My choice of direction at the start of today’s hike confuses Aki. She knows this trail well and probably has favorite pee sites identified. When I turn right rather than left on it she gives me her, “are you crazy” look and watches me disappear around the first corner. In seconds she’s by my side, having made the necessary adjustments to her expectations.Together we follow Eagle River on its last mile to the sea.
The trail takes us through a forest dominated by moss encrusted cottonwood trees with furrowed trunk that run over a 30 meters to the canopy. Their yellowing tear drop shaped leaves decorate this gravel trail, the berry brush and wide devil’s club leaves that make up the bulk of the understory garden. Everything in this forest that can is heading toward the false death of autumn— a death that releases a red and yellow beauty.
We are minutes away from an informal trail to a wide gravel bar exposed now at low tide. Aki breaks ahead, bearing to the left of a water filled ditch while I stay to the right of it. A large immature eagle with a couple of missing wing feathers flies toward me from the gravel bar followed by four large dogs that head for Aki. Showing no aggression they surround her, sniffing with curiosity. She breaks for the ditch separating us and, for the first time in her 6 years of life, swims across a water course.
After the big dogs trot away Aki and I walk to the gravel bar and check out a long finger of water leading in from the river. Salmon rest in this slough before continuing up river to their spawning grounds. They bring the birds and sometimes the bears.
Figuring not to find any predators along the slough after it had been visited by all those big dogs, I lead Aki toward it across a field of yellowing grass. The smell of salmon death hangs heavy. We take care not to step on rotting carcasses scattered everywhere by the incoming tides. Far down the meadow an unfamiliar eagle like call sounds as a large brown and white bird rises into the air on a course that takes it right over our heads. It’s a Northern Harrier flying close enough for me to see its owl like face.
This is my first sighting of a harrier and memories of its close pass over head keeps me occupied until we reach the road and cross over it to where the hiking trail will continue in a few hundred meters. We enter the forest, rather than stay on the road with a plan to wander around in it until we find the trail back to the car. Here, just meters from the road we find a rich pocket of old growth forest formed by large spruce trees. Many kinds of mushrooms, some bright red dot the ground spaces between trees, high bush cranberry brush and red huckleberry bushes. A path formed by wild animals leads us back to the man made path to home.