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 2009-2010

Bone Rattling
Our little town, the epitome of quiet, unsophisticated gathering and unrelenting serenity , is about to get its bones rattled.

Not since the New Deal inspired invasion of electricity and communal water into our space has the installation of the generally regarded essentials of civilized urbanization interrupted our serenity. Yes, telephones subsequently arrived, but the installation was un-intrusive (just hang another wire on FDR’s power poles), as was the decades later much welcomed arrival of Bill Jackson’s cable alternative to the array of camp top Thunder Bay TV receivers. (Once again tacked onto FDR's poles.) There was a little fuss and muss a few years back when we got tired drinking Minnesota taconite plant polluted lake water and had to dig a couple wells back in the bush and run a big pipe into town center. But that event was mostly on the outskirts of our little hamlet. Road improvements have been minimal as is so readily apparent. We complain but take secret joy in the rustic quality of our urban infrastructure. And the Internet? It just snuck in, not carving much of an urban footprint.

But now? Oh wow! We’re about to dig up every street to install new water pipes, I will be among the many with a real up-town fireplug parked out in front of my camp, one that my relatives in suburban Minneapolis and San Diego would envy. This blessing, a part of our town’s quest to “get with it” in terms of reliable and efficiently delivered water supply. The fireplug will complement my pesky streetlight, bringing me closer to full compliance with what are apparently the symbols of civilized life. UGH! The next thing you know, my street, and all the other cow paths in our little town, might get paved as part of this “upgrade”.

But before the arrival of a street one can navigate safely without a 4-wheel drive and super shocks, and the availability of big rust free water pipes (not like the current 3 inch WPA pipes clogged like my heart arteries), we must endure a summer of “bones rattling”. It will be messy.

Already, big machinery is gathering at our border. Strange markings are appearing on our cinder roadways, and little orange flags marking buried pipes and wires are competing with spring dandelions for attention. Our sleepy little town park is being prepared to be a temporary gathering place for project supplies and the water pipes destined to spend a century or two deep in our town bowels. Workers are busy clearing beautiful pine from a large parcel up near the Delaware Road that will be the site of an enclosed reservoir to supply our July 4th and pig roast weekends surge in domestic water demand and sufficient fire suppressing water we hope we never need. And a very noisy praying manta look alike digger is slowly crawling closer to our unsuspecting town as it tears away at the trees lining the cutoff road to make ready for the pipe installation.

The digging and pipe laying in town should start soon and will last through the summer and perhaps into the fall. We are being assured that care will be taken to see that we won’t have the war zone our friends in Copper Harbor endured a few years ago when they “upgraded”, but it won’t be pretty.

And, of course, with the commotion comes the bill, actually forty years of bills. The good news is that we borrowed, not begged, to pay for this fun. No “stimulus” money, and no wealth transfers from out of out of towners, no entitlements – just plain old-fashioned pay to play. It’s expensive – water service cost per year now rivaling combined county and school taxes, but what the heck it’s still less costly per gallon than the cheap wine I buy, and better for me. Works better for washing, flushing and lawn watering too!

So we who are to be alongside the trenches will fret and fume as we witness the flying dirt and dust generated by our money at work, and our town’s suburban neighbors and summer visitors will share in our inconvenience during their occasional forays to town beach or the Inn, but the bones will not rattle for long. By the time winter snows cover the scars, all but the bill will be forgiven and serenity will return.

But till then, I’m going sailing.

Neon has arrived in Eagle Harbor ! Yes folks, we're on the slippery slope to becoming Wisconsin Dells North. Our pacesetter is the Eagle Harbor Inn. Remember the little unlit sign that hung in the window that simply said "Open" or "Closed"? Well, the "disability correct" movement noticed that many Inn patrons are getting to the cataract stage, so something bigger and brighter is in order. So now, atop the Inn entry is a red neon "Eagle Harbor Inn" sign. All we have to remember is that when it's lit, the bar is open. When not, come another day. So easy. No more squint searches for the little window sign. Mary's pretty proud. I like it. It's Eagle Harbor cool !
( I should add, that in deference to the all too limited adaptabilities of local fuddy-dutty watchdogs like me, and to not grease the slippery slope, Mary rejected the sign builder's plans to add eye catching flashing tipping martini glasses to the display.)
Next weekend, when the new sign is on, I'll add a picture to this report. (It might be past my usual bedtime before it's dark enough, but I'll take a preparatory nap.)
OK, here's the pic. Didn't make it until after dark, but you get the idea. Click pic to see all the nice detail.

