The captain and I are in the desert — one rich in water and rain, green hills, and glaciers showing every shade of white —- but a desert with all its ability to produce despair. We are between the early and late king salmon runs trolling the entrances to Fish Creek and Gasteneau Channel in hopes of catching a transit king as it rides the flood tide to its spawning grounds.
Hope filled us this morning as we cruised over the flat harbor waters where six eagles dove on one herring shoal near Stephens Point and herring in another shoal sought safety by leaping into the air as salmon chased them from below. Believing these to be chum rather than king salmon we made the turn toward the choke point where spawning kings must pass. There there must be herring and king salmon chasing them. By trolling our hand tied herring through this place we should catch fish.
King Salmon don’t care about hope. Masters of disappointment, they will remain in deep water until all but the most faithful have tied up their boats to wait for the silver salmon run in August. Then the kings will pass in a pulse through these waters with only a few of their number being caught by fishermen who demonstrate their worthiness through persistence.
Turning to another passion I dial in the Dodger broadcast to find they hold a five run lead over the Colorado Rockies with only three innings to go. Here, hope tells me, the baseball season turns around for the Dodgers for they have made 14 hits already in the game. Now, hope promises, begins the slow and steady march towards a winning season and a dethroning of the hated San Francisco Giants. Turning my back on the salmon I listen, first with joy and then stoicism as the Rockies narrow the Dodgers’ lead with two home runs and some other timely hitting. The radio dies when the boat moves into mountain shadow as the announcer describes the arc of a long fly ball curving from a Rockies‘ bat toward the bleachers.
Hope makes fools of us but without it there would be no fishing or baseball or even love.
Today it’s back to familiar ground that fills the space between Eagle River and the sea. The trail takes us up river through old growth spruce forest before breaking left toward a beautiful muskeg meadow. There we must walk on a recently laid boardwalk which the marsh plants are already trying to colonize. But first the forest, now jammed with flowering berry plants and hungry mosquitos.
I want to linger by the berry bushes in bloom — Salmon, elder, high bush cranberry, and currant — but the bugs move us on, their stings like wounds from a riot policeman’s baton. Aki is trotting on with her entourage of mosquitos when I stop to investigate what drew a coven of ravens to this spot. They skulked away on our approach and reassemble in a nearby tree to heap verbal abuse on we the innocent. The birds must be on to something good but the bugs won’t leave time to investigate. In my haste to escape I almost step in fresh bear scat. Maybe the ravens were waiting for him to finish up a meal so they can enjoy the scraps .
Breaking from the forest we find tall blue lupine and stunted spruce forming the border of the muskeg meadow. I am taken with the field of arctic cotton that completes with shooting stars and chocolate lilies for space on the boggy ground. The cotton look like a kindergarden art project — cotton balls glued on lengths of green wire.
Three hundred meters further we cross Glacier Highway and reach a rich tidelands meadow running to the sea. Here the flowers, fertilized by generations of spawned out salmon form great swaths of magenta, blue, yellow and chocolate brown. Most of the resident Canada Geese flock is hunkered down across the river complaining about the weather. A quiet five of their brethren studiously feed on a small strip of land soon to be reclaimed by the rising tide.
A high tide can make the next portion of trail impassable so we hurry on and return to the forest with its mosquitos, then the car.
Today Aki and I climb the old mining road to the head of Ebner Falls, passing beauty and ghosts. We also pass cascades. Most are made of water but one of is of red flowering Columbines that together mimic the steep streams tumbling down Mt. Juneau’s avalanche chutes. With patience and time we could see Anna Hummingbirds feed on the flowers now spread wide open. There is only time for a dash to Ebner Falls and then back to Chicken Ridge where I will catch a ride to Tee Harbor and then, with luck, catch a King Salmon.
We pass the steep slope where a young runner fell to his death on November ice. From here you can see Ebner Falls roar into Gold Creek. The falls blast through a narrow portal in glacial rock to fall over 100 feet into the creek. The government once kept a bench near the top of the falls but removed it after too many died falling in. I can see how it happens. At the top of the falls, Gold Creek is just a refreshing stream broken by large rocks as it flows through flat ground. After a hot hike from town people venture into the stream, fall against a rock and then go over a precipice into the vortex. Last summer Search and Rescue saved one young berry picker who slipped into danger. The year before a young girl fell and was never found.
