Sunday, February 28, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 27



On Monday the wind was whipping across the lake with force. The snow moved upward, sideways and forward as dense, maverick snow squalls crossed the lake. When the sun shot through the clouds, they looked like ghostly horses of the plain. Meanwhile, the windsock hung on for dear life.

There is about three feet of snow in the yard. I spent 45 minutes digging out the trench I made for Jack and Needa to get around after a snow avalanche from the roof filled it in over the weekend.

I’d like to say it was exhilarating but it wasn’t.

On Tuesday it felt like winter was losing its grip on Deer Park. Snow was melting and the temperatures were in the high thirties with sun. Muskallonge Lake is spring fed and on Monday I noticed a couple of spots on the road where the sun had melted the ice and the unfrozen soil began to allow water from the springs to seep again. It hasn’t been like this since the beginning of December.

On Thursday the snow came back and mother-nature tightened her grip on us as if to say: “not so fast.” Last evening as I tried to take Jack and Needa out after their dinner and we were frozen in. I boiled some water and was able to unfreeze the door and spent a while chipping ice, hoping it wouldn’t happen again.

I’d like to say it was exhilarating but it wasn’t.

Today on our afternoon walk a SUV slowed down and the people inside stopped to chat immediately making reference to Jack and Needa. It is not every day that you see two greyhounds in the middle of the woods.

A few days ago there was a tragic snowmobile accident near Munising where a 16 year old boy from Alma was killed after losing control of his sled. The couple inside the SUV were best friends of his family and came up here to retrieve the snowmobile for them.

They shared the heartbreaking story of how their son, the boy’s friend, asked to visit the area of the accident. Having lost my best friend in a tragic accident when I was 19, I could relate.
With the SUV idling in the middle of the road and Jack and Needa leaning into me on both sides, we talked for a while. I could hear the lump in the man's throat come and go as we agreed on what a flicker our existence really is.

The boy’s death has left a big ache for his family; a big, black, deep hole in the firmament. It’s another reminder of the fragile and finite conditions we experience being warm blooded.

A similar thing happened about 15 years ago over by the cabin. A young boy was killed after losing control of his four wheeler. I wrote a tribute to him in my book, “Places I Hide,” and the same sentiment holds true today.

Cross in the Woods
Where a cross in the woods once stood,
The flicker of a life was revealed
When a young boy met God too soon.

I tried to imagine how his family felt,
And I failed.

How deeply their lives have been changed
Heartbreak is all that remains.
God cried when the fire left his flame.

Creeks overflowed when the forest wept,
His celebrated life we cannot forget.
But the grieving has not ended yet.

There are whispers of sadness in the trees
That only his mother can hear.
Through a slow song of hope
In the quiet north woods
Where a cross in the woods once stood.

Dedicated to the memory of Thomas Timothy Watson 2005-2021

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 26




Life between the Lakes, part 26

I’ve had a lifelong fascination with radio, especially AM radio. Currently, in Deer Park, I am perfectly situated to tune into stations from across America. But on clear nights, I search for signals from faraway places with strange sounding names.

Sometimes I have to work the antenna to get them through the static while sometimes WSM out of Nashville sounds like it is broadcasting from down the road.

The signals fade in and out as the atmospheric conditions change and I often get three different weather reports from three different places all within a short period of time. (I find it amusing.) The other night I got three different hockey games and one of them came skipping across Lake Superior from Canada.

As a kid, I remember being with my cabin family and how Mary Lee became so excited when she and my sister were able to tune in WLS out of Chicago. Back in the seventies, they played pop music, much like CKLW or Keener 13 (WKNR) in Detroit. But originally the call letters of the station (WLS) was short for World’s Largest Store.
You're welcome. Now you are on your way to being a font of useless knowledge like I am.
WLS has a different format now but the reach of that 50,000 watt blowtorch is still impressive. It’s amazing to me how remembering old radio stations unlocks a flood of memories.
One summer, cousin Jack was going to be interviewed on National Public Radio about his book and his mom (Auntie Jean) wanted to hear him. 
I rigged up a Rube Goldberg style antenna in the shed at the cabin hoping to bring her sons voice to her at the cabin. It consisted of a boom box, with foil on the antenna which was carefully wrapped with a hanger, which was clamped to an eight foot piece of metal that I had wrapped in a bicycle chain for more connectivity and wedged in the rafters of the shed. 
Whether everything I made actually worked or not was impossible to scientifically explain, but I was able to snag the FM signal for NPR from Minnesota and Marquette. We’d listen to one and it would fade out so I’d adjust the radio and we’d listen to the other. 
The stations were in different time zones so it got confusing and the same went for hearing the different weather reports. Bouncing back and forth between them we never did get to hear the broadcast we were hoping to hear, but enjoying the pot of coffee and cinnamon rolls that morning is something I will never forget.
The UP is an amazing place for picking up radio frequencies. I have a portable Radio Shack emergency walkie-talkie that I plug in from time to time in my Jeep. And while nobody seems to hear me when I broadcast for a radio check, I can hear people from as far away as Texas.
Needa’s recovery has been coming along better than I expected. A fierce wind nearly blew us over on our afternoon walk, but it has subsided.

