant stars are popping out above Peregrine’s mast, and Orion, my guardian constellation, still lingering below the eastern horizon, is, I’m certain, beckoning me home and offering its assurance of a safe voyage.

I’m tired, but at peace with the world and myself.


Ps. Karina, the Rock Harbor ranger, just stopped by to say goodbye. She reports a revised forecast with winds strong southerly and 5 to 7 foot seas for the next several days. Looks like it might be a long and tough sail across the lake. Sailing single-handed in such conditions would not be prudent (I have not forgotten all the lessons), so I’ll hunker in at Chippewa for a day, maybe two, and see what develops. The course from Chippewa is 180 degrees and 55nm to the North Entry or, if the wind is too south, 150 degrees, 40 nm to Eagle Harbor. Either way, it promises to be a challenging sail. So Ryan, while you are in your classroom the next couple of days, or coaching your stalwart footballers, take a pause to wish your summer skipper “God Speed!”

The Water Dilemma (10/21//08)

No, not the wild variations in the big lake’s level we are experiencing. There is not much we can do about that except to reinforce our sea walls when it’s high, and proceed more cautiously with our boats when its low.

Rather, our dilemma is what to do about our rapidly deteriorating town water system pipes and how to pay for the fix. (I know, not the normal fodder for a journal focused on more entertaining and enlightening aspects of Harbor life, but the subject is now the “talk of the town”. For those of you who for whatever reason follow Harbor happenings from afar, I thought I'd share my take on what's going on. )

Our Great Depression, (you know, the one your folks or grandparents told you all those boring stories about), FDR inspired and Uncle Sam paid for (WPA) town water distribution system is showing its age and needs to be fixed. Gosh, it’s almost as old as I am and like your reporter, its pipes are a bit clogged and prone to rupture. Its accumulated plaque (iron) sometimes restricting flow to dribbles, especially when everyone shows up for Bill Smith’s pig roast, and its often coloring my laundry with a not disagreeably, but embarrassing reddish tint. There is a real risk that the distribution system might just implode, leaving us in a heck of a pickle. Clearly we have lived long enough on the largess of the New Deal and need to start looking out for ourselves. But how?

So our good town mommas and papas went to the doctor (town consultant engineer) to see what could be done to save us from becoming the Sahara of the Keweenaw Gold Coast. Not surprisingly (heck, there is a fee to be made) he had the perfect storm solution, a $2,900,000 fix. Now that may not seem like much in this era of multi-billion public bailouts of scurrilous investment bankers, and it’s just the cost of three or four of the new homes recently built along our Superior coast, but considering the bill might have to be paid by the few (about 138 properties) of us who are now system dependant, a little math says that’s over twenty grand a shot, even assuming we would not have to go into hock and also have an interest charge - an unlikely assumption. We could do our laundry with bottled water for less than that. (And how about that new 4WD truck with accessories, the plow, we planned to buy?)

So how about some help, once again, from Uncle Sam (pretending that’s not us)? Well, believe it or not, the folks at US Rural Development are coming to our rescue, apparently considering us the Appalachia of the North Country. I thought Federal money was tight, absent a congressional earmark (fat chance for that in this conservative anomaly of our Democratic congressman’s district), but apparently the folks at Rural Development are a holdover from Johnson’s Great Society. So here’s the deal they offered. You put $50,000 down, less than 2%, and we’ll ante up over a million ($1,125,000) of the money we’ve collected from the few good citizens who have not yet figured out how to avoid an income tax bill (apparently most have), and loan you the rest (almost two million - $1,725,000) at a distressed auto industry rate and term (3.625% and 40 years). Doesn’t this sound like a Fannie Mae (not the candy outfit) “easy money” deal, the kind of irresistible but imprudent policy of the governmental outfit that arguably got our country in the economic mess and market freefall we are now experiencing?)

But, while our town guardians are as principled as we who sometimes fly the conservative flag might be, they are, like most of us, not dumb. Why not use some of the income taxes paid by the free spending, irresponsible Wall Street robber barons, the big bucks corportae tycoons, the over-paid sports and entertainment stars, and we lesser fish to pay for a few new water pipes at Eagle Harbor? And who else is going to just give us such generous loan terms? So the town folks did what I would have done, signed on to the deal. We’re going to have new pipes, shower flows that stimulate us even during the Pig Roast, and laundry so white our mothers would be proud. Hurray!

