Monday, September 2, 2013

Apostle Islands; Raspberry Island Lighthouse

Saturday night it rained pretty hard, along with some pretty ferocious winds.  All was fine, but we surely did feel for the young family tent camping next to us, with two little ones and all their stuff out on their table when the rain started.  We had a ball during our years of tent camping, even when so many times we had to set up our tent and take it down in pouring rain, but at our age, we're so happy to have our cozy little carhouse!  Since we had made reservations for a boat trip out to Raspberry Island for Sunday, we were concerned when we woke up to still pretty overcast skies that it might interfere with our trip.  But, the sun soon began to peep out from behind the clouds. so we felt pretty sure the trip would go forward.

We had decided to go to the little Presbyterian Church we had seen the day before, as we were thinking we would have a place for some familiar Presbyterian liturgy.  As we sat down in this small church--the bulletin listed last Sunday's attendance at 38, and all the congregants there looked significantly older than we are--Trisha looked up at the minister and leaned over to me and said "I'll bet you that guy is a supply preacher," and sure enough it was.  As he mentioned at some point, he was a retired Lutheran pastor, and thus the service was not your typical Presbyterian service.  Unfortunately this guy was pretty low energy, and the service was a bit disappointing, but it was a pretty little church.

One of the great things about being in the RV is that we have everything with us, wherever we are, so there was no worry about time issues of having to drive home to change clothes for the boat tour--we just found a spot downtown to park, and there you have it!!  We pulled the curtains, changed clothes and had lunch, right downtown in Bayfield--pretty cool!  We were parked across from a little fish market that advertised smoked fish, so Trisha went over and got some smoked whitefish to sample--boy was it good!  She talked to the young man who was working the counter, and, in response to his question how did we like his hometown, she of course said we loved it.  He was so proud and happy, and talked about all he loves to do, how he loves to snowmobile in the winter, how the lake freezes over enough to drive out to some of the islands.  Hearing all this, I'd love to see this place in the winter, but Trisha doesn't have much interest in being in a place that's cold enough to freeze a lake enough to drive on it!

So we got on the boat to head out to Raspberry Island to see the lighthouse.  It was such a glorious sunshiny day by this point and just gorgeous.  Like our friend Lynne said, there's just not a place along Lake Superior that's not spectacularly beautiful!  As we headed out of the harbor and on through the Apostles, it began to cloud up and by the time we got to Raspberry Island, about an hour and 20 minutes away, the water was pretty choppy and the wind had really picked up.  As we got off and went up the concrete steps to the lighthouse complex, we saw the rails from a tramway they used to use to get the heavy drums of kerosene fuel and other heavy supplies up the steep incline from the water.  There was a ranger-led tour through the house, which contained living quarters on one side for him, his wife and son, and then on the other side the upstairs was for one assistant keeper and downstairs for the other assistant--all together, not a really big house, and it was really a stark reminded or what an isolated life these lighthouse keepers led.  The light was up in a tower in the house, and we walked up these narrow stairs, through a trapdoor to the light tower and then out onto the catwalk around the tower.  The actual light was not there at the time, as it was being worked on somewhere else.  When we went out onto the catwalk it was really blowing and rainy.  So we came back down, donned our jackets and hiked the trail along the interior of the island to the beach.   This kept us out of the sporadic rain and it was a nice hike through the woods, with lots of ferns, aromatic little pine trees, and ultimately to the little beach, where we watched a couple of kayakers paddling to the dock.

The ranger who gave the little tour around the lighthouse keeper's house was a riot!  He was an older gentleman--I use that term every time now with a great deal of respect and a smile on my face!!--but he was so animated and really kept your attention.  He told us Lake Superior is more than 3000 feet deep at its deepest point!  I had no idea.  And he explained how the weather has two distinct points which divide the seasons and activity--freeze up and break up.  Freeze up is when the lake ices over to the point where boats cannot traverse the waters, which usually happens some time in November.  Break up is when the ice thaws enough and breaks up enough to allow boat traffic.  So the keepers' families would stay on the island between break up and freeze up--stay until the last commercial boat traffic ended--and then go back to the mainland until the break up.  He quoted from the keeper's log for one year in the 1920's saying that commercial traffic kept coming long after he thought it would so he had to build a sled to drag his family back across the ice to Bayfield--unbelievable.  The lighthouse was first built in 1863, along with the others on the Apostle Islands, to assist ships as they navigated into the port of Bayfield, which at that time was second only to the Port of Chicago in terms of tonnage moved.  The route in was quite treacherous, especially when there was fog, so they needed these lights.  They set these lights up with either different colors, or different flashing sequences, so the ship captains could tell which light/island they were passing as they came into port.  Initially the lights were fueled by whale oil, then kerosene, all by hand, before they were ultimately automated.  Now they all run off solar power, with big solar panes on the island, which power a whole building full of batteries.

On the ride back, we sat with a young couple with the cutest little two year old boy, who was just constantly in motion.  He reminded us so much of our middle son, Todd, who was always a climber, as he pulled out the boarding step from under the bench in front of us and dragged it over to the window so he could be up high enough to see out.  He was so precious and so active.  Part of why he reminded us so much of Todd, was of course that Todd's 38th birthday was the next day, so we had him especially on our minds.

