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Alaskan adventures at home

When my first Musing was published just nine years ago, I promised I would continue only as long as it gave me enjoyment.

Having long ago escape the rigors of academic life, it was far, far longer until the nightmares of waking to know I had a 32-page term paper due in the morning disappeared. Enjoyment in this case meant no pressure — and that, of course, meant no looming deadlines.

To escape that I select topics months ahead, type, send out to be set in the text and pictures one can find on my website. I then take one final read when I can make further corrections. Then, when I’m satisfied, all are submitted on the last Friday of the month.

A long verbose way of explaining why this column about my Alaskan cruise is being written before I ever leave home.

I am very excited to see Alaska for the first time. I know voyagers go to marvel at the glaciers which seem to be disappearing at an alarming pace. They are guaranteed to be awe-inspiring but I’ll share my mini-glacier (well, not really) now. The snow is creeping down through the sides of brush until it reaches the expanses of ice below.

Personally I want bears and, if God is willing, the Northern Lights.

Cruisers I’ve listened to seem most excited about a distance glimpse of an eagle. Unless one lands near me on the deck of my ship, I’ll never better the one I saw right here.

I know eagles are around. Many report their sightings and I’ve marked them a couple of times — but at such a distance I’m never really sure. OK, white head is a giveaway, right?

March of this year was different. I became aware of a crow who visited a number of times. It always picked away at one specific spot on the well-frozen ice. It would work hard, disappear, and later return. All right. I suppose it could have sent friends and family to help. I don’t know one crow from another but I do know a lot of pecking was going on.

The lake was well-frozen. To this day I don’t know if something floated up (how?) or just died in that spot. My guess is a passing bird dropped something of immense value.

Crow, OK. Interesting because the bird found it so.

Only what happened then still seems like a near miracle. An eagle moved in to finish whatever the crow left. And by that I don’t mean I sighted an eagle. This magnificent bird was quite intent on staying as long as it could dig up anything worthy of its time and effort.

Photographs? You bet! Click. Click. Click. Now of course I no longer have to wait to run into town for prints. I can see on my camera at once and adjust as needed (but who’s going to take time t do THAT when there’s an eagle in the yard?). Lots of good — OK, decent — pictures. It was a cloudy winter day. But I can’t imagine I’ll return from Alaska with anything even remotely as good.

Of course “our” eagle isn’t THE eagle. There’s also a Golden Eagle which, honestly, is all dark with just a “pale golden” nape which is seen only at close range. Rarely seen in the East, perhaps I should keep my eyes open when I get to the West.

And, of course, “our” eagle, the Bald Eagle, definitely is not bald. Imagine the uproar if all white-headed beings (especially women) were called “Bald”! The kids also lack the white head. (No surprise it comes with aging.) Formerly endangered and, while still rare, it is becoming more common. In fact, the Peterson map places a red dot just about over where we live, the only part of New York so honored except northern along the St. Lawrence.

There is also a White-Tailed Eagle but that one prefers Greenland (which I hear is lovely) and the Aleutians.

So what may we not know about our magnificent bird? Its eating habits are anything but majestic for it feeds on carrion (dead fish are a delicacy) and won’t hesitate to steal food from other smaller birds. The nest is generally in a “tall tree” though I doubt if too many around here reach their preferred 180 feet. Their eyesight is said to be four to eight times sharper than ours though its eyes are fixed in their sockets so it has to turn its head completely to look around.

It may take four or five years to reach maturity but then they tend to mate for life.

“Persecution and pesticides such as DDT have taken a toll on the bald eagle. From 1917 to 1945 and from 1949 to 1953, bounty hunters in Alaska shot an estimates 140,000 birds. Use of DDT in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in a 50-100% loss of breeding pairs in some areas.”

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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