Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: So Cold A Sky

To say that Karl Bohnak loves snow is a bit like saying that Charlie Sheen likes to party. Bohnak, chief meteorologist at With Luck You See TV (WLUC-TV6) in Marquette, Michigan, claims to be telling upper Michigan weather stories in general, but then fills the first three quarters of the book with cold and snow: Father Marquette dodging ice floes on Lake Superior in August, Father Menard trekking hundreds of miles on snowshoes, ditto Bishop Baraga, as well as various miners, farmers, and mail carriers all being forced to bust through snowdrifts for what feels like most of the year. Henry Schoolcraft, for example, apparently rarely saw a sunny summer day in his years in Michigan, from the time he arrived at Sault Ste. Marie in the 1820s until he left the state in 1841, just lots of snow and ice and blizzards.  

Then again, considering that we Yoopers like to claim that upper Michigan has only two seasons -- winter, and three months of rough sledding -- maybe Bohnak's book isn't particularly unbalanced. The good weather stories do all seem to happen in the winter, or close to it. Ships trapped in unseasonably early ice, ships locked out of harbors by unseasonably late ice, snowdrifts burying houses, people freezing to death (or coming close to it) in blizzards, . . . there is no doubt that the U.P. can be a cold, cold place, and Mr. Bohnak loves every frigid minute. Besides, it's a lot more interesting to read about 20-foot snowdrifts burying most of the houses in Ishpeming in November than it is to read about one person's chimney getting blasted by lightning in July.  

Despite inspiring the urge to quaff numerous cups of hot chocolate -- or maybe because of it -- So Cold a Sky is an entertaining read. It also appears to have been competently researched.  Mr. Bohnak cites archival sources from around the U.P. (various historical societies, Northern Michigan University, the archdiocese, and others) and admits freely when and where the gaps in the written records occur. He hits the high points of U.P. history, e.g., the invention of the solar compass and the opening of the iron range, and manages to cover the tragedies (forest fires, shipwrecks) without sounding overly bleak. On a personal level, I was a little intrigued to learn in retrospect that various weather events that struck me at the time as being just ordinary U.P. weather were in fact record-breakers of one sort or another (e.g., coldest average summer), but maybe a meteorologist worries more about statistics than the people actually living through the blizzards do.    


  1. Not a fan of snow, but I am happy that there are those who like to live in it and even study it!

    I am noticing your count down is under 3 months - how amazing for you!!

  2. You forced me to learn something today. Thanks. Had to look up U.P. Michigan to see what it meant. Also learned the meaning of Yoopers.
    Awesome. Like being Interlake-ers in Manitoba or Cape Breton Islanders in Nova Scotia. I may need to read that book. It does sound interesting.
    I'm guessing when you escape Atlanta you will be headed back to snow country?

  3. Sounds interesting-- I'll have to get hold of a copy.

  4. Too many books, too little time. Too many women and a big lack of interest in The Insane Chicks Society and their damn empire building.

    But the camping is great.

    Wanna read a damn good book by a no bullshit shrink? See if you can find a copy of "I ain't much, baby - but I'm all I've got.

    By Jess Lair, Ph.D.

    ISBN # 0-449-20436-7

  5. The coldest summer wouldn't be 1965, would it?? I remember scraping frost off the windshield in July.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.