Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lake Superior Moon Walk

Yesterday, in the unyooperish heat, I had to go swimming. It was honestly the only thing a person could do comfortably outside. I decided to try a new hole off a north-facing shore.

I have swum in Lake Manganese. It's sandy and weedy. It used to be a marsh, they say. I have swum in Lake Fanny Hooe. It's quite rocky -- jagged rocks that fill the bottom and drop quickly into deep water. I've gone in a couple parts in the Harbor. They have smooth, slick stones on variable depths. I have also gone in other places right into Lake Superior. Bete Gris, Great Sand Bay and Keystone Bay all gradually submerge a body on a sandy shore.

But where I want yesterday was like the moon.

I shouldn't lead you on to think that I have actually been on the moon. I have not. I have seen pictures of the surface and watched video clips of how an astronaut bounces from one foot to the next over that uneven surface. That is exactly how the lake floor was.

If I didn't look down while walking, I could stub a toe, bang a knee or fall in above my head without warning. And with the buoyancy effect in the water, the result was quite moonlike.

At one point (and this is my favorite) I was treading along, looking down. What did I see? A huge boulder in my path. Huge! If I hadn't been looking, I would have slammed my whole body into it. Instead, I was able to approach it at a good angle, and climb onto it. With my shins and the rest of me above the water, I stood up in the middle of the lake and yelled to Duce, "Come on in, chicken! I can touch here!" But he wasn't having any of it. He rolled in the rocks instead.

Then I just swam around in the glorious sunshine. (The sun was only glorious because I was engulfed in cool water.) Oh, I didn't want it to end. I saw quartz veins run below me. And I watched the landscape change with every foot. It was one small step for this girl, but a giant leap for my sanity.

And a note on today, I saw two pileated woodpeckers pecking together in the same tree. I have never seen two together before. Here is a picture for you. Yes, I actually took a picture! You can see them on each side of the tree. The one on the right is showing its red mohawk.

Friday, August 27, 2010

And the Water Whispered, "Amanda"

For my Friday off, I did not make any plans with anyone, except for a round of disc golf in the evening. Most of my spare time is consumed with 'have to's, so I decided to fill this particular Friday with 'want to's.

I did a few things that people who come to Copper Harbor can enjoy: picking chokecherries (almost two gallons in under an hour!), riding a bike to and around the town, eating lunch at the Harbor Haus and taking time to talk with a few friends. Not too shabby, hey?

All the while I was doing these things, I watched the kayakers on the lake. That would be so nice, I thought. Then I saw more of them. I do wish I was out on the water. Yes, I want to go kayaking. It really was a lovely idea, but there was one little problem. I don't have a kayak.

You may or may not have read my post two summers ago about how I practiced for Isle Royale by paddling in a huge aluminum canoe with a kayak paddle. It took me an hour to paddle two miles. And I still had to paddle back! Smart.

Well, today really took the cake. I no longer have a canoe, but access to a 14 foot aluminum boat. I could just tool around in that, Smart Amanda told herself. Sure, sure. I can take this kayak paddle apart and use it as an oar. I also have this tiny life vest meant for a 3-year-old that I can just in case. Maybe I'll make it to Porter's Island! That's not so far.

I was able to get that boat into the water all by myself. I hopped in and shipped out. The water was calm, with a breeze from the south south east. A beautiful day to be out on the water.

By the time I actually paddle out from my house, Porter's Island looked miles away (really almost a mile). Whew, at least I realized that was an impossible task before I got half way out there. I paddled out a little way and stopped to bask in the sun. Ahhh. Just what I wanted.

When I looked around me again, I realized I was floating farther from home. That wasn't a big deal, but this boat that weighed at least as much as me was not going to be too easy to bring back home with half a paddle against the wind. So I paddled to a shallower area to drop anchor.

After producing quite a bit of sweat, I made it to a place to drop anchor. Since you probably worry about me when I do smart things like this, I will not even tell you how smart I was with this process. I concluded that I would not leave the anchor in the water. That way, I would not flip the boat. Oy.

