The In-Between

There is an old bar (probably refurbished by now) on the west shoreline of Lake Delevan in southern WI. It was one of the establishments that I would visit from time to time, when I was not behind the oak creating libations for others at the west end of Geneva Lake, inside Chuck’s. I was not a “regular” there and it’s has been 30+ years since I stepped foot inside, but I can still remember the smell of stalk beer mixed with slowly decaying wood. The building itself was in need of some stabilization, or perhaps demolition. From the front door to the front of the bar, roughly a distance of 20-25 feet, the floor sloped down no less than 8″. I suppose the owner thought it was a clever and continent way to encourage customers to step up to the bar and spend some money.

It is still standing and still functioning at a tavern. Back in my roudier days, it was what one might call a dive-bar. Most of the customers were the hard drinking type, that did not have far to weave and/or stumble to get home. Drinks were cheap and unless Choop was behind the bar, there really was not much of a reason for me to even drive by, let alone go in side. I have no idea what the atmosphere is like now, if they fixed the sloped floor and if the smell has changed, but this entry is not about the INBO, it’s about the in-between up here.

That in-between is of a different nature. It is the time of the year that separates two distinct seasons. The long, cold, snowy and magical winter of the Keweenaw with warm, sunny and magical summer of the Keweenaw. There are many places in the mid-latitudes where the difference in seasons is dramatic, but I would have to say that the difference that the Keweenaw experiences is about as dramatic as it gets. Not only are the differences so extreme, but they each are so beautiful! Many would complain about the severity of our winter, but long with the severity comes exquisite beauty. The ground and other objects are not just coated in snow, they are frosted in a layer of white that looks like a cake decorator who is infatuated with creme frosting had their way with things and did not stop until no more frosting could be applied before the whole thing collapsed. Who have seen a mailbox with three feet of snow delicately sitting on top of it? Who have seen a row of balsam trees with their branches so laden in snow they look like military senturys standing post in white overcoats? Who has driven down a side street with snowbanks piled so high, you can only see the upper floor of all of the houses? That is the magic of winter in the Keweeenaw.

The transformation to summer is not done quickly. Typically we get a tease of warmer temps in late February or early March that helps to generate smiles on the locals faces. The highly focused muscle patterns that are used to help keep the cold and wind from causing excessive pain on the exposed faces of the inhabitants disappear for a moment. People will stop and chat with others, letting the sun warm their faces while pleasantries are exchanged about what a beautiful day it is.

Those teases typically do not last longer than a day or two. Many times their warmth and relaxed environment is replaced by a large dumping of snow and invasion of arctic air. Perhaps a week later, the next tease is paying a visit and perhaps it’s departure is not punctuated by as severe a snow event and/or blast of bitterly cold air behind the snow.

Another thing that takes shape during the in-between is the gain in minutes where the sun is above the horizon becomes much more noticable. We are gaining a little more than 3 minutes a day in available sunshine, which will equate to around 25-30 minutes over a weeks time. That means, the sun spends nearly 2 hours more above the horizon than it did just a month ago. 

Not only are the minutes of sunlight increasing but so too are the strength of those rays. By early March, a sunny day with temps in the upper teens to low 20’s will see the snow on roadways melt off due to the roadways absorption of energy from the sun. The main highways clear first, but then will have wet areas where the snowmelt is running across them. The side roads melt slower. They have not been maintained as aggressively. Less scrapes with the plow trucks and little, if any, treatments to help melt the snow and ice on them. Depending on how often they get plowed and also what kind of roadway they are, they can become nearly or literally impassable during the spring “break-up”. Either the mat of packed down snow is so thick that when it melts to become more like slush, it is too deep to pass through, or in most cases, the roadway surface is not solid. Perhaps it is dirt, crushed rock or some kind of an amalgam, but as the snow melts and the water from it seeps into the ground, the road becomes a quagmire of ruts 6-12″ deep. This is when the county will close the road until it dries enough that they can send down a grader to flatten out and pack down the road and make it passable. The slow and sometimes reverse direction of our spring can see this road closing process happen many times.

