The eagles are invading Fish Creek as the first pulse of Dog Salmon move up from the salt water. Eagle roost trees mark spawning beds and holes where the salmon rest during their upriver journey. You can pick out the trees even when they are empty for white eagle scat decorates the understory plant and down and feathers gather in the upturned leaves of neighboring devil’s club leaves.
Perched over the stream on a thin alder branch, an immature eagle eyes us and some salmon moving into the current. Aki wades into the water for a closer look at the dogs, who don’t react to her presence. Do they sense the eagle?
I call Aki back and wait, camera ready for the eagle to move. It does, launching out over the river toward the salmon, talons extended. There’s no splash or dramatic struggle between 10 pounds of salmon and the mighty bird. It is just the fish, stream, and Aki looking at me with that, “Shouldn’t we be moving on” look.
The eagles must be waiting for the bears that will follow the salmon upstream. Those guys will do the heavy lifting of fishing salmon from the stream. If the run is strong the bears eat only the brains and rich eggs, leaving everything else for the eagles and ravens to squabble over.
Would Andrew Wyeth have snapped this picture from the seat of his touring bicycle? This image of this woman with hair the color of the arctic cotton she gathers as muskeg water soaks her shoes? At this distance he would be able to impose his idea of beauty on her face and form. I couldn’t get the colors right but do see her passion. We would both crown her queen of wild cotton.
Shaman island, gloomy in early morning gray, stands exposed by the minus tide. It’s our Mont San Michel but without a monastery or crepes. Named for the Native holy man buried there, it usually enjoys a barrier of salt water. Crossing the drying causeway we find a beautiful blend of wildflowers just above the high tide land — yellow Indian Paintbrush, red Columbines, and purple Harebells.
We start to circumnavigate the island but stop after realizing that every step around the island’s back side would crush a dozen barnacles. Most of the island lacks a beach. Here, on the back side, waves reach the base of a step slate cliff that protects the bones. Elsewhere on the island a thick tangle of spruce discourages the curious from entering its interior. I’m drawn to the cliff by displays of Harebell and Fireweed flowers that have somehow anchored themselves into the lichen covered rock face. The flowers have spaced themselves to mimic offerings left at a columbarium. Below thins sheets of fallen slate crack under my boots sounding like knackebrod being broken and shared on a Swedish picnic.
Pink salmon jump in the nearby sea, waiting for the flood tide to carry them to their birth waters in Peterson Creek. The small fry, crows and gulls, fight for scrapes on the creek mud flats. Eagles and Ravens squawk and jostle for position in spruce trees lining the beach. They wait for a more bountiful meal.
We leave over the temporary causeway for the trail home, passing a trusting song sparrow and a nervous deer.
a man carries his small dog
to the middle of a field of
impossibly green grass
then bursts forward at speed
the dog hard on his heal.
After winning the race
he rolls over for a reward
as I pluck mine
that burst in my mouth.
Late yesterday afternoon I was rode a bike along the Chena River under a strong northern sun. Where the Chena merges with the Tanana a woman exercised her German Shepard dog in the big river. The current drew me toward the river too with the promise of movement and coolness on a hot day.
Today it rained hard but brief leaving the smell of drying northern wildflowers and ground. We don’t have an opportunity to smell drying ground in Southeast Alaska for our dirt never dries out from frequent soakings of tide and rain. Its a gift enjoyed by dessert dwellers and subarctic people.
At first the trail edges a residential neighbor that must house kids for someone fashioned a swing from an old boat line and net buoy. Aki, reading the signs left by other dogs, ignores this icon of Southeast Alaska childhood, now beautified by strong rays of morning sun. We climbed on for an hour through a sun soaked forest.
Now I’m stopped, head down, waiting for this red dragon fly to move. We have played this game for some time now, since Aki and I started climbing the long plank steps that offer dry passage through this meadow. I lead Aki up a few steps, the dragon fly lands just ahead of me and we stop. I stir. The dragon fly moves to the next plank. We stop. What, I wonder am I missing. Is there a deer near the meadow edge enhanced by the morning sun? Does a bear dig roots just ahead? Would these scenes be more wondrous than the dragon fly’s glistening wings?
Aki finally loses patience and charges ahead to end the game. Passing beyond the meadow we re-enter the forest for more climbing until the trail deteriorates into a small muddy stream bed. Here we turn around and descend to the meadow, seeing for the first time what I missed while dragon fly gazing. The moist meadow, almost devoid of flower blossoms, curves into the forest below. This opens a vista of Lynn Canal with its spruce covered islands under a mix sky of blue and grey. Weather beaten spruce and hemlock are scattered in the foreground. Aki marks the spot with urine and we descend to the woods below.
This morning Seamus, the forecast icon on our electronic thermometer, wears a tee shirt and sun glasses while clouds obscure the top half of Douglas Island. Seamus is a fool or liar. After wrapping Aki in rain gear she and I head out to Outer Point.
A week dominated by clouds and some rain must have demoralized the people of Juneau for only birds and marmots share the trail with us. Summer has started its slide to fall. Skunk cabbage leaves stand two feet high in the forest bogs and still tart blue berries have darkened to their harvest color. Flavor comes later but I still try a few berries in hopes of finding a juicy precocious one.
The sun makes a surprise visit as we near the beach. “Don’t get smug Seamus,” I mutter, “It’s only a sucker hole.” Still the shafts reach like spot lights to the understory, turning ordinary tree moss to museum quality patina. A marmot’s warning whistle startles us while still in the woods, answered by another on the beach. Aki talks offense and dashes back and forth between the whistlers, barking without effect. The Marmots whistle on.
On the beach a strip of sun light runs along the surf line. I head for a small patch of sunny beach just now exposed by the ebbing tide. Aki and I stand there for some time, warmed by the sun while small surf sings us a gentle song.