No Pulitzer
The Pulitzer prizes were awarded today. Darn, the Eagle Harbor Journal was not among the winners.

I was sure the committee would at long last recognize the cutting edge journalism represented by the likes of this foray in small town electronic "news, views and information", i.e. gossip and story telling. The champagne was iced and 2010 Pulitzer Champion shirts ready to don, but alas, it was not to be. A web site did earn a prize, but to no one’s surprise, the awardee was affiliated with old school, the New York Times. It apparently pays to have friends in high and traditional places.

I fretted for a while, wondering if the unfairness of this world might be overcome by hiring a high price NY agent or PR firm to argue my case. But then, I stumbled upon a report on BBC America, my only reliable news source, explaining that award winning journalism must be subjected to “vetting”, a standard totally foreign to me and a word that not even my Webster’s seems to recognize. I think it has something to do with upon being examined, what one says is factually correct. I’ve never burdened myself with such a limitation on making my rambling prose interesting to me, much less my reader.

Given this standard, I shouldn’t have been surprised with the committee’s failure to recognize the merit of my work. In fact, just yesterday, a neighbor “vetted’ me for claims made in my last journal, Riding It Out. “George”, he chastised, “you neglected to confess that you snuck out of town for a few weeks basking in the warmth of Southern California, probably spent more time in the cocoon of Marquette General than in the wintery wild of the Harbor, and, given your frailties, are rarely out in the middle of the night sledge hammering frozen firewood piles.” Ah, all so true. But I’m there in spirit.

So, I’m relegated to the ranks of the unvetted storytellers. A good deal short of the likes of Twain or Keillor, but they never won a Pulitzer either.

Riding It Out Eagleharborweb lurkers will occasionally depart from their understandably desire for anonymity to press the website editor for an explanation of what one could possibly do to maintain one’s sanity in the long interval between color season and the return of snowbirds and bugs – a period that encompasses almost two-thirds of annual existence for bipeds hunkered around this little niche in the rock shouldered shore of the world’s biggest, wildest, and coldest freshwater lake.

The honest answer is not much. We just ride it out.

They say, “We know you take a weird delight in measuring the abundant snowfall, seemingly find sufficient solace in just cozying up to a warm fire with a good book or your Bach as winter storms send cold drafts inside and noisily batter your old camp, and get a kick out of trudging outside in the ever present darkness to sledge firewood free from your frozen and toppled woodpile, but is all that enough to ward off senility and atrophy; i.e. how do you keep from going crazy?”

Ah, that’s the secret. We do go crazy – at least by what seemingly passes in more urbane places as norms. (I take undue license with “we”. It’s probably just “me”.)

While we delight in the all too occasional shoulder rubbing with our common specie, the nectar of most of mankind, we find equal satisfaction in just being with ourselves. It certainly helps to arrive at this place with a rich reservoir of lifetime experiences and interests - personal resources one can draw on for intellectual nourishment in our extended winter hibernation. I often counsel Eagle Harbor year-around wannabees, that if you find your own company as insufficient, this is not the place for you.

We who inhabit this place also seem to have in common a perhaps unusual appreciation that we are but one species, and perhaps not the most savvy, of the warm bloods in our midst. Many a long winter day can be fulfilled by simply watching the graceful soaring of an eagle, the coyness of a coyote perched on a snow bank alongside your camp, or the playfulness of an otter fishing among the harbor ice flows. Not the stuff of our more urbane counterparts, but it works for us.

