Monday, May 26, 2014

Summer in a Hurry

In March and April (and May) of 2014, as the winter dragged on, I kept a vision in my head.  A wish, if you will.  I kept imagining myself sitting on my back porch, wearing short sleeves and sipping a cool beverage.  Right now I type to you from that very place.  No biting bugs.  A sunburn ripening.  Slight sweat beading on my temple.  We yoopers finally get our chance to enjoy the weather.  This whole weekend was unbelievably beautiful.

It's almost as if spring lasted for three days.  Last week, when I got back from North Dakota, some plants were starting to bud, grass was starting to come up and the early flowers started to bloom.  Now most of the tree leaves are about half way out.  The area is just gorgeous, and we can sit out in shorts and bask in the sunshine with, I repeat, no bugs.  It's a little slice of heaven.

Good thing I kept notes throughout the week because there's a lot to tell you!

I found some hepatica and trailing arbutus earlier in the week, and forget-me-nots are just popping.  I find myself roaming the woods with my eyes out for anything green or with petals.  Here are some pics of the beauties.

Hepatica breaking through

Arbutus, I smell you!

I bet I know what you're thinking.  "Oh, boy.  Now I get to hear about all the flowers again.  Just like last year and the year before..."  Well, you're probably right.  I fricken love wildflowers and wild edibles.  I am enamored with their beauty, variety and uses.  So much so, that I have a surprise for you.

But first, I have to tell you that I found trailing arbutus, a Michigan protected species, in five new places this year.  I don't know if it's blooming better this year, or if I just have a better eye for it.  If you are up in the next week and you want to see some, come find me, and we'll go.

That rightfully leads me to my my first surprise.  The Keweenaw Adventure Company has asked me to guide nature tours!  One of them will be, what I describe as, a Wildflower and Wild Edible Identification tour.  I get to take people out to teach them about one of my favorite parts of summer!  How awesome is that???  I can hardly contain myself, I am so pumped.  

I also get to guide one of my other specialties: a Creative Writing through Nature tour.  If you are in the area from June 12th to early September, and you're into that stuff, come take one of my tours!  Click this link for more information on those.

Let me segway with a picture of the Isle Royale Queen IV back at her dock in the Harbor.

The Queen is back in action

Right now she's running Mondays and Fridays.  It's nice to hear the horn again.  Speaking of boats, I've been watching the CGC Alder, the ship that took my bell buoy last fall.  

It was stuck in Duluth Harbor for a while, as lots of ice chunks blew in with the last eastern winds.  It got out Saturday, and I watched it yesterday.  However, I neglected to look today until this afternoon.  Here's an image of the path it took by the time I checked.

The CGC Alder's latest path

Wha-wha-WHAT?  When did that happen?  From the looks of this, that boat went into Portage Canal, where I believe the buoys are stored, dropped off at Eagle Harbor then dropped off at Copper Harbor.  I was on the Keweenaw Ridge today, but only thing I heard from the lake were fog horns.  

Well, I grabbed my binoculars, hopped on my bike and coasted down to the Harbor Haus dock.  Laughing at the still lingering fog bank, I didn't need those binoculars.  I bent an ear and listened.  I listened so hard for that familiar sound.  Perhaps I heard a faint tinging out there, but I couldn't be sure.

As I rode back up the hill, Aaron, who was just out kiteboarding by the lighthouse said he didn't notice it out there.  So it was a bit of a mystery... until the fog lifted.  Then there he was, floating tall and proud.  I heard him dinging on my way up the hill the second time.  Welcome back, bell buoy.

Some friends and I also got to see a pelican out past the east end of Porter's on the rock island where all the seagulls hang out.  I thought it was an ice berg until it flapped its wings.  That's a huge bird.  Nice to see it up this way!

Let me bring you back to land.  I ate my first fiddlehead yesterday and my second today.  But today's fiddlehead must have had a bug in it.  It stung my upper and lower lip.  Yeouch!  I spit that sucker out in a hurry.  I will check my fiddleheads for bugs before I chomp them.  Let that be a lesson to us all!

Fiddleheads and thimbleberry bushes progressing

Bilberries progressing with leaves and flowers

As an update, Touring the Tip, my latest adventure guidebook, should be ready by early June.  Not quite Memorial Weekend like I hoped, but everything happens for a reason, right?

And Memorial Weekend was busy.  Man, I saw boats and ATVs and bicycles and Harleys and families and dogs and campers and people up the wazoo.  It was like a taste of summer on the most gorgeous weekend.  

And now the town is quiet again.  See you next week!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spring Somewhere Else

Boy, am I glad I left when I did.  While I was gone, Copper Harbor got more snow.  However, all evidence of that was gone by the time I got back.  Also, in ND and WI, I had three days of hanging out outside in short sleeves!  Talk about rejuvenation.  That was the ticket.

I haven't been out of the U.P. for quite a few months, so a variation of landscape, economy and dialect was much appreciated.  My parents' gardens are already blooming with a variety of flowers and vegetables.  The grass is so green and lush, I almost rolled around in it.  The North Dakota fields are black and wet.  And guess what I found on a little walk not far from my parents' house: a variety of blooming wildflowers!

