Grotesques

Aki is due for a bath today. Her other human and I never say the word out loud. The little dog only hears, “Someone is going to get a b-a-t-h this afternoon.” Even hearing the word spelled can send her under the bed. For her bath day walk, I always choose a trail she likes. I don’t have to worry whether she will get dirty on the hike because… 

        On this bath day morning, Aki is trotting along the edge of a grass-covered dune. We walk toward Douglas and Juneau under a blue sky. Behind us in Sheep Creek gulls feed heartily on deceased pink and dog salmon. The birds bicker and flash their wings at each other to protect their share of the hoard. Picked over salmon carcasses line our trail. Bird feathers, seaweed, and beach grass collect around some to form grotesque still lives.

        A line of human fishermen stand knee deep on the edge of the beach. They cast and wait for a strike, as patience as the herons that usually fish along the beach. The fishermen are targeting silver salmon, still ocean bright. Once they enter freshwater, the salmon’s sides will darken. The jaws of the males will distort and hook to form tools for battling others for the right to spawn.

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Little Birds Show

Pink salmon have replaced the chum salmon that tussled in the shallow water beneath the Fish Creek Bridge the last time Aki and I walked over it. Male pinks, with the distorted backs that earned them the nickname “humpies,” charge each other in the stream rapids. Unlike last time, when ravens and watched the salmons struggle, only a flock of no nonsense gulls takes in the show. There is one eagle roosting in a tree above the stream. Soon it will fly off. 

        Expecting to find many eagles and herons on our walk to the stream mouth, I try to rush the little dog. She gives me her “I have important work to do” stare and slows to catalogue trailside scents. Each sniff adds to her encyclopedic knowledge. I’m as impatience as the belted kingfisher chattering over our heads. 

          Several schools of pink salmon wander around a pond connected to the stream. A few hurl themselves out of the water as if that will hurry up the spawning process. Maybe female pink salmon dig an acrobatic guy. No herons wade in the pond shallows. No eagles watch the show. Only gulls float on the pond, looking for scraps of already dead fish. 

        On a spit covered with fireweed stalks and meadow grass already succumbing to fall, gangs of sparrows search the ground for food. The little brown birds spring up like grasshoppers when we walk down the trail. No eagles wait for us at the stream mouth, just more gulls and one raven flying over the creek delta as if it were an eagle. 

Skirting the Crowds

Aki and I drove out to the Mendenhall Glacier complex without realizing that there were four cruiseships in town. Many of their passengers were already heading toward the glacier. We had to pass a line of idling buses to reach the complex’s parking lot. Ant-like lines of passengers drained each bus. Many of these visitors started down the Nugget Falls Trail. The little dog and I followed. 

     Aki, who normally likes to socialize with strangers, seemed overwhelmed by the crowds. Soon we were able to slip off onto very informal trail that led to a lakeside walk. No one followed. We could hear voices when our trail brought us close to the main one. But the sound was no more disturbing than geese cackle. The little dog and I relaxed.

       Lines of fog-like clouds stretched across the lake and climbed up forested hills. More substantial clouds blocked our view of the Mendenhall Towers but not the glacier. Thanks to our summer of drought and record high temperatures the river of ice looked anorexic. A few icebergs still lingered in the lake shallows, diminished to small ice sculptures. One looked like a thin dog begging for food.  

Back on Home Ground

        Last night Aki was waiting for me when I walked off the MV Le Conte. She begged for attention while I lifted my bags off the ferry’s luggage cart and carried them to the car.  With the luggage secured, I lifted up the little poodle-mix and promised that tomorrow we would go on one of usual adventures. 

        Aki didn’t need any encouragement this morning to follow me to the car. We drove out the North Douglas Highway to Outer Point Trail. A deer hunter’s truck was parked near the trailhead but we wouldn’t see him or anyone else on the trail. I could have postponed the walk until the sun burned through the marine layer. But I wanted to use the trail at first light even if that light was gray.

        The Stellar’s jays were quiet when we walked through the forest. But we could hear the gulls way before we reached the beach. An eagle has just flushed them to flight. Another eagle waddled along the mouth of Peterson Creek, waiting for the day’s first pink salmon to ride the tide toward their spawning ground. A large school of pinks jumped and splashed near the creek mouth.

          During the night the tide had ebbed to expose the causeway to Shaman Island. Gulls covered the path, breaking off in twos and threes when the little dog and I invaded their comfort zone. Fog filtered our view of the glacier but not the Chilkat Mountains. They were tall enough to catch the first rays of bright light after the sun climbed above the clouds. 

Leaving Tenakee

In an hour or so the MV LeConte will stop at Tenakee Springs. A line of all terrain vehicles, most driven by people with gray hair, will form at the dock. As soon as the ferry lowers its boarding ramp, the ATV drivers will motor onto the ferry’s car deck and start loading boxes onto the luggage cart. Passengers who rode the LeConte from Juneau will struggle to carry their belongings up the ramp against the flow of in bound traffic. The LeConte crew won’t try to bring order to the chaos. One or two will stand by the stairs and elevator. No one will be allowed past them until purchasing a ticket for the ride to Juneau.

I’ll wheel my ice chest down the boarding ramp after the initial rush. It will be heavy with frozen silver salmon that my friend and I caught during the stay. It will take eight hours for the ferry to return to Juneau after first stopping in the village of Hoonah. That will give me plenty of time to reflect and read.

Disneyland, But Without the Crowds

A friend and I are enjoying another morning cruising Tenakee Inlet. Rich, almost Mediterranean light ramps up the beauty level of simple things. A spit covered with living and dead spruce trees looks like the work of a Tuscan master. Silver salmon in transit from the Pacific Ocean to their spawning streams swim though schools of herring, making the smaller fish leap into the air. Gulls swim over the herring schools and try to pluck the flying fish from the air.

We temporarily leave Tenakee Inlet for Fresh Water Bay, rounding a point guarded by two bald eagles.

A brace of swans is swimming along the edge of Pavlov Bay when we enter it. Passengers from a high end cruise ship in a bright orange kayak flush the swans to flight. The birds fly over our boat and then circle the bay, apparently looking for a place to land away from tourists and us. My friend slowly drives his boat out of Pavlov and heads back to Tenakee Inlet, where the other night we saw whales.

Tenakee

This morning Aki watched me board the MV LeConte for Tenakee Hot Springs. I thought about taking her but she would have howled during the entire voyage. It was hot and sunny as so many of our mornings have been this summer. Many of the other passengers were Tlingits returning home to Angoon. This was the first ferry to reach their village since the ferry strike ended. Many of the villagers were loaded down with things purchased in Juneau. Two large panel trucks full of inventory for the village store were parked on the LeConte’s car deck.

They had placed more boxes full of food, supplies and toilet paper on the luggage cart that is driven off and on the LeConte at each stop. Toward the end of the strike the Tenakee was out of beer and toilet paper as well as other staples. Angoon was probably in the same boat.