But one last dilemma. How are we going to pay off that nearly two million dollar Uncle Sam loan? OK, it’s just $1,725,000, but with interest it balloons to over three-and-a half million ($3,623,413) according to the hired number crunchers. Let’s see, if the 138 of us that are hooked up to this marvelous new system are on the hook for its cost, that’s $26,257 apiece! A bundle, but hey, that’s only about 180 pennies a day, much less than the price of a beer or a glass of decent wine, and the water’s better for us! And it’s certainly less than the new truck we plan to buy, albeit we might now have to scrap the plow (You might detect that I once made a living, as a city manager, selling similar public improvement proposals to unwary citizens.) I recognize it's easier for me to swallow, I live here year-round. If I was here for just a few months a year, as do many whose cottages are hooked to the town system, I expect I'd be less tolerant.

So, while we might gripe about the cost, some with more reason than others, one of the side benefits of citizenship, most of us can probably afford it, especially considering the alternative (the Sahara). But why just the 138 of us connected to the pipes? How about the vacant properties that lie along the pipe routes whose owners might find the easy access to plentiful good water incentive to build a home or sell to someone who will? Shouldn’t the owners of these potential building sites also share in the cost – they seem to be benefited? Of course, when they do connect they will empty their pockets for the privilege, but that could be years down the road. In the meantime the 138 of us will be busy paying off the loan.

Well the good listeners at town hall devised a solution. Imperfect, but plausible. Split the cost of paying off our benevolent lender, Uncle Sam, into two pots. One pot, about two-thirds of the cost, to be filled with monies collected from folks actually connected by adding a charge to their water bill, appropriately dubbed the “user fee’. That’s now estimated to be about $99 per quarterly bill, or for marketing purposes, just a little over a buck a day. To sweeten the deal, the so called “construction fee” now being tacked onto our water bill to pay for the all too frequent repairs to our existing deteriorating pipes and a few ad-hoc incremental improvements when repairs don’t suffice, would be dropped. (The new system should not be as injury prone.) Since the current construction fee is $75 per quarter, our net added cost for the new “user fee” is just under 25 bucks a quarter. What a deal! (Apparently the monies now on hand in the “construction fee” account would be the source of the $50,000 down payment Uncle Sam demands.)

Everyone, existing and future water users alike would share the second pot, representing about a third of cost of paying off the loan. Town officials now estimate that about 299 properties would participate in filling this pot, but that number might change as appeals from folks arguing their vacant property is un-developable are still pending. Based on the 299 count and the estimated debt service for this share of the project, the quarterly bill for all 299 would be about $23 per quarter. That folks is just a quarter a day! (Just a cigarette a day for you smokers – like the beer or glass of wine we need to give up to pay the “user fee”, probably a better investment.)

But how to collect this everyone pays charge? We can’t simply add it to a water bill, like the “user fee” since all but 138 of the 299 pot participants aren’t connected and thus don’t get a water bill. So, the town folks set up a special assessment district encompassing all existing and future water customers. Each year the town board will levy and collect a special assessment sufficient to satisfy the annual debt service on the pot we all participate in. It will show up on our annual township tax bill, much like the process we are using to pay for our new fire trucks. This “special assessment” is what is now estimated to be the $23 per quarter or about $92 per year.

But, of course, all these buck-a-day and quarter-a-day charges still add up to a formidable amount for those of us hooked up to town water– and the game goes on for 40 years, the term of Uncle Sam’s loan. And to top it off, those of us connected to the system will also continue to pay the $45 per quarter operating fee just to operate the system, plus the charge per gallon for the water we actually use (now about a third of a cent per gallon.)

In an attempt to grasp the significance of all these new fees and assessments I compared my existing total cost for water to what it will be. I now pay about $482 a year (operating fee $180, construction fee $300 and usage $32.) My new annual charge would seem to be about $700, or $218 (45%) more. (Operating fee $180, user fee $396, special assessment $92, and usage $32.)

Seven hundred dollars per year seems like a lot to pay for water, especially with a 40-year commitment. (Compare that to your annual water cost,) For some solace I compared it to other fluids I consume. Let’s see, I use about 8,900 gallons of water per year. At $700 that’s about 7.5 cents per gallon. Pop is about four cents an ounce or $6.40 a gallon, beer about $20 a gallon and the rot gut wine I sometimes buy almost $35 a gallon. What a deal our water is! (Of course, I don’t shave or shower with the alternatives, nor use them to flush the john or wash my clothes, but, nonetheless, even for drinking, our water even at 700 bucks a year is a steal, at least for those of us who make Eagle Harbor our home.) I know, convoluted thinking, but it makes me feel better.