The first one I spotted was the trillium -- a species I have yet to find in the Keweenaw.  I bet it's around somewhere, probably south of da Harbor.

A bouquet of trilliums

And I found some spring beauties.  Another one I don't see much of in da Harbor.

Spring beauties

And I found what I would think is an anemone, but I couldn't find the exact match in my Michigan Wildflower books.  Somewhere between the wood and the rue anemone according to the leaves.

An anemone of some sort

I also saw this little bugger that intrigued my mom and me.  Any Ideas?  The umbrella-like leaf got up to 6" in diameter on some plants.  What a neat specimen!

An, um, brella plant?

Spring wildflowers are special because they contrast so well against the brown leaves and remnants of last year.  Finding these plants was definitely a highlight of the trip.  I can't help it.  It makes me tick.

Let's go back to ND; I want to share some of their culture with you.  We mostly hung out in Hankinson, where the birthday party/reunion was held.  It's a small town where everybody knows everybody.  But they know the value of hard work, and they are down to earth.  I liked it.

They also have lots of railroads.  Here is a picture of one of the trains hauling 103 vessels of crude oil from the fracking lands.

One of many trains in ND

This picture is conveniently taken by, shall I guess, a corn mill?  It looks like those big silos would hold corn or some other widely harvested grain.  That was also a common site in the flat farmlands, along with the fields themselves.  It was neat to see how that is such the lifestyle there.  I never took it all in throughout my years there like I did on this trip.

And here's an example of a big agricultural machine.  I couldn't believe how big something with only one wheel in the front can be!

Big farm equipment!

I laughed at myself as I took pictures of their everyday life.  Yes, I was a tourist!

And now I'm back.  Of my time away, I spent 26 hours in the backseat with a large black dog.  Good thing I love the snot out of him.  He's a good travel buddy.

While I was gone, I figured two things would happen.  One, the Queen IV would return.  She did.  Safe and sound, and she already took her maiden voyage to the Island!  Two, I thought the bell buoy would return.  Nope.  Just fog horns on the Big Lake today.  I'll keep an eye out for that bloat, though.

Otherwise, more snow has melted, and more plants are budding out!  Somebody took a picture of hepatica from this spring, -- probably the first native wildflower to blossom here -- but I have yet to see it myself.  Today started so rainy that I didn't get out yet.  But I hear you can drive over Brockway Mountain now.  Probably up to Manganese Falls too.  See, that list of "Can't Do's" is getting shorter already!

Here's to a big weekend!  Here we go again...

Monday, May 12, 2014


Finally, those three little words I've been waiting for.

"Spring is here."

I know it's for real this time.  The open water on the harbor, the almost all melted snow, the mostly all days above 35 degrees, the budding trees and bushes, the greening grass and the peepers don't lie.

Yesterday evening, I walked around a new town.  It was still da Harbor, but more neon lights were on in business windows.  People were out burning brush from their now snow-free lawns.  The sunset turned the skies pink and orange, reflecting off the open water.  And the peepers, oh the spring peepers, were chirping in the wetlands.

I literally stopped in my tracks to take it all in.  I've waited so long for this moment to come.  Sooooo long.  You've witnessed my internal struggle.  And now victory is here.  The seasons have changed.  I feel like a new woman.

Even though the entire day today was cold, rainy and dark, I still know it's springtime.  You can't go back now, Mother Nature.  Even one freak snowstorm will melt quickly, so save it for November.

Here's a moment for you to bask in.  Thursday night we got a loud, relentless thunderstorm.  It rained all night.  So Friday morning, when I descended my porch, I saw the most amazing sight.  But I didn't believe it at first, so I rode my bike down to the Harbor Haus dock.  Low and behold, this is what I saw.

First day of open water since...

I feel like I've been crossing the lake to Porter's Island since January.  Now I can kayak there!  And guess what else is nearly all open.  Lake Fanny Hooe!!!  The water level is above the ground there in some spots.  Oh, man.  This is all so exciting!

And remember the Fort Wilkins sign from just a few weeks ago?  NO SNOW around it!  None!  The remaining snow is mostly hiding in the cedar swamps or on the north side of buildings.  The day when I took that picture above, I was so hot in a t-shirt that I was sweating coming back up the hill.  I think Duce was hot too because he plopped down in one of our two remaining snowbanks to cool off.  I laughed.

For water birds so far, I have seen geese, buffleheads, mallards and even a loon.  All out on the open harbor.  Here's a pic of the geese and buffleheads, though they are a bit hard to make out.  They're those white specs in the middle, I promise.

Waterfowl and The Gap

Perhaps you know that old church song that repeats the word "Alleluia" several times with gusto.  I've had that one in my head ever since I saw that the harbor was open.  It's a whole new world, and it changes every day.  Here's another example.

Snow chunks in a reflective harbor

That picture was taken Sunday evening.  And today, the waves are choppy from the wind.  Changes everyday, I tell ya.  Cuz if it doesn't, we get bored and ornery.

