"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Welcome Home

Sometimes the best thing about traveling is returning home.

Home. Your own bed. All your familiar surroundings. Your favorite chair for reading or watching television. Your own desk and computer. Easy access to your e-mail address book.

You own kitchen. Your familiar foods. Familiar views out the windows. Familiar books on the shelves.

The place you call home. The place where you belong. Your own precious spot on this huge earth.

It's especially nice if someone who loves you is there to greet you. Someone who cares enough to have noticed your absence.

Someone who tells you what your absence meant to him, and how he feels about your return...

Someone who greets you with open arms (wings) and says.....

Come closer......I dare you!

(Sigh) Home, screech, home.

A Bagful of Swan

Things didn't look too promising this morning for the Tern Lake swan that can't fly. (See previous post.) Temperatures around 15 degrees had finished freezing the lake, and the swan was walking around on the ice, unable to feed or get into water, two things necessary for its survival.

Its mate had hung around until late in the day yesterday, flying up and down Tern Lake valley. Eventually, it left also.

Personnel from the Alaska Sea Life Center looked at the situation this morning and mobilized a rescue mission. Before that got going, however, a Moose Pass couple who live in Tern Lake valley donned protective clothing and went on a swan round-up. Today the ice was thick enough to hold their weight.

Roger and Joanie chased it around the ice for a time, and when it ran onto an island where Joanie waited, she dove onto it and hung on.

Joanie and Roger loading the unneeded canoe after capturing the swan.

Heidi, a biologist from the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward, with a bagful of swan.

Gullible and Heidi with the swan.

That, friends, is one huge bird foot.

Here's the foot as the swan was being uncovered and put in a crate for transport.

Unbagging the swan.

Crated. The swan has a mask made from a cut-off sock. This will keep it docile.Heidi assured me the swan will be okay riding in the back of an open pickup. Swans are easily over-heated, she said.

And off you go. To rehab, for sure. Maybe to a Washington center where it will be able to swim in a lake with other swans and fly off when it's able. Maybe to a captive breeding program.

For now, the Tern Lake swan is safe. It will be examined more carefully at the Seward center by staff veterinarian Dr. Pam Tuomi and the staff biologists. Hopefully it will be feasting on kale and other greens soon.

The coyotes and bear that are hanging around the lake will have to look elsewhere for a meal.

Thanks to everyone who cared enough to rescue an injured swan.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Far-Freakin'-Out Friday

Transition day dawned brisk and clear in Halibut Cove. Time to go home and take care of responsibilities there. I'd made a couple phone calls to the replacement house-sitters and was assured everything was on track for today. Then, I said goodbye to Gerri the cat and the view out the front windows.

The replacements, Esther and Dan, arrived shortly after 1 p.m., and 45 minutes later I was heading out of the Cove entrance on Mako's Water Taxi.

By 2:15, I was in Homer with my gear loaded in the Dodge, and driving for home, 130 miles north. I didn't reach home until 8 p.m. It wasn't my fault. I'd made four short necessary stops along the way. The first was at Safeway in Homer for a few groceries. The second at Subway in Soldotna for an Italian BMT on Italian herb bread, which turned out to be plain old white when I opened it.

The third was at a touchless car wash in Soldotna, primarily to rinse off the dirt and saltwater that accumulated while it was parked for two weeks on the Homer Spit within spitting distance of Kachemak Bay. Then I stopped at Freddie's for gas, fought with the wretched computerized gas pump for a while, and headed out on the last stretch.

By this time it was around 5 p.m. It had taken three and a quarter hours to go half the distance.


Because of things like this:

Mt. Iliamna, the grand old lady of the Cook Inlet volcanoes. The volcanologists think her last eruption was in 1876, but she's far from inactive. She constantly vents steam and sulfurous gasses from fumaroles. This photo was taken near Anchor Point, the westernmost point on the North American highway system.

Once I wandered through a closed-for-the-winter campground and got those pictures, this caught my eye:

If you click on it and enlarge it to full screen, you can see it's a utility pole, lots of electronics up there, but cleverly disguised as a dead tree with an eagle on top. When I first saw it, a real live raven was perched just below the eagle.

