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.
Not prone to name bears or attribute human qualities to breaching whales, I do romanticize leaves. In Fall, I see them as farmer-soldiers in the survival wars. Born for one season of hard work, they let their life and color drain to the roots at life end. If human soldiers, their generals would paint this form of suicide as noble service of the greater good. With mute leaders, leaves write their own obituary, each a unique composition in Fall color.
I want to see salt water but not bears so we are moving over a tidal meadow toward the Peterson Creek Salt Chuck. