A tree falling in the Homer wilderness prompted the writing of Dorothy “Dotty” Cline’s fourth book, “Fall to Flight: An Alaskan Eaglet’s Story of Survival.”
Self-published this year through Cline’s Glen Erin Press, the picture book includes photographs by Cline’s late husband, Michael S. Cline, who died in 2018, and is distributed by Alaska Books and Calendars and on sale at the Homer Bookstore.
“Fall to Flight” tells the story of a bald eaglet that got injured when the tree holding its nest fell over in the summer of 2012 near the Cline family home on the bluff near the mouth of Fritz Creek on Kachemak Bay. School teachers in rural Alaska and Homer, Dotty and Michael Cline moved to their home in 1989. For 32 years, Cline has watched eagles nesting near her home and other nests along the beach.
“It had been active completely every year,” she said of the eagle nest in a phone interview on Tuesday. “… We really didn’t think there was anything wrong with this tree. We thought it would be there forever.”
Like many eagle nests Cline said she has observed, that nest had been built in a dead spruce tree, still solid. Then a storm blew in, pushing the tree and nest to the ground and on to the beach below. The Clines’ grandchildren noticed the missing tree, and in a search with help from Ceili, their Labrador retriever, they found one eaglet lying on the ground, a wing stretched out and possibly injured.
“That was such a traumatic incident,” Cline said. “We had grandkids there. They wanted to save the baby.”
After calls to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and bird rescue centers, the family learned a sad truth: even if the bird could be captured and rescued, it most likely would be euthanized. The best action would be nothing — to let nature take its course. “It was almost like, ‘Oh my goodness’ — we had to let the parents take the lead and take care of it,” Cline said. “We also had to be willing that it might die.”
Cline said she worried that coyotes might find the eaglet and kill it. The Clines watched the eaglet, and then they noticed the parents had dropped food for the eaglet. “Fall to Flight” tells what happens next.
Before her late husband died, the couple had discussed writing a book about the fallen eaglet. Initially they considered a chapter book. An avid photographer, Michael Cline had thousands of photographs of the eagles, the nest, the fallen tree and eaglet. He took most of them in landscape or horizontal mode, a format not suited for a vertical or portrait format of a chapter book. Cline decided she would do a picture book.
Like many artistic endeavors, the COVID-19 pandemic stimulated Cline’s creativity. “It’s been in process awhile,” she said. “This last winter when we were looking at things to focus on, I wrote it.”
Written after the death of her husband, Cline said she saw writing the book as a memorial to him.
“That’s what it felt like,” she said. “It was also a part of my grief journey … It’s very much of a tribute to him.”
Hunkering down during the early days of the pandemic, Cline wrote and finished “Fall to Flight.”
“It was time. I had the time and the quiet and the isolation to do it,” she said. “Sometimes that can be a really helpful thing.”
Some of Cline’s grandchildren also contributed to the book. “Fall to Flight” includes a section on facts about bald eagles. While researching that section, Cline noticed her grandchildren drawing images and eagles and trees.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m gong to use your pictures to illustrate the facts,’ ” Cline said she told them. That section includes drawings by Timothy, Kyle, Alma, Rowan, Siobhan, Patrick and Bridget.
“Fall to Flight” also can be purchased online at alaskabooksandcalendars.com. Cline’s first three books are “Raven Paints the Birds,” a picture book she also illustrated; “Paul Banks: Alaska’s Music Man,” about the namesake of Paul Banks Elementary School; and “Mary’s Gift: Alaska’s Remarkable Mary Epperson.”