Up the highway a ways is the original town of Ninilchik, settled in 1842. The transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church was established in 1846. This building was dedicated in 1901, and is one of the most photographed buildings on the Kenai Peninsula. Forty years ago it was the only building on the bluff.

Now, it has neighbors. Across the Inlet forty miles is Mt. Redoubt, another active volcano that had everyone on pins and needles earlier this year. The church is beyond and above the long brown building on the bluff.

Finally, I was close to home. The Nightly news with Brian Williams was on the radio, reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, as I drove through Cooper Landing, watching the moon, the Kenai River, and snow-covered mountains. I should have known something was up when I saw that almost full moon.

By the time I reached Tern Lake and saw ice, I knew the trumpeter swans would be gone. I was wrong. There was one swan left. We're pretty sure this is teh famous Tern Lake swan, the one that had been shot with a target arrow a couple months ago. It and its mate have been lingering at the lake ever since. That's ice you see forming around the swan (below). Very thin ice, but ice nevertheless.

The highway is exceedingly narrow at this point, so I drove a hundred yards farther and turned into the pullout. I picked up some litter while I thought about the swan. Then, I drove back to the swan and parked on the narrow shoulder of the highway. I was slightly more than a mile from home at this point, and Brian was finishing up the Nightly News.

Resurrecting my best investigative reporter skills from a gazillion years ago, I put together this story.

Early this morning close to 20 swans were in an area at the head of the lake. There was little open water, and swans need a long length of open water to take off, so it was time to get the migration on the wing. All but one of them rose into the air and circled for a time, then headed south. One, the injured swan's mate, stayed behind and circled and circled, waiting for its mate to join them. The injured swan flapped and flapped its wings, but was unable to fly.

Eventually, the mate flew south to join the other migrating swans. The lone swan WALKED across the ice to a small patch of open water near a culvert. The distance, when I walk along the shoulder picking up litter is a little more than a half mile, so the swan had a shorter, but still long walk. Numerous calls to various enforcement agencies had been made, but the swan was still here, unable to fly.

By the time I got there, ice was forming around the unmoving swan.

Eagle bait, I thought. Or coyote lunch, if the ice is thick enough, and with temps near 20 degrees, it will be by morning. I called my friends Jeff and Rose, both of whom are wildlife biologists. They live nearby, and had first reported the swan with the arrow through its wing and into its breast. They called one of the swan's original rescuers.

Back and forth cell phone conversations took place. The Sea Life Center wouldn't be able to come out until morning, nor could they authorize us to catch the bird, for liability reasons. When asked if we could get into legal trouble for trying to catch a federally protected specie, we were told: "if we were able to catch the bird, it definitely needed to be caught." If we showed up on their doorstep with it, they'd take it.

During all the phone calls, I drove home, unloaded my gear from the bed of the truck, got my life vest and warm fleece clothes. I lowered the kayak from the carport rafters where I store it for the winter, grabbed blankets, and a long-poled dipnet for scooping fish out of rivers.

Jeff and Rose joined me at the culvert. By this time it was dark, only the light of the moon spotlighting the swan, still in the same place. We decided that my one person kayak wasn't the way to go about this. We needed one person to control the kayak and another to handle the net and catch the bird. Jeff drove back a mile to their house and got their two person kayak.

The swan honked once in a while to let us know it didn't appreciate anything we were doing. Or, maybe it was feeling the loss of its mate and other ilk, and just wanted to be left alone. Who knows?

As soon as Jeff and Rose sat down in the kayak, the swan started breaking ice. For about six feet it went, then gained more solid ice and trotted off across the lake, into the moonlight.

About this time, watching that great white trumpeter swan hot-foot it across the frozen lake, the absurdity of the whole swan rescue thing hit me. The three of us started laughing, glad that we had at least tried. Well, what do you expect when three bleeding heart wildlife lovers see one of OUR swans in trouble?

We left the swan to the night and went home, confident that in the next few days some agency will be able to capture and aid the beautiful bird.

So, that's why it took me more than six hours to travel 130 miles.

And, the reward money for information leading to the person who shot the swan remains unclaimed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Personal Pity Party

Time to say goodbye to the Cove. The replacement house-sitters arrive tomorrow, and I'll be heading home soon afterwards.

Time to say goodbye to the Queen of the Cove, Gerri the cat. She has her very own purple easy chair in the living room.