Right now, there is absolute silence outside.
This is one of the reasons I am here.
The other reason is because I cannot think of another place in Michigan that provides as much year round beauty as Deer Park.

The moon is parked above the lake and is obscured by clouds. I just listened to the end of another hockey game. The station broadcasting it abruptly went back to playing tunes from the 30’s and 40’s; music I love almost as much as I love rock and roll.

The Upper Peninsula shoots.
And scores.
Every time.

Life between the lakes, part 25



Life between the lakes. Part 25, Major stressful edition.
And kinda long.
Yesterday, I discovered a talent I never knew I had and hope to never use again:
Needa had a major oral surgery procedure scheduled. We were up at 6:20 warming up the Jeep (it was -10) for our trip to the vet in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. We were the only ones the road until we got to town and saw a logging truck as we crossed the train tracks near Timber Charlies.
We and did not see anyone as we came to a slow roll at the intersection of M-123 and M-28. It was the slow roll that bugged me. I thought something in my brakes had frozen. 
We drove for about thirty miles until we reached the four way stop between Hulbert and Strongs. Sensing something might still be happening with the brakes, I was cautious, turning off the cruise control as I hit the speed bumps, a half a mile from the light. It still didn’t feel right. 
As we merged onto the on ramp of I-75 my stomach dropped a little because as I pumped the brakes we were not slowing down as fast as we should have. We still slowed down but again, I attributed it to frozen brake lines and thought if there was more friction (and I used them more) things might improve.
Or melt. 
They didn’t.
With few cars on the road and slow speed limits in the Soo, I reached the vet, dropped off Needa and headed back to Newberry, where I had an appointment at Newberry Motors that I made the day before when I sensed the potential issue with the brakes. 
The traffic was clear along M-28 and as I approached the four way stop between Hulbert and Strongs, I knew I was in trouble. Again, there were very few cars on the road. My cell phone doesn’t work in parts of that stretch so there was no calling for a tow. 
Since I’d made the drive many times, in my mind I visualized the rest of my route and started planning how to make it in my compromised condition.
I anticipated them, hit my brakes (which the dealer later said were 98% shot but worked barely enough to slow me down.) I somehow perfectly judged the distance I needed to stop or do a rolling stop and would then shift the Jeep into “park” as I did a slow roll into the intersections and nobody was in front of me as I made the last turn to go down the hill toward the dealership. 
I finally arrived at the dealership.
I thanked God for being my co-pilot.
Thankfully Aunt Carla was in town doing good deeds and picked me up and we went back to Muskallonge. She let me use her vehicle so I could make the two hour trip back to the Soo to pick up Needa, who was in rough, heartbreaking shape when I got there. She just had 12 extractions.
Goodbye two mortgage payments.
But it was worth it when she thanked me with her toothy smile the next morning.
We got home and it was still a little light outside. I spent the rest of the night drinking vodka and trying to keep her comfortable as I feel asleep on the couch next to her.

By the next morning the anesthesia had worn off and she perked up as I fed her chicken rice, diced chicken breast and low fat cottage cheese. Much to my surprise, when she saw me get up to take Jack out for a walk, she got up too.

Our walk was slow but steady. The sun was out, the wind was gone and when it came time for treats (more chicken breast) she did not lose her spot in line.

It was a harrowing and stressful experience and today I’ve had more time to reflect on it. As the day continued Needa was more alert and seemed comfortable. It was clear that I was more stressed out about it all than she was, as she has continued to rebound like a champ.

The future of my jeep is uncertain but I’ll have the weekend to mull things over and decide my next course of action. Jack and Needa are now resting quietly after dinner and we are listening to Steely Dan, Aja as the sun sets to our right.

I am blessed each day knowing that God is with me even when I am not thinking about him.

