Aki and I climbed to this mountain meadow for a taste of natural grandeur but have to settle for glimpses of small beauty. Last night another Gulf of Alaska front jammed clouds against our mountains to obscure the peaks and dampened Chicken Ridge with rain. I still find plenty of ground hugging beauty and Aki raced a snowshoe hare.
After getting over disappointment at the lost of sunshine, I’m free to appreciate the complex pattern formed by rain dropped on windblown grass and the magenta flowers — tiny bog rosemary, mysterious (to me) shoots of pink and white petals shaped into hands of prayer, and two late blooming shooting stars. Single stalks of Hooded Lady Tresses tower above the muskeg too far from the trail for me to smell their orchid scent.
On some disturbed ground near the trail I mistake a scattering of small mushrooms for diminutive daisies. A snow shoe hare breaks from cover and tears down the trail. While I’m appreciating the hare’s efficient lope Aki takes after it, shedding her rain wrap in the process. Aki is fast but so is the hare, who has quite a head start. The contestants disappear over a low hill, then Aki returns a little winded. Good thing it wasn’t the Creggan White Hare.
If she were a child, I would lecture Aki, explaining that the hare has a hard enough time surviving on this mountain meadow without being chased by a poodle in fleece. She might respond that she is only yielding to her DNA as a dog bred by the French for the hunt.
On the ride down mountain we spot a deer near the road fringe. With Aki staring at it, the deer boldly approaches the car, fixing me with a hard look. This is too much for Aki, who gives it a growl then watches the deer move slowly into the woods.
The sun left us a few days ago, after I finished eating blueberries along the Eagle River. Rain dominated Juneau since. With a promise of sun after this sorrow Aki and head take an early departure for the moraine. Low clouds begin lifting when we arrive and find every tree, bush, and flower carrying a heavy burden of rain water.
Aki charges alone into the trail side woods to run after a squirrel over mossy ground and then bursts onto the trail ten feet in front of me. Apparently assuming that I didn’t wait for her return, she charges at full speed down the trail. When I whistle she stops on a dime and races back toward me. A few feet before reaching my feet she breaks back into the woods for a quick lap through the moss and then heads back to the car. Another whistle brings a dog panting with happiness to my side. Such a drama queen.
Life in a rain forest gives us a chance to be present for the moments when sudden sun light drives away the storm. Then the water drops that just minutes before depressed the forest’s beauty become vibrant bags of light. Shafts break through the dying cover of grey to paint lakes in silver. Today, this is our morning.
Wanting to catch the beaver lands before the new sun brings wind to ripple the lakes, I lead Aki over the beaver dam bridge to the trail that circles Norton Lake. Aki cringes when we hear a series of slaps of a beaver tail. I find this a bit odd as she only showed fascination when we watched a beaver perform a series of tail slaps in the past. I listen for something scary but only hear the slaps and the boom of high caliber rifles of the early bird shooters at the gun range.
We watch a Greater Yellowlegs (Sandpiper) approach the water’s edge to stare at the water. He is only searching for food but appears to be admiring his reflection in the still calm pond. Overhead a trio of tourist filled helicopters fly overhead on the way to the sled dog camp on a nearby glacier. They fly over the beavers’ lands all summer without bothering the sandpiper or the beavers or even the bears who left so much scat on this trail. They live and apparently thrive in a pocket of wilderness surrounded by our suburbs and the agents of industrial tourism. Aki and I are the only ones to mind the noise.
Aki and I arrive at this riverine meadow at a moment of transient beauty. Last night’s rain has coalesced into small sacks of water that still cling to the purple lupine flowers and their stalks. Weak sunlight manages to break through a grey canopy of low clouds to turn the drops into jewels.
Across the river four eagles have spaced themselves out on a driftwood log. As if performing as a drill team, they rise from the log one after another until only one remains. At first I attribute this as a display of eagle wisdom for a river and several hundred meters separate us from the birds. Only the one who stayed wore the white and brown feathers of a mature bird. The three that flew sport the mottled cloak of immature eagles. Then I noticed the mature bird’s posture and realized that he is drying his feathers.
We find more eagles and many ravens hanging by the river watching the corpses of dead chum salmon lying on the trail. The fish rode the high tide into the meadow and could not find their way back to the river channel on the ebb. Some bird plucked out each fish’s eye. Otherwise they were intact. This surprises given all the scavengers about.
Something splashes in a tiny water course that drains the meadow. Aki breaks toward the noise and finds a half a dozen chum salmon striving forward. Unless they turn back to the river they will be stranded by the outgoing tide. The watercourse, which dead ends in a hundred meters goes dry at low tide. Aki approaches the fish cautiously as if to see if they want to play. When they splash ahead she jumps back and returns to my side.
The sun breaks through when we leave the meadow for an trail through old growth spruce where I feed on rain washed blue berries growing along the trail. Enjoying the bitter sweetness of berries eaten in a soon to disappear shaft of sunlight, I listen to a large school of salmon splashing along a nearby river gravel bar. A bear could easily pluck them from the shallows but we see no scat, tracks, or partially consumed fish bodies. Many dead salmon lie on the gravel bar. None shows a mark of being touched by bear or bird. Near them I find a patch of drying mud that shows the tracks of squirming salmon that passed over the bar last night and a single print of a bear’s paw made when it turned on its heal to lunge for a fish.