Last walk on the front deck, from where I watch the otters, ducks, eagles, and gulls. And, the occasional skiff passing by.

I set the laptop up on the dining room table, with my back to the windows. Otherwise....

...(sigh) I wouldn't get anything done.

And yes, I did clean up the table for this picture. There's no way I can keep my work space this neat.

Humongous LDC HD Tv, satellite reception, comfy couch....


Then, the moon decided to give me a going away present.....

Don't you feel sorry for me?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Avian Ablutions

Gerri the cat was on the front deck with me the other day. I was taking pictures of the sea ducks down below. Gerrri was watching carefully.

I don't have my bird book here in Halibut Cove, so I'm not going to guess at what kind of ducks these are, but a number of them were bathing Sunday afternoon.

Then came the standing up and shaking off the water.

Here's a common loon at Tern Lake last summer....

...and here he is getting all wet.

Same with a trumpeter swan....

...batheing in the lake.

Those were the birds that like to take baths.
Here's one who would rather dip his head in his water dish and let it run over him. I simplify the process by putting him in the kitchen sink and gently spraying him.

He isn't at all pleased with the process, but he does like the outcome.

Talk about a bad hair day!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stickin' with the Dream

I’ve read a lot of books about writing. I’ve read a lot of stories about neophyte writers and their misadventures in attempting to have their works published.

Most of what I’ve read and heard about tells the same story again and again: the unsolicited manuscript hits what’s known in the trade as the “slush pile,” which means pretty much what you’d expect it to mean. It’s the place where all the unsolicited stuff from unknowns goes when an over-worked editor has no more room on his desk, or inclination to read yet another groaner. The lucky get a real rejection notice.

Every once in a while, a Stephen King-like story emerges. Refused over and over again, reject after reject stuck on the nail above his desk, and then….. "Carrie” happened, and I doubt anyone ever rejected King again.

Attend a writer’s conference and you’ll hear about the other stuff that happens after your manuscript is accepted. The author has no say in the book’s cover design, and little else to say if the publisher decides changes need to be made. There are stories of book signing tours where no one shows up, and other nightmares I don’t care to visit here.

But today I heard a different story. This one was about a woman whose first novel bombed, but she kept writing and writing and writing. Those Hollywood types came looking to buy the screen rights, but she turned them down again and again. She had a specific requirement, and they couldn't meet it.

Enter Dana Stabenow, born, raised, and educated in Alaska. I suggest you go to this site and read her (short) autobiography. It alone could be a best seller:

Dana’s second novel won an Edgar Award. The novel was the first in was is now a 16-book Kate Shugak series. Dana's stand alone mystery based on the U.S. Coast Guard hit the NY Times best seller list after its publication a couple years ago.

Today, Dana announced the dream had come true. She sold the rights to a television series based on her Kate Shugak novels. Kate is a 30-ish, edgy, very independent Alaskan Native who is a private investigator.

Dana plans to be very involved in the productions. She has been courted for years by Hollywood agents, always turning them down because they would not commit to her primary stipulation: they must film in Alaska. No town in central Washington pretending to be typical Alaska was acceptable, despite the costs of filming here.

Right here. Home. Where the stories take place. And to whom did she sell the rights? An Anchorage company called Evergreen Films that already does substantial filming here.

Good for you, Dana. Kudos.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Russian Journals, Part Fourteen, Castles in the Air

Did you ever, when you were a kid, daydream of castles with turrets and bell towers with narrow, circular stairways?

Did you ever, when you watched Charles Laughton in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, lose track of the story because you were enthralled with the bell tower?

Did you have a certain place where you played, a place that became anything you wanted?
Maybe a castle attacked by barbarians one day, a stagecoach pursued by bandits another day, or a three masted ship sailing with Columbus on yet another.

I did. To all of the above. My place was the big birch tree up the road in Judy’s yard.

My most persistent daydream, though, was climbing a narrow circular staircase..

...reaching higher and higher until the massive timbers that held the huge brass bells were just overhead.

Then, a hidden doorway in a dark corner, and yet another stairway winding upwards…

...finally breaking out on a pitched roof where I could see my entire empire.

(All photos taken at Tranfiguration of the Savior Monastery, founded during the latter half of the 12th century, in Yaroslavl, Russia. The belltower is from the 16th century.)