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

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.


  1. What a day! Now that's living life to the fullest. Beautiful pictures as usual. Hope the swan around to meet his mate next year.

  2. Thank you for taking your time on your trip back home. I appreciate the photos AND your post.