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The Fort Wilkins Fort

The Fort Wilkins Fort

Sigh. It’s sometimes hard to figure things out.  Especially when you come late to Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor and the guided tour has already started.  I had just enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the Harbor Haus overlooking Lake Superior.  Scribbled extensively in my journal on the blue tableclothed table, a party of one eating a succulent feast of seared grilled whitefish, wild rice and mixed vegetables. 

Our tour guide, returned from the nineteenth centure just to share tidbits of history with us

Our tour guide, returned from the nineteenth century just to share tidbits of history with us

Our tour guide had already led the small group through the first of the fort’s buildings.  It was 1:45, and the tour started at 1:30.  Obviously I should have finished the whitefish quicker.  Because then I would have known the date.

The fort was built ‘way back in 1844.  Oh dear.  You’re going to want real factual historical information, aren’t you?  Even though you know that’s my weak point…  Never mind, I’ll mutter through something and we can only hope it’s accurate.  The fort was only occupied for a few years after its construction in ’44.  I believe the nice costumed interpretive guide said it was built to help protect the mining interests which were just beginning to go full-steam ahead.  It closed after a stretch (mostly because it was so expensive to keep running ‘way up here on the peninsula!) and opened again somewhere after 1865 for a few post-Civil War years as a place to send some wounded soldiers.

The blacksmith's shop

The blacksmith's shop

The costumed interpreter, I believe, spoke to us from the year 1870.  But he also spoke as if he’d been stationed at the fort ‘way back in ’44.  He told us lots of entertaining stories as we wandered through the white painted buildings.  One of my favorites had to do with Fanny Hooe. 

Fanny Hooe was a beautiful seventeen year old relative of a camp commander back in one of those years.  Half of the fort fell in love with her on the spot.  When it came time for her to return to Virginia, apparently she didn’t say “fare-thee-well!” with enough muster.  So rumors began to surface.  The natives had stolen her away, a bear ate her…and so on.  To memorialize her beauty and presence, they named the adjoining lake after her.  Lake Fanny Hooe.

The enlisted men's quarters

The enlisted men's quarters

The above photo is where the enlisted men slept, probably dreaming of Miss Fanny Hooe.  Our guide told a fascinating yet terrible story about the way the wind and snow and ice and cold would blow through the fort buildings.  Men were even known to get frostbite while they slept!!  Can you just imagine how cold it must have been?  Even though it was one of the warmest afternoons of this summer, all of us shivered.  We could imagine.  We felt, for an instant, like we suffered along with the soldiers.

Checkers for those long freezing winter nights...

Checkers for those long freezing winter nights...

So they played checkers.  And cards.  And dreamed of their sweethearts far away.  Counted the days until they could return to their homes elsewhere.  Maybe a few of them fell in love with this farthest-most northern outreach post and decided to settle here.  Maybe some of their descendants live in Copper Harbor now.  Maybe they served me lunch at the Harbor Haus…

The ice house (lots of shadow play going on here!)

The ice house (lots of shadow play going on here!)

As the guide continued to regale us with stories, I saw the shadows playing on the ice house.  He had just shared yet another fascinating story about the delivery of maybe 25 sheep to the fort.  And how the pen was not built to hold the rather short-legged creatures and how they all immediately discovered that they could escape and…are you ready for this??…jumped in to Lake Fanny Hooe, all two dozen of them!  And how the soldiers dove in after them and the heroic rescue of all but…excuse me, facts are disappearing now…a handful.  And how one of the camp commanders was going to have to pay for the sheep out of his own salary (almost his entire year’s salary!) until officials determined it really wasn’t his fault.

Our guide said,  “I like mutton as well as the next fellow, but…”

They put the butchered sheep or cows or other animals in the ice house to keep the meat fresh.

All we are is just a feather in the wind...

All we are is just a feather in the wind...

So I went over to take a photo of the shadows playing against the ice house wall, and–the next thing you know, I was looking for beads and baubles in the dirt alongside the fort’s perimeter.  As the rest of the tour continued on its way. 

