This was one of the most amazing places to be as a boy, the perfect place to learn about nature, and beauty.In Petersburg, we lived a couple miles out of town along this road that ran to the other end of the island, in this house that sat on stilts hanging over a cliff that looked out on the strait (almost all the islands there are so close together that if the water wasn’t 35 degrees you could swim to the next one).
The house was nestled in the pine trees, and always looked like one of those postcards of a green forest with wisps of fog floating around the trees. It rained constantly, which was incredibly fun for us, since we got to play in the mud every day. We could always spot the tourists because they would be the ones trying to walk around the mud puddles.
The house on the cliff was separated far enough from the neighbors that it felt remote, and we were surrounded by nature. We’d often see the bald eagles circling and once in a while see one flying home to their nest with a fish in their talons, or skimming the glass like surface of the water. All in all a very peaceful place to be.
One day we had a very different experience with the bald eagles.
It was a quiet morning and we heard a commotion out on the deck (the top story of the house had a deck that hung out over the hill), so we all hurried to see what was going on. When we got to the window, we were amazed to see a bald eagle flapping about on the deck, banging into the window and trying to find his balance. It’s hard to imagine the sheer size of this bird when you see them flying high up in the air.
But with six feet of wings he didn’t fit too well on the narrow deck, and after a moment he fell to the ground below.
He had been shot.
He flapped around for a bit more on the ground below the deck, and eventually died.
None of us could understand why anybody would shoot at such a beautiful and protected creature, symbol of our nation, but we could definitely understand why his mate was circling overhead.
I don’t know how long she circled overhead, although I’m pretty certain it was over a week. They mate for life and she wasn’t about to give up easily.
Her mournful cries echoed overhead as she circled, and it made us all sad and mad.
The Forest Service came and collected the body, and I remember my Dad asking them questions about what they would do, and if they would catch the person responsible.
I also remember he wrote a very moving piece about the insanity of the killing in his column called Weaver’s Loom.
As a boy in Alaska, I fished almost every day. And most days, I could simply look down in the water, and pick which fish I wanted to catch.
So what sort of insanity would make a hunter think that an eagle could even make a dent in schools of fish that number in the thousands.
And if the hunter wasn’t just stupid?
What if he was a poacher, thinking that he’d get a bald eagle and sell it to some collector for thousands of dollars?
Well, at least then we could take some comfort in the fact he didn’t get his prize.