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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

The difference between rip-rap and riff-raff

April 9, 2010
By Jim Junttila

"What's the Keweenaw coming to?" asked WW&W wildlife correspondent Paris Hiltunen, slipping out of her hipboots and into the open-toe heels she wears when we go to nice places like the Copper Island Beach Club.

We'd just finished wading the shoreline, taking current cfs and water temperature readings with representatives of the Portage Lake Water Authority (PLWA), and checking for exotic species DNA along the rip-rap at the CIBC.

"Nice place you've got here," Paris smiled approvingly as Mary Kaminski poured her a Cosmo. "I'm surprised, when Jim said we'd be working the rip-rap tonight, I thought he said riff-raff and we'd be going to some dive."

"It's good to know the difference," Mary said.

"Spring sure came quick," Paris added. "We're not supposed to have ice-out and steelhead spawning in the rivers this early, but I'm not complaining; we've got Verna Equinox to thank for it."

Everybody's happy with the job Verna's doing. March is traditionally Lake Superior's biggest ice-making month, but not this year. Copper Harbor had to cancel its ice fishing tournament because of wide open water.

The Keweenaw Waterway had its earliest ice-out in years and it, too, left of its own free will. According to official PLWA records kept at the CIBC, the ice disappeared on March 12.

"It was gone a lot earlier than last year," said Tom Rozich, retired MDNR fisheries biologist turned bartender and record keeper. "Last April, they brought in the Coast Guard icebreaker to do the job, but the ice was more than three feet thick and they had to turn around."

I'm not whining that winter wimped out and we got less than half the snow we usually get. Nor do I feel short-changed that Houghton County got lots more than Keweenaw County did and that it's gone so soon.

The last time it happened, I was inspired to coin the word "wimpter" and this is only the second time I've had occasion to whip it out. They say it's still not too too late for a last-blast April mega-blizzard, but I'm betting a quarter barrel of KBC Pickaxe Blonde that we don't get hit. Any takers?

I know it seems wrong and against everything we hold sacred and dear and take for granted, but they actually had to haul snow into Calumet for the Copper Dog 150 in mid-March. I always wondered why they call them mushers, but now I know; the snow was pretty much mush by the time the race was over. The Great Bear Chase was skiing on thin snow as well. Even the bears are waking up early. So are the birds, bees and wildflowers.

"The warm weather has coaxed the crocuses out already," reported WW&W floral correspondent Violet Rintamaki, who said her yard was covered with them on Easter. "It won't be long before we'll see forget-me-nots, marsh marigolds, and trout lilies by the trilliums along the brookie cricks."

Sap, steelhead and smelt are running sooner than usual as well. The rivers aren't rockin' and rollin' with melt-down and run-off, but they're flowing fast enough to draw fish upstream for their annual spawn-o-rama.

"Keeping fish from running up rivers to spawn is like trying to hold back the dawn," rhymed WW&W correspondent Verna Equinox, authority on all things spring.

"The first full moon following my Equinox is called the Maple Syrup Moon," Verna swooned licking her lips. "Some call it the Sap Moon, named for when the sap starts running, or Sugar Moon because it's so sweet to the taste. It's why Yoopers go out and drain off the sugar maples every Spring, you know."

"Squirrels, chippies, deer, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers get their fair share, too. When you see dogs out there licking the trunks, they're not barking up the wrong tree," Verna punned. "The Algonquins call it the Worm Moon, which I'm guessing references 'the early bird gets the worm' as in the robin."

"Jews call it the Passover Moon or the Chaste Moon," added WW&W religion correspondent Amazing Grace. "Unorthodox Jewish Canadians call it the Hockey Moon; Every year they roll the boulder away from the tomb and Jesus comes out. If he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of hockey."

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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