Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Back now to our beginning, the man tending the CB radio as he plays solitaire, and the two men who leave the room when the radio squawks sighting of an Arctic Loon.
The card player and the men now beginning pursuit of the loon were in the day room of the larger of two buildings used by Attour, Inc., to house guests during its annual visits to the island. The day room was central. It had a stove, most important in a climate of low temperature, brisk winds, and almost steady fog and rain. It had hot water and boxes stuffed with packets of instant coffee, tea, cocoa, and soup powder. These were important for the same reasons. The three bathroom sinks and pair of showers used by up to five-dozen birders were just around the corner, near the bunkrooms. Down the hall and out the door was a pair of unisex outhouses and a pissoir for male guests.
This was the old U.S. Coast Guard station, although in its original incarnation all of the plumbing was indoors. The building housed personnel and equipment needed to send long-range navigation signals (LORAN) used by ships and airplanes traveling in this part of the world. The Coast Guard had moved to new quarters about a mile away, rooms there warm and bright and clean and shiny, ship-shape, as you would expect.
The abandoned buildings were none of those things. They were made entirely of poured cement -- floor, roof, and walls. They were old. They were unoccupied 11 months of the year, left by themselves to deteriorate in a miserable climate. When I was there in the spring of 1996, no one had been in the buildings for almost two years. The Attour visit scheduled for 1995 did not go as planned. Weather forced cancellation of the adventure. The crew and customers flew as far as Cold Harbor in the central Aleutian Islands, tapped their fingertips impatiently and ate eight-dollar hamburgers (basic price for basic burgers out there, certainly more now) for four days as they waited for weather to change. It never did. They listened with pained expressions as they were told the trip was scrubbed.
On our arrival, over 100 weeks later, the doors were unlocked to water and dirt that had seeped and leaked and dripped everywhere. The inside climate was perfect for moss, as the day-room windowsill testified. Our work crew began cleanup with shovels and ended with squeegees. During my hours in the building, the floors always gleamed as if highly waxed and buffed daily, a Coast Guard reincarnation. No: they were just wet.
To be continued.
Here are the Aleutian Islands. Attu is just above the A in Aleutian at the bottom of the map. (Map source: U.S. Navy.)
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