What Every Northwoods Gal Needs

Sept 16, 2012

Six months ago I had the intention of writing about what every Northwoods Gal needs, but then my life changed and prevented me from doing much writing. The life change was good and still is good. Hopefully you’ve already heard about the change and hopefully have seen it – it’s my new book “Art of Winter: A photographic essay.”

Last December a bunch of my photos got together and formed a union. As a collective, they recognized their power in numbers (more than 160 of them) and the strong vision and message they had. Thus united they demanded that I do them justice and give them a forum to share their vision and message, the art and beauty that ice and snow create. They demanded that I do this by creating a photography coffee table book. Since then I have spent countless hours doing research, product development, editing, design, and fundraising to self-publish my book.

I’ve written on my blog, Facebook and LinkedIn about it and various aspects of that journey, so I won’t go into it today, too much. I will say that my photos are very happily bound together and bringing joy to others. It has received praise from nationally recognized photographers, so if you haven’t gotten a copy for yourself, you really owe it to yourself to do so. And it makes a great gift, especially for the person who thought they had everything. It’s available directly through me at www.JulieMCovert.com or Amazon.com or can by ordered through your local independent bookstore.

I’ve spent all my “writing” time, working on the book, rather than write about all the stories in my head as I went bass fishing by myself on a perfect summer evening, canoeing on a tranquil morning, stalked pileated woodpeckers, and helped Hugh extend our woodshed. He laughed when I told him we were changing it from a bachelor-sized to a married couple-sized wood shed. A lot has happened that I haven’t had a chance to write about. The book has taken up a lot of my time, but things are finally settling down.

And this summer we’ve had lots of company visit us. My sister and nephew came for their first visit and finally realized that even though we don’t have consistent internet and cell phone signal there’s a lot of reasons why we love living off the grid on this remote island. A friend of ours from Windsor, Ontario brought his daughter with him at the beginning of the summer. “I bet if you let my dad, he would even pay you for the opportunity to be here on Shelter Island.” He took advantage of being a teacher and his school’s summer vacation and came for three visits. He just could not stay away.

And my book publicist and her husband came for a visit and a book launch party. I’m not sure what the highlight of their trip was: the book launch party or us going for a Jeep ride and getting stalling out in a ginormous mud puddle and not being able to get the Jeep started. That was a day when I wished I had my handy-dandy hip boots with me. (Maybe I’ll write about that adventure next time or maybe I’ll write about catching a fish by hand, on two different occasions.)

Stalled in the mud. Winches are handy.


Yes, I caught this pink salmon by hand. More details later.

All the wonderful company along with a two week sailing charter to Canada’s North Channel and Georgian Bay has kept me very busy this summer. Until this weekend. I finally feel like I am getting caught up and can enjoy my serene life here in the middle of nowhere.

Sunset reflecting on sailboat window.

Today, instead of feeling compelled to “work on work,” I have a “To Do” list that I want to clear before my husband gets home. He’s been gone for the last five days. It’s a reasonable list: put away clean laundry, clean kitchen, vacuum house, put sheets on the guest bed (Betsy’s coming on Tuesday for 10 days), start doing yoga (haven’t done for years, but need to) and write out Hugh’s “Happy Anniversary” card (tomorrow is our big one year). The list is quite feasible to complete considering that I didn’t stay in bed this morning reading until 11:30, like I did yesterday. But I’m feeling totally unmotivated to do any of it, yet.

Always on my list is clean my desk and write. The writing magazines are always saying “write anything, it doesn’t matter what, just write!” My publicist asked me a couple months ago when the last time I had posted anything to my blog. I couldn’t remember, so I had to look online. “It was May 16th,” I told her. So many things have gotten in the way and taken up my Monday writing day; like the book she was working on publicizing. The irony struck me – if it weren’t for the book, I wouldn’t have hired her and I would have time to write. But writing builds readership, which increases exposure for my book.

Today is a beautiful fall day. Even though fall doesn’t arrive until next weekend, the trees have been turning red and gold. It would be a good day for a hike but since I don’t really have a major project, like I did yesterday, I do feel as if I can take some of this quite time to write, finally.


The last two nights were cold enough to warrant a fire in the parlor stove to heat the house. Fall had definitely arrived.

Last night I put extra spring lines on the boat to secure it better knowing that the wind would probably shift early in the morning. This morning at about 3:30 AM I woke up. The wind direction had changed and increased in strength. When I went to bed there had been a gentle breeze, now it was blowing at least 10 knots. It is interesting how living here, so close to the elements and in close relationship to the elements, I hear things differently than I had when I first visited two and a half years ago. And now I subconsciously react differently. Even though the wind and waves had awoken me, by listening to the waves crash and the wind in the trees, I knew it was still mild and I could wait until morning to check the boat.

When I got up at 7:30 the wind was blowing a strong 15 knots and the waves were climbing over two feet. The weather had gotten stronger over the last four hours. The national weather service forecast for this area was calling for southwest winds of 15 knots and more and waves up to four feet. Wind and waves like that require that we dock the boat in our north-facing slip, rather than our east-facing slip, which is closest to the house. I could wait until later to move the boat, but the dock lines should be checked immediately. Lines stretch, become loose or even render (undo) their knots when they are constantly pulled and moved, as the boat and waves would have done for hours since the wind switch.

Rather than tightening lines, having breakfast and then later undoing everything to move the boat, I decided to move the boat first and let breakfast wait.

I went through my mental list of what I would need:

– handkerchief

– pocket knife

– hip boots

These are the three basic essentials that every Northwoods Gal needs.