We are also delightfully focused on history, not the stuff of school quizzes, but rather an innate appreciation from the still evident reminders that we who hunker in the Keweenaw between freeze-up and thaw are but the latest of this country’s adventures. Their ghosts are ever present – neighbors of sorts. (I told you we’re [me] a bit crazy!) When we stumble upon many millennium old mining pits on our bush treks, encounter the beautiful hand laid century-old decaying rubble stone mining structures that dot our snow clad landscape, and even during our “history tours” of old copper town bars, we feel and are nourished by the souls of the hardy who inhabited this place in much more difficult times. Soul food of sorts.

And of course, if you are lucky enough to be of the many Harbor year-rounders with deep family ties to the Harbor community, the experience and events of each day, trial or triumph, evoke comforting memories and good vibes. Moms, dads, siblings, children, grandparents, crazy uncles, et al, are forever with us. Having a sense of “place” in our lives’, a rare privilege in an increasingly transit society, forestalls many a “what am I doing here?” thought.

And lastly, we not without a sense of community. Indeed, it’s powerful, made even more so by our sparsity and resulting, of necessity, in a strong sense of interdependency. We may be few, but we’re close. Committed to looking out for one another. I know that if my lights are not on by late dawn, or my car is unmoved in a day, someone will stop by or call. I’ll do the same. Oh, what comfort this provides. In truth, the essence of the successful existence of “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.

So dear lurker and wonderer, take heart. There is reason to hope that we who “ride it out” may maintain enough sanity to be pleasant, perhaps even stimulating, company upon your return – which we hope is soon!

StimulusThe good news just keeps rolling in. First the report that a case of Ernest Shackleton’s whiskey had been discovered buried deep in the ice at one of his Antarctic base camps, left there in 1910 by my childhood hero as he wisely and quickly evacuated his comrades from the polar cap as disaster loomed. Now I hear the original distiller of the whiskey, surprisingly still in business but having long ago lost the recipe of this brew, is hoping to get a sample of the recovered whiskey into the lab to discover and reproduce the formula that so emboldened the courage and tenacity of my hero and his comrades. I’ll be first in line for a case of “Shackleton II”! And then, just today, I read in the Gazette, our local paper that still proudly links its name with “Mining” (bless them), a report of economic stimulus that actually works. Seems a son, just 12 years old, of a now very proud Copper Country native, both now living in suddenly snow bound Louisville, KY, discovered a yooper scooper, surely secreted there by dad, in his garage, and undaunted by the snow calamity unleashed its CC power on the Louisville snow, wowing everybody in his neighborhood with its advantages over back breaking shoveling. Not content with the few bucks he gathered from happy neighbors, our Horatio Alger in the making, shared his can-do spirit and miraculous remedy for moving snow with the Louisville Courier, a big time paper, even disclosing the maker of this marvelous device, Silver Bear Manufacturing, one of our own. Bingo! The orders for yooper scoopers began to pour into Silver Bear’s Atlantic Mine mail box, prompting the overjoyed owners of this little almost ma and pop outfit to hire three new workers to meet the sudden demand. Isn’t that a great story! Hey it’s initiative and good ideas that builds jobs, not money from the federal pot! If I’d been our president, I’d had this kid in the House gallery to take a well deserved bow during my State of the Union address.

Grand Opera Last evening was so peaceful, and so beautiful. Our daylight now lasts through the evening hour and the sun is now ending its daily stay with us by dipping behind the tall poplars that stand like sentinels along the west shoulder of our swimming beach. Dark tree shadows inch out across the pristine white snow that covers the beach and then onto the harbor ice, their ghostly images stretching almost to mid-harbor before being lifted off the ice and absorbed by the gathering darkness of the approaching night. The mostly vacant cottages along the harbor’s south rocky shore, their higher perch affording them a longer bask in the now gold tinged light of the setting sun, seem to be almost retrieved from their long winter hibernation as the light briefly plays across their harbor facing, making windows glow. Then as the sun dips lower, seeking the sanctuary of the big lake, and now once again darkened cottages return to their slumber, the last, and usually most colorful array of sunlight climbs up the darkly forested ridge lying to our south, offering for a moment a hint of the forest’s spring potential. By now the sun has disappeared into the cold and dark lake, but sends its brilliance around the earth’s roundness and through the dusty near earth heaven to transform the bottoms of otherwise lifeless winter clouds into a mesmerizing mosaic of shifting rust hued reds laced with black shadows set against a background of fading blue sky. This closing seems like the end of grand opera, the moment the magnificent curtain envelopes the stage.

