Storm Approaches
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A Harbor Journal

Winter Storm Approaches

"...when we don't live with birds or weather or waves we lose the opportunity to think hard about ourselves, to discover from nature important facts about human nature."
(excerpted from Nancy Lord's, Fishcamp)

April, 2003

Cedar Creek (4/23/03) I sat for a spell on the sea wall in front of my camp this evening to listen to waves lapping on the harbor shore and watch the last rays of a setting sun play across the hills behind the harbor. A stiff southeast breeze heightened the evening chill, and even a glass of usually tummy warming Merlot failed to offset the residue of an earlier in the day dunking in the cold waters of Cedar Creek. Nonetheless, I marveled that less than three hours earlier my annual early spring trek up to Mt. Baldy was mostly accomplished in sun sufficiently warm that this happy hiker was shirtless.

My dunking was complete, the inevitable result of attempting to do a Flying Wallenda act to cross Cedar Creek by walking across a tree trunk that had fallen across the spring runoff swollen creek, just downstream from the Baldy trail. The trunk was partially submerged and slippery. About mid-stream my steadying pole broke as my boots slid off the trunk. I fell on my back, with just the digital camera grasped in a hand thrust above the extremely cold water. It seemed to take forever to crawl to the bank, and by the time I extracted myself I was totally soaked and frozen to the core. I emptied my boots and continued on, having traveled just a little over a mile of the three-mile trek to the top. I was sure the bright sun would soon warm me.

It didn’t. I soon began to shake and realized that my soaked clothing was holding in the cold. So, I found a nice sunny sandy spot out of the breeze, stripped, wrung buckets of water out of my duds, hung everything on a tree limb to dry in the sun, and stretched out on the warm sand. Cozy, but I kept a wary eye on the nearby trail, wondering how I’d explain my au naturel state to anyone who might stumble upon what I’m sure they would regard as an escapee from a nudist colony - or worse. One too many coo coo birds in the bush. Fortunately, mid-April is not big trail time, and my half-hour of drying and warming up was uneventful. I retrieved my still damp but warm gear, got dressed and headed up the trail – soon discarding my shirt to soak in some more sun.

I encountered some lingering snow in the more heavily shaded trailside and along portions of the trail where sleds had traveled. It was crusty and easy to traverse. Lots of old deer tracks, but nary a sighting of woodland critters of any type. Nor, to my great surprise, were there any birds – not even the seemingly ever present crows, ravens and woodpeckers. My hunch is they have all retreated to the more spring like conditions in the lowlands down along the lake.

It was also apparent why the hills shouldering the harbor appear so gray. Not a bud on the deciduous trees that dominate the upper north slope of the Keweenaw Ridge – just a forest of gray trunks and bare tree limbs. Seems a bit late for that, but perhaps the extremely cold temperatures of less than a month ago are still harboring in the core of these trees, much like the cold of Cedar Creek still has a grip on me.

The view from the Baldy summit is always ample reward for the long and, at times, strenuous hike. No ice visible out on the big lake, although the inland lakes were still mostly ice covered, and the ground in the valley floor back of the summit was steaked in white. A light south breeze was pushing up and over the steep south ridge face raising my hope that some migrating birds of prey might be soaring in the updraft, but, as along the trail, no birds of any sort were present to entertain me. I crawled down to a couple of rock perches on the south face and took a few digital photos of this marvelous outcropping.


I stayed at the summit for about an hour, making a few exploratory excursions down the north slope, basking in the warm sun, and just enjoying the views back to the harbor, out across the big lake (no boats out there), down across Grand Marais and Lake Bailey, and east into Agate Harbor. I've been up to Baldy hundreds of times, but never tire of the experience. It’s a special place; the hike up and solitary time at the top being one of the best of the many privileges we who live in or visit the Keweenaw enjoy. Thank goodness The Nature Conservancy, and the many who support that organization, are taken steps to assure that the Baldy experience will always be a part of Harbor life.

My trip back to camp was uneventful. I did lose a good heavy sweatshirt I’d tied around my waist on the way back (a U of MI shirt if you find it), and backtracked about a mile in an unsuccessful search. I suspect it’s up on or near the top. I opted to forgo the Flying Wallenda trick on the Cedar Creek log bridge and simply wade across the knee-deep water. Boots and pant legs were soaked, but no need for another au naturel drying out. A couple of Harbor friends encountered me as I neared the Harbor cut-off road, and observing my generally disheveled state, commented that I looked like a real Yooper trooper. Indeed I was (sans baseball cap), and a happy one!

