George Musing


Eagle Harbor Web

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

Editor Musings

January, 2001


Earlier Musings

Purpose and Potential Of George's Eagle Harbor Web, November, 1996
The Response To George's Eagle Harbor Web, February, 1997
George, you need a job., November, 1998

What makes Eagle Harbor so special?

I've been giving a good deal of thought lately to what it is about this place, Eagle Harbor and its Keweenaw setting, that I and many others find so captivating. If, as seems to be the case, change is in the wind, then what aspects of what we have and enjoy need to be preserved, even enhanced, to assure that for us and those who follow us, the "Magic of Eagle Harbor", as Evelyn Fisher Burda, the adroit chronicler of Harbor families and mores, once coined it, is maintained.

Recent events, notably the Mt. Bohemia Ski Resort debate and the new Eagle Harbor South residential subdivision, have served as a catalyst for some challenging of the comfortable feeling that the Eagle Harbor of our youth will be the same Eagle Harbor of our adult years, and of the years of our children and grandchildren. It won't, and in truth "our" Eagle Harbor is in many important ways vastly changed from that of our own grandparents and great-grandparents. Massive mine timbering logs don't cover the beach, saloons don't line Front Street, young small pox victims are not being regularly buried in Pine Grove, the roads are paved, fresh vegetables in winter are taken for granted. Change, usually for the better, is constantly at work.

But some important things remain from that and earlier eras. The physical setting is still as majestic, and the big lake still dominates our weather and thus the rhythm of our lives. The scale of our settlement still remains comfortably within the range of our eye and our capacity to walk, and an awareness of our remoteness still colors our attitude about our place in the world, and buffers the impact of busier places and events. And the joy and necessity of close community still influences our social behavior. There are other such legacies, and in their totality they are the bedrock of our concept of this place.

The intervening years have added other stratums to that foundation of place. We have developed a strong sense of history, the recognition that others were here before us and left their beneficial marks. These connections with the past are deep and readily apparent; evidenced by family ties, the cottages and public buildings they bequeathed to us, the still present ruins and artifacts of their toil and lives, and the legends and stories of earlier times and people that echo through our minds and enrich our gatherings. This history is an important part of who we are, both individually, and as community. A part of what we consider Eagle Harbor.

We have also developed the belief that this is a place with minimal constraints. A place where we are free to roam about, unfettered in our pursuit of berry, beach, mountaintop, pretty rock, game, vistas, or brookies. A legacy of benevolent landowners, forest management policy, and culture. And it's not just roaming that is minimally constrained. It extends to the way we govern our actions, our relationships - a place where norms rather than rules most influence our actions, both individually and collectively.

Eagle Harbor is also a place with a character of it's own. A character sufficiently distinctive from other Keweenaw communities that it helps to define the kind of place it is. Some say it is a "cottage" community, a place for summer gatherings of families, many of who are descendents of the original owners of the cottages they occupy. Indeed, the near shore harbor and near lake landscape is still dominated by the cottages; wood structures built decades ago for seasonal use and characterized by the simplicity of their design, and the many windows and or porches on their harbor or lake view facings. Most have been lovingly maintained. Some, like mine, have been converted to year-around occupancy, but even these still retain the look of an earlier era. The near shore cottages, and their brethren, the cottages and homes located back in the "village", convey in their informality, their unpretentiousness, and in their infinite variety, a sense that this is a place for family gathering, for casual living, for enjoying life - as indeed it is.

That sense that Eagle Harbor is primarily a place to stay, albeit of sometimes-short duration, rather than a place to visit, is strengthened by the relative absence of facilities intended to serve the short-term visitor. An historic general store, opened just seasonally, two small motels, a lakeside seasonal lodge, a couple of "locals" restaurants, one or two off-the-road gift shops, a single gas pump - that's it. As much a circumstance of being off the main tourist path (US 41), than by any grand design, the relative absence of "commercial" activity is nevertheless a part of what many feel makes Eagle Harbor so distinctive.

No listing of what makes Eagle Harbor tick would be complete without a recognition of our good fortune in having good commercial and public services nearby. For we are indeed a "dependent" community. Wonderful, but incomplete. The absence of commercial activities here means we depend on people and facilities in other places to help satisfy our needs. While our dependency is not as evident as it was to Eagle Harbor's first residents, who would flock in ecstatic state to the docks when the wharf bell signaled the approach of spring's first supply boat from the Sault, it is just as real. Fortunately, the things and services we need are nearby. Their accessibility is part of what makes this place special. Life in Eagle Harbor would be intolerable without the road crews from Mohawk, the skilled care of Keweenaw Memorial's medical staff, the skilled tradesmen from Allouez and Laurium, and yes, even the green bananas from Fraki's. Eagle Harbor is therefore not a place that that can afford to close its eyes and interests to the needs and aspirations of the communities around us. We are linked to these places. The social and economic well being of these places, and their people, is important to us.

It would be remiss, especially for me, not to include our unique opportunity for intimate interface with the natural world among the things that make Eagle Harbor such a special place. Followers of my journals about my life here, know how much joy, awe, understanding, yes, even wisdom has flowed into my life as I have lived in a setting where the world of nature is so omnipresent. Nancy Lord was right as she observed, "...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." Luckily for those of us who can call Eagle Harbor home, or have the privilege to stay here, the birds, the weather, the waves and much more are daily at our door. This is a special place in large part because of the "discoveries" our natural world affords us.

I embarked on this musing about what makes Eagle Harbor and its environs so special unsure of what I would find. My first thought was that the answer was obvious - it is the people of this place. The caring, thoughtful, energetic people who daily bless my life.. But I am of the school that people are shaped by their environment, by the circumstances of their lives - a lesson learned from the world Nancy Lord speaks of. The people of this place are a gift, but aren't we just the proxies, the trustees, or perhaps the celebrants, of something more important? Whatever it is that makes this place so special was here before we arrived, and, hopefully, will be here when we are gone. Then I turned to the July 4th activities, the Popeye Runs, the pig roasts, the Christmas Eve services at St Peter's - perhaps the most visible celebrations of our collective happiness with this place. But these are but the rituals of our life here, a joy and important for building a sense of community, but not the reason the Harbor's so special. What then, I wondered, are the "shapers" that have worked their magic on the people of this place - making them and me so compatible and so mutually captivated.

The list evolved: a majestic physical setting, the influence of the big lake, the scale of our settlement, our physical and resulting attitudinal remoteness, a close community, our strong sense of history, the minimal constraints on roaming and personal actions, the distinctive cottage character of our town, the absence of "commercial" activity, our confident dependency on others, and, the intimacy of our interface with the natural world.

The product of my musing is certainly not exhaustive, and some will surely differ with all or part of it. The result, nonetheless, is satisfying to me. It helps me embark on the process of identifying what needs to be done to assure that for me and those who will follow me, the "Magic of Eagle Harbor", at least as I know it, will be maintained.

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