The Forbidden I’m indulging in the forbidden. Nothing too exciting, but delicious. A camp fever remedy. Exotic food! Yes, dear reader, as I perused the aisles of my favorite green banana emporium after a day of languishing in the mid-winter shadows, I came to face with an old temptation – herring cutlets in wine sauce. What you say, herring, a pedestrian food for the hoards of transplanted scandihuvians clustered about the cold Superior Lake? How could a morsel of such a fish, a fish at the bottom of the fish chain, ever be considered a temptation, much less exotic? Well, dear friends, you forget my Scotch ancestry, blood lines tainted with reverence for avoidance of excesses and irrational indulgences – and such herring delicacies are for reasons unfathomable, now priced at over six bucks for a small pot full (16oz), including the water and other justifying ingredients (not much wine). Only in the unthinking ferment of camp fever could I ever place a grasping hand on such a forbidden delight. But I did, and while I feel great remorse at my sin, the herring is sooooo delicious. (And to add to my wontedness, I’m washing these little fishes down my gullet with equally sinfully expensive wine. some Beringer Napa Valley 2006 Chardonnay.) May King Robert the Bruce forgive my Scottish soul! "It's Still Dark Outside, But..." (January, 2010)

It's Still Dark Outside, But..... This will be the end of the, "It's Still Dark Outside" rants. January departs at the end of this day, and with it the oppressive darkness that envelopes this little cloud shrouded high latitude nitch in the Superior shoreline for too much of the wakened day. February isn't much better, but mercifully the good Pope Gregory limited its stay with us. So, as thoughts of elusive groundhogs and Valentines begin to invade our psyche, there is the sweet sense that we are "over the hump". Yes, snowfalls will continue to bedazzle our landscape (we hope), and the lake ice will push out to the horizon, but the returning sun will poke its forehead above the southerly ridge a bit earlier each day and dip its chin into the western lake a little later each evening - and, of greater blessing, ride its chariot across brilliant blue heavens only obscured on our high holy days, snowfall days, and not, as is in January, be daily thwarted in its life giving mission by lifeless low hangers seemingly bent on being of nuisance import only, or perhaps attempting to remind us why many of our ancestors escaped from cold misty places even closer to the pole and felt so at home in dark mines. (My old grammer tutors would take wicked delight in sending me to the blackboard to diagram that last sentence!) It's now almost eight bells , still dark but with just enough tease of the arriving day to asertain that our Snow God is once more on the dance floor. For sure, just another January day in the making, but my soul feels a little lighter. I'll take great delight in ripping January from my calender this evening.

It's Still Dark Outside, But..... I'll confess - I'm developing an appreciation for the pesky street light near my camp! It's become a useful and entertaining gauge of winter night lake-effect snowfall intensity. Absolutely worthless and a nuisance during our short starry night season, it's copper toned glow nonetheless offers a show biz staging for a few lucky snowflakes whose dazzling nightime dance is mostly without appreciative audience. Their brief moment on stage is a joy to behold and the number of dancers and the tempo of their movement is a sure indicator of what's going on in the offstage darkness. So, you think I'm grasping at straws for entertainment through the long nights of winter? Perhaps, but my book pile, like my firewood pile, is waning so it's either the snowfall dance or a cursor dance that vies for my attention. Unfortunately the cursor is now prevailing, but the more entertaining snow dance in the lamp glow is beckoning, Good by cursor.