The feather says it all, doesn’t it?  We’re just feathers blowing in the wind.  One minute it’s 1844 and the next 1870 and suddenly it’s 2009 and who knows what is coming next?

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Holding an almost-dead hummingbird in hand

Holding an almost-dead hummingbird in hand

It’s happened before.  At least two or three times over the years, a hummingbird has flown through the open doors and attempted to feed upon the bright orange hoist which hangs in the middle of the garage.  Once inside, the hummingbird flies up and cannot understand that flying down and out the door might lead to freedom.

Barry moved his boat outside today, and left the doors wide open for awhile.  He commented to me, while in the garden, that a hummingbird was flitting back and forth at the top of the ceiling, frantic, needing to feed, trapped. 

A little while later, while inside on the computer, I heard a knock on the door.  It appeared to be Barry.  I opened the door with a joke, “Hey, you don’t need to knock, come right in!”

The seriousness on his face stopped me in my tracks and I looked more closely.  He held a hummingbird in his hands and was attempting to get it to feed from the feeder.  Instead, it lay inert and looked pretty much dead.  He handed it over to me and I put my hands over the tiny beating heart-body and sent it love and energy and prayers.  Please, hummingbird, heal.  Please, hummingbird, live.  Please, hummingbird, stretch your tiny wings and fly.

We sat for a long time, the beating heart of the silent hummingbird and the hand which held it.  I kept putting the sharp tiny beak against the sugar-water.  Finally, she drank.  If you looked closely, it looked like she was spitting it out, then sucking it back in. 

Please, hummingbird, eat...

Please, hummingbird, eat...

She rested.

She opened her eyes.

She rested a lot longer.

Finally, she fluttered her tiny wings.  She drank, spitting out the liquid, drinking again.   She stood on her tiny feet and stretched and looked around.

The suddenly, with a huge burst of energy, she soared heavenward, up, up, up, toward the spruce tree!  And settled on a branch of the spruce tree, squawking loudly, the loudest hummingbird squawks you’ve ever heard.

I smiled and went inside, giving thanks.

Here are some more pictures ‘way back from another past life:  last Friday. Back when Scot and Karen and Doug and Gabe and Keely and myself drove a half hour out to Point Abbaye at the end of the peninsula, bouncing up and down on the sandy two-track.  The day was rainy and owly.  Look at this wave:

Huge wave breaks over the rocks

Huge wave breaks over the rocks

Point Abbaye  is a rocky peninsula that juts way out there in Lake Superior.  Not as far as the Keweenaw, but still out there.  There is no electricity out this far, no year-round houses.  Just the rocks and the lake and the wind.  It’s a place to meet the elements and feel their special gifts.

Scot, rocks, sky, water

Scot, rocks, sky, water

Jutting rock

Jutting rock

Doug peers out to sea

Doug peers out to sea

Keely hunches down near the waves

Keely hunches down near the waves

The extended family has returned home to the Thumb of Michigan now; our little house resumes its silence.  We had such a great time with the crew.  Barry has said (at least ten times) what a great time he had.  And Doug is now only a hop, skip and a jump away up at Michigan Tech.  What a gift!

Now, if we can just keep those hummingbirds out of the garage…

Gabe (on left) and Doug (on right)

Gabe (on left) and Doug (on right)

Another family member has become a Yooper.  A resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

It’s my nephew, Doug.  He’s attending orientation tomorrow at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.  And, lucky us, he traveled up north with my brother, Scot, his wife, Karen, and sister Keely. 

Tonight I am coming to you live from the Cyberia Coffee Shop in downtown Houghton after hours and hours and hours of outdoor adventures.  I am soooo tired.  But will attempt to type faithfully, upload photos and stammer out a narrative.

