Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Freighters, Open Water and Deer

I'm a day late and a buck short.  Pretend it's Monday.  No.  Don't.  Monday never makes anyone feel better.

I've neglected to realize the beauty of this season.  Sure it's still cold enough to wear long johns and hats.  Sure the snowbanks linger and loom.  But you know what?  

Nobody is here.

Those snowmobile engines seldom echo from Brockway Mountain.  I know almost every car that goes by.  I don't really need to look before I cross the highway.  Sure there's not much for businesses open, but that's okay because there's not really anyone to patronize.

Ah, spring.  Snowbanks or not.  It's still spring, and it's so peaceful.

The most commotion lately has been about the freighters.  They're busy transporting again.  I can't say conditions are desirable.  Lake Superior is still 60% covered in ice averaging 5 feet in thickness.  The cargo ships are using caution, as they often send an icebreaker first, followed by a convoy of ships.  Here's an example from last week, when we saw a train of them pass in the sunshine.

Six ships passed in the 5-mile shipping lane

Yesterday, since the winds were so strong from the east, Duluth Harbor was stacked with ice.  The freighters en route must have anchored to wait it out.  Here's one that was in front of The Gap for the better part of the day.

A spinning freighter seen through The Gap yesterday

So it wasn't spinning like a bottle in Spin the Bottle, but it wasn't gaining any ground, and it was usually pointed in a different direction when one would look out at it.  It left before I checked on it today.

As for the rest of the days this past week, well, I'm not sure when they all occurred, but I have pictures from them!

Perhaps Saturday I went snowshoeing to Hunter's Point.  I saw the open water, and I was beckoned.  Now I'm just going to say this.  Snowshoeing is terrible right now.  One minute you need them, the next minute you don't because you're walking over rocks and bridges.  Even when I did need them, the ground was so uneven that I kept sliding in the snow.  I honestly felt like it was my first time on snowshoes -- I was that awkward!  But Duce felt the same, so we could sympathize with each other.

I did finally make it to the Hunter's Point beach.  Then I saw the Lake.  Now I'm a believer.

Open water ho!

I know.  It still just looks like a tiny strip of blue out there.  Way out past all the other solid ice.  Yeah.  That's just what it is, though.

H.P. beach view to the northeast

This beach picture pretty much shows why snowshoeing should be left until next winter.  Now you need 'em.  Now you don't!  Oy!

While we're somewhat on the topic of open water, guess where I saw some yesterday: The Portage Canal!  Nearly the whole area under the Lift Bridge is open.  It was awesome to watch the waves yesterday.  But don't get too excited about that because looking east and west in the canal, it still has some thawing to do before a vessel could pass through.

Guess what else I saw in Houghton.  Oh, man, I almost peed my pants: Crocuses!!!  There they were with their little yellow and purple petals amongst the daffodils that just shot out their shoots.  I look at my daffodil patch here and just see soil.  But it's better than snow!

On an actual sunny day, I went to check out the mouth of Fanny Hooe Creek, which I heard was open.  Sure enough, she was, and still is.

Duce and some duck in the mouth of Fanny Hooe

And here we are upstream on the highway bridge, looking toward Lake Fanny Hooe.  She's starting to swell!

Fanny Hooe Creek

We may as well get all our Fanny's in a row.  Here's the infamous sign.  Now a visitor can truly tell where they are.

The Fort Wilkins sign for comparison

On another sunny day a few friends and I took a cruise to Eagle River.  I must tell you.  The food at Fitzgerald's is quite amazing, and their beverage selection is unrivaled.  They are located right on the lake, and have a great perspective for sunsets.

Plus, we always go by the deer yard.  That day, we brought them some apples.  They were ecstatic!

Eagle River deer eating apples

They would get into fights over these apples, let me tell ya.  But from what I saw, no blood was shed.

Another cool thing about Eagle River is the waterfalls (Jacob's and Eagle River).  If it warms up just a bit more (like maybe to 50 degrees) with sun, they will be primo.  But they're not bad now, if you're jonesing.  Still better than they will  be in August!

So life is good.  And peaceful.  I'll leave you with a picture of the sun behind the clouds from yesterday.  What?  I thought it looked cool.