Now perhaps you're thinking, "Amanda, did you get pictures of anything besides the water on the Harbor?"  Well, I did find one: this charming little creature that I don't ever remember seeing before.  Do you know what it is?  It looked very fuzzy, but I dared not touch it.  It's on the sidewalk, so it's only as big as the pebbles in the cement.

The mysterious red bug

I just couldn't believe how red it was!  Let me know if you are an entomologist and can identify this critter.

Other than that, Memorial Weekend is two weeks away.  Holy buckets!  While that three-day weekend means different things to different people (though it really has a purpose), to Copper Harbor it means "Here we go again!"  The tourists start to arrive more and more each weekend until they are a mind-numbing mass 24/7.  I mean that in the nicest way possible.  Wink.

I have a couple surprises for you about this summer.  It's going to be a good one, so stay tuned for those.

For now, though, let's concentrate on Memorial Weekend and how exciting it's going to be for visitors. Here are some of the perks:

1) All the businesses will be open (well, except the Berry Patch), so you can eat, stay and shop at all your favorite local places!

2) The Copper Harbor Trails Club is putting on its annual Ride the Keweenaw biking weekend.  Click the link for more details on that.

3) The Copper Harbor Improvement Association is hosting a town-wide rummage sale.  Maps will most likely be available at the Welcome Center, so you can locate all the people who have goods to peddle.

4) Fingers crossed on this one, but Touring the Tip, my Copper Harbor adventure guidebook will be available locally in stores!  This baby is a must-have for curious visitors and locals who want to confidently navigate the area.  I will add a link to this line and my blog when the web page is complete.  So pumped for this -- book number two for this girl!

Just an update that next week I'll be in Wisconsin and North Dakota.  I will probably have weather shock, but I am prepared.  On a personal note, my last surviving grandparent, Grandma Gert O'Meara just turned 95 years old, so I get to visit her in ND.  I haven't been there in years!

But enough jibber jabber for now.  I hope to see you up here soon!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Can's and Can't Do's of Springtime

So in the last post I was all "nobody is here."  Well, this past weekend was Michigan Technological University's graduation.  Congrats to them.  That is a tough school.

I forgot this bit of information while driving South to Houghton on that Sunday evening.  Imagine my shock when I saw a) an absurd amount of traffic traveling northbound for this time of year, and b) over half the vehicles were not from Michigan.  Lots from Texas, actually.  I was thinking, "What the heck do these people think they're going to do in Copper Harbor right now???"

And that is the question.

What can you, or any other visitor do right now in Copper Harbor?  Here is a list of those activities.

Can Do:

  • Drive to Jacob's Falls, Haven Falls and Eagle River Falls
  • Hike through snow treachery to Manganese Falls and Montreal Falls
  • Sit somewhere and watch the raptors and other birds migrate
  • Go for a not really snowshoe/not really hike
  • Ride a bicycle on the highways
  • Watch for freighters
  • Fish the open water at creek and river mouths
  • Watch tulips start to pop up from the dirt
  • Get drunk at Zik's and The Mariner and Brickside Brewery
  • Stare out at the Big Lake and sing ice melting songs
Now I really had to dig into my brain to beef that up.  Guess there's more to do than I originally thought.  You'll need some winter gear.  And the bugs are not out. 

But the falls are awesome.  I hiked up to Manganese's just the other day.  Here are some shots from the top down.

The first drop

The big drop back in the crevasse

The last drop from above

That last drop in the background from the bridge
Finally, some action.  You know, I thought this was going to be a great year for falls because of all the snow that has to melt.  Well, it's melting so slowly that nothing is too catastrophic.  I suppose that's okay because last year lots of bridges got wiped out from the fast, heavy melt.  But then, the falls were even more awesome.

As for migratory birds, I've had some cuties in my back yard picking away.  I've seen hawks circling the skies.  The robins are back.  And there are all sorts of other birds to speak of, but I am a wildflower nut who doesn't really know all her birds.  I'm just sitting here waiting for something to bloom.

Now hear this.  There are some things you can NOT do up here right now.  Either because it's impossible, illegal or dangerous.  Here's that list. 

Can't Do:
  • Mountain Bike
  • Drive over Brockway Mountain
  • Drive up Manganese Road
  • Ice fish (unless you know otherwise)
  • Cross the harbor's bay to Porter's Island (even I won't do it)
  • Cross-Country Ski
  • Golf
  • And everything that involves flora, of course
I may have missed some things, but hey, I'm more of an optimist, so I concentrate on the "can do's" of life.

Oh.  Check out these mushrooms.  I have spotted fresh mushrooms now in three different places.  That sounds like spring to me!

Stump fungus!

I had to poke them just to make sure they were from this year.  Yup.  Cool, moist and squishy.

For some updated business information.  The Pines is now open for breakfast and lunch and evenings at Zik's.  The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge will reopen this Friday, May 9th.  I hear they'll have live music that night.  It's May now, people.  Things are on the upswing.

Woah, May?  That was fast...