A Heartbreaking Loss

Guest House 2016(Photo taken by a beach-walking neighbor, 2016)

I’ve been so stressed and heart-broken that I haven’t even thought about posting anything here since 2014 because that is when disaster struck in the form of an autumn mega-storm that literally ripped land out from under Artemisia about 16 feet of bluff-top in front of the Guest House, plus about 10 feet at the shoreline). Local meteorologists referred to it as a “100 year storm” and locals said they hadn’t witnessed anything like it since the 1975 storm that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald. Hmmm…it came a tad sooner than 100 years. Climate change in action or just bad luck?

Both cottages have been condemned for being too close to the lake. I lost the income the Guest House was providing and had to evacuate my mother (whom I had just moved IN to my cottage earlier that year) from the land. She spent an uncomfortable 6 months in an apartment in Hancock before my fiancé came to the rescue and purchased a beautiful old home in Calumet for us. We all find it plenty ironic that it was significantly less expensive to do that than to remedy the problems out at the lake.

I’ve been working just a few hours under the equivalent of two full-time teaching loads since that time to pay off the loans taken out to fix up the property. Losing the rental income really hampered my ability to keep up with that debt.

I called every State, Local, and National agency I could think of to ask if any assistance was available. Nada. Although the September 2014 storm caused massive damage along the coast from the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula down to Ontonagon County, no disaster was declared and property owners were left to their own devices. Only my neighbor, McLain State Park got any government assistance. My homeowner’s insurance did not cover damage by wave action – my insurance agent told me that such insurance wasn’t even available. Having just purchased the property at the tail end of 2010, I currently owe more on the property than it is now worth without the value of the two cottages. And even if I could borrow more money, I just can’t work any more hours to make the payments on an additional loan. I had hoped to have all of the old debt paid off by the end of Summer 2017 but some unforeseen expenses and a pay cut for the Spring 2017 semester put my  “I’m finally debt-free“ Happy Dance several more months away from my original goal.  So I’m stuck with no money and a very expensive problem.

About half of the enclosed porch of the Guest House now hangs in the air about 40 feet over the shoreline. The edge of the bluff slowly creeps closer to the bedroom of my cottage. That cottage has been spared “urgent” status by the grace of some very stubborn trees and huge chunks of mine rock that had been dumped there many years ago. But each season strips away more land.  About half-dozen mature trees and lots of smaller ones between the cottages are gone. The Spruce tree planted for my grandmother by friends back around 2002 or so (decorated every Christmas AND Easter during her life!) is still alive, hanging upside-down, hanging on to the top of the bluff by some stubborn, thick roots. As she breathed her last in 2006 I was praying for her transition while decorating it with red ribbons while a seagull hovered overhead.

All of the erosion control structures built between summer 2011 and September 2014 have disappeared into Lake Superior. My workers retrieved about a hundred of the cedar logs that had washed down to McLain State Park and they now rest on my land, waiting for a new assignment.

I don’t want my cottages to fall into the lake. My neighbors don’t want my cottages falling into the lake and then washing up on their shores. I suppose the State of Michigan doesn’t want that either. People keep asking me what I’m going to do. Well, what CAN I do?

I’ve gotten bids for moving the cottages, and the cost is way beyond my means, and there are serious logistical issues to deal with even if the money should become available.  I’ve gotten a bid on tearing down the Guest House and even that is way beyond my means.  So I pray, and buy a lottery ticket now and then. And I keep working as much overload as my College District will allow to pay off my debts so that I can consider borrowing again.

The land is what is most precious to me. I’ve accepted the loss of the cottages and hold the memories of all the hours spent fixing them up dear to my heart. I’ve already donated the major appliances, light fixtures and even the kitchen cupboards to Habitat for Humanity.  I’m glad someone else will benefit from my loss.

Next, I’m planning to put the word out that any organization willing to cut up and take away the Guest House can have it for free. There is a lot of good wood in there. It was a very solidly built house and served as a year-round residence in this tough climate for many, many years. The challenge will be taking portions of the house up and down the steep, narrow driveway so I don’t know if I’ll find any takers, but what else can I do?

If you have ideas, please leave a comment here.

Holding on to the Spirit of Artemisia as best I can.

— Callista

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