Sherk Creek (4/20/03) I hope my Harbor neighbors were not witnesses to my several goose tirades of these last few days. If so, they would have seen a normally reserved man racing about his yard waving a broomstick - trying to get the pesky geese who seem to enjoy pecking and pooping in my space more than anywhere else to vacate the premises. Not sure why these foul fowl irritate me so much, but they do. If the late Wonderdog, Abby, were still on guard the geese wouldn’t dare hang around (although in her later years she became pretty nonchalant about her guard duties.) As I was out waving my broomstick, I thought of my former good neighbor and brother in arms, Pete Boggio, who would drive up and down our street in his Cadillac, horn blaring, chasing the geese back into the harbor waters. Why to go, Pete.

I’m considering erecting a “scaregoose.” The Historical Society has some mannequins salvaged from the closure of Vertins store in Calumet stored at the lighthouse. I think I’ll borrow one, dress him or her up as a yooper (baseball cap, logger boots, flannel shirt, and baggy pants held up by bright red suspenders), and plant it out in the yard armed with the biggest broom I can find. Probably need some motion, so will deck it out with a big USA flag, in keeping with the tenor of our times. I’ll post a picture. A neighbor suggested a sure-fire goose deterrent - sprinkling the yard with grape Jell-O mix. That sounds a bit expensive – and with the big rains that are forecast I could soon have a wobbling mass of purple outside. My grandkids would consider that very cool, but I’m not enamored by the prospect.

The hills up behind the harbor are masked in low hanging clouds, and are still gray. Not much evidence of the impending spring. I’ve refrained from new photo shoots – too depressing for sharing. However, I have noticed in my hikes that little bright and shiny green ground hugging plants are beginning to emerge, offering assurance that spring is actually at bay. Down along the shore, the banana zone, the snow is all gone and the lake and harbor waters are free of ice. I built a little shore fire on the pebble beach in front of the Lakebreeze a few nights ago, relishing its warmth as I surveyed the starry sky and a gorgeous full April moon. Beach wood fires, with their crackling sound, sweet smell, and brightly flickering flame, are always a special joy, but on a cold April night, when you feel as if no other soul is within scores of miles, they are precious. There will, hopefully, be more such beach events, probably just as cold, when I visit familiar northern Lake Superior anchorages in the coming months.

(Click to enlarge.)Early spring offers some of the best hiking of the year. The creeks are lively, the still dormant bush undergrowth affords easy going and rare vistas, and arriving migrators fill the air with their “happy to be home” songs. A few days ago I departed from my usual seven-mile trek up to the Central Road to explore a 180 acre tract the township is considering adding to its now nearly 1,000 acre Dunes/Marsh recreation and wildlife refuge. (The addition is a masterful leverage of existing holdings to secure a full pay grant.) The parcel lies to the west of Eliza creek, extending from Long Lake up the ridge to the Harbor Cut-Off road. As I soon learned, it’s rough country, rising nearly 300 feet and thickly forested. A hiking challenge in any season, but especially so in early spring. (I’m adding maps at the suggestion of many who by reading these journals join me, at least in a virtual sense, for these treks.)

I left the easy going, albeit steep, climb up the Cut-Off road at just below the Delaware Road intersection, there veering off to the west into the bush along an old logging road, which soon was swallowed up in new growth and tree fall. The plan was to work west to Eliza Creek, now in full flow, follow it down to the base of the ridge, cross it on the snowmobile trail bridge, and then work my way back up the hill through the to be acquired tract to the Cut-Off road. Eliza was noisy, providing guidance as I sought its east bank. Hiking down along the creek edge to the bridge was not too difficult, despite massive tree fall and more snow cover than I anticipated. But from there back to the ridge top was a challenge.

I found another remnant of a logging road along the west bank of Eliza Creek and followed its gentle slope for a short distance to the base of the steep north slope of the ridge. Eager to move more to the center of the new reserve tract, I turned west into a defile, hoping to follow it up to the higher ground near Owl Creek. Much to my surprise, the defile suddenly became a deep ravine, and in its bottom, a beautiful little creek. No mention of the ravine or the creek on my topo map. My guess is that the creek only flows in spring run-off season, but a swiftly flowing and over a foot deep creek it was. The north, or lake side, of the ravine was filled with massive tree fall, almost impassable. The south side, sheltered from early spring sunshine, was covered with knee-deep crusty snow. Exercising my prerogative as an explorer encountering a previously unmapped topographic feature, I named the creek, Sherk Creek, in recognition of our hard working township supervisor, Doug Sherk, the driving force in adding this precious piece of Keweenaw to our township preserve.