But I couldn't just sit and float without drifting farther away, so my leisurely tool in the Harbor turned into a heck of a workout. Against the wind, I paddled back to my house.

Here is where I really felt smart. I watched objects on the lake floor as I paddle with all my might. They weren't really moving. I watched the houses along the shore. They were going nowhere as well. I realized, as I used my core strength, my arms and that stinkin' little paddle, that I was wasting a lot of energy. Good thing I didn't have any plans to be on time for.

I'm not much of a swimmer, but I could have back-floated faster I paddled that boat. If the water wasn't so cold today, I would have pushed or pulled it some how back to my house. Oh, if any of my neighbors saw me, I hope they had a good laugh. I probably looked real intelligent out there -- going no where while using all my might.

I did accomplish my goal of being on the water, however. I also know that I will never take that boat out again by myself. I'm too smart for that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Superior Drug"

I just noticed I have a couple new "followers!" I leave that term in quotes because, to me, when you read this blog, it does not mean that you don't have a will of your own. You are not just a follower. You are your own person. Good for you!

As a thank you for admitting that you read about my little slice of da Harbor, I would like to post my article that was published in "The Pilgrim," a local read out of Calumet, MI. This article appeared in the July 2010 issue. I hope you enjoy it!


Don't you just love the Keweenaw? Since you are reading “The Pilgrim,” I will assume you love it, or you are one of the luckiest people in the world, and actually get to live here. If you appreciate peace, solitude and natural beauty, then you know it's magical too.

Of course it helps that the area's tree population greatly outnumbers the people (trees aren’t so insolent), but there is one element of the area that makes it so euphoric: Lake Superior.

One hike or drive along the shoreline and you can feel your mind at ease.

How does she do that (she's earned her title of “she,” no?)? That roller of ships. That polisher of stones. That mistress of the tastiest fishes. She draws people back from hundreds of miles for more of her enchantment. There's something about that lake like there's something about Mary.

It's hard to put your finger on just one thing because she gets you from all angles. I have not conducted any medical experiments on this, but I believe that while standing on the shore, your muscles relax. Your breathing becomes fuller. Your brain does not want to linger on current problems, but ponder possibilities for the future. And you probably tell yourself, or anyone around you, “I wish I could stay here forever.”

The more you pay attention to her endless beauty, the more your mind, body and spirit reach a new height.

Have you ever gazed over her waves and pretended you were in them? No boat, no life vest, no cell phone to call for help. Just you, way out in the middle of the big lake. Do you think you'd stand a chance surviving? Even on a calm day her depth and chill could swallow you whole. You must respect her for that.

So while she humbles you to your knees, she also, and here's the kicker, is able to expand your heart and mind. Inspiration strikes because nothing blocks your view of infinity.

From most of the 2,730 miles of shoreline, you don't see another piece of anything as you look out to sea. You see water, sky, clouds, maybe a freighter, but nothing else from the civilized world. Nothing you are forced to believe in. Your mind and soul can be so free that the possibilities stretch beyond what you thought you could soberly imagine here on earth.

That's how I know she's a drug. And I am a proclaimed addict.

Life can get stressful up here at the end of the earth: two feet of snow to shovel, busy tourist season to work through, (or at the opposite end, no work-to-be-found season) and just that daily life crap that we've dug ourselves into.

When life gets to be too much, I know I need my fix. And living at the tip, I am fortunate to be in walking distance of that shoreline. My shaking hands and grinding teeth tell me when it's time to see the lake. So I take that little walk.

And though I may stew every moment until I reach that shore, when I finally get there, her majesty backhands me and rubs my shoulders all at once. I envision myself flailing in her frigid waters, without a chance of survival. I am nothing compared to her. Yet she wraps me in hope and inspiration to the point where, not only am I healed, I am exalted.

Do you visit the lake on a regular basis? Have you ever? If not, I wholeheartedly recommend it. In today's fast-paced society with irrational social and economic norms, people truly need an outlet to be able to forget it all and just be.

