“Which is better, one or two?”
I wasn’t a jam judge at the county fair. I was having an eye exam. The optometrist asked me repeatedly which of the two lens choices improved my vision.
I couldn’t tell and never can. I picked one by doing a “One, two, sky blue, all out except you” in my head.
I want splendid vision and I appreciate those with splendid visions for the future.
Big plane, little plane, ferry. It was more of an arduous journey than it looked and it looked difficult.
My wife had sent me off with a Twinkie with the shelf life of infinity. I ate it as I journeyed to Haines, Alaska, where the rainforest does the chicken dance with the tundra. I had humbition, a subtle blend of humility and ambition. When I hit Southeast Alaska, I hope to see mew gulls because no mews is bad mews. The North American Classification Committee of the American Ornithological Society changed its name to the short-billed gull. “No short-billeds is bad mews” doesn’t provide the same drollery.
It’s not the number of breaths we take that matters, it’s what takes our breath away. Haines takes my breath away; it has a black belt in beauty. It’s good for the eyes. It’s impossible to lose interest in something both intimate and immense. I never hear a groan of familiarity around mountains and fjords.
People come to Haines to get close to an eagle. In 1917, the Alaska Territorial Legislature established a bounty of 50 cents to $2 for each pair of eagle feet. That legislature removed the bounty in 1953 because there was no evidence eagles were depleting salmon populations, but over 128,000 eagles had been killed. Alaska became a state in 1959 and bald eagles fell under the protection of the National Bald Eagle Act.
You don’t get to Haines by making a wrong turn at the end of your driveway. Travel plans change with the vagaries of Alaska’s weather. Flights and ferries are canceled because of visibility. Punting is required and it’s no use arguing with the weather. I don’t complain because of Dave Olerud, originally from Boyd, Minn. Dave and his wife came to Alaska to teach. He convinced me that visiting Haines would change my life. He was right. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Iowa farmer Ray (Kevin Costner) hears a mysterious voice in his Iowa cornfield saying, “If you build it, he will come.” That’s not normal. The last time a cornfield talked to me was never. Despite taunts of lunacy, Ray builds a baseball diamond on his land. The ghosts of great players came from the field to play ball, led by Shoeless Joe Jackson. Dave didn’t listen to a cornfield, but he must have seen “Field of Dreams” before it was filmed. At a time when we saw our bald eagles on TV (“Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”) as Marlin Perkins told us that just as an eagle protects its young, we should, too, with a policy from Mutual of Omaha while every biting and stinging insect known to science attacked Jim Fowler, Dave founded the American Bald Eagle Foundation (ABEF), a nonprofit organization created in 1982 to protect local populations of bald eagles, preserve their habitat and boost the economy of Haines. The Foundation has a museum, a raptor center and the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival in November.
Eagle watchers congregate on the flats of the Chilkat River along the Haines Highway. Bald eagles are attracted to the area by the spawned-out salmon in the water late in the year because parts of the Chilkat remain open due to an alluvial fan, which causes an upwelling of warmer water. Salmon runs occur in these ice-free areas and their carcasses feed the eagles. Eagles, ravens, gulls, mergansers, swans, Steller’s jays, dippers, crows and magpies bring sensory delights. The talkative eagles are tolerant of photographers and birders.
During the construction of ABEF’s building in 1987, a collapsing wall fell on Dave, paralyzing him from the waist down. He’s been in a wheelchair since then, but his vision for the ABEF endured.
I’ve now traveled to Haines many times and the ABEF persists.
Dave Olerud saw that coming.