I was thinking about birds today. Perhaps because I saw a flock of tiny birds and it was so cold outside that it made me wonder, as I always do, how they manage to survive the cold with their tiny little bodies. Then I thought of struggles. And life in general. And life as it is today. It brought to mind a poem by a woman who spent her life making block prints and poetry. Her name was Gwen Frostic. I don’t even know the name of the poem, but it brought to mind all of the turmoil in our country and the world.
Each swan is always a swan
with all its beauty and grace
and, the blue jay remains a jay
No turtle would try to induce
a frog to live his way . . . .
Perhaps . . .
therein lies the secret
of peaceful coexistence
When I am away from home there are quite a few things I miss. The fresh, salty air of living in a seaside community. The oft-times starkness of the mountains rising out of the sea. Being able to keep track of the traffic at the airport because more often than not, I hear the planes landing and departing; turbo props, not jets. The background noise of gulls, ravens, eagles, geese, oyster catchers, and a dozen species of ducks. The thrum of boat engines leaving the harbor. The wild sound of the Aleutian winds.
At the top of my list is the constant sound of the ocean. My house sits on a natural spit of land fronted by Iliuliuk Bay which is fed by the Bering Sea. Even on a calm day there is the little slap of waves on the beach. As the seas get bigger, the sound of rolling pebbles and rocks being pulled by departing waves is quite satisfying. But the best is when it is really blowing from the north and the waves are pounding the shore like a big bass drum. That is the time when the waves are so constant and so powerful that they shake the shore and the land, the very air that we breath, and my soul.
My friend Zoya, who is a crazed walker and runner, called just as I was getting ready to take my husband some lunch at work. The wind was muffling her voice so I knew she was outside. She says “I am out at Priest Rock (I know she means Little Priest Rock) and there are so many seals sitting on the rocks, about 12 of them. I’ve never seen so many together and they are so big.” I verify that they are seals and not sea lions. “Oh no, they are seals and they are so fat. You should come take some pictures.” (And you have to read this with an Armenian accent, by the way.)
By the time I got out there after going all the way over to airport to drop off lunch, they had decreased in numbers to about 9. But they were so roly poly fat. And all different colors. Just basking away the afternoon in the winter sun; sharing space with Emperor geese who were grazing in the near shore waters.
There is nothing better than being able to drive out Summer Bay road in January. Typically we are unable to drive it past November due to snow and avalanches.
And there is nothing better than living in a place where a spur of the moment phone call from a friend equals basking harbor seals…
The bald eagle is Alaska’s largest resident bird of prey. It can have a wing span of up to 7 ½ feet and weighs in between 8 and 14 pounds. Females are typically larger than male eagles. In the early part of the 1900’s, some Alaskan residents thought that bald eagles were competing with humans for salmon. A bounty was put on eagles from 1917 to 1953. A payment between $.50 and $2.00 was given for every pair of bald eagle talons that were turned in to the Alaska territorial government. Records show that the territorial government paid for 128,000 pairs of bald eagle talons during these years. Although the bald eagle population was never at peril in Alaska, precipitous declines were seen in both the reproduction and populations of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. After the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972, populations began to slowly recover and it is no longer considered endangered or threatened.
In Unalaska we have no shortage of bald eagles. In fact, they are so common that we did not even pay any attention to them until tourists started gracing our shores. It became apparent that our ‘common’ was their delight. Tourists are adamant about getting their pictures of bald eagles. You’ll see tourists standing in the middle of the road taking a shot. They come into your yard with their cameras at the ready. They scramble up steep, rocky slopes to get better composition in their shot. When I think about the eagle pictures I have taken over the last 30 years, I can pretty much say that I have taken probably 10 to 15 pictures of eagles that were not accidental pictures. By accidental, I mean that I took a picture and an eagle happened to accidentally end up in it because they are just all over the place.
But there seems to be no getting around the fact that we have a plethora of eagles. With our growing population we have also had eagle incidents where we have had eagle attacks on the heads of humans who have inadvertently wandered too close to eagle nests. Unfortunately this “wandering” is simply walking down the sidewalk that happens to be next to a cliff where an eagle has built its’ nest. So we teach our children to give eagles a wide berth, though it can be difficult at times when they just come walking across your lawn.
It’s a little difficult to ignore them when your mother inadvertently dumps the guts from cleaning fish within 50 feet of where you are tending the fish net.
They line the roof when you are out basking in the Aleutian sunshine.
They sit on the school roof and play in the playground. Sorry kids, no recess today.
They are on every light pole. You learn to give the area around the poles a wide berth. And you certainly make note of which way the eagle is positioned so as not to be given a poop bath.
They don’t care if the pole is already taken. They will share.
Even if it gets crowded.
They are in the grass…
They perch on rocks…
They find a perch on all types of industrial equipment.