Scot and Karen on the Downtowner deck, overlooking the Portage Canal

Scot and Karen on the Downtowner deck, overlooking the Portage Canal

We  ate a rather nice meal sitting out on the deck at the Downtowner Bar and Restaurant watching the sailboats and power boats and talking about Mount Ripley and winter skiing.  Doug already seems to know more about the Keweenaw after one day than I do after thirty years.  (Well, maybe not, but that kid sure knows a lot!)  His roommate, Gabe, seems like a nice fellow and I’ve promised to call them when I’m up in Houghton.  Maybe we’ll even come back to this coffee shop some morning in between class.  Or perhaps we’ll meet for lunch.  I am SO thrilled to have an extended family member this close.

Me and my beautiful niece, Keely

Me and my beautiful niece, Keely

After a leisurely dinner in which we sat next to other friends, we wandered downtown to watch…are you ready for this?…the band “Wolfgang” play for the Thursday night concert series.  And guess who plays bass guitar in the band Wolfgang?  You guessed it, I’m sure.  My husband, Barry.

Doug, Gabe and Keely listen to the band

Doug, Gabe and Keely listen to the band

The streets in downtown Houghton have been torn up for most of the summer.  They have been digging up the old street and replacing it with brick.  You have to maneuver through a series of detours to make your way around the city.  It’s been challenging.  The concert series was probably intended to keep folks in the downtown area. 

Wolfgang plays classic rock ‘n roll.  It’s fun to listen to them.  A lot of the time they play bar gigs or weddings, so I don’t have an opportunity to hear them that much.  It was especially fun to sit on the curb between Scot and Karen, swaying to the music and sometimes singing along.  Keely bought some fudge.  It was a lovely warm summer evening; a novelty in the Copper Country this summer.

Wolfgang playing on the Houghton street

Wolfgang playing on the Houghton street

Yawn…  Oh excuse me.  It’s really past my writing time.  I would drink some real high-potency coffee just to make the hour-long drive home, but that would truly interfere with sleep.  So I am nursing a decaff iced coffee americano or something similar.  I am still thirsty.  But you probably don’t care to know those kind of details, so we’ll return to a photo of Scot and Keely:

Keely and Scot

Keely and Scot

We’re planning a hike to the Sturgeon River Waterfalls tomorrow, if it’s not raining cats and dogs.  If it’s drizzling lightly, we’ll go.  We may even do more sightseeing around Baraga County…trying to figure out where to take guests…and which places might make a good outdoor blog!

Silhouette on rooftop listens to music way down below

Silhouette on rooftop listens to music way down below

It is this kind of summer night which sustains us through the long cold winters.  Memories of twilight wearing shorts and short sleeves, moving to the beat of good music, spending time outdoors with family and friends.

Ahhh, we are blessed…

Look at Kitty out there in Lake Superior!

Look at Kitty out there in Lake Superior!

I believe some of my companions today uttered the word “wimp” because of my refusal to swim in The Big Lake last night.  They couldn’t understand.  They would not have hesitated.  They would have jumped in readily.

Today I joined Sue, Kitty and Mary up in the Copper Country.  After a leisurely breakfast in Laurium, we headed for the Calumet Waterworks for some beach time.  Specifically, rock hunting.  And swimming, for those with courage and fortitude.

Kitty proved to be the one with the most fortitude.  Look at her out there!  She gets the award of the day, hands down.  Sue and Mary were pretty soaked in their venture for the most beautiful and unusual rocks of the day, but I never saw them actually swimming.  Maybe after I left they dove in.

Sue and her underwater camera

Sue and her underwater camera

Sue had the craziest camera I had ever seen.  You could actually put it under water (no, that is not a mis-print) and take photos of rocks and underwater creatures and toes.  I wonder how the camera batteries and electronics survive when dunked. 

Mary hunting for just-the-right rock

Mary hunting for just-the-right rock

The above photo is how we looked during our stint on the beach.  Hunched over, eyes trained on the clear water, seeking the most fascinating stones we could find.

And the temperature.  It felt almost WARM.  Yes.  How could this be?  I mean, I wasn’t inspired to go swimming.  (Especially after last night’s failed attempt.)  Yet after you wandered up and down the stretch of beach, the calf-deep water felt lovely.  I have to eat my words about Lake Superior’s frigid temperature.  Today it almost…almost…qualified as not frigid.