Tomorrow will be another day full of opportunity and adventure in God’s country.
He KNOWS it's his country.

He is the ultimate artist.
He created everything in great detail and I am here observing it as it unfolds.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 24


Life between the lakes, part 24

I am currently afforded the time to enjoy simple things in the north woods. It is not every day people can literally watch the sun rise minute by minute over the horizon directly in front of them, but it happens daily with me when the weather cooperates.

And I do not take it for granted.

I count the birds along my walks with Jack and Needa. I watch the trees twitch and see snow ghosts’ fall out of them in the yard. I keep track of the ice shelf on Lake Superior, look for fresh animal tracks, watch the sunset and marvel at the ghostly imaginary figures I see in the maverick snow squalls that race across the lake.

The one thing I learned from the great writer, Jim Harrison, is that in order to be a writer, one needs to have a dedication to awareness and be immersed in it all the time. I know I will never attain greatness like Harrison, but I know I would be content being remembered as a writer people enjoyed reading.

This morning it was bleak and windy. The only bird I saw was Mr. Evermore, the local raven who is still looking for the scraps I used to set out for the coyote I was feeding. Sadly, he is gone.

Late in the evening an amazing thing happens. I stargaze at night and everything is different from what I am used to seeing in the summer. I love the alignments of the stars in winter because they are so different.

As I looked at Orion’s belt this week and gazed south-west in the sky, I see the suspenders that hold up the belt, yet no astronomer has ever mentioned them. The big dipper is spilling the other way and after the light show we had at Christmas, other planets are away, making their rotation.

I am an ear to the forest and it will remain an unsolved mystery. I don’t want anything to pass me bye; especially life.

Tomorrow holds no promises. But tonight, light from ancient stars illuminate the big beautiful sky in a way I have not seen before and never will again.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 23




It has been an exceptional week in Deer Park, MI. The skies have been clear and despite the sub-zero temperatures, the sun has favored our zip code far more than others. 

Some perspective on what I witness every day:

When we face the sun and see it in real time, only then will we begin to understand how quickly time slips through our fingers.

It is a gift not many people ever see or feel.

So take chances and be kind.

This is a shot of Gitche Gumie freezing over.

I was in two spots today; one was a sixty foot cliff overlooking Lake Superior and the other was at lake level. I walked through knee high snow and thigh high drifts up and down both ways but it was worth the hike.

On our afternoon walk it was absolute quiet until I heard a jet overhead. It faded in and out within two minutes. 

But today, the thing I loved best was the sound of eight paws and two feet crunching the sun covered snow.

Life between the lakes, part 22




Life between the lakes, part 22

For the last three days, snow has been falling in Deer Park in in almost every variation possible. It’s been wet and heavy and light and fluffy. There have been flurries, blizzards and whiteout conditions. It has been blowing sideways in each direction, swirling in slow, vast circles and even moving upward back toward the clouds.

The snow drifts in the dog run are already up and over the fence while the drift against the house is almost up to my kitchen window. Jack and Needa have surprised me; going the distance in our morning and afternoon miles in this bitter cold. I’ve always known they enjoy the low temps and with this arctic blast, they are champions at getting their steps in every day.

This afternoon was unusual. Visibility on the road was only about 100 yards but the sun would occasionally win the battle and stick around for small pockets of time as small wisps of blue sky struggled to do the same.

I went down to the big lake yesterday. The waves pounding the shore were big enough to rival all of Hawaii and the ice shelf was about neck high and growing from the beating it was taking.

Lake Superior still has a lot of open water and will continue to freeze in a big way over the next week. When it happens it creates amazing sights with ice cover on everything along the shoreline.

This is a rare photo of a family or Arctic Flavins I saw on Lake Superior. About every ten years they make their way through this area on their way to Whitefish Bay. Lake Superior is only at about a 10% freeze right now, so many hard shelled land/water mammals/reptiles and amphibians are able to travel long distances when conditions permit.

They eventually make it into the ocean if they survive the rough conditions in the St. Lawrence Seaway, after using their suction cup appendages to catch free rides on freighters as they work their way down the Great Lakes.

They have sensitive eyes and run for cover if they see you. This is why their faces are rarely seen. On rare occasions when the weather is warm, these fascinating, docile and gregarious creatures often come right up to rock hunters who work the shoreline of Deer Park on Lake Superior.  In the summer they beg for food, giggle like a grandkid, enjoy rum and love listening to Steely Dan.

Reporting live from Deer Park, I am Peter Wurdock, your suave, northern reporter who never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.