Maybe They Are Back

Aki is excited to walk with an old friend this morning. She doesn’t mind that he is wearing a pandemic mask. Not understanding the need for social distancing, the little dog tries to keep us close together as we walk through the rain forest to the sea. Her two charges talk loudly through their masks, catching each other up with happenings since our last walk. When we stop for a moment, the little dog can hear the sound of swollen streams and rain drops bouncing off of devil’s club leaves.

            An eagle flies close overhead when we reach the beach. It cruises over to a little bay, circles and then drops with claws extended. After rising skyward with empty talons, it sets down on a rocky point, scattering a dozen gulls that had been lingering there. Eagles in groups of threes fly out to Shaman Island. Others find perches on recently exposed rocks. A raft of ducks fly between us and the island, over the head of two hunting seals. The salmon must be back. 

Fading Sight

Just after we reach Gastineau Meadow, a snowshoe hare breaks from a shelter in trailside alders. It gallops away from us down the trail and freezes. Aki must not see it. If she does, she doesn’t bother to react. After throwing us a quick glance, the hare leaps off the trail and out of sight. 

            I wonder again, whether the little dog’s eyes are failing. She will be 14 this November. But she was frisky enough last month to chase a bear down the street. She had no problem climbing with me to the meadow. 

            Aki refuses to leave the gravel trail when I do. But she has always preferred dry ground to wet muskeg. Some dogs might go on their walkabout when their masters give them this much freedom. Mine stands at attention on the trail at a spot where she can watch me watch water bugs skittering across the surface of a tiny pond. Her eyes tell me that she is ready to chase off any bear or wolf that places me in danger. 

Scappy Little Dudes

Weather has taken most of the promise out of this late summer day. Aki and I are wandering through the Treadwell Woods, where thick growth hides most of the mining ruins. Wild nettles are going to flower along the trail, letting the passersby know that it too late to harvest them for greens. A handful of touch-me-not flowers rock on their delicate stems each time they are hit by rain drops. 

            If there are birds in the woods, we cannot see or hear them. Out on Sandy Beach an eagle sulks on its usual perch on the restored ventilator shaft. A scattering of gulls flit about undeterred by the storm. The rain doesn’t bother Aki either. She charges around the beach, hunting smells and snacks dropped by other dog owners. 

            After crossing a long stretch of empty beach, we reach the small, but deep bay formed by a mine tunnel collapse. Two belted kingfishers battled over the aquamarine water. The scrappy little dudes can always be counted on for excitement. 

The Herons Were a Surprise

The light seems richer in places like this, where an old growth forest touches a beach. Even on a flat, gray day, shafts of sea light muscle through the tangled canopy to light up wet leaves. Some of the light reaches red-colored elderberries, making them almost painfully bright.

            When the forest trail ends, we drop down onto the beach. An eagle flies overhead, swings towards Aki, and then swings away when I closed the distance between myself and the little dog. It’s the first wild thing we have seen on the walk. Even the gulls are elsewhere.

            Leaving the empty beach, we take a trail through thimble berry bushes to the Old Glacier Highway. After passing the old totem pole we drop back into the woods, sneak by a youth group eating pizza, and head for the car.

I find myself taking pictures of small beauties to have something to illustrate this post. Then the herons appear. Two land on the beach. One steps into the shallow water of the bay, freezing like a statute while tiny swells pass beneath its stomach. 

Dawn Patrol

After yesterday’s pond walk, I decided to camp the night nearby. After driving home, I assembled the usual pile of camping gear near the front door: tent, sleeping bags and pads, gas stove and kettle for morning coffee, food for Aki and I, and warm clothes. An hour later the tent was up and the little dog and I were taking an evening walk. A beaver swam near us on the reedy pond. Pale, almost imitation sunset colors showed through clouds above the pond. Tomorrow, little dog, we may have sunshine.

            Aki started the curled up in her own little sleeping pad inside the tent. When the temperatures dropped to September cold, she crawled into my sleeping bag. We slept well, even though the nearby Mendenhall roared like a jet engine all night. 

          The sun broke over a mountain ridge in early morning, flooding the campground with light. I made a coffee and carried it to the shore of Mendenhall Lake just in time to see and a beaver swim right at me. I tried to imitate one of the lake-side alders as the beaver continued its approach. I must have twitched when it was right in front of me because it slapped the water with its tail and dived. 

