With the temperature in the high 40’s F., no wind, and the cloud cover persistent but high enough to reveal mountains and glaciers, Aki and I walk Fish Creek to salt water. Our moods are as neutral as the day’s color palette. The little dog seems preoccupied with her bodily eliminations. I’m puzzled by the lack of ducks on the Fish Creek Pond. The complaint of an eagle roosting on a trail-side spruce warns of his approaching cousin. The newcomer, just a speck in my eye, flies high over the pond. You can see him in this picture by using your hunter’s eye.
We all have one, a hunter’s eye, even the pacifist vegan. It’s what draws you to the sudden emergence of a seal’s head, an out of place sandpiper, the expanding ripples of a feeding fish.
After soaking in the intensity of Oahu with its rainbow colored flowers made almost garish by strong sunlight, I hardly notice the moraine’s fall coat. For my first walk with Aki after returning to Juneau, I chose this trail, which crosses glacial moraine before looping through the troll woods. Happy to be on an adventure, Aki bursts down the trail, breaking to investigate an interesting smell here, an unexpected motion there. I’m as calm as this gray, windless day. As far as my little dog is concerned, I’m spending far too much time watching mountains and trees reflecting on dark pond waters.
We enter the beaver war battlefields, finding normally flooded places on the moraine dry enough for walking. Vigilantes have deconstructed several more beaver dams, opening up a path to a duck hunter blind. The recently dead body of a juvenile varied thrust lays on the trail. Aki freezes into a defensive position, wrapping tail between her rear legs just before we hear the oddly beautiful sound made by a 12 gauge shotgun fired over lake waters. The bird’s body seems intact, not torn by shotgun pellets. Bending down, I search unsuccessfully for clues of its death. I want to take it home and puzzle longer over its beauty–the way its spade shaped feathers, gray-white with orange accents, form a breast plate over its swollen chest.
We hear rather than see most of our rain forest birds. The blurred whistle of varied thrust is one my favorite bird songs. Using this rare opportunity to study the singer, I try to feel sadness at its death. It would be easier if I could find sorrow or at least a recognition of terror in its open eye. There is only peace, as if the young bird accepted that its time had come.
The North Shore bike path takes us past some world famous big wave beaches like Sunset and the Pipeline. Path side growth make it a tunnel of green yielding random flashes of blue water and pure sand. Sometimes we ride through a cloud of perfume, richer than White Shoulders warming on the wrist of a beautiful woman. We move under arcs of flowers, some, red with orange accents imitating votive flames that drop to be crushed under bike tires. We are always crushing beautiful flowers on the bike trails of Oahu.
Before the heat of each day of this Oahu visit, I take an early morning ride around Ewa Beach. Today, after clearing the thick belt of cookie cutter housing developments I’m riding a bike path running between mangrove swamps and a golf course. Occasional bursts of perfumed scent rises from late blooming plants. A man, in ball cap and tee shirt, skin darken by sun, passes on a bike from the opposite direction. He holds a fishing pole across his handlebars, riding slow to conserve energy. We exchange alohas then move in opposite directions-me towards a bay side park, he toward a hard-to-find fishing hole.
Early morning sun bounces off the waters of an arm of Pearl Harbor at the park. I leave the bike and walk out onto a short dock located between two others. On one, an old Asian man stands with a throwing net in his hands. Nothing stirs in the waters around him. Bait fish rile the water around me, driven into tight balls by larger fish. I see the wakes produced by their fins running just beneath the surface. The fisherman sees this too but doesn’t move to my dock. Maybe he knows the fish will move to him or maybe he is put off by a guy in bright spandex standing in the morning sun. Figuring it’s the later I hop back on the bike and ride on.
After the docks, the path runs along a small point. On the opposite side I stop to ask another fishermen for the names of the fish hunting the dock waters. Showing great interest, he only wants confirmation that they were, “on the other side.” I owe an apology to the net fishermen for sending him competition then ride through a small flock of the ever present egrets.
Today Honolulu’s Bishop Museum lets everyone in for free. It’s a celebration of their recent renovations. It’s also a celebration of the people of the Pacific, some of whom are performing traditional dances on the museum grounds while others offer traditional island foods. Later I’ll eat curry poured into folded fry bread by the women tending the Fuji food tent shelter and watch well done Tahitian dances. Now I’m inside the museum, sketching a wooden Hawaiian god and half listening to two women on the next bench telling story. Perhaps inspired by the Bishop’s collection of royal Hawaiian regalia and other physical evidence of their history on the island, these Aunties tell each other the important things—who did the things that changed their world, how to fish near shore, a job always for the women, anything about their grandchildren.