So what will I get from all this new investment in our water system? Well, certainly a reliable supply of good water, no more threat of the Sahara scenario, and no more red underwear. Probably a nice bright red fire plug parked on my corner, underneath the pesky streetlight, both indicators that our sleepy little town is joining the world of convenience and safety. (You know I have mixed feelings about that.) Perhaps even a nicely paved road alogside my home, assuming that the existing patchwork of tar and cinders will be repaired after it’s torn up for the new pipe. And for sure the exciting entertainment of watching it all being constructed – the blasting through the rock behind my camp, the rumble of big equipment digging the trenches, the zigzagging through a baffling array of temporary road closures and detours. Aw, such fun for our entertainment starved little burg. We even might have to move our July 4th parade over to the waterless Marina Road area. But I’m glad to say I’ll likely miss all this exciting activity – I’ll be out sailing. It will be a mess - remember the disaster at Copper Harbor when they installed their new water and sewer system. I hope we can do a better job

A caution. All this number rattling is based on the estimated cost of the water project. Actual cost determination must await the bills from the contractor hired to do the work. We probably won’t have the actual cost number until early 2010, although bids on the project are expected in early 2009. We’ll have a much better idea of what the final actual costs will likely be once the bids are received.. But as my Canadian weather estimators love to caution, “Wind and waves may vary considerably due to shoreline affect.” - so we might experience some "shoreline affect"? But I believe the current cost estimates have been carefully prepared, and, if anything, might provide more “contingency” than warranted. If the actual costs are lower than expected, I assume Uncle Sam, seemingly now stretched to bail us out of the economic trauma we are experiencing, will be smart enough not to lend us money we don’t need, and we would be responsible enough not to ask for it. So there might be a bright side to the likely fees and assessments. If, however, the actual costs are significantly higher than expected, our good town folk will have to regroup and figure out how to proceed. In the meantime, the user fees and assessments will begin to show up in our water bills and tax statements, apparently subject to adjustment if debt service needs vary from those now estimated.

I’ve probably simply added to the confusion that seems to be a natural ally to small town folks like me groping to decipher the kind of big bucks bingo represented by a community of less than a couple hundred souls faced with an almost three million dollar expenditure of public funds, most of which many of us will have to dig in our pockets to replenish. It is truly a dilemma, but I expect that when our children and grandchildren make the final payments, say about 2050, they will wonder what the years ago fuss was all about. They might even think we were all pretty smart. Lets hope so.

For the real scoop on all of this check with the folks at Township Hall, or visit the Township's Web Site.

I'm sure you are wondering if I'll ever get off this sermonizing kick and get back to writing about things more whimsical than worthy. I'm woking on it. Here's the start of my next piece.

Isn’t she gorgeous? You don’t think so? Obviously you have not been as long “at sea” as I was when I encountered this young lady on the bluff above Isle Royale’s Chippewa Harbor this past June. Nor had you spent a couple hours up in a tree as her spouse in rut mistook me for her last fall. She’s just one of the many fascinating characters I’ve met in my summer escapades on the big lake. (I think she’s kinda cute, but not my type!)

Stay tuned!

Life Ashore (10/15//08)
Adjusting to the tumult of life ashore after months of experiencing the sanctity of Gitchi Gumee can be traumatic. Never more so than this year.

It’s not that the big lake is an oasis of serenity; indeed it’s a place of volatile moods, at times quite tempestuous. It can be an unforgiving mistress to those so enamored and pacified by its many charms that they become unwary and disrespectful. But one leaves its embrace richly nourished, not simply by its shining sea, but also by its environs - the splendid soft sand and cobblestone beaches and majestic towering basalt outcrops that are its shoulders, the rich array of flora and fauna along its shores, the winds and waves that play upon its surface, and the comforting camaraderie of the relative handful of kindred spirits who venture upon its waters and live along its remote shores. To experience its embrace is to epitomize the lesson of my Harbor Journal masthead quote from Nancy Lord’s, Fishcamp, “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.”