It is not illegal to get high on life, so when you need a fix, just remember you can find the good stuff right on the shore.

Autumn Tease

Though the weekend will bring temperatures back up into the 80's, the last few days have been pleasantly cool. Almost autumnal. When I looked at the foliage under the gray sky, I noticed more of the greens turning to yellow and browns. In the sunshine, I hadn't noticed the turn as much. But the fall feeling that a gray sky with yellow thimbleberry leaves brings is peace to my soul. So I'll just soak that up while I can. Summer is not over.

I've still eaten bilberries out there -- even a couple thimbles too. (I know, you are so sick of hearing about the berries by now.) But guess what. I totally lied about having enough berries in my freezer. Since I told you that I had plenty, I have added a gallon of blueberries and almost two gallons of blackberries. I have the whole day off tomorrow, and I plan on harvesting the well-endowed choke cherries that line the highway. Man, are they drooping with succulence. I hope to get more blackberries too since they are peaking now.

This is the first somewhat slow week we've had in da Harbor since July. Some kids have already gone back to school. We just had Art in the Park last weekend (which brought in tons of people). And Labor Day Weekend is less than two weeks away. That's the last real hoorah up here. Plus, that's the Fat Tire Festival weekend, which should bring at least a thousand people to town. I can't even fathom where they all sleep.

Though I am busy, I just want to assure you that I am not going crazy. I am doing very well, thanks for asking. When I start to get ornery, I go for a mountain bike ride and take it out on the trails. That's some of the best medication I can find up here. And I can still go to work afterward.

Speaking of work, 52 days are left at the Harbor Haus (my summer bartending job). I start teaching at the one-room schoolhouse (the last remaining one in Michigan) in 13 days. So, in 30 days ask me if I'm still sane. I will certainly try my best. Heaven knows I can't let you down.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wind Break

Yeeeeeehaaaaaaw! Now this is Keweenaw weather! The wind is gusting up to 45 mph, with sustained winds around 20-35 mph. The air is finally cool enough to say "ahhh, I won't melt today."

I know I have ranted about the summer heat before, but this summer has been in the 80's for weeks straight. By Lake Superior! How does that work? So the humidity and scalding heat have finally broken, and those who live in da Keweenaw can feel a little fixed. I'd like to thank the air up there for making this possible.

On my run to the lighthouse today, I had goosebumps on my arms instead of sweat dripping from the get go. What a refreshing feeling to have to "warm up" on a run! On the way down, I found a few thimbleberries and ate every edible one I saw. It would be a shame not to, as they are almost gone. The blueberries (some bushes already without leaves) had a fermented taste to them -- very rich and delightful. And my bilberries have turned into old ladies hanging from their stems. Luckily they are just as sweet.

So I'm sorry for all the boats that can't go out today. I know the Isle Royale Queen IV didn't make it to the Isle yesterday, but I'm not sure if they would even attempt today. And I haven't seen the lighthouse boat at the tip yet. I'm sure all the kayak tours are called off as well. So if you were supposed to operate a water craft today, I hope you get to go out and enjoy the fresh air instead! It's hard not to when it almost knocks you off your feet!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rain, Sweet Rain

I haven't yet expressed how dry the land has been the last few weeks, but we finally got some rain. It poured here twice yesterday. I laugh because it only seems to be able to rain hard for about five minutes before it decides to quit. I suppose that's okay. I watch how my yard becomes a puddle, then a pond in two minutes, and much longer than that would stick me right in the lake.

The trees really needed some moisture. The maples are already becoming their brilliant reds and pinks. With that said, I would imagine the rest will follow in not too long. If they bloomed early, I guess they should turn and fall early too. You know what that means... tourist season will be done early too. Why would anyone come up in October if all the beautiful leaves are on the ground?

But I suppose, if the weather is still mild, the hearty souls will come up for mountain biking, ATVing, hiking and plain peace and quiet. I'll let you know how that all pans out. Last year the leaves hung on two weeks longer, which is why it will throw us all off if they fall early this time around. Oh well. That's why we have to go with the flow!

