(If you haven’t read Part I, please scroll down and read it first.)
Erik describes his vision as looking through the slit of a fence. The closer something is to the fence, the fewer parts are visible. Further away, a greater number of parts can be seen. For example, if a truck is parked right next to a fence, a person can see the door keyhole. Park the truck across the street, and a person will see nearly the entire vehicle.
A couple of years after his accident, Erik attended a school for the blind to learn how to navigate his visually-impaired world. His roommate Jeff was also partially sighted and, like Erik, an adventurer. They discovered a grassy hill behind the fenced off grounds of the school perfect for “sledding.” They stole a couple of large cardboard boxes from the garbage to use as sleds and began sneaking out of the school on a regular basis. They had so much fun on these outings they wanted to share them with classmates who were completely blind.
One late afternoon, Erik and Jeff escorted eight of their classmates over the three-foot fence.
“Jeff put a person on the ‘sled’ at the top of the hill and gave them a push. I caught them at the bottom. Everyone laughed and hollered.”
Once it began to get dark, Erik became concerned about getting caught by school officials who would expect the students to be in their rooms.
“Jeff hopped the fence to the school grounds and helped the kids over one at a time. I stayed at the back of the line to make sure everyone got over. After the last guy was safely on the school grounds, I tried to hustle to the other side so I could help Jeff get the group into the building. I didn’t realize I was parallel to a loading dock area with a 30-foot drop to the ground. I took a hard fall and broke my leg.”
Three days later, he was asked to leave school.
“If I had to get kicked out for having the most fun any of us ever had, it was worth it.”
He returned to Fort Bragg to teach himself how to rebuild his life in familiar surroundings. He was welcomed by friends and family who supported his desire to resume his active outdoor life.
His softball team convinced the pitchers on opposing teams to make sure Erik could locate the ball before it was pitched. He became the team’s star hitter. Running to first base was another matter. He once ran toward the pitcher’s mound. The pitcher, thinking he was charging the mound, threw down his glove, ready for a fight. The solution was to paint a big orange “3” (in homage to Dale Earnhardt) on a sign and hold it above first base. Once safely at first base, his team sent in a pinch runner.
His hunting and fishing buddies serve as his guides in the field. Erik refuses to let anyone physically guide him over rugged terrain. His friends warn him about potentially hazardous branches and rocks.
“It doesn’t stop me from taking some nasty falls. My shins and knees are constantly bruised and scraped.”
He is grateful his friends make it possible for him to continue to hunt. “I can get a buck in my sights and shoot, but once it runs off, I can’t see where it went. My buddies help me track it or spot another shot.”
Erik lowers his head and chuckles when he begins to relay one youthful hunting adventure. “About 10 years after my accident I went deer hunting a few miles northeast of here. My buddy and I were heading home about ten at night when we came across a bear standing in the middle of the road. My buddy pulled the truck over, we got out and ran after the bear. Don’t ask me why, but at the time, it seemed like a fun thing to do.
“It was dark and I couldn’t see a darned thing. I just followed the sound of my buddy and the bear. We got to an old railroad boxcar bridge and I could hear the bear’s claws running across the metal. The bridge turned, but I kept running straight and flew over the side 25 feet down to the dry creek bottom. It knocked me straight out.”
His friend revived him and took him home where his wife insisted he go to the hospital for a CAT scan. The scan showed no brain trauma. When compared to the scans of his original brain injury, the blood clot that is the source of his blindness had shrunk by a third.
“It gives me hope that someday it will totally shrink and I’ll get all my eyesight back.”
Erik’s wife, Bobbi, is a former high school classmate. They have two boys, Cody (twelve) and Emmett (eight). Erik would like to get off disability and have a job.
“I’ve applied for things like city maintenance worker and tree trimmer, but nobody wants to take on the liability of having a blind employee doing physical labor. I guess I could enter a program to get trained for something else, but it would kill me to be locked up in an office eight hours a day.”
In the meantime, Erik is a stay-at-home dad who teaches his sons in the tradition of his father and grandfather.
Winter is the time for steelhead fishing and setting crab pots. Spring and summer bring herring fishing and abalone picking. Fall is deer hunting. Despite his blindness, Erik’s ability to carry on this family legacy is as important to him as the recreation it provides.