The sun still shines behind the clouds

Monday, April 21, 2014

A New Spring in My Step

If someone blindfolded you, drove you to Copper Harbor, cloaked you in only a light jacket, set you in the middle of Highway 41 in front of the General Store, then took off your blindfold, you would be surprised at the large snow drifts before you.  And everywhere else around you.  Today and yesterday, for the most part, were gorgeous, sunny and warm (relative ~ 50 degrees, maybe?).

The snowbanks are currently melting.  And draining.  And going back to the lake from where they came!  My plan is working perfectly.

However, it wasn't all sunshine and melty banks all week.  The latest blizzard started Wednesday night, and went through most of Thursday.  Aaron and I had to drive to Houghton for a meeting.  Here is the Covered Stretch at about 1:00 pm on Thursday.

Highway 41 in Thursday's blizzard

April 17th, 2014.  Still want to live in Copper Harbor?  Oh, yeah.  Not in the winter.  Or spring.

The following day showed a nice sunset, though.

Sunset after the storm

What's that?  A sunset picture over the lake would be better?  You're telling me.  Hopefully I'll get out there again sometime when the sun looks all lavish.

In the mean time, you're stuck with this Fort Wilkins sign I promised you.  I believe that today, it's a tad lower then when this picture was taken (between the 14" of snow and now), but it's close.  And hopefully it will be lower yet the next time.

Ye old Fort sign, grinning and baring it

For Easter, I took three of my four-legged friends (cuz they're the only ones that will hang out with me) up to Manganese Falls.  The last couple times I was there, I got skunked, so I wasn't expecting much for rushing volume.

On our way up Trail 134/Manganese Road I realized that it's going to be a snow trail for quite a while yet.  Look at all that snow on the road still!

Snow-covered Manganese Road... still

We saw some cool icicles hanging in the moss.

Icicles in the mossy rock

We didn't even get passed by any snowmobilers.  Imagine that.

Also on the way up something new happened.  I was so hot that I had to take my jacket off!  Outside without a jacket since probably early November -- what a treat!  It was truly glorious.

And then I heard it.  The falls.  So loud I could hear them before I crested the hill!

We perched as close to the edge of the top of the falls as we could to see what we could see.  With all those cedars casting shadows, I could barely make out the moving parts, still mostly under snow.  And the darkness made my pictures turn out terribly, so I will spare you that.  At least it sounded refreshing!  I can't wait to go back!

Oh, and I saw Jacob's Falls yesterday as well, on the way to Eagle River.  It was doing pretty well.  Probably triple since the last time I saw it!

I also caught a shot of The Gap between Hunter's Point and Porter's Island.  The ice is still at least 2 feet thick on the Harbor.  People are even out ice fishing yet.  It's a bit slushy out there, but I'll have to get out to Porter's another time yet, so I can check out that lane of open ice on the Big Lake.  I believe it's for the freighters to cross.  Man, are they having a heck of a time this year.  Have you been keeping up with that fiasco?  I'm glad I don't have reservations to be on Isle Royale in early May.  How would I even get there???

Holy cow, look at the train of thought in that last paragraph.  I didn't even show you that gap picture yet.  Please forgive me.  Here it is.

The Gap

It may look a bit puddly, but it's crossable.  And ice for quite a ways out after that.

I think the end of winter is in sight, my friend.  Probably not going to be a swim-in-Lake-Superior kind of summer, but the berries should be juicy!  I am pumped to see some colors around here.  But the forecast doesn't show much more than high 30's for max temps.  Better than earthquakes, I guess!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Refreeze

Today is the first day I have not been able to sing the Snowbank Song in over a week.  It's snowing, and the wind stings my face.  The puddles have turned to ice.

But on the warmer days, I got out to check on a couple things.

One day I went out with my friend Bryce and our dogs.  We went to Porter's Island because he's never been there before!  I knew he would like the blue ice formation.  Here's an action shot of him and his pup (Bryce, I hope I have your permission to post a picture of you on the internet!)

Bryce and Mr. Zi by the ice mound

As I looked to the south, I couldn't believe the wall of dark gray clouds crawling our way.  "Is is supposed to rain today?" I asked.

"I don't know," Bryce said.  "I learned never to watch the weather up here.  Just look outside."  Good answer.