The choke cherries are huge and juicy. However, I will let the birds get them (unless you put in a special request). The blackberries are about to peak as well. Then, as far as I know, most of the other berries are on their way out, if not done already. Whew. That leaves me more time for my other volunteer jobs.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my little slice of da Harbor. I really appreciate it! Tell all your friends!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fantasy Beach

Imagine a sandy beach so remote, other travelers rarely find it. A beach with sand so fine it almost tickles your toes. Looking across the water you see nothing but sun glistening upon the waves and the baby blueness of its splendor. As you walk into the cool water, you gradually submerge, watching your toes pounce the sand. And as a special treat, the rainbow shaped shoreline provides a variety of edible berries when you are hungry.

Sound like a fantasy beach? Maybe somewhere tropical, right? To me it was only a place I'd heard of -- until today.

After five years of living in da Harbor, I finally made the journey to Keystone Bay. Click this link to check out an ariel photo of the fire on the point that burned four years ago this week. This picture shows the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. See where the smoke is coming from? That's Keweenaw Point. Now just to the left, can you see a tan curve? That's the sand of Keystone Bay... one of a handful of sandy beaches in the area.

While I was there today, I swam in the crystal waters of her majesty, Lake Superior. What a summer for swimming in the big lake! No hypothermia this year! I also picked and ate blueberries and bilberries. Bunchberries and rose hips were available for nourishment as well.

From the Northeast edge of the beach, I could see the Point, where the fire occurred during that overly dry summer. It was kind of erie to see death in such vastness on the Keweenaw -- especially during the summer. I would love to get over to that site sometime and see what foliage is emerging from the ashes. After four years, I could already see green peeking through the underbrush.

After a quick picnic on the beach, I headed back over the gravel roads on the back of an ATV -- hanging on for dear life. I am longing for the day when I can get out there again and spend the night under the stars, with the waves crashing at my feet.

Now don't tell your friends about this place. It's pretty hard to find, let alone get to. Plus, where else on earth can you go to a fantasy beach and be the only one there? Usually, only in your dreams.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I just wanted to welcome my latest admitted "followers!" Thanks for signing up and letting me know you're out there learning and laughing with me.

As a little thank you to all my readers, I have included a picture of the sunset from Siskiwit camp on Isle Royale from May, 2010. No color enhancements were used. 100% natural... just like the rock itself. Enjoy!

Up in the Sky

Hello! Sorry I missed you for so long... it must be summer. And August at that! Yay! Welcome August... one month closer to October.

I think I've got all the berries my freezer can handle this year. Thimbles, bils, blues, sugar plums and even buffaloberries. Most of them are on their way out, so I'm glad I got out when I could. Blueberry picking for me was slim today. But I have enough Sugar Plums to make 5 gallons of wine! Come see me this winter for a Harbor shine!

The last two nights have rocked the Northern Lights. Last night I went out to the lighthouse, on the north-facing rocks, and watched them light up the sky. I have never seen a show like that before. The lights themselves were white. They shot up like poles in the sky all along the horizon. They faded in and out, back and forth. I couldn't help but oooh and ahhh. A kid at the fireworks. They should be out tonight too, around 11 pm. If you have a view, I suggest you keep your eyes peeled.

And right on the Superior shore, the crashing waves were the loudest sound. The wind blew through me, carrying any worries with it. Quite a few times this summer I have sat with friends or myself after a busy night at work and watched the sky. The shooting stars have been abundant, and the northern lights were a spectacular treat. Watching the bright orange moon rise never ceases to amaze me. Oh the joys of the summer nights.

With all this magic in the air, I feel so fortunate. One thing I realized, and this is the first time I have ever felt this way in my life, was a message from the shooting stars. Often we think they are there for us to make a wish. But lately, I realized I have nothing to wish for. My dreams are coming true on my own accord. That's even better than October.