With prayers for the departed we return home and I go fishing for salmon. My friend and I try for King Salmon but settle for silver bright chums (dogs). Their red flesh makes great kipper treats we will enjoy next winter.
We listen to old blues or rock music when the baseball games aren’t on the boat radio. My fishing partner was dancing on the boat’s rear deck to a B.B. King song when the second salmon bit. I saw it all, the fisherman, with arms slightly out twisting with Mr. King’s music and then pointing at his fishing pole. The pole bending over from the pressure of the strike. He playing the fish while I brought in the other line and readied the net. Our friends cruising by in their boat, looks of dismay or perhaps respect on their faces.
King Salmon reach Juneau first followed by chums, and pinks. Finally, in he fall the tasty and plentiful Silver Salmon arrive to fill our freezers. The kings, with fat red flesh can run 40 pounds. One can feed us most of the winter. They have moved on toward their spawning streams, pushed out by by the more numerous chums.
While we fish a humpback whale hammers herring at the harbor mouth before following us up the Breadline troll run. We both follow the herring, he for food, and we in hopes that they will attract the King Salmon. The water runs deep here and the whale cruises close against the shore, 100 meters behind us. I worry that we block his passage but he skirts around our boat, raises flukes to the sky and sounds. We don’t see the whale again until reentering the harbor, where we watch the humpback throws himself into the air in a breach and crash with flukes flapping into the sea.
For two evenings a rich yellow light has flooded Chicken Ridge turning the stop sign at 7th and Main into an art piece. (Must resist the urge to photograph it). Spruce, alder, and popular trees, like those in our garden glow green and yellow, reducing Mount Juneau to a pale background for their beauty. Turn about is fair for I’ve used these trees to frame the mountain on every morning walk to work. Stalking this beauty with camera leads to little, just this picture of a side door to the Unspeakable Acts Research Center
and this of the front of the building, which is an art studio fashioned from an old carriage house:
This trail drops down a series of alpine muskeg meadows to tree line. Here in the first meadow, plants are just shaking off winter. These low growing blue berry bushes, which produce the sweetest fruit haven’t flowered while their Bog Rosemary neighbors only show tight magenta fists of buds.
Spring progresses as we drop even a few meters in elevation and find the rosemary in full bloom in the second meadow. A isolated pocket of shooting stars, flowers tilted demurely down are a pleasant find. Closed buds of Labrador Tea blossoms stand nearby. In the next meadow burst flowers of this plant lay open to the sun.
These meadows could cure the homesickness of visitors from most northern lands with their blueberry berry blossoms, arctic cotton stands, and clumps of heather. Here blooms our Cloud Berry blooms, a plant called the Salmon Berry by Yupik Eskimos and Hjortron by the Swedes. There grows Mountain Cranberriy so like the Scandinavian Lingonberry.
Dropping through another meadow, this one comfortably settled into summer, we reach tree line and enter an old growth forest drained by Fish Creek. Only three stirring Salmon Berry blossoms break the brown and green monopoly of these woods
Aki plays grab tail with a passing Labrador then we are alone on the Treadwell Ditch Trail. Miners built the ditch in 1889 to carry water to the raceways of the stamp mill near the present town of Douglas. Decaying stumps of once giant spruce trees show give evidence of where they found wood to line the ditch. You can almost make out the notches they cut for the spring boards they stood on to work their long whip saws and hear the rhythmic ripping sound made by its cross cut blade biting through several centuries of wood.
Early risings are one of the few benefits of jet lag. This morning I rouse Aki at 4:30 to walk the Flume. This wooden channel runs through old growth spruce along the lower slopes of Mt. Juneau, carrying water to a small hydroelectric plant near our grocery store. It bridges the old Perseverance Mine Road and a street that will bring us back to Chicken Ridge. This morning we have it to ourselves.
Bears, deers and ravens own these early morning hours. Aki walks a respectful distance behind me on the trail which usually means she smells something large and wild. At first we walk with caution but only see ravens and squirrels that tease Aki from the safety of high tree limbs.
Grey has replaced blue in the sky but on this morning it gives peace not disappointment. The past few days of hot sunny weather have melted much of the mountain snow and the resulting runoff fills Gold Creek and pulses beneath our feet in the Flume. The sound carries away any concern I might have about bears with cubs and I stop frequently to look for feeding deer. The woods along the trail cut off most views but we still manage to see the Mt. Juneau waterfall through a closing gap in the alders.