As in most places on this island, I feel welcome here, perhaps the only person at this celebration incapable of turning brown under the sun.
Aki didn’t make this trip to Oahu, which is just as well. Her thick curly coat would make her uncomfortable in Hawaii’s hot weather. Making an early morning start we ride bikes to the Ewa Beach Zippy’s for coffee and banana andagi (Okinawan style donuts). Next door a pioneer’s cemetery occupies some rolling ground along the busy Fort Weaver Road. Car and truck robs the dead of the quiet they deserve. Seed pods, roughly shaped like fava beans lay on parched ground between the grave markers. Only the acacia trees that dropped them offer any shade.
This desert of severe beauty would provide little solace to the families left behind, so I pray for them and the souls of those buried beneath. Most died more than 80 years ago but some grave stones show signs of recent visitation—a weathered stuffed animal by the grave of a 9 year old who died in 1923, mason jars for holding flowers and water a few grave markers away. A field of drunken crosses spread across the Christian section of the graveyard. Native stone, lightly inscribed on a flat side with kanji, mark the Japanese graves, as if in recognition of how little impact one life can have on the hard rocky ground of Oahu’s dry leeward side.
We are back at the Peterson Creek Salt Chuck, this time under sunny skies. Late arriving silver salmon roll on the chuck’s surface, already positioning themselves for the best spots on their spawning beds. Just a few hundred meters away from the scene of their future lustful, deadly effort to procreate, the new silvers pass the lifeless bodies of an earlier wave of their brothers, now floating down current. Some of the deceased will feed eagles, ravens, and trout. Others will ride back and forth on the tide until pushed by an autumnal flood onto the forest floor as fertilizer. Even now decaying salmon bodies fill the air with the scent of death.
Aki watches the rolling salmon with interest, rear up, tail fanning the air, but agrees to follow me around the lake and into the woods. My clumsy steps through deep grass set a raft of mallards to a low flight. The ducks settle 50 meters up a little slough. To give them a break, I lead Aki into the woods where we join a trail leading to a string of little crescent shaped beaches that should be free of dead salmon and their smell.
At trails end, I rest on sun dried rocks above one of the beaches to scan Favorite Channel and Shelter Island beyond. While watching humpback whale spume rise above the channel I smell death. This is a concern here, away from the salmon waters because death is a perfume favored by bears this time of year. The smell fades as I turn to look into the forest for its source. No bear stares back. This happens several times and I begin to wonder if death, the kind that ends human and animal lives, carries the scent of decay. Is a smelly grim reaper in the neighborhood, enjoying some down time on this soft, sunny day? When Aki approaches from one of her forest recon missions, I pick her up and discover the truth. She is the source of the foul odor. Somewhere the little brat found bear scat or a dead salmon and rolled in it.
Aki sleeps through the fog horn blasts that wake her humans. I forgive the intrusion, happy that even with all their electronic guidance equipment cruise ships still need to give a mechanical warning of their approach through the fog.
This dry fog blanket hides the anchoring cruise ships and the mountain spine of Douglas Island. It even blocks houses a hundred meters away but can’t hold out for long. Even now morning sun climbs over Mt. Roberts to burn the white away. Soon it will shine on the fallen petals of this summer’s last blooming lilly.
In season, this trail along the lower reaches of the Mendenhall River draws waterfowl, eagles, and ravens. Aki and I have watched seals hunting ducks on the river waters, seen large choreographies of eagles fly over the mud bars, been intimidated by ravens holding a convention in the shoreline trees. Today only an immature bald eagle greets us with a fly over. Gaps in its wing feathers make me wonder how it manages to fly.
Rounding a rocky point we see a flat triangle of beach, empty except for something splashing in a nearby section of the river. I fasten a lead to Aki’s collar and move close enough to watch a gang of three river otters pulling onto the beach. Each chomps on a sculpin—the bony bottom fish known locally as a double ugly.” Nearsighted, Aki only detects their motion. The otters know we are here. One looks right at me each time he finishes a fish.
After ten minutes I lead Aki down the beach. When the otter gang moves into the river I take Aki off lead. The little poodle mix trots over to check out the otters’ lunch spot. They swim close, making a friendly sounding noise with their noses. This draws Aki into the water. I think Kushtaka. the sea otter like creatures of the indigenous Tlingit’s World. They lure people into the water for capture. But Kushtakas don’t like dogs so these guys are probably otters, still able to drown my little dog if it pleased them. Aki answers my summons before we find out if they are friend or foe.