Rocks

Rocks

I brought home maybe twenty rocks for strategic placement outside.  Sue kept eyeing my bucket.  You could tell she wanted it.  She’s a rock hound if you’ve ever seen one and could have easily filled the bucket with a hundred stones.  However, I couldn’t just give it to her.  It was Barry’s boating bucket. 

Would you have picked up this rock?

Would you have picked up this rock?

Or this one?

Or this one?

I admit to a small preference to green rocks.  They look so exotic.  Not your run-of-the-mill rocks.  I kept asking Sue “Is this an agate?  Is this an agate?”  She kept shaking her head and trying to explain what an agate looks like.  She said you would know if you found an agate.  You wouldn’t have to ask.  You would just know.

I didn’t find one.

Along the shores of Gitchee Gumee...

Along the shores of Gitchee Gumee...

It was indeed a lovely way to spend a few hours on an August Sunday afternoon with the temperature still near 80 degrees.  It was nice to visit with Sue again, and to meet her daughter and friend. 

And now I have a better attitude about Lake Superior.  Swimming may still happen this year.  It just might.

Melt, River, Melt

Melt, River, Melt

This afternoon the phone rang.  It was my co-worker.  She wanted to meet me down by the Silver River to exchange the goods.  I slipped on boots and winter jacket, hats and gloves and drove to our meeting place.

We parked our vehicles as close together as possible, reaching out to slip the small silver package from hand to hand.  With a laugh and a wave and barely three sentences, we revved the motors and sped off.

Our exchange?  A computer zip drive.  USB Flash Drive.  Whatever you call those slender pin drives which contain valuable software.  We do these drive-bys a couple times each month to exchange our work-related material.

Today I decided to wander back by the river and view the melting.  How exciting to discover the river mostly free and flowing!  I locked the car (you never know who might want to steal the $20 in my purse) and wandered back through the brush and cedar swamp areas.

First discovery.  A dead raven.  I will not burden you with the entire obituary photo with bedraggled wet and wild feathers askew in all directions.  Instead, you may view its claw.  (The nitty-gritty nature enthusiasts among you may want to lean closer to examine it; the more squeamish reader may scroll rapidly on to other photos.) 

Raven's claw

Raven's claw

I walked on to the left, attempting to get as close to the river as possible, without falling in.  The snowy/icy terrain proved a bit slippery.  Surprisingly so, as we’d recently gained a half inch of light snow since morning.  Over there, hanging in a tree, a strange-looking piece of fur caught my eye.  What the heck…?  Any theories why this small piece of deerskin hangs by a wire in the middle of the woods?

Deer hide with fur hanging from tree (on small wire)

Deer hide with fur hanging from tree (on small wire)

This brought back memories of my attempt to brain-tan a deer hide back in the early 90’s.  I had just attended the Tom Brown Jr. Wilderness Survival School and learned the basics about tanning a deer hide by hand.  You utilize the brains rather than chemicals, although my memory is fuzzy about the process after all these years.  I do remember spending hours and hours and hours and hours attempting to scrape and soften that hide.

Oh my goodness!  I do believe we have an ancient photo of that very event.  (You will also be disappointed to know that I did not succeed in tanning the hide properly.  It never really softened into a supple piece of leather.  No.  Instead it turned into a hard four-foot potato chip.  I eventually painted designs upon it and gave it back to the Earth as a gift.)  You will also be interested to know that our basement did not smell like perfume for that week.  The children even mostly stayed in far corners of our small house, attempting to stay clear of the smell.

Deer hide meets Kathy

Deer hide meets Kathy

Back to today.  I shall leave you with a non-animal photo to appease anyone more interested in the mineral world.  How about some stones peeking through the snow?  Beach stones gathered last summer up in the Keweenaw, planted beneath flowers close to the house.  (We’re bound to have one blog devoted entirely to beach stones next summer.  Like shells, they’re tremendously appealing, aren’t they?)

Melting snow reveals beach stones in garden

Melting snow reveals beach stones in garden

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