Monday, July 9, 2012


In Mutual Embrace of a Splendidly Difficult Place

It's said: "Expect the unexpected". That's certainly true for travelers on the Keweenaw.

For instance, drive south out of Eagle Harbor along the road hard to the shore of Superior and when you get to Great Sand Bay, this is what you'll see:

That golden object clinging to the wilderness is the Holy Transfiguration Skete of the Society of St. John and if that's too much of a mouthful just call it a monastery.

The Monk's approach to their place on the landscape has much to offer the rest of us. On their website is found this surpassing wisdom, which I think provides a proper template for most anyone wishing to prosper near to anywhere along the Superior Basin:

This is indeed a difficult place, and life here is often something of a penance. But it was the sheer beauty of this land that convinced us (to stay). We came looking for Purgatory; we found Paradise.

The farther we go down our road together, the deeper we explore, the more I'm convinced that we need finally make peace with this place as our efforts to bend it to our will nearly always failed and have often led to disaster.

Each Saturday at 5:30 pm, the Brothers allow a limited number of the public to join them in Great Vespers. I looked for a sample of music specific to the Society and didn't find that, but if you'd like to hear a bit of vespers written by a contemporary composer, check out this music by Roman Hurko.

Heather and I attended and unless you're a monk, it's probably not like anything else you've experienced -- sublime, beautiful, difficult, revealing -- much like the Keweenaw itself. This service isn't a tourist sideshow but a profound exercise in faith. Be prepared to do a lot of standing.

And if you're not up for that, across the road from their beautiful gardens the Brothers run one of the finest bakeries on the Keweenaw or anywhere else. There you can buy an assortment of baked goods and their famous jams. During high tourist season cars line the road and a land office business is conducted. It's quite the thing, to watch a brother in his robe and beard, with humble manner swiping plastic so fast & frequent you wonder how it never melts the transmission lines.

Anyway, please take a good look at the Brother's website, which is robust. Then wander over to the page for the Jampot and dig in. 

It's here you'll find the best Thimbleberry Jam on the Peninsula, with shipping available. But if you're in the neighborhood, stop by and by all means pick up a blueberry muffin the like of which I've seen nowhere else and which holds me in good stead over many miles of travel the following morning.

If you're inclined to doubt, get a load of this:


The Harbor Haus

Speaking of good food...

Eating your way around the Superior Basin can be dicey.

While there're a host of great places to get quality cheap eats, there aren't many of the sort of restaurants where weary travelers can drop off the road to treat themselves to a genuine fine dining experience. The Harbor Haus in Copper Harbor is one of those places, even if it is out on the tip of the Keweenaw and within  a mile or two of the actual end of the road.

I keep hearing that the Harbor Haus is a "Five Star" restaurant, but as far as I can tell that's not an 'official' rating and the truth is if you're used to five star restaurants in Chicago or New York you might scoff at the notion. But all is relative, especially when traveling around Superior and with that in mind, the place offers about as fine a meal as can be found in at least half a day's drive. The food is thoughtfully prepared and presented, the service is excellent, the wine list extensive and the views can't be beat.

Large hunk of float copper to the left, the copper front doors of the Harbor Haus to the right

In fact, I know folk who'll drive nearly three hours to eat there and then drive the three hours back home after dinner, which tells you not only most everything you need to know about the Harbor Haus but about fine dining in the Upper Peninsula too.

I can absolutely vouch for the meat platter, which offers something akin to happy death through eating.

But perhaps the thing can best be summed up in the old realtor's adage: "Location, location, location'. The Harbor Haus sits on the site of the first commercial wharf and warehouse ever built in Copper Harbor. The dock you'll see there today used to be much longer and when a boat being unloaded caught fire, rather than lose the dock the ship was cut loose to burn in the harbor where it promptly sank and today is a popular site for sport divers of shipwrecks.

And if you like a bit of entertainment with your meal, the Harbor Haus offers that too.

On those evenings when the ferry to Isle Royale returns from its long voyage to Copper Harbor, the wait staff of the restaurant go out the door to greet it. Bells ring. The ferry sounds its horn. People wave from boat to shore & back to boat again. Then the staff of the restaurant does something extraordinary -- they join together in a high kick chorus line.

It's one of the most effective marketing efforts I know of. Here they come: bedraggled travelers off the rugged island, just minutes away from safe harbor and beckoned by the promise of cold beer served on white linen accompanied by real food - no flies - and attended to by a solicitous, friendly staff. Every night within an hour after docking, in they come.

Now, I messed this up so badly that I missed not only the high-kicking choristers but nearly the whole stinkin' boat besides. I wasn't gonna show it but humility is good for the soul and you'll get the gist of it all the same. You'll not find this clip on my YouTube Channel, as humility only stretches so far before becoming humiliation and who the Hell invites that?

At any rate, should you find yourself within an hour or two of Copper Harbor and its famed Harbor Haus, drop on by to see the real deal for yourself...


US 41

...And I was born in the backseat of a Greyhound Bus/
 rollin' down Highway 41...

Allman Brothers Band: 'Ramblin' Man'

Speaking of the end of the road -- OK maybe the beginning, depending on who's talking when or going where...

The Road Trip is as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet.

We value our highways. Write songs about 'em, make movies of adventures both real & imagined that might be found along their way, open souvenir shops on hallowed routes and sell cultural significance to travelers intent on dropping off modern Interstates with their lookalike franchise islands and on to the road that's today less traveled.

At the northernmost reaches of Copper Harbor and pushed as far onto the Keweenaw as proper roads go, there's a monument to US Highway 41 -- at 1,991 odd miles of sometimes winding road, said to be the longest continuous North/South Route in the nation:


  1. I've driven parts of U.S. 41 in Florida! Maybe I should take it north-I'd love to see the parts of the country you write about and photograph.

  2. When I looked at the map I thought the same thing in the other direction -- then I remembered the 1,900 miles heading back...