How to Live–and Die–Well
Soon the word got out that every day 200 eagles gathered outside her little RV and waited to be fed. Photographers and tourists started coming from all over the world to see and photograph the eagles. It’s been estimated that as much as 80% of all eagle photos in circulation were taken outside her little RV. But with attention comes controversy and feeding the eagles caused quite a stir. In 2006 the City of Homer passed a law making feeding eagles illegal. But they grandfathered Jean in until 2010 when even she would have to quit. She passed away in 2009 at the age of 85 before she would have been forced to stop.
I’d lived in Alaska all my life and had often heard about The Eagle Lady. In 2006 my wife and I drove down to Homer to take photos. We spent the night in a motel and the next morning arrived at the front door of her old Winnebago. I asked permission to go into her yard and take photos of the birds from very close. She said yes, but she warned me that I would only be a few feet away from the eagles and that sometimes they lost their balance and would leap off their perch and grab hold of anything close, including me! She said that these were very large and powerful birds and that I could easily be hurt. I told her I would take the chance and so she started feeding the birds. What an incredible experience that was! I was standing just a few feet away from wild Bald Eagles watching them ripping apart pieces of fish and devouring them. It was a moment I can’t possibly describe and one I will never forget! Jean had written a book so I asked if I could buy an autographed copy and she agreed. I gave her a $100 bill and told her to keep the change. She objected but I said I wanted to contribute to feeding the eagles and so she relented. I’m including some of my photos in this post.
The reason I am telling you all this is in hopes that her story will inspire and encourage you to follow your dreams. So many people reach retirement age or their kids are finally out of the house, and they just sit back in their rocking chairs and wait to die. Jean didn’t! She had put off her dreams long enough and was not going to wait another day! She bought that little RV and hit the road. How could she have ever predicted what was going to happen? She boldly followed her heart and it led to adventure and even fame! Of course most of us are not going to become world famous, but we can live our best lives and find some adventure! Jean had always been passionate about caring for animals so she just did what came naturally.
What are you passionate about? Is there something you love that you can follow to totally unexpected places? If there isn’t something in your life you are passionate about, find something! Life isn’t about racking up day after day of drudgery and boredom it is about burning bright and hot and fast! I was passionate about vandwelling and started a website; and here we are today with you all reading my writing. How did that happen? I have a one word answer: Passion. I’m not a great writer or web designer (although I have gotten better over the years) I love my subject and want you to discover it and fall in love with it too!
There is such a lack of passion in our modern world that people are hungry for it and respond to it when they find it. I very firmly believe that the very Universe hungers and longs for passion! And when it finally finds the burning glow of passion, it lines up to help make it come true. That isn’t to say you won’t face hardship and trouble on your path, because you will! Jean endured a great deal of adversity, hard work and pain to feed her eagles every day. For example, she had to hand out 500 pounds of stinking fish every day! Now that’s a hardship! When it was cold the barrels of fish would freeze solid, so she had to drag them inside the RV to let them thaw. I can’t imagine anything worse than that! I’ve lived in an old RV through a cold Alaska winter and I can assure you it is a miserable experience, and Jean did it for 30 years! But it was worth it to her so she kept at it. That’s what a passion and love for adventure will do for you.
Was it worth it to her? I think so! She’s been gone for 4 years and I remember meeting her like it was yesterday. And now I am telling you about her and you will remember her too.
There are many ways to judge a person’s worth and weigh their life, but let me tell you how I do it. I was driving along a freeway one day and witnessed a terrible accident. A few days later I was reading the paper (something I rarely do) and happened to see an article about the accident, so I read it. Of course it described the accident and how it happened but then it started talking about one of the people who died. Now this was not a famous person in any way, he was totally average and unknown outside of this little town. But there was story after story of people who had contacted the local paper and told a story about the deceased; each one proclaiming what a great guy he was. When I was finished I knew that his death had become a gift to me and that from that moment on I would live my life with that man as a model. I am determined to live my life so that when I am gone, as many people who hear about it will say “I’m really sorry to hear that, he was one of the good ones!”
Homework Assignment: Some of you are going to be tempted to write in and say “Oh Bob, I will say that when you are gone.” But, I would rather you not do that. Instead, if you want to make a comment, I would rather hear how you are going to use Jean’s life as a model and pattern for your own life. What is your passion, and how are you going to pursue it? How are you going to throw caution to the wind and live mobile (so you live as cheaply as possible) and follow your dream?
This quote makes me think of Jean, and I hope it speaks to you as well:
“It is very important that you only do what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.
Otherwise …you will do things only for a reason, to please other people, and you will never have lived. And you will not have a pleasant death.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross