My recent trip to Homer, Alaska, is slowly becoming an annual tradition. Last year, a group of my buddies and I took off for Alaska on quest for salmon. We never got the salmon, but instead found halibut --and a love of adventure in the Last Frontier.
No longer novices this year, we felt like old hands when we got there and soaked up the surroundings. But in Alaska, those moments of peace and security can take a thrilling turn and make you feel like an outsider with its wildness.
I was sitting alone in a hot tub in the backyard of a cabin we had rented for the week. We paid $250-a-night for the three-bedroom place in Norma's Cove, and we were delighted to split the costs four ways. The cabin sat on the side of a cliff about 100 feet above Katchemack Bay that offered a 180 degree view of the bay.
I was joined in the backyard by two moose (they were not in the tub) and I was finishing off a glass of China Poot Porter from the Homer Brewing Company. The brewery was about a half-mile from the house, right near the airport.
It was about 10 p.m., but you'd never know it. The days there in late May never get old; the sun merely skims the horizon like a swimmer who refuses to get her hair wet.
I was admiring the bay. Out to my right was the 4-mile stretch of slit rocks and gravel that forms the Homer Spit, and directly across the bay were the snow-capped Kenai mountains.
My legs were sore and I had a bruise above my hip. We had been chartering a fishing boat, the Fringe Benefit, from North Country Charters. Each trip was about $220 each and they would take us on 40-mile trips from the Spit to well into the Cook Inlet.
I sat in the hot tub and I thought about the humpback whales we saw breeching the water and the school of 100 porpoises charging past our 28-foot boat that took a few lines with them. I wondered where they were. Were they near another boat?
The largest halibut we caught was about 50 pounds and I caught a 20-pound rockfish that may have been over 50 years old. It earned me a nod on North Country's Facebook page, hence, bragging rights the remainder of the trip.
The woman we had rented the cabin from told us about a bald eagle nest in a tree next to the house. But we hadn't seen any eagles there. Just before I was about to get a refill in our refrigerator packed with fish and beer, I saw a massive bald eagle fly into the tree and stand on a branch next to the nest about 30 feet above my head.
I'm from New York. I was alone. I thought: is there a chance this eagle takes a dive at me? Do they attack humans in water? I've seen YouTube videos of all sorts of things being picked up by eagles. I looked up. He was not looking at me. He, too, seemed to be taking in the mountains and breathing in the air.
The late-night sun reflected on the fishing boats docked at the end of the Spit. Maybe15 minutes later, (time goes surprising slow when you're in a hot tub alone) I see something large drop in front of me. It was the eagle. He was diving straight down to stage an attack on pack of seagulls about a half a mile out into the bay.
All my attention was on him. I tracked him like I just watched a home run ball leaving a baseball bat, until like a baseball, he turned into a fast-moving dot. I marveled at his wingspan and the ground he covered. It was as though a heat-seeking missile was launched from our cabin; the seagulls were the heat. The eagle was a half mile out and I saw an explosion of white feathers. A seagull had met the eagle.
I like sports. When I've seen a great play by a great player I've always had two sensations: One was privilege. I felt glad I got to see greatness unfold before my eyes. And then there's a sense of sadness because it's over, and there's a chance you may never see that kind of perfection again. I waited to see if he'd come back, but he never did.
Visiting Homer is a haul from New York and a seven day trip, no matter how many ways you spilt the cabin will cost well over $2,000. But I would recommend a trip there to anyone who wants to get off the grid, have a nice China Poot Porter and get into a hot tub with a few unexpected guests.