J. David Solf -
Otter Research Pioneer

  Page 4

The circumstance that finally got me up to visit Bettijane and Walt Boltmann was their telling me that the old Solf family home in Port Angeles, Washington, was soon going to be sold. I very much wanted to see where David Solf grew up, and time was running out for me to have that opportunity.

My visit took place during the first week of May 1997. (Can it really have been 10 whole years ago?) It would be one of my most memorable experiences.

It was wonderful finally meeting Bettijane and Walt in person. Bettijane was just as warm and friendly as I imagined she'd be, and Walt; he reminded me so much of my own father tough as nails but a heart of gold. I felt instantly at ease with my new hosts.

I felt the same about the house. Built in 1891, it was perched atop a high coastal bluff overlooking the harbor at Port Angeles.

It's the sort of house that I always dreamed of having old yet very cozy and comfortable, filled with family treasures, and stories.

Ghost stories, too! I was told that in the master bedroom upstairs dwelt a benign spirit; that of a former lady resident. Appearances were said to be infrequent, but were not unpleasant when they occurred.

I felt so privileged to be given David Solf's bedroom for my own; the room he grew up in, even the bed he slept in. All around were David's personal effects his books (including his field journals!), his skis, his snowshoes, even a delicate wasp's nest that he'd collected in Alaska.

It was quite an amazing experience to be in that space; to look out the window at the sea and see the same view David did, to look up at the ceiling and let my mind wander, just as I'm sure young David did, too. I definitely felt his presence in that room.

Anyway, as I hoped, my visit with the Boltmanns was full of memorable tales. Bettijane had often told me that David's whole life was Alaska, and her stories fully bore that out. I learned about "Seawalk": David's elder eskimo mentor, who died in the tsunami following the 1964 Alaska earthquake. And "Joe": a orphaned crow which David raised, and who eventually left to live with the wild crows at Eshamy.

The most poignant part of that story, though, was that one day, a crow was found dead in the front yard of the Port Angeles house. It was taken as an ominous sign, and rightly so, because as yet unknown to the family, David had died the previous day.

So after hearing that story, it was quite remarkable to me that, when my stay was over and I was driving away, I looked back at the Boltmanns waving farewell in their front yard, and directly above them, on a power line, sat a lone crow, also watching me leave.

A fitting, magical ending to a truly magical visit...


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