Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Winter has come

For days now a big old hairy Alberta Clipper has been working its way down from the plains of Canada, heading for the relatively warm Great Lakes where it's known to pull moisture up into the clouds, travel to the Midwest snow belts, and unceremoniously dump it in the form of snow on the poor helpless folks who, every winter, still choose to live there.

We watched the news of the Clipper with a sort of bemused but detached interest, because, historically speaking, those Lake Effect snows coming across the lakes never, NEVER affect us over here. For us to get that kind of snow, it would take a big wind sweeping up from the South, pulling warm moisture from Lake Huron, creating snow in a cloud, and then dumping it on us.

So last night we weren't worried at all about the prospect of a lot of snow for us. It just doesn't happen that often, and especially not this early in the season. But this morning the winds shifted to the Southwest and by mid-day, to our surprise, billions and billions of great lacy flakes were floating out of the sky and sticking wherever they landed. We couldn't shovel it away fast enough. By nightfall we had a good eight inches on the ground and more in the drifts.

The first snow is always exciting. It's a Photo-Op I can never resist, even though snowfall pictures, now numbering in the many hundreds, all look pretty much the same from year to year.

Yesterday the winds were kind and it was actually pretty pleasant shoveling and pushing that snow around, even in 28 degree temps. I had to stop and stick out my tongue to collect snow flakes, of course. All kids do that when it snows.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Places I'll show you if you'll promise not to go there

There are some places we happen upon that are so pristine and so special, we hope no one else ever finds them. Selfish, I know, but that's what makes them so special. . .not many people have discovered them. No campfires, no beer cans, no human-borne flotsam to spoil their incredible beauty.

I call this "Mossy Glade". It is a place here on our island, not far from a park trail, but you have to be looking for it in order to find it. I like to pretend that I discovered it, but of course I didn't.

This is a scene not unlike any you might have seen somewhere else, but from this vantage point it's a one-of-a-kind. This is a place where we can watch Northern Lights. So far, I haven't been able to figure out how to photograph them, so for now I'll just treasure every fleeting moment of them.

This is a swimming hole on a river that flows into Lake Superior. It is one of those places that generations of people know about and come back to, but its location is guarded against outsiders. If you were truly observant you would see that the side of the road has been carved into a pull-off, and that every now and then a car is parked there, but nothing about it would make you curious enough to stop and check it out. Nothing to see here. Move along.

This is a boardwalk and beach at the mouth of the St. Mary's River. It is early spring and there are still ice floes on the water. Nobody else was there. Guess who was happy about that?

This is what is left of an old cemetery in the Keweenaw Peninsula. It is near what was once a thriving turn-of-the-century mining community. The ground is almost totally covered with myrtle and thimbleberry bushes, and the narrow, winding path seems eons old. The few headstones still visible are for people who came to this place from western Europe and the British Isles to start a new life during the copper mining boom. There is a small sign at the edge of the road, but most people drive right by. That suits those of us who make the pilgrimage nearly every year. It appears untouched and mystical and if we talk at all, we talk in whispers.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Last Splash of Color


Here it is Election Day (Yay!) and we’re still seeing color in the woods, thanks to the tamaracks. The birches turn golden after the hardwoods drop their leaves, and then when the birches are nearly gone the tamaracks take over, delighting us with a last splash of color.

Tamaracks (also called “larch”, as in Monty Python’s “The LARCH”) are the only conifers to actually shed their needles in winter. The first time I saw all those bare branches I thought some terrible disease had suddenly decimated entire stands of trees. But in late fall they’re gorgeous—as if, like the hardwoods, they feel the need to give a grand, final performance before shutting down for the season.

I don’t remember seeing tamaracks before we moved up here to the eastern UP (and, in fact, 40% of the state’s tamaracks are in the eastern half of the Upper Peninsula), but now I’m seeing them downstate as far as Saginaw. Is that normal or is it a sign of global warming? I don’t know.

(We just got back from voting. The township hall is our polling place and there was no one ahead of us, and only a few people signing in when we left. Our poll worker said I was #198 at 10:30 AM, but there were absentee ballots to be counted, so hopefully the numbers go over the top like they are everywhere else. Can’t wait until tomorrow, when this crazy two-year run up is over. I hope, I hope, I HOPE my guy wins!)