I thought of all this as I sailed the good ship Peregrine into her last harbor for the year and sadly watched her lifted out of her natural habitat and gently placed upon her iron roost for the coming long winter. I felt as if I too was being removed from what I’ve come to believe is my intrinsic home, the big lake. Gone from my life for awhile are quiet evenings in serene anchorages, blissful and exciting sails, challenging, adrenaline pumping encounters with big winds and waves (and shoals), and the joy in sharing much of this with enthusiastic and so helpful crew. (I still get a special kick out of single-handed sailing, but the realities of my aging body, plus the good advice, often admonishments, of friends and family have finally persuaded me to seek crew. It’s been great! Should have done it earlier.)

So, I’m back ashore. Normally the adjustment from the lake to my cozy camp at Eagle Harbor is, at least in retrospect, almost seamless, although at each instance there is an underlying moment of anxiety. Eagle Harbor, especially in the winter months, is like my time on the lake – mostly pleasantly serene but with just enough weather and happenings activity to keep my mind active and alert. While a summer on the big lake affords time and an environment for contemplation, an opportunity to recharge and redirect one’s life, the Harbor time offers ample opportunity to put these summer lessons to work. It’s a time to read, to write, to pursue old and new interests, and to reconnect with my most patient family and Harbor neighbors. There are generally few external distractions – one of the blessings in living along the remote shores of the big lake, blissfully off the beaten track of what most folks consider “life”, as I once did. (Yes, there is an element of “escapism”, not my normal style, but heck, I’ve paid my dues, as have most of my Harbor neighbors – it’s time to reap!)

But this year is different. Peregrine was still settling into her winter nest when I learned that much has gone to hell over the time I was on the lake. I heard murmurings to that effect during an end-of-season spontaneous gathering with Park personnel at Isle Royale’s Rock Harbor dock, but dismissed it as just the usual laments, much like the fishermen telling tales of woe as they empty their nearly full fish boxes. (At the time I wrote in my ship journal, “This can’t be for real. Surely the comforting call of the loon over by the America’s dock is assurance that all is truly well.”) But I now know this is for real. Even at Eagle Harbor there is no escape from this reality. This transition from the sanctity of my summer on the lake to the realities of life ashore is not going to be easy.

It seems that our economy is truly distressed, the investment market is in free-fall, and job loss and job insecurity, devastating both economically and psychologically to those affected, including some in my own family, are rampant. I’m OK, not as well as I once was, but better off than most. But, most distressingly, seemingly secure nest eggs laboriously built up over a lifetime of work and prudent saving by many of my generation, and perhaps of yours, are rapidly being eroded. Our political system seems to be in disarray. In my view, neither presidential candidate, nor their parties, seem capable of offering much more than self-serving and gratuitous platitudes, playing the blame game, with little constructive leadership. With the WSJ and CNBC now constantly in my eye and ear spreading their gloom, and the stars and constellations that usually give me perspective and solace obscured by the brazen glow of the unneeded street light at my corner, I find myself desperately in need of something more relevant, more meaningful, and certainly more hopeful than these pending doom sorcers. It’s scary!

So what to do? What “discover from nature important facts about human nature” can we use as an “opportunity to think hard about ourselves” in these challenging times?

I’m unsure. Like many of my era, I’m tempted to “escape”, engage in denial, passing off the challenge to those much younger, more attuned to the practicality of possible solutions, and certainly with more at stake than I. Some seem to think “Uncle Sam” (that’s really us) will bail us out. Perhaps. I’m a child of the last Great Depression so I understand the basis for that persuasion, although most who espouse it seem to me more self-serving. (In fairness, my college education was, in part, obligated to largess of the Uncle Sam's of my youth, their generous GI Bill.)

But the lessons of “nature” seem even more persuasive. We each take from them what seems most relevant, or more probably, most convenient to our point of view. But for me the crux is respect, not necessarily blind adherence, for time honored patterns of life, i.e. ritual (remember Mallard Lessons); the recognition that prosperity, if not survival, in life is not the only the product of looking after one’s self, albeit sll so critical, but fostering the well-being of the flock (community); and, an appreciation that the natural cycle of life encompasses both prosperous and troubling times, but life prevails.

So, perhaps I’m just an old curmudgeon, beset with contrarian ideas, but as I attempt to come to grips with this difficult adjustment to life ashore, these lessons from the natural world, which are so influential in my life here at Eagle Harbor,, seem more pertinent than ever.


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