I never know when I’ll need a handkerchief and or pocket knife, so they always get tucked in my pocket. Generally I use my handkerchief for blowing my nose, but sometimes its really helpful for other things. I like to have one with me when I hike the island and come across European swamp thistles cirsium palustre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cirsium_palustre, I can pull them up without getting jabbed. I wrap my folded up handkerchief around the base of the thistle’s stalk and slowly pull it up. These thistles are an invasive species in Michigan, so we try to eradicate them when we have the chance.

I have two different pocket knives. One is a small Buck single-blade penknife, which I carry with me when I’m going to the office or town. It’s great for opening mail, packages, cutting tape or cleaning my nails. When I’m working around the island I stick my larger Schrade Old Timer knife in my pocket. I try to keep both of them sharp and clean. (Aslan would approve.) It can be a long walk back to the house to get a pair of scissors to cut a piece of rope or to get a knife when something needs a little whittling on. Any sailor knows that it’s important to have a sharpened knife handy in case a line needs to be cut loose quickly; someone’s life might depend upon it. This morning I stuck my larger knife in my pocket.

And hip boots – the Northwoods Gal must have hip boots! Hugh gave me a pair for Christmas last year. I just love them. I’m not talking about black or red patent leather boots that street walkers are seen in wearing with fish net stockings. I’m talking about 4mm neoprene Mack’s Prairie Wing hip boots that I can easily work in water that is two feet deep.

Two feet deep may not sound deep, but it is. Grab that tape measure and see how high up your thigh two feet is. Now think about working in water that is 50 degrees cold or colder, for an hour or more. That’s why hip boots are so great – they keep you dry and warm when nothing else will.

There were a number of times, before I had them, that my tall Muck boots just weren’t enough or wearing a pair of Hugh’s chest waders was too gangly and awkward. Having my own pair of hip boots that fit my feet make me feel as if I’m (almost) invincible. I can more assuredly and comfortably work in and around the water when I don’t feel as if I’m going to trip over everything. Jobs are always done more effectively and safer when proper equipment is used.

This morning I knew I’d need my hip boots if I was going to move the boat.

When I walked down to the east dock I saw that a couple of the lines had loosened up over night. I expected this. The waves were not very big by the slip but they were increasing and could tell that by mid-day the water might start sloshing over the stern of the boat. And the waves would also continually push the boat from side to side. The lake’s water level is very low; it’s at about winter level but three months early! So along with pushing the boat side-to-side, as the waves move in and out, the boat might crash down on the rocks below it. My inclination that I would have to move the boat to the north dock was correct.

Strategically I took the dock lines off and nimbly motored out of the slip, careful to not get banged onto the boat crib or rocks by the strong waves. It was an easy and uneventful three minute ride to the north dock. There the water was not as rough.

This summer we bought a used marine rail system to move the boat out of the water on occasions, such as this, without having to put it on the trailer. What does it look like and how does it work? Imagine a set of railroad tracks, the width of a boat, that lays in the water on the bottom of the boat slip. On top of these tracks is a carriage on metal wheels that look like miniature railroad wheels. The carriage looks similar to a boat trailer, having wood covered with carpet on which the boat rests. There is a long cable that is attached to the carriage at one end and a winch at the other. The generator-powered winch moves the carriage up and down the track or rail system.

To take the boat out of the water the carriage is pulled, by the winch, to the end of the tracks past the end of the slip. The carriage is below the water. The boat is then driven onto the carriage and secured by the boat’s own weight and by tying a line from the carriage to the boat. The motor is turned off and tilted out of the water. Then the carriage, with the boat on it, is pulled up into the boat slip by the winch and is pulled out of the water, keeping it safe from strong and potentially damaging waves.

This last step is where things can really get wet. Because the boat on the carriage is so far out of the boat slip, the boat and me are surrounded by water. I now have to wade to shore to turn on the generator and winch and pull up the boat. My options are to take off my pants and shoes and wade onto shore barefoot (ouch and slippery and cold) or wade in with my clothes and shoes on, which allows my feet firm footing. Or if I’m smart, which I was this morning, I have on my fabulous, handy-dandy hip boots.

I located the shallowest spot and climbed out of the boat into the water and waded onto shore, remaining dry and warm. The rest was a piece of cake: I turned the generator on, uncovered the winch, switched the winch on and pulled the boat out of the water and turned everything off.

During my walk back to the house, I mused to my self about how wonderful of a day it was, crashing waves and all.

When I spoke with Hugh later in the morning I told him, “Thank you, I love my hip boots!”

“Yup, they sure come in handy.”


About juliemckaycovert

I am a therapist, teacher, photographer and published author. I am a lover of life and nature. My husband, Hugh, and I live off the grid on a remote 40 acre island, Shelter Island, just off of Drummond Island in the far eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This blog is about my life, a life I thought I'd never be able to live. This blog is about dreams and ideals being manifested. It is about daily events with a backwoods twist. It is about the simple pleasures and wonders being brought forth. I invite you to be inspired and even, as some friends have, live vicariously through my words.
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3 Responses to What Every Northwoods Gal Needs

  1. Jennifer Johansen says:

    You caught that thing by HAND? That’s hardcore.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for reading my blog. Yes, I caught it by hand or more accurately I should say I stole it out of the lake from a seagull. On the boat ride home from work, I saw a seagull paying a lot of attention to something in the lake. My husband and I drove the boat over to see what was so interesting. Floating in the lake was this salmon that was hardly alive. So as he positioned the boat I leaned over and hoisted it out of the water, trying my darndest to not let the 10 pound/28 inch gal slither away. Needless to say we didn’t have the pork steak that I had intended for that night’s supper.
      For more hardcore adventures be sure to read my previous and future posts.
      ps – and believe it or not, that was the second time it had happened this summer!

  2. Pingback: The Handy-Dandy Handkerchief Saves the Day | Julie McKay Covert

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