Monthly Archives: February 2013

Holding a Place in Line

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Joined by the the other permanent human resident in her her house, Aki and I confine ourselves to the cross country ski track set on a riverside campground. The little dog happily dashes between her humans, one moving faster on skate skis than me on old school gear.

P1120576Skiing on a set track, where you can reduce life to the kick-slide-kick Nordic rhythm, drives thoughts inward during these empty times in the riverine forest. That will change next month when the salmon smolt leave Windfall Lake to start up the big, brutal engine of life, priming it as prey for the fish and animals trying to eek out a living at winter’s end. The game fish, Cutthroat Trout and Dolly Varden Char follow the baby salmon to the river’s mouth, concentrating in such hungry numbers that it is illegal to fish for them there.

At ski’s end Aki and I walk to the edge of a small bluff and look over the river now  swollen by a massive high tide. What normally is a landscape of sand bars decorated by drift wood logs and the occasional fish duck becomes almost indistinct from the sea it feeds. Only the root systems of the largest drift logs rise above its surface. On one a mature bald eagle perches on a root, facing seaward, looking miserable in the rain, as if resenting the feckless friends for whom he saves a place in the line of life.

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New England: Please Return Our Winter!

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I am tired of writing about rain, not the rain itself, just describing it. Today we decide to ignore the wet wall we walk through on the way to the moraine. This is easy for Aki as long as recent dog dropping distract her; harder for me since my handkerchief is already wet from wiping drops off the UV filter.

P1100125The place is empty of people, as if they got the memo warning of the toxic effects of today’s flood inducing deluge. We travel alone over packed snow through a screen of young alders to the Mendenhall River and a view of the glacier under storm clouds. A tall cottonwood tree leans stiffly over the river, as if righting itself after a near fall. We’ve seen eagles roost there during late summer, scanning the river for a spawned out salmon; hoping to be the first scavenger to greet its arrival on that gravel bar just down river from the tree.   In this time of famine on the moraine, the eagles hunt the tidelands.

The beavers have been busy. We find evidence of their recent logging activity along the shore of Moose Lake, a moss covered willow laid out on wet snow, its stump sculpted by the beaver teeth, the surrounding snow covered with willow chips. Why do they rise from their dens during mid-winter thaws; do they fall trees for food, dam material, or entertainment?

P1100120Near the logging operation, where a small creek keeps part of the lake ice free, a small mud flat has formed. Somethings— dog or beaver or both— have tracked clean snow with the reddish mud from the flat. Dogs, capable of extravagant silliness are the most likely culprits. If it wasn’t raining so hard I’d bend down to inspect the tracks.

Passages into Summer

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A Bald Eagle flies by the window as I write. Is it hunting neighborhood cats? We saw no eagles on this morning’s walk through old growth forest on Douglas Island. Wet, gray, warm enough to fill rivulets with snow melt and reveal treasures hidden by last weeks snow storm, the weather discourages trail use.

Yesterday I found peace in the gray but yesterday the rain held off until we finished our hike. Today’s rain tests our mettle but doesn’t seem to inhibit the deer sharing this forest with us. He tracked the trail from beach to a blueberry meadow with crisp hoof prints, punching them through soft snow to a layer of melt water below.  Something or someone spooked him at meadow’s edge where he darted from trail onto the forest’s deep snow cover, which offers safety but tough going.

P1100050Dropping toward the beach we pass a water filled hollow in the snow that shines bright green with plant life, dwarf dogwood pedals stretching out into the water like wings over other tiny forest floor growth, a magic passage to summer. Moisture from captured rain falls into the little transient pond, decorating its surface with expanding ripples.

Nearby water streams over the tops of beaver dams that flooded part of the trail before freezeup.  Fooled by snow cover, I break through thin ice, driving my right leg up to mid-calf in cold water. Aki leaps past me and reaches drier ground without a soaking. I join her on her little rise and admire how snow melt over week ice mimics the granite countertops found in trendy kitchens. Without warning a wild eyed dog bursts out of the forest to join us on the now crowded island.

P1100096I try all the control tricks learned during a decade of driving dog teams in Southwest Alaska. Nothing deters the invader as Aki cowers between my boots. Off in the woods his owner calls and blows a whistle; noise ignored by all.

Lifting my little dog out of reach I look into the eyes of our unwelcome visitor and find kind interest, not malice.  He could be a loyal friend to a person with patience and a little wisdom. Pointing with my unencumbered arm I politely ask him to go home. He does without protest.

We see this big hearted half wild dog several more times during the hike, crashing out of the woods or splashing without concern across a pond’s thin, watery ice. He doesn’t appear after we reach the beach, which he had pockmarked with paw prints. A large raft of ducks, still recovering from the dog’s visit, nervously move into deep water. In minutes they return to hunt the shallows for food.

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Choosing Peace over Depression

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Robbed of drama by low clouds and snow melt temperatures, this beach walk could bring depression or peace to those sharing it with Aki and her master. Those looking forward to many years of rain forest living find peace; the rest a depression that they will try to stem with overindulgence at tomorrow’s Super Bowl party.

P1100013Aki enjoys the thawing weather for the exiting smells it releases from the trail side snow. She leaves me these naked alders, limbs twisted into awkward patterns that frame gray-brown beach, blue-gray sea, and a raft of party color harlequin ducks. The ducks float just beyond a diminutive surf line, their leaders suddenly slipping underwater then popping up to the surface to swallow their catch.

The trail takes us past the old Tlinght village where thimble berry brush covers the old canoe haul outs in summer. Today it’s all snow except for three alder trees, grown large where the fish drying racks must have been. Overhead one raven performs acrobatics on a rising wind.

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Shared Memory

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Memories float off this beach like fireweed down in August

fleeing from hiding spots in eagle feathers and fish bones

now abandoned by life

In one an eagle flies from an overhead spruce bough

circling then dropping to the sea

submerging talons that pull skyward

a herring dinner. My daughter, then toddler

silently watches as others clap amazement.

I want to dive into the memory

surfacing just after the capture

to ask if my baby feels pity or admiration

this child of forest and beach

where nature forms the outlines of our lives

where she falls asleep to the music of

wind and tides.