But as you can see by his t-shirt, it wasn't terribly cold that day, so we didn't fret.  I was a little surprised, though, when the rain started as we began our trek back across the lake.  It was kind of an irony: walking across the frozen lake in the rain.  Who knows if I'll ever get to do that again?

Not today.  It's snowing.  Just some flurries, though.  Luckily I haven't heard word of any accumulation.

With all those other sunny, warm days, I thought Manganese Falls might be giving a show by now.  Actually, Aaron thought that.  But a snowshoe to the falls sounded good to Duce and me, so we went.  I didn't even have to put my snowshoes on until we got near Lake Fanny Hooe itself on the JLG Trail.

Then something embarrassingly odd happened.  I was lost.

"Where is the trail?" I asked Duce.  He couldn't find it either.  I knew which way to travel along the lake, but I didn't see what resembled a trail anywhere in the area.  So we bushwhacked.  

Have you ever snowshoed in a forest full of snow that has been melting for days?  Snowshoes don't really work.  Nothing does.  You just sink proportionately to the weight of your body.  I sank down to my knees and thighs in spots.  Ugh.  That was a lot of work. 

Finally, we found the trail.  I was relieved for myself and Duce.  He looked like he was swimming in the snow!  But that relief didn't last long because we sunk in on the trail just like in the middle of the woods!  Holy buckets!  I never experienced that phenomenon before.  Oh, I couldn't wait to see that bridge by the falls.

But before that bridge, I saw the colors in the puddles on Lake Fanny Hooe.  Just like this.

Pretty green and blue ice on Fanny Hooe

Then after a few hundred more grueling steps, we came to the bridge and took a break.  Was the sight worth it?

The bottom of Manganese Falls

It sounded nice, but still pretty snowy under all those cedar trees.

We took a little break, turned around and went back along the snowmobile trail.  The easy way.

Remember that unreadable Fort Wilkins sign from the last post?  Here is is three days after that.

Fort Wilkins is peeking out now!

It's peeking even more today, but I didn't get a picture yet.  We'll save that comparison for the next post (if I remember!).

As I stepped out to bring in some wood today, thankful that we still have some, I experienced a different phenomenon.  The last time I brought in wood, I stepped through snow thigh deep.  In some spots I could barely get my boot back out!  Know what it was like today?  Walking on top of a rock.  This refreeze refroze the snowbanks.  I bet the walk to Manganese Falls would be easy now!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Snowbank Song

This is the song I sing to the snowbanks everyday:

Drip.  Drip.  Drip.
Drain.  Drain.  Drain.
Go back to the lake
from where you came!

Like it?  You can sing it too.  Any tune you see fitting will work just fine, I promise.

People don't seem to believe how much snow we really still have here.  Sometimes I don't believe it myself.  Here are some pictures for proof.

Good thing the Berry Patch opens in June!

Would you want to go to those places?

"Dude.  Where's my truck?"

So that was on a sunny day.  The next day was rainy, so I got out between raindrops.  Back to gray skies!

This town cleared out fast!

"Excuse me.  I'm looking for Fort Wilkins..."

If you recognize that last sign, you know that it's a huge sign that says "Fort Wilkins State Park."  If you didn't know that sign, you'd be lost.

Which day was it?  Thursday night through Friday we had another blizzard.  I figured we got 13 inches here in the Harbor by the amount I shoveled.  It was pretty comical seeing all us harborites out shoveling in April -- twice that day.  Cursing or trying to make light of it all.

Luckily we also have a few good men who travel around in their snowblower, tractor, plow, etc. helping out the folks who are majorly snowed in.  Bless your heart.  You know who you are.

So the waterfalls should be amazing in a few weeks.  Or a couple.  I just checked out Jacob's Falls on M-26 by Eagle River the other day.  It's quite snow covered, but it's starting to run underneath!

That day I also got to watch the sun sink into frozen Lake Superior near Great Sand Bay.  That was magic in itself.  I realized that I haven't seen the sun set over the lake in months!  It truly is a treat.    

If you live in a warm(ish) area with actual grass and maybe some daffodils, keep us in your thoughts.  Send us some sunshine.  And even sing the snowbank song!