It's Still Dark Outside, But..... Well, the dark is not lasting more than two mugs of coffee - a big change from just a few weeks ago when it seemed lunch was being prepared as the faint cloud diffused light of the seldom seen sun first teased the ridge line. So things are looking up for we light groupies. It's also true that I'm crawling out of my cozy bunk, the only warm place in this drafty camp, a bit later this week - still recovering from the late nights and exhilaration of hosting a merry band of early twenties guys over the MLK holiday. Their leader, Andy, brightened my life aboard Peregrine last summer and returned with his three buddies for a few days of snowboarding at Mt. Bohemia, crashing at my camp for pasties, beer and frivolity - including a midnight swim in the icy harbor waters! (I passed on that.) Living, as I do, in this tepid and sensible senior enclave, the sudden immersion in so much youthful exuberance was a bit overwhelming, but oh so delightful! Of course. by this Tuesday I was back at Marquette General, but hell, thanks to your Medicare contributions I'll soon be retooled and ready for another round of winter prep for summer sailing.

It's Still Dark Outside, But..... It's easy to become detached from reality while perched in a remote enclave on the shore of an immense and wild wilderness sea, but even here the distress and grief of a community of souls in a far away place can be felt. The Haitian tragedy is a sobering jolt to the minutiae that so occupies our lives, a stark reminder of the joy and fragility of life, and needed assurance that even in utter tumoil and devestation, mankind has the will to serve his fellow and preserve his community. God bless us all.

It's Still Dark Outside, But..... Exciting news! Our highly entrpreneurial friends at the Historical Society have installed a "ghost catcher" at the Eagle Harbor lighthouse. For years stories have circulated that such a phantom has been reported to be moving furniture about in the dead of night, loudly and slowly tramping up and down the tower stairs, and generaly doing the stuff that ghosts are prone to do. Of course there are skeptics, particularily since the initial report came from a keeper subsequently placed on medical leave for chronic sensory hyperbolism (CSH) , attributable some say to excessive "lamp fume sniffing". But the stories persist; there is even a best selling book about the Eagle Harbor lighthouse ghost for sale at local tourist money exchanges. So, recognizing that ghosts have many fans and that any proof that the lighthouse is truly a ghost abode would provide the Society with an unmatchable advantage in the fiercely competitive Keweenaw tourism derby, and after much research about the latest technological advances in ghost catchers, the Society honchos have just this month installed a surefire ghost apprehension device at the lighthouse. It's been a pretty hush-hush project ,(the Society is understandably skittish about how its members might regard ghost catching under the guise of history preservation), and little has been disclosed about the trap or whatever it is, but your reporter has learned that the device is somehow wired to the local sheriff's hot line so that he and his deputies can safely apprehend Mr Ghost once he's in the trap. It's unclear, however, what one does with an apprenhended ghost. Some say only a deep freeze will preserve the evidence the Society so desperately seeks. Photographs don't seem to work. Perhaps you have an idea. I'll follow-up with this story if the ghost catching is successful.

It's Still Dark Outside, But..... Not content with having fooled us yesterday with the tantalizing talk of sunshine, the tricksters at weather central are today dangling the prospect of mid week temperatures near 30 degrees - warm enough to allow firewood retrieval without the aid of a sledge hammer and an opportunity to give water pipe thawers a long overdue rest. But I'm becoming increasingly skeptical of these teases. Yes, it would be nice do this early morning keyboard fumbling unencumbered with mittens and the distraction of window curtains flapping about in the cold drafts, but heck, if the mercury does climb out of the section of my thermometer labled "MN", I might be tempted to venture outdoors and do something foolish - like build a snobear. H'mmmm, that does sound enticing! Damn, I've let these guys set me up again!

It's Still Dark Outside, But..... Today, appropriately named Sunday, promises to be special. The weather gurus say we will actually be able to see the sun! If I remember correctly it's a big, very shy, orange like thing that sleeps sixteen hours a day in winter and is now vacationing someplace down south. Does this unexpected early return have something to do with Gore warming? Surely not; we're one story deep in snow and it's been soo cold folks have gone back into the mines for comfort. Well, whatever, I'm excited!

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