In the northern rain forest you don’t measure high summer by heat but by the progress of salmon and the ripeness of berries. We must be there because eagles and ravens line trees along salmon streams while king and dog salmon fight for space on the spawning redds. Along this trail through the old growth woods ripe blue berries confirm the season. I harvest my first while Aki waits just down the trail.
The berry, grown on a bush fertilized by decayed leaves, tastes more bitter than sweet. I decide to leave the rest to ripen and move down the trail. After this first act of harvest I only have eyes for plants that bear fruit rather than beauty. Aki, wanting to reach the beach ranges far ahead while I stop often to check for ripeness.
The tide is well out when we reach the beach. A eagle complains loudly then flies over our heads being pursued by a single diminutive crow. An army of other crows fill the beach side trees and range over the exposed tidelands searching for food. Knowing they will actively resent our presence I lead Aki back into the woods to further measure the progress of summer.
We Americans make too much noise celebrating Independence Day. In Juneau it started last night with an evening of amateur pyrotechnics that ended with a professional display at midnight. Firework rockets exploding over Gasteneau Channel appeared to set the clouds on fire while echoing canon fire off the walls of Mt. Jumbo. It sends Aki into a frightened confusion that only ends with the last bomb blasts.
This morning there was more noise made by the downtown parade — Scottish and American marching bands, honking trucks, grinding mine vehicles, and the whine of two cycle miniature car engines driven by Shriners in funny hats. Not being a big fan of noise for noise sake, I think we would be better off celebrating the holiday reading the Declaration of Independence from England, signed July 4th, 1776.
Looking for some quiet time Aki and I drive out the road to a salt chuck meadow. Seeing two not before noticed boards laid seductively across a road side ditch I park the car and lead Aki across the portal. A green field awaits beyond that sports creamy arctic cotton, purple lupine and spikes of the hooded ladies tresses orchids. There is silence here. No cruise ship horns, helicopter noise, airplane roar reaches. We wander about, crossing a barrier of spruce trees then entering another meadow dominated by an orchard of crab apple trees just now setting fruit. Nearby Aki finds a large patch of orange colored moss that has been disturbed here and there by a foraging bear. She rolls on to her back and squirms with pleasure on the soft moss. I’ve never seen her look happier.
Following animal trails we make our way to a gravel path that leads over a small coastal hill to a pocket beach. Large ferns crowd the trail but we have no problem making headway. Two eagles break from the trail side spruce when we approach then we hear a series of low warning whistles from a marmot. The big cavia stands erect and as gray as the granite rock he stands upon. Rounding the corner we spot his mate looking out from the door of their tree root home. He issues one more shrill warning whistle and then both marmots go to ground. Only then does Aki decide to bark, bless her.
Skirting the beach we take a lightly used forest path to a pocket beach with plans on continuing on to another cove. It’s just high tide, which will block further passage for another 20 minutes so we find a comfortable outcropping of rock to wait. I doze then awake to see a seal break the surface just off shore. We watch him slowly approach our perch, rise a foot or so out of the water and then sink under the water. They are such curious critters.
Natural beauty should move people to a respectful place. Great beauty can you place you content in God’s palm. Today Aki and I are surrounded by landscape compelling enough to move anyone except the person who fired 30 bullets into this trash can and then set it on fire.
Following Aki across the pedestrian bridge over Montana Creek I let the roar of creek waters ease me into the woods. The creek is high from snow melt and recent rainfall. A half a mile in Aki urges me to take a small trail down to the creek side. Here years ago a large Sitka Spruce tree, uprooted by high water, fell in a perpendicular line across the creek. It’s top fell just upstream of a glacier erratic, which anchored it.
Stream floods delivered sand and gravel to fill in behind the massive trunk and now to is a three foot high dam that salmon must leap over to reach the spawning redds. I’d like to return and watch silver salmon, in their spawning colors, gather in the pool just down river from the log and then take turns launching themselves over it. We might also see a bear on the log waiting to pick off a flying silver with its jaws.
We don’t need to wait until spawning season to find beauty along this creek. Here is a crisp hoof print just left in the sand by a deer. There lies the print of a bear that I examine until Aki obscures it with her muzzle. Just the way simple rain drops gather morning light on this wild cucumber stalk now setting flowers can make forget the damage of man.