The Devil’s Umbrellas

Rain pours down as we pass a sign warning us we are in bear country. Almost all the Juneau trail heads sport one. The City should post one on Chicken Ridge where we nearly ran into a big male black bear during last night’s dog constitutional. Aki barked and the bear stopped moving toward us. Now fifty feet away it slowly reversed course and ambled past our neighbor’s house and out of sight. Today, expecting all respectable bears to be haunting the salmon spawning grounds we move into the old growth forest.

Devil’s club in fall color line the trail. In some place they occupy the ground all the way to the river. The migration of nutrients from leaf to root has weakened the big ragged edged leaves so they now curve down in the rain. Plants with circles of five or six leaves form umbrellas for the cranberry brush below. A painter replacing the yellows and greens with somber colors could transform the scene into a parity of the famous Renoir painting.  Here and there single stocks of devil’s clubs have pushed their circle of leaves high above the crowd below, like polite gentlemen making way for a diminutive woman to pass.

Deeper into the woods the smell of death hangs over the trail. Silver salmon, now rotten beyond use for anything but fertilizer lay along a forest depression that only holds water during times of storm. I ask Aki, “What diverted these fish from the truth path to their birth waters to this sad end?” Looking like a dog out of patience for such foolishness, she trots back into the woods.

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