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Tuesday, March 14, 2017



Tuesday, 8:45 AM.  17 degrees F at the ferry dock, 23 degrees on the back porch.  Wind variable, and calm at present.  The sky is mostly clear, the humidity 78%.  The barometer is dropping very slowly, now at 30.58", predicting warmer (into the 30's) and uneventful weather for the week ahead.
  I wrote Jack and the Eagles for the 1/08/09 post of the Almanac.  I got to thinking again about old Jack and his eagles after a magnificent bald eagle swept low over the truck yesterday while I was driving on Hwy. 13, and decided to reprint it in Jack's memory and as part of my continuing protest of the Great American Nanny State.

  Jack is a berry farmer and is even older and crustier than I am. You have to be a tough old bird to make a living growing berries.
   In the old days on the big lake, if the fishing wasn't good for a few years a fisherman might sell his boat and buy a berry farm; and conversely if the berry farm wasn't doing well, might sell it and buy a boat.
   Jack was a fisherman in his younger days, and watched the gulls and eagles from his boat. Some of his old fishing tugs now ply his berry fields, moldering away, joining sea to land. When he became a landlubber he missed his birds, and forty years ago [maybe a half century now] started putting fish heads and entrails that he got from his old haunts onto his fields in the winter to attract the birds.
   First came the gulls and eventually the eagles, and for about six weeks each winter, until the eagles went off to mate and nest, anyone could watch Jack’s birds from his berry patch parking lot. Eagles perched by the dozens in the surrounding trees, chased the gulls, and did aerial acrobatics. One could watch their social interactions, observe their flight patterns and see their various plumage stages. Occasionally one might see a huge golden eagle, or an osprey. It was great, innocent fun. The eagles aren’t around this year, and I knew why even before I asked Jack about them while having coffee in the Northern Edge yesterday morning.
   “They shut me down,” he groused, hurt and angry. That didn’t surprise me, as I could come up with a number of reasons why it might not be a good idea to feed the eagles their fish. After all, we can’t have dump bears anymore, because the bears become a nuisance. We can’t feed deer in the southern part of the state for fear it will spread chronic wasting disease (but baiting has been encouraged in the north, to help  hunters reduce the herd…go figure that one out). Maybe Jack’s enterprise was upsetting the eagles’ natural routines (or maybe not). Maybe it encouraged disease (or maybe not). Maybe it actually benefited the eagles by making them stronger for mating (or maybe not). For every eagle maybe, there's a "maybe not." I asked him what laws they cited, and he replied, “They said I needed a solid waste disposal license to put a few fish on my land, and a CDL drivers license to haul a couple boxes of fish.” Nothing at all about eagles.
   Sorry, Jack. Big Brother got you…you were doing something different, something they didn’t like or didn’t understand. “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down," is what Chairman Mao used to say. You can’t be different, be an odd old coot these days, you will get on somebody’s list and they will shut you down. What did you expect, Jack?
   It’s what I have expected would happen from the first time I saw Jack’s eagles. But, what really gets me, is no one even bothered to ask old Jack, a keen life-long observer of eagles, what he had learned about them.
    Can’t be much.
    After all, Jack’s just a crazy old berry farmer who loves eagles.

   Jack is no longer with us, he died shortly after that.  His daughter inherited the berry farm and is doing great.  I don't know where they buried old Jack. I hope it wasn't in a church yard, as I am sure he wouldn't stay there and he would be wandering the countryside trying to find a berry farm or a fishing  tug to haunt.  
   Jack wasn't always a nice old man.  He cussed like a sailor and some of the stories that are told about him will raise at least your eyebrows, and perhaps your hair.  In his lifetime he had some serious brushes with the law, and with the game wardens and the DNR, and they laid for him until they got him.  Spent some time in prison, I am told.
   I heard once about an inveterate old duck hunter who left a codicil in his will that he was to be cremated and his ashes loaded into 12 gauge shot shells and his hunting buddies should load up and go hunting at his favorite ponds and marshes, the ash-filled shells mixed in with the shot shells so that his remains ended up in the places he loved, in the way he loved them.
   I would like to think they cremated old Jack and took his ashes out on the big lake in the middle of a Nor'easter and let him go into the gale to join his eagles.  
   Probably a law against that (yep, since I wrote this a few years back, there is now a law against scattering a loved one's ashes on Lake Superior without a permit).

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