Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 2 – Falls And Fires

Friday, June 14, 2013

The same birds that put us to sleep the night before woke our butts up early.  Maybe they were thanking us for drinking Bird-friendly Coffee on the shores of Lake Superior?  A quick camp breakfast gave us the fuel to head out to Miner’s Castle (photo below) and Miner’s Falls.  The trails were pleasant and “birdy”.  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were nesting (yes, folks, there is such a bird!).  Least Flycatchers were calling everywhere. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Great Crested Flycatchers, too.

It was at this point, by the way, that I realized that songbird photography was going to be difficult, if not impossible.  Sure, while territorial birds will be faithful to a given spot, that spot could be dozens of yards off in to the sticks or dozens of feet up a tree.  This set the tone for the trip – lots of “birding by ear”.

After suffering through nuclear Dijon mustard on our sandwiches (gotta watch that stuff), drinks were had at the Jasper Ridge Brewery. Rope’s Golden Wheat, JRBs Upside Down Brown, Rye’d the Tiger, and JRB’s IPA (#1444-1446) were all fair for the most part.  The IPA seemed to edge the others, but that is not saying much.  I cant fault any of them for sure, but I cant say they were the best beers in the world. Stunningly average, you might say.

Keep in mind, my camera did not go to waste. Yes, birding was a challenge, but before the trip, I purchased some neutral density filters.  In short, they work as sunglasses for your camera.  Longer exposures are possible during daylight hours. 

On a recommendation from a brewery buddy (Thanks Brant!), we made sure we made a stop at the Sturgeon River, specifically Canyon Falls. Holy cow!  Photographically, I couldn’t do a thing with the falls. The light. The shadows.  Impossible for me.  The river?  Much better. No, we won’t hang it on our wall, but it’s okay.

Flowers were awesome, too.  Fringed Polygala, Yellow Clintonia (named after the President), Starflower, and Nodding Trilliums were everywhere.

After camping was secured in Houghton/Hancock , it was off to dinner in Calumet.  The Michigan House Café is home to Red JacketBrewery. While the building dates back to the turn of the 20th Century (with a killer mural from 1906), they have not been brewing beer that long.  This place is a must.  (By the way, The Gipper worked here back in the day.)

While I only had two beers here, they are worldly as far as we are concerned.  The Downtown Brown (#1447) was clean, crisp and had a very nice sweetness throughout the experience.  The literature suggested nothing about grapes, but I swear I was getting a hint. Perhaps this is associated with style; it was an English Brown Ale.  The Oatmeal Express Stout (#1448) was even better.  Caramelly (that is a word now if it was not a moment ago), smooth. Wowzers.  Damn good. 

A short hop up the street found us on site for one for one of the darkest chapters in labor history.

Calumet is functionally a ghost town of it former self. By 1900, the region had a population exceeding 25,000 people.  It was all about the copper mines; employees were not treated well.  Foreshadowing issues of today, miners had concerns about job security, pay, and safety. Their union was brand new so they went on strike in 1913.

After five months, nothing had changed.  On Christmas Eve, striking miners and their families gathered on the second floor of the local hall (photo above) for a holiday party.   Apparently, some wanker yelled “Fire!” in the crowded room.  There was no fire.  A rush a people towards the stairs became a crush of people at the bottom of the stairs.  Over seventy people died that night. Most of them were children. 

History of what is now known as the Italian Hall Disaster seems to be a bit sketchy.  The structure of the doors at the stair’s bottom -did they open out? Did they open in (and thereby prevent the onslaught of people from opening them?).  In a sense, it doesn’t matter – dozens of children died when they should have been having a good old time with family.

To make matters worse, the coroner’s inquiry was a comical operation (key witnesses weren’t even there that night and non-English speaking witnesses had to answer questions in,….yes, you guessed it….English. ). Officially, we don’t know what happened.  Unofficially, there are suggestions that the “fire-yeller” was associated with the mines. We’ll never know.

In any case, the building was leveled a few years back. The arch over the doorway was preserved and has become the centerpiece to the memorial now under the KeweenawNational Historic Park.

The next time you get frustrated about work contracts, think about Calumet.

With the summer solstice approaching (the year’s longest day) and our northern latitude, it wasn’t dark until well after 10:30.  Sleep was good.

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