The King of Sheep Creek

The dog salmon have returned home to Sheep Creek. They each were hatched here. They all will die here. Before that, they will scrabble for spawning space in the stream gravel. Eagles have already gathered to feed on the salmon’s expired bodies. 

            I put Aki on a lead this foggy morning after spotting a bald eagle, as indistinct as a ghost in the gloom, flying a circle around us. Creek and tidal currents have formed a gravel causeway above the delta’s marshy wetlands. I am about walk onto the causeway when I spot an eagle in the middle of it perched on a driftwood root wad. Five or six other eagles stand on the beach or other driftwood logs but they all have to look up to see the eagle on the causeway. 

            I expect the elevated eagle to fly off but it holds to its throne as we approach. Before we invade the eagle’s personal space, I walk the little dog in a wide circle around it.  The big bird is still on its perch when we return to the car. 


Being Taken By Surprised

Even though it is only five meters thick, a fog smothering Fritz Cove totally obscures the water. There could be a pod of killer whales fining up the cove and we would never see them. Without a compass a kayaker would be lost in the soup. But fog is a fickle thing, quick to blind, quick to disappear. No fog will block our view of Lynn Canal when we reach the North Douglas Island beach this morning. 

            As we walk down the Rain Forest Trail, I think about my times being trapped in fog. Fear was always involved, even when I had a compass and enough time to take bearings before occlusion. The fog took away my ability to identify the direction of sound. It made the air smell like atomized seawater. The relief felt when I suddenly broke into the open almost made it worth it.  The worse thing was to be taken by surprise by fog. 

            The beach path we take after leaving the forest is just wide enough for us to pass without rubbing against the grass lining both sides of it. Rain drops, looking like tiny snow globes, cling to the grass blades. Down beach the low causeway connecting Shaman and Douglas Islands is being buried by the incoming tide. Two hikers, taken by surprise by the flood hesitate at the Shaman side of the causeway. If they delay too long they will be wading through waist-deep waters.  Facing facts they start mincing their way toward Douglas Island. 

Fishing the Morraine

There is something unsettling about the golden eye hen, the only duck on this moraine lake. It hunts for food with the aggression of a belted kingfisher. Rather than slip into the lake in search of fish, the golden eye slams its head into the water, pulling its plump body after it. 

            I’m trying Aki’s patience with my attempts to catch a trout.  Just as I am about to give in to her whining, a cut throat trout leaps out of the water with my lure lodged in its jaw. It is free of the lure a second later. I am not surprised since I use barbless hooks. Responding to all the splashing, the golden eye cruises towards the little dog and I. 

            I think of a friend who once hooked a gull while trolling for salmon. The seabird flew into the air and floated like a kite above the boat. With much effort my friend managed to pull in the gull and free it from his hook. I reel in my lure until the golden eye paddles away. 

In the Wet

Usually, when Aki and I take this trail into the Treadwell Woods a gaggle of domestic geese give an alarm. This morning they are quiet. A pathetic looking eagle might be the cause for their silence. It sulks in a spruce tree above the geese yard. I wonder if it has designs on a plump gander. It’s tough to raise poultry in this town unless you protect your birds with an electrified enclosure. Last week our neighborhood bear chomped down on a free-range chicken. 

            Low clouds hide most of the Gastineau Channel and the mountains that line it when we drop onto the beach. The rainstorm that soaked the woods last night continues to drop much needed rain. My pants and Aki’s fur were soaked when we passed through a grassy verge to reach Sandy Beach.             

A waterlogged eagle grooms itself while perched on top of the old ventilation tower. With its fierce gaze and feathers all ahoo, it looks like an awakening dragon. But a puff of down sticking to its beak shatters its tough guy image. 

It’s low tide. Down the beach three ravens search the recently exposed sand for snacks. One flies to the top of an gnarled wharf piling and pretends to dig a feast out of the top of it. Then it balances on one leg and kicks the other one up like a can can dancer. 

Feisty Birds

Even though we are at the height of summer, Fritz Cove and the beach seemed empty of life. Next winter, when cold, wet rain will slicken the shore rocks, eagles will roost in nearby trees and sea ducks and scoters will fish the offshore waters. Today they were elsewhere. Rounding False Outer Point Aki and I only saw a small murder of crows fighting over scraps. That’s why the kingfisher was such a welcome surprise            

            The feisty bird skimmed a few feet above the water and then crashed into a shallow dive. After repeating this three times, it flew out of our sight. I doubt if Aki ever saw the kingfisher. I know the little dog never saw the bald eagle even though we walked within a few feet of its roost. 

            If the eagle were a human I would have said that it looked bored. It spent more time looking at its chest than at the little dog or I. After the eagle we worked our way to a forest trail and used it to return to the car. As we approached a murder of crows started dive-bombing the eagle. When it flew, the crows started going after each other. 

Looking for Scraps

Aki and I passed just one cruise ship on our way to the glacier. It was just tying up at the old steamship dock. In a few hours five more of the floating hotels will be docked and disgorging over 20,000 passengers onto Juneau’s downtown streets. Many of those visitors will take buses out to the Mendenhall Glacier. Some will clog the trail to Nugget Falls. We should be early enough to have the trail to ourselves this morning.

             Two ravens scrabbling over a discarded sandwich roll take little notice of Aki and I as we leave the visitor center area for the falls. After one of grouchy birds chases off his competitor we stop to watch the winner tear into the roll. It gives me the stink eye, encouraging us to move on. 

            Glacial runoff has swollen the lake. It covers low-lying parts of the trail and encroaches on the nesting grounds of arctic terns. Some of the fork-tailed little birds hover like helicopters over the lake. A raven invades the nesting area of spotted sandpipers looking for an easy meal. The peeping birds are too quick to be caught. 

            An iceberg recently calved by the glacier has grounded out a few meters off shore of the nesting grounds. Two kittiwakes, taking a break from their paternal duties at the rookery, sulk like bored teenagers on the little berg.  

Hjorton Picking

Aki looks frustrated. She sees no point in lingering on this remote mountain meadow, which is well off the beaten dog walker track. Why leave that rich environment to fill a recycled yogurt container with yellow berries? 

            I’d have much luck explaining my actions to the darning needle dragonfly that just landed on a weathered trail board as to the little dog. She has never bounced across a tundra meadow in Western Alaska during cloudberry picking time. She’s never climbed to a Swedish meadow in search of hjorton, the name the Swedes have given the cloudberry.

            I stop to plop one of the segmented berries into my mouth and remember watching families on a tundra plain near Bethel gathering in gallons of cloudberries, which they call “salmonberries,” so they could enjoy wild fruit during the coming winter. The kids giggled, the parents smiled and let all their worries disappear as they harvested summer.