I soon tired of rooting my way over and under the tree fall along the north bank, so shimmed across a fallen tree bridge to the south side. Lots of snow still packed along that bank, and while crusty enough to walk on top of, I soon found myself often crashing through the crust, my legs being held in a vise like grip by the hard packed snow. Very tough going, causing me to pause often for rest. I thought of extracting myself from the trials of tree fall and uncertain snow by striking south, directly up the ridge. But the ravine side was steep, too steep for climbing and when I tried crawling I kept sliding back down. My best option seemed to be to follow the ravine and its meandering creek further up its incline before striking south.

Not relishing a return to battling the tree fall or extracting myself from grasping snow, I opted to simply wade up the center of the flowing water, soaking LL Bean’s best and my feet in the process, but, except for a couple slips on wet logs and the resulting refreshingly cool dunking, I soon worked far enough upstream that the climb up out of the ravine looked manageable. So up I went, using trees as climbing aids, finally encountering the Cut-Off road at the top of its long climb up out of the Eliza Creek ravine. From there on up to the old Central Road, and then the long, but mostly downhill hike back to camp. Pretty squishy walking in my cold wet boots, but the bright sun was filtering down through the roadside tree canopy, warming my back. What is normally a two-hour trek took three with my little diversion, so by the time I returned to camp I was a bit bushed, but pleasantly so.

When the bush dries out in a week or two, and before the undergrowth gets too thick, I’ll return to Sherk Creek with my GPS to better locate it on my maps, and follow it all the way to its source. Perhaps if the Township is successful in adding this 180 tract to our wonderful recreation area and wildlife preserve, some day we will all be able to follow a hiking trail, absent tree fall, along the beautiful little Sherk Creek.

Now back to more pressing matters. The pesky Branta canadensis have once again invaded my space. Where’s my broom! No, it’s Easter – some temporary dispensation of my tirades may be in order. Anyway, my favorite radio station just announced that are about to play Handle’s Easter Oratorio. Time to fill a glass with some good Chardonnay, pull the rocker up close to the blazing fire in my fireplace, and enjoy a cozy in camp evening.

But tomorrow, the scaregoose goes up.

Saffern (4/7/03) I was half-way through my third, maybe fourth, big saffern (Cornish spelling) bun last Saturday evening when a Cornish cousin (not mine) saddled alongside to remind me that the integration of saffern and male hormones can lead to unintended results – most of them lamentable. Ah, I thought, that explains my often-questionable behavior in recent months. The occasion of this revelation was a gathering in the Calumet Theatre’s generous and history rich ballroom following a delightful concert in that beautiful theater by Whitewater, the UP’s favorite family folk music ensemble. The event, attended by 300-400 Whitewater groupies was to celebrate the release of author Lon Emerick’s newly published homage to all that is sacred in the UP, Going Back To Central, and generate a few dollars to aid the Keweenaw County Historical Society’s efforts to preserve and share the story of Keweenaw’s most illustrious mining location.

Sadly, you missed the celebration, but Lon’s delightful musings as he travels across the UP from Marquette to Central in a pilgrimage to his ancestral home can be purchased in local bookstores. I’d be happy to send you a copy for the list price of $19.95 plus a dollar for the stamps. If you have a weakness for the UP, you’ll love it. (And if you are not already a Whitewater fan you’re missing something very special. Pull up their website Whitewater Music and treat yourself to some of their CDs. I’d suggest Family Album, their latest, or Whitewater Live, a live recording of their oh so memorable “thunderstorm” July 1st, 2001 Calumet Theatre concert with the Pine Mountain Music Festival Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the establishment of the Keweenaw Historical Park.)

True to the Cornish cousin’s prediction, I awoke Sunday morning feeling very indisposed, sure I’d become the first US case of whatever it is that is sweeping across China. One too many saffern buns – honest, nothing else! (Saffern should be accompanied only with warm tea, not my favorite beverage.) I felt sorry for myself about a day, but early Monday I visited my medical friends up in the copper town who assured me that my distress was nothing more than my usual bout with angina, aggravated by a bit of lung congestion. Relieved, fortified by a big dose of anti-biotics, and ignoring the well directed advice to rest, I celebrated my escape from saffern contamination by stopping at Central on my way home for a little hike about the premises that Lon so lovingly wrote about.