So having lived all but 22 years of my life among eagles, nothing should surprise me. Boy was I wrong about that. I went to the landfill today. It is always heavily populated by eagles and ravens. No big deal. I backed up to the facility, got out and got one heavy bag of garbage out of my car and one very light bag of garbage. I had the heavy one in my left hand, and the light one in my right hand. When I was within about 3 feet of the residential dumpster, I saw a blur of motion that turned out to be an eagle, with claws extended, coming straight for my face. I whipped that light garbage bag up in the nick of time and smacked that eagle away from me. If it had been the heavy bag in that hand, I never would have gotten it up in time. And if I did, I probably would have done some damage to the eagle. As it was, no feathers were lost, and just the landfill employee and I had heart attacks. I can’t believe how lucky I was. And I actually am having a hard time believing that my reaction time, my reflexes, and my total ninja-ness were so incredible. I saved myself. I’m my own hero today.
I did not make New Year resolutions this year. I have decided they don’t really work for me. I guess I do not have a very resolute personality! Instead I have decided to take a close look at those things in my life that may need resolution to try to find solutions. So they are not resolutions. Just perhaps solutions.
I have rheumatoid arthritis. I was diagnosed about a year and a half ago. It took me about 4 months to get an appointment with a specialist. I gave the prescribed drug a try….over one year’s worth, mind you. I felt worse on it than I remembered when I wasn’t taking it. So my solution, at this point, has been to discontinue the program and find something more holistic for myself. Which is what I am all about anyway, and I can’t believe I let myself be talked into a prescription medication.
My solution: cleansing my body of toxins. I feel so much better. And it has only been about 2 1/2 weeks. My pain level has decreased. My activity level has increased. Oh, and I have lost a few pounds, too, which is a bonus!
I live in a very small house. I did not do a very good job at weeding out possessions when moving from large to small to smaller. And every time I get resolute about making more room for us humans in the house, I come across things like this:
Really, how can I not have my favorite picture of my first grandson and I. And the Russian Orthodox triptych…given to me by my godsons. The shell tree – made by my youngest daughter. The whalebone ptarmigan and the ivory sea otter. Good grief, those, perhaps unlike the others, will never go….made by my mother Gert Svarny.
I believe I will try some small, unobtrusive storage boxes. You know, either baskets, or linen covered boxes with lids. And put stuff away, put the boxes in the closet, and recycle things once in a while. Hmmmm….I’ll let you know if it works!
I can say it out loud now. Spring. Spring. Spring! Indigenous plants are sprouting. I stepped outside my door to listen to the Lapland Longspurs trilling away. Male and female, doing the little mating flirtation. The fog was coming down, and I could tell that a nice drizzle was going to start shortly. I walked across the lawn, following the birdsong. A juvenile bald eagle, perched on the light pole next to Mom’s and Dad’s house, ruffled his feathers and for some unknown reason decided to fly to perch on my roof right above my door. Then he hopped-flew to the little shed 10 feet away. Well – talons up close are a bit frightening, so I decided to walk across the street to the beach, hoping that he would be gone in a few minutes. Low tide. Thinking of the red salmon soon to grace our waters. I turned back toward the driveway and barely ducked fast enough to evade the adult dive bombing the juvenile with talons extended. Criminy! I had to go from fence, to boat, ducking for safety each time that damn eagle would dive. About 20 feet from the door, I noticed that there was another adult eagle sitting between the little shed outside my door and Mom’s house. Just sitting there all eagle-eyed in the grass. Pitter patter goes my heart. Then another juvenile joined the fray. Now didn’t I feel just a little ridiculous making a beeline for my front door as if the gates of hell were opening behind me. Yes, ah spring.
We have been enjoying our beautiful February weather over the past week or so. Mom and Dad say that they have always done a lot of boating in February because the weather always offers up a couple of weeks of beautiful, flat calm days with brilliant sunshine.
This past week has also shown another finest of Unalaska, besides its February weather. It has been an action-packed showcase of the generousity of Unalaskans, from the Channel 8 auction (with their awesome and hilarious soap opera, Dutch Harbor 99692 ), to the Ballyhoo Lions bowling, spilling over to the Museum of the Aleutian’s Chocolate Extravaganza, and ending up on Sunday with the Preschool Ice Cream Social. Where else but Unalaska, could you wear yourself out donating money to great public ideas in action? And having fun doing it?
I also wrapped up my segment for the Unangan Program at the elementary school. My last week with the cutest little first graders you will ever see, was a breeze after my previous week with almost 30 second graders! Not that the second graders weren’t cute…..there were just soooooooooooo many of them. Keeps you on your toes when you are working with hot oil.
Suzi Golodoff now has five weeks with the students, teaching about our Aleutian feathered friends, and, last but not least – in fact, most importantly – Laresa Syverson will give 5 weeks of her afternoons in the pursuit of passing on Unangam tunuu (the Aleut language) to a generation younger than her!