Absence is the theme for this walk around False Outer Point. I stay away from here during early summer when the chance of catching a king salmon from shore draws big crowds. Then bon fires burn on this beautiful beach and a community of fishermen form on the point. Today, with the kings now up in the spawning streams, only one car sits in the trailhead parking lot.
Aki loves this trail and I have to hurry down it to keep up with her and she charges ahead. She slows where we reach the crescent beach, now half exposed by the outgoing tide. The signs of man are everywhere but I can’t spot the owner of the other car. Someone has fashioned a spiral shaped labyrinth out of smooth beach stones but we don’t try it.
When Aki stops to drink from a runoff stream I scan the ocean for life and at first see only timber covered islands and the glacier beyond. No whales, porpoise, ducks or geese appear. Then a large dog salmon performs several leaps out of the water, ending each with a happy splash. It’s as if he wants one last celebration before the fight for spawning space in the redds.
A noisy gang of crows occupies the point. After chasing off the ravens and eagles that usually hang out here, they have little patience for us. A couple fly low over me but don’t bother with Aki. By rounding the point we reach a pocket meadow still moist from the retreating tidal water. Surrounded by barnacle incrusted rocks, only salt tolerant plants can survive in the meadow. I can’t remember seeing one like it on our other travels.
The sun breaks through briefly to light up the golden yellow rock weed covering portions of the beach nearest the water. Only artists that can recreate this color on canvas have a chance of conveying the beauty of a Southeast Alaska beach to others.
Around the next headland I spot two people sharing a conversation in a flat grassy spot between trees and the beach. As we approach I can see their camping gear. When they spot us, the campers begin to pack things away. The woman, at first standing straight and upright, bends her torso like a dancer taking a bow. Her hair forms a blond cascade that bounces as she stuffs a sleeping bag into its stuff sack.
The campers move quickly enough to raise suspicion. Are they embarrassed by being caught acting out what seemed like a good idea last night at the Imperial Bar? More likely they are hurrying back to town for hot breakfast and good coffee.
They’ve camped just beyond a trail junction where Aki and I take a path leading into the woods so we don’t meet them. I stop from time to time to pick blue berries, which gives the campers time to almost catch up. The possibility of them doing this causes me to walk faster until we leave the main trail from a seldom used route that will lead to the car. The campers, who must own the other car parked by the trailhead must also know the way for I hear the man’s voice rising above forest bird song when we reach the road to home.
Arriving back at the parking lot just before the campers I am relieved to have avoided the forest equivalent of an awkward elevator moment—the one where you are in an tall building’s elevator with someone your barely know that works for your employer. Stuck in a moving box you first wrestle with whether to initiate a conversation and then after giving in to that temptation, the effort to maintain it until the elevator debouches one of you. The conversation is always about the weather. I can only talk about rain for so long.