Our trip ends today with a flight out of Paris. We spend less than 24 hours here, mostly transporting ourselves to and from airports or sleeping in the garret of a pension near the Luxembourg Gardens. Here we are have hot sunny weather and enough time to walk through the gardens and then down St. Michel Blvd. to the Isle de France where we watch the last evening light fade from the facade of Notre Dame Cathedral.
We saw evidence of the Parisian spirt on the walk: the careful planting of the formal Luxembourg Gardens where the late afternoon sun brought richness to flowers and animated the half dressed marble statues; beautiful old stone buildings along St. Michel housing flats, outdoor cafes and a very large McDonald’s restaurant; lovers along the Seine locked in the kiss to form beautiful cliches with light emphasizing the whiteness of the men’s shirts and the young richness of the women’s hair.
Londoners would go mad without their parks. This one in Russia Dock Woods would be missed. While the sun struggles though the tattered remains of yesterday’s storm I follow a winding path through a small forest of leafy trees. Except for passing planes and the occasional London Bus only the sound of dog owners issuing polite commands compete with thick bird song.
The path leads to a small pond rich in waterfowl. One heron, gray and white, dominates it from his perch on an artificial float. Gray feathers form eye brows that seem to arch when he hears my camera beep. (Must remember to disable that feature). A raft of mallards crowd the pond near my feet, separated by clumps of flowering yellow iris from their heron king. The ducks look for the pond, not me, for food. A small family of Canada Geese have staked out the far shore of the pond. The fuzzy goslings use their stubby wings for balance while walking.
An English Bulldog kisses me on the check as I draw the scene, apparently as uplifted by the morning as I. Did he also, I wonder, spend the previous day jammed with half the population of Barcelona, dressed in their team colors, on underground train cars as we all headed for the Portobello Road Flea Market? They are in London to watched their beloved Barca football club play Manchester United for the European Champions Cup. Did the bulldog have to listen to the Barcelona fans loud chants while walking from Leicester to Trafalgar Square or to the rain pound down on the Tate Britain’s old roof during yesterday’s sharp rain shower? He certainly wasn’t sitting in the audience with us last night when the London Philharmonic performed an emotionally draining program of Haydn, Mahler and Brahms. More likely my new dog friend was simply overcome with joy by the excitement while running through this park on a sunny day after having been locked up in a little flat all week.
No rain today! Sad to start a writing with that weather report but after 10 days in the UK I am slipping into the local’s habit of beginning each conversation with a sentence about the weather. (Today, Sunny, 72 degrees) I peddle a rented comfort bike along the dirt tow path along the Thames River. It runs for hundreds of miles. I settle for the ten between Windsor and Maidenhead.
Masses of fat swans and Canada Geese crowd the Windsor water front near the bridge connecting Windsor and Eton town. They look for handouts from folks there to enjoy the big birds and to eat ice cream cones sending drips to the pavement in this hot weather. Things turn wilder when I pass under the brick railroad aqueduct and cross to the Eton side of the river where the path becomes a wagon rut on a rich grassy verge. A fat and low self propelled canal barge moves up river. The name, “Ironclad” is painted in large old fashion script across the bow and stern. Small knots of locals wait for Ironclad at a lock to watch the great gate doors open to welcome it and then close to hold river water that floods in until Ironclad floats to the same level as the river upriver of the lock. Then the lock keeper releases the boat by opening the other gates. I wonder if the other landlocked witnesses to the passage also think of Water Rat and his understandable desire to gain joy by simply messing about with boats.
Just above the lock a full family of white swans feed at the inlet of a small stream. No tea cake scraps for them. The signets still fuzzy from the egg remind me that we have only reached late spring.
After the trail takes me then through tunnels of green growth and past an ancient church that stands alone, far from the nearest source of parishioners. No longer a house of worship, its keys are held by the “Friends of Churches,” a group interested in preserving history not in deepening man‘s relationship with God.
I take another path home, one that cuts lightly cross a grassy enclosed commons then around the lake that Eton College uses for rowing practice. Other than two rabbits and some very musical birds I see only flora, the sun and the blue sky it rides across. Soon I am lost in a tangle of paths and some small roads that dump me in the heart of Eton College at the moment school lets out for the day. A mob of young men, most dressed in black suits as if for formal dinner pass around me like I was an inert rock in their stream. A few of the boys wear lighter colored blazers made with long thick stripes. Escaping this flood of youth I remount and cross the bride to Windsor where the Queen’s castle looks lovely bathed in the late afternoon light.