(Photo by R. B. Millsap)
When I’m traveling and working I usually have a big digital camera slung on my shoulder and, more often than not, my iPhone in my hand. I know it probably looks odd to have what seems to be a child’s toy hanging around my neck when the rest of my tools are expensive and modern, but I’d put my shabby old Wollensak Rambler field glasses against just about anything I could buy today.
The Wollensak Optical Company originated in Rochester, New York, in the late 1880s and made precision camera lenses and shutters until it closed in the mid-1970s. During WWII, Wollensak manufactured optical equipment for the US military. The company also produced a series of small binoculars for sportsmen and opera lovers. My aluminum glasses were made in 1940 and were fairly expensive--for the time--at $9.95. I love them because they are small and lightweight and easy to pack--slipping neatly into my purse or my suitcase--but they focus easily and the view is crystal clear.
I picked up the little Rambler glasses at an estate sale in Spokane more than 10 years ago and I’ve taken them all over the world with me since that day. The original leather strap was brittle so I fastened a lanyard that allows me to hang them securely around my neck.
Recently, on an InnerSea Discoveries small-boat voyage to Southeast Alaska, although there were plenty of binoculars around for passengers to use, the Rambler binoculars were my constant companion. As we sailed along the beautiful wild coast, I scanned the beaches for bears and the waves for Humpback whales and Orcas. When I spotted something, and it seemed as though every time I lifted them to my eyes I was rewarded, the focus was sharp and instant.
I spent many contented hours either standing on the deck or sitting on my bed in our stateroom, gazing out at the beautiful scenery. I brought them along when we left the boat and paddled a kayak through crystal-clear and ice-filled water. When I wasn’t taking photos, I was getting a closer look through the lenses of my old field glasses.
I will admit to a certain romantic attraction to the back-story of the ordinary old objects that find their way to me. And when I look at the worn exterior of the glasses I do like to imagine who else might have gazed at the distant horizon through the lenses.
It pleases me that even with the most modern equipment, when I pick up my Rambler field glasses and put them to my eyes, I have a clear (and vintage) view of the world around me.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org