Lucky Ducks

We find the back door unlocked at Eagle Beach on this wet wednesday. A minus tide has left the river’s secrets exposed. We feel like fans with a back stage pass to a fancy theatre—-one with lots of expensive devices to suspend the audience’s belief.  One other person could share it with us but she is present only to her cell phone.

From the back she looks like a bird watcher using binoculars. Then I hear her, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, no not yet.” Cell phone coverage is spotty this far out the road.  She comes here for bars not beauty. If she looked she’d see a mixed sand and gravel bar reaching at least a half a mile into Lynn Canal. The now indistinct Chilkat Mountains, tucked under clouds, line the canal’s far bank. She wouldn’t miss any animal action. We only find two nervous gulls who fly before we can get within 300 meters.

The bar testifies to the carrying strength of water and the power of tide driven current. A wide barrier of supersaturated glacier silt forms an unpleasant border for the bar. Once across, shoes wet, happy not to have to free boots and paws from the sucking sand we gain firmer ground formed of heavier stuff. Between islands of golden beach grass run shallow channels where the the hammering of the out going tide carved in sharp sided ridges like those on a washboard road. Closer to the main channel we reach a bar made of round river rocks—-pebbles really—that roll under Aki’s paws as she walks.

I know the river is a mindless engineering model but it often acts as if guided by wisdom. When strong with storm water it gathers all within reach and carries it as far as the sea. It quickly drops what it can no longer carry when the sun shines or a big flood tide robs it of power. It seems to know that the tide always ebbs and other storms will come and what it has dropped eventually will ride again in its current.

Moving up river we pass a small raft of sleeping Bufflehead ducks. They float freely in the current, bills  tucked into back feathers. In minutes they pass an eagle facing away from the river while sitting on an upturned stump.   Will we see drama? We don’t.

A little further upriver another eagle sits alone high in a tall spruce skeleton. We have seen him there on every visit since mid-summer.  Today he peers through the fog forming on the river’s surface as if for food. Focusing on him I don’t notice a raft of red breasted mergansers floating by. One of my steps sends them into panicked flight.  These are local boys, probably jumpy from being so close to the eagle.  The sleeping Buffleheads, who are just passing through, must have floated by the watchful upriver eagle.  Was it exhaustion or lack of local knowledge that left them so oblivious to danger?  I just know they are lucky.

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