Got back in time to drive back to the campground, hook up and change into warmer duds and then catch the shuttle to the Big Top Chautauqua tent for the Leo Kottke concert.  And man, oh man, what a concert it was!  First, the way they have this system set up is just wonderful--a free shuttle bus that makes multiple stops en route to the venue, including just at the entrance to our campground; then when you arrive at the venue, ticket agents come up onto the shuttle to get your tickets, so you already have your stub which you show to an usher when you go into the big blue tent, saving you a lot of time; then after the show, the shuttle is right there for the first load--for those who aren't in a hurry or don't get a seat on the first run, there is a bar on the grounds where several folks stayed for a drink after the show, and the shuttle driver announced that he would come into the bar when he came back for the second run and gather up folks for the ride back into Bayfield.

But the concert--the opening act was duo called Chance, a cellist named Ed Willet and a vocalist named  Cheryl Lea.  Seemed an odd combination, but they were really an unusual pair and quite good.  He first came out and played a classical cello solo, and then she joined him onstage and they did a set of mostly blues themed songs, most of which Willet had written, with some more pop/rock style.  But the way he played the cello was so remarkable.  He did a lot of finger picking and thumping, similar to what a doghouse bass player does in a bluegrass band, but on one number he put down his bow and just strummed and picked it like a guitar!  I've never heard any cello played like this, but it was really cool!

Then out came Leo Kottke, just himself, no one else, carrying his 6 string and his 12 string guitar.  And for the next nonstop hour and a half, he gave the most enthralling performance, combining mostly instrumentals, but a few tunes where he sang, though "singing" is used rather broadly when you describe his voice.  When we first heard him over 40 years ago, we laughed when we read how his baritone voice was described by one reviewer as "sounding like goose farts on a muggy day," a description that has followed him his entire career.  For the most part, the description is accurate, but I will say that his voice has improved since the first time we heard him.

Let me digress for a moment and tell you about the first time we heard him in 1972.  I was in law school at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, a time when discretionary spending money was in short supply.  We had heard about him then and when we saw that he was coming to Vanderbilt for a concert, we saved up our pennies for the tickets and money for the babysitter, and looked forward to the concert for weeks.  When we got to this little former chapel on campus, a small venue with fairly steep raking of the pews toward the front of the room, we were surrounded by undergraduates.  Freshmen were required to pay the full year's activity fee, which for most of these kids was paid for by the Bank of Mom and Dad, and this concert was thus "free" for them.  Well, that just meant that it was free venue for them to come, noisily hang out, drink and smoke some weed.  Seemed to us that the kids behind us had never heard of Kottke, as they sure weren't paying any attention to his playing, just talking louder and louder.  Since for us, this was a major financial investment, we were quite frustrated.  After taking it for as long as we could, I finally turned around to them and very calmly asked them if they really needed to talk so loudly, could they please wait until between his songs to do so.  Well, they gave me some lip and after I turned back around, I heard one of them say "I just don't know what happens to people when they turn 21 and get old!"  Then, as they continued to distract us, ultimately one of them got sick and flashed their cookies, and, due to the slant of the floor, we had to pick up our feet as it cascaded under our pew!!  Obviously this all contributed to making this concert a truly unforgettable experience!

But we loved his playing then, and we love it now.  At the time, it was so obvious he was an introverted person, and seemed very uncomfortable on stage doing anything other than just playing; he seemed socially awkward trying to do any sort of monologue between songs.  Well, when he came out this time, he didn't say anything, just sat down and started playing.  After a couple of songs he started out by saying how he knew he was supposed to have some sort of schtick to go along with his playing, but how this never worked for him, and how he never could figure out how to do it, so we thought nothing had changed.  While he still seems a bit socially awkward, it was very apparent that in the more than 40 years since we first saw him, he has developed into a hilariously funny performer.  As one describes his onstage performance, his between songs monologue is "bizarre, but very funny."  He starts into a story, interrupts himself and rarely finishes anything that seems to have logic to it, but it's just so funny and so entertaining.  And the way he plays is unlike any other guitarist you've ever heard, and indeed it was quite different from when we first heard him.  This is due to a nearly career-ending bout with tendinitis in his fingers in the 1980's which caused him to completely change his picking style and the way he holds his picking hand on the strings, using only the fleshy pads of his fingers and no picks.  You would swear that there is more than one person playing on some of the songs--just don't know how he does it.  It's also remarkable that he is such a talented musician since he has a severe hearing loss, nearly deaf in one ear from a childhood firecracker accident, and hearing damage from gun-firing practice when he was in the Navy.  If you have never heard him play, go to Youtube and find a video or two of him and you'll be impressed, I promise.  We had such a good time and it was just a fabulous way to end another day in paradise!!

Heading out from Bayfield to Raspberry Island

Looking back at Bayfield harbor from the boat

Gorgeous wooden boat, tied up to a big motor yacht as we headed away from the dock

The Madeline Island Ferry, which we will take tomorrow with our bikes to ride around that island

 Approaching Raspberry Island, you can see the lighthouse and living quarters
 Croquet on the lawn; a favorite pastime of the keepers and their families
 The barn, where they kept their one milk cow and lots of chickens
 Interesting orange berries on a tree in the yard
 The lighthouse tower, on the top of the living quarters

Outbuildings of the keepers--the barn, the storage building and the keeper's outhouse--as the ranger described, the chief keeper and his family had their own outhouse, which was on a direct path from the kitchen door of their quarters.  The two assistant keepers and their families had to share one other outhouse, but it was much farther away--RHIP, as the military says!

 The stand for the light in the tower

You can get an idea of how the wind was blowing from looking at Santa's beard!

 At the beach end of the hike
 The kayakers

Interesting red berries on this little plant on the beach

Looking back up from the dock, up the concrete steps; you can see the rails of the little tram they used to pull fuel and other heavy supplies up to the buildings

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