            The beaver popped up seconds later and continued its patrol along the shore. After it disappeared around a nearby little point, I went back to the campsite to build the morning fire. Fog had been thickening on the lake’s surface while I watched the beaver. After the fire took hold, I returned to see whether the fog had survived the strengthening sunshine. Instead of fog, I saw the beaver doing one last patrol along the lake shore before tucking into its den for the day. 

Messing About

Today’s plan called for the little dog and I to walk along the shore of Mendenhall Lake. But, thanks to glacier flooding, there is no exposed lake shore. Instead we must explore the nearby forest grounds. 

            Aki is fine with the detour. For some reason, she doesn’t enjoy our lakeside walks. While she sniffs and pees on some trailside brush, I notice that rose-shaped growths have formed on the ends of some of the willow wands. Most are green. One is managing a reddish blush. Somewhere deep inside these willow roses burrows an insect. Like sand in an oyster, the little critter irritates the willow into folding its leaves until they mimic a flower. Aki has no interest in this small wonder so we move onto a trail that circles a small pond.

            We can hear a mallard quacking that is hiding in a jungle of reeds. Current from small watercourses entering the pond has formed narrow paths through the reeds. What fun Water Rat, from Wind in the Willows, would have paddling his little boat along these reedy paths. I wish that I could find a human sized path through giant reeds. There is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Shaman Island

I knew, before we arrived at the beach, that the tide was out. But the expansiveness of exposed beach surprised me. We can walk all the way to Shaman Island by crossing a land bridge underwater during a normal low tide. 

            Because of eagles, Aki fears the land bridge. The big birds lurk in the trees on Shaman Island or rip chunks of flesh away from spawned out salmon when we cross during a normal summer. But no salmon carcasses litter the tidelands. No live salmon schooled up at the mouth of Peterson Creek. 

            A handful of gulls watch the little dog and I reach Shaman Island. They don’t need the salmon, being able to survive on the scraps of food exposed by the ebb. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot three harlequin ducks start off the from beach. Most of their brethren are fishing outside waters this time of year. I hope all is well the trio, who won’t have to worry about hunting eagles on this flat-gray day. 

Blue Berry Thiefs

We are deep in the Troll Woods when Aki alerts, stiffening as she points her noise in the direction of recent motion. Then she barks. I stop berry picking and look where she is looking. Expecting a bear, I spot a gang of thrush, maybe ten of them, dive bombing blueberry bushes. The bushes bounce up and down as each bird flies away. They bounce again each time another thrush flies into them. 

            After thinning out the fruit on their targeted bush, thee birds fly over our heads and attack another one. I had suspected bears or people had plucked most of the bushes clean. But the bear poop we passed to get here was grass green, not berry blue. It must be the work of the tenacious thrush.   

All Hoovered Up

Because I can’t find any blueberries, I snatch a huckleberry and pop it into my mouth. While expecting the usual insipid flavor, I am surprised by its rich, fruity taste. A blue jay screams abuse at us as I consider grabbing another berry. But Aki is ready to move on, so we do.            

 We head down to the beach, through an old growth forest soaking with recent rain. Few, if any of the berry bushes we pass have fruit. In any other summer, I’d except that the berries are having an off year. But the pandemic has forced more folks into the woods, where they can avoid contact with those with Covid. This might be the explanation. When I spot berries, they are growing too high above the ground for a person to reach.  

Sneaking Through the Bear’s Home

A short waterfall connects Peterson Lake with salt water. That makes the lake a salt chuck. This morning Aki and I watched dog salmon power their way up the waterfall’s cascades and into the chuck. Two eagles and a handful of crows watched as well. One of the eagles had just feasted on a salmon not quite up to the climb. 

            Later we move to where a stream enters the lake. Soon the salmon we watched in the waterfall will swim across the lake and up the stream to their spawning grounds. It will be a one way trip. There will be more eagles and corvids there, as well as wading black bears. We take a casual trail that leads down the stream and hopefully away from the bears.

          We drop down onto a tidal meadow covered with six-foot-high grass. Neither Aki nor I can see over the grass but are able to follow a faint path that ends at a bear’s sleeping area. I would have taken another path if I had known where it would lead. The bears have crushed flat a section of meadow grass large enough for a small office. An eagle feather lays on one edge of the bear bed. 

            I should be worried that the bears will come back or that we may startled one of them when we walk further into the meadow. But Aki doesn’t act like she does when she smells bears. A half-a-dozen electric-blue dragon flies, called “darning needles” fly around the bear bed. Wouldn’t it be cool, little dog, if one of the darning needles landed on the eagle feather? As Aki gives me her, “you have got to be kidding stare” a darning needle alights on the feather just long enough for me to take its picture.