Amongst the living creatures the in-between can be the toughest time of the year. They have already had to survive what would be the most severe winter ever for many spots across the country. The snow is typically deepest and most solid it has been all season, making it very difficult for them to dig down to find food. Sometimes there only hope is that the snow is deep and solid enough that they can reach branches they could not before and steal a brown and fibery meal. The deep we go into the break-up of winter, the more food that starts to become available. First it is some small shrubs that were buried by the first big snow of the season, then, eventually the grasses  begin to appear. The blades of grass are dead and may even be coated with some snow mold in spots, but a few days of sunshine can green up some of the grasses and provide a more desirable meal.

Green grass does not signal the end of winter as it does in many other places. The Keweenaw is usually good for a couple more snows after the greening of the grass. Even the early blooming plants like tulips, daffodil and trillium have seen their fair share of snow blankets put over them in the years I have lived here.

The in-between is generally bug free. At least from the biting kind. The bees, wasps and hornets will show their faces as the days grow warmer, but the real pests of the Keweenaw- the mosquitos, black flies, deer flies and horse flies are still weeks away. The latter two months away.

The in-between is also a time of great patience. Some are still hoping for one or two big snowstorms so they can get their final fix of powder play before putting the winter toys away. Sometimes their wishes are granted, other times not. However, the Keweenaw is one of those places where you have a greater chance of the big spring snowstorm to hit than others. On the other side of the coin, others are chomping at the bit to break out the summer toys. Motorcycles, boats, golf clubs, bicycles, fishing poles, ATVs, you name it. It is their wait that is usually long and wrought with setbacks. Early March in the Keweenaw is purely winter. Mid-March is where the teases will begin to appear. The end of March and early April sees the the sun strong enough and temps usually warm enough where the net change in the snow situation is a loss. By mid-April, the low snow areas are usually snow free, with the others to follow by the end of the month. However, there are standout years in which a solid snowpack will remain into May. Life in the Keweenaw is like a box of chocolates!

This past week was the early stages of the in-between for this season. No warm temps, some light snow, but nothing too meaningful. The main snows were Friday. A few snow showers in the morning and then the front came through and we had some decent snow falling for a few hours into the early overnight hours. I had to go to Houghton Friday afternoon and with the morning snow showers putting down a fresh 1/2″ or so, the west winds that kicked up to 35-45 mph made for some challenging driving conditions on Bootjack Road, especially in the open areas like the “Green Spot”. Once in town, the Lift Bridge would come and go into view with the varying snowfall intensity. Crossing the bridge and looking east towards downtown Houghton left us with a blank canvas.

A day earlier, all was calm and bright, but cold, with temps in the mid teens for highs. Pretty unusual for early March in the Keweenaw. That was the story for just about all the week. Cold temps for this time of the year. The sun tried to melt the snow, but could only succeed where the plows had scraped patches of pavement clear and that pavement was able to heat up. That was the look out onto the northern end of Keweenaw Bay. The ice just locked in the entire bay solid about a week or so ago. It will probably remain that way for another week or two before breaking up for the summer.

The slow melting going on has created a Hangfire off of our front porch. The back roof let loose a week or so ago and left 10″ thick ice on the ground. Where the back door is, the ice fell and stuck in the snow vertically, creating a 10″ thick and 4 foot wide ice wall that the dogs have to navigate when they go out into the backyard!

The lack of a thaw and deep snow even in yaring areas like Jacobsville have put a lot of stress on the deer herd. They are moving quite slowly through the woods or in their escape from the road. Last night Grace and I came home from having dinner and this poor one was already asleep at the end of the driveway. It did not even move as we pulled closer, parked and walked from the truck to the shop and from the shop to the house. I did pull a few apples from the fridge, as well as a couple of husks of romaine lettuce and tossed them right to the deer. It did not eat them or even get up for around 30 minutes. Then Nora noticed about 34 minutes later that it had moved and this morning the food was gone. So not sure if it ate things, or another critter, but I sure was worried we would find a dead deer laying there come morning, so I was happy it got up and left around 45 minutes after we came home.

Until next week.

Good Night From the Keweenaw..