(click to enlarge) Parking at the intersection of US41 and Central Road, I hiked up the Central hill, across the Copper Falls and Owl Lake plaines, and down the steep hill to the Eagle Harbor cut-off road, following the packed snow left by snowmobilers. Feeling pretty strong, the saffern apparently losing its psychological hold on me, I then headed east along the snowmobile trail to Copper Falls. Not wishing to back track, I left the trail and climbed through surprisingly deep snow up the steep and winding path along Owl Creek that leads past Copper Falls mine remnants to the high and bare bluff overlooking Copper Falls – and was rewarded by the majestic view out across the big lake, its now mostly open off shore surface dotted with large ice flows. I’m up there often in the summer and fall, but this was my first winter visit. As crows and ravens played in the updraft off the ridge, I chowed down on the large apple and chunk of cheese I keep tucked in my emergency food pocket. A great picnic spot!

After all the huffing and puffing to get to the top of the ridge, I was not inclined to too easily relinquish my achievement, so embarked cross country along the ridge top to get back to the Central Road, about a half-mile to the west. The deep snow’s surface was pretty crusty so the trekking wasn’t too tough, but snow shoes or skis, both tucked away for the season back in camp, would have helped. There is a hiking trail along the ridge, but its path was obscured by the snow, so I once again used the sun as my compass, looking, mostly in vain, for familiar landmarks. The first landmark is the little creek flowing out of Owl Lake – the headwaters of Owl Creek. The creek sits in a deep gully and when I stumbled upon it I found it flowing knee deep with just a thin film of ice lying on its surface. A very beautiful sight, but not relishing the prospect of an early spring dunking, I worked along the bank upstream until I found a tree fall that I could use as a bridge. I straddled it and humped my way across the creek. Not exactly the way of braver and more experienced winter bush travelers, but a good choice for someone working off a saffern encounter.

The next landmark was the big bat entry constructed over one of the Central Mine airshafts. It’s a blue steel cylinder, perhaps eight to ten feet in diameter and ten feet high standing vertical over the open shaft with a square box of iron baffles sitting on top. The bats fly through the baffles to get in and out of the dark and moist shaft. I’m told there are tens of thousands of bats that call this place home. I’m unsure what the purpose of this man helping bats endeavor is, perhaps it’s a black fly eradication program. (If so, lets all send the sponsors a donation.) Anyway, I was relived when the not easy to miss contraption showed up as I broke out of the bush since it’s just a few hundred yards off the Central Road.

Once back on the old Central Road I headed south for the mile-and-one-half trek along Copper Falls Lake, once more up to the top of the hill behind Central and then down to and through that famous mine location to my van. I began to notice a set of very large critter prints in the snow, wondering how I’d missed them on my way north an hour or so earlier. Then I noticed they were on top of my earlier trek shoe prints, obviously fresh, and headed in the same direction I was now traveling. Something up ahead! I took a closer look – a print as large as my hand, four toes with distinctive claw marks. My gosh – a very large wolf! Probably more skittish of me than I had reason to be wary of him (or her), but as I crested each rise in the road and rounded each bend, I paused to scout the landscape ahead for my unwelcomed trail partner. Needless to say, the canine kept out of my sight, but its presence did add a bit of excitement to an otherwise leisurely stroll along the snowed in old road.

Now I’m safely back in camp, tummy full of a celebratory late evening pork chop and baked yam dinner, a favorite, and about to read the final chapter of Lon’s Going Back to Central – a delicious collection of stories about special places and special people in our blessed part of the world. A good way to end this perfect day – a day that not even an overdose of saffern could impair.

Much Later. I just returned from my late night stroll up to the lighthouse to enjoy the stars and listen to the lake. Spotted the twinkling lights of a laker sailing upbound, my first boat sighting of the year. It was good to hear waves again – a gorgeous night! On my way back down Lighthouse Road I had sense that I was being followed, looked around, and found three deer trailing behind me – seemingly unperturbed by my presence. I turned left onto my grounds; they turned right and meandered nonchalantly down the center of North Street. Ah’ it’s so quiet and peaceful in Eagle Harbor in early April. Too bad, no, to be honest, so good, that so few folks are here to enjoy it.

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