Nature rarely blesses Southeast Alaska with spectacular displays of fall color. We have too many moving parts. Unlike New England with its blanket of blazing maple trees softening their already soft mountains we rely upon many plants and animals that offer up color during the fall die back, salmon included.
In great years reddening sorrel, crabapple, and cranberry brush peak with yellowing cottonwoods, devil’s clubs and willows. This year cottonwood, willow, high bush cranberry, and alder leaves already litter forest trails. The umbrella like devil’s clubs leaves will soon join them. Only a few ground hugging sorrel, wild strawberries and high bush cranberry brush show bright red color. It’s a Fall to look down and deep into the forest for little universes of beauty.
While Aki sticks her nose into a recently dug hole, I am drawn to pure white mushroom wings growing on the side of a mossy stump. They have captured dark a few magenta colored spruce seeds fallen from the paws of squirrels perched above in the mother tree. Nothing else in the forest displays white. Nearby a cluster of glistening pink fungus have interlocked their caps as if to protect a community of ferries.
Deeper in the woods we come across the almost cartoonish Amanita or Fly agaric. With fat stem and bright yellow or red spotted cap it looks like an amusement park escapee. Our most poisonous mushroom, those who eat it experience a brief period of drowsiness followed by a drunk like excitement and then a deep coma like sleep. Some little creature has taken a bite out of this one but we don’t see it in the vicinity sleeping off a drunk.
We came to the moraine for beavers but I am again seduced by sacks of rain and calm water reflections of fading beauty. Weathermen promised us broken clouds and sun but that requires a vigorous wind. We have only calm and clouds that threaten to melt rather than move.
I want to head straight down to the beaver village but Aki lobbies for a detour through the Troll Woods. Maybe she senses flooded trail ahead or scents a bear. After stopping to watch little bags of moisture fall onto lake water from yellowing grass I follow her into the woods.
Explosions of mushrooms threaten to displace moss on the forest floor. Some form up facing chalices to hold last night’s rain. I want to study the reflections of golden brown flesh reflected in captured water but Aki urges me to move on. Such a jumpy thing today. On the way out of the woods we pass a freshly made black bear track pushed deep into trail mud. “Okay, I get it.”
Approaching the beaver village we can see that man is losing control of the battlefield. The beavers have rebuilt the big dam down stream of the one man hoped would block fish access from the outlet stream into the lake. Water now flows over the upper dam. In a few more nights work and the beaver’s lower dam will grow high enough to back water up and over man’s upper dam and flood the man made trails. Then Aki and I won’t be able to use the upper dam to reach beaver town. In a leap Aki joins me on their side of their stream and we begin negotiating the obstacle course beavers formed from fallen cottonwood trees.
Aki stays close as we approach the huge beaver house and then follow their logging trails around to the top end of the lake. They have cut down every softwood tree within 100 feet of the lake. Some down trunks show fresh wounds were beavers peeled off bark. Others rot untouched. Why were they made without an off switch?
Today I feel the seasonal slide to darkness
the five minute a day tumble past the bright holiday islands
A peaceful fall from summer to solstice
when wise Northmen spend stored energy of the light
others on self destruction.
I never notice the growth of night
until the last bear finds its den
the last cruise ship heads south
the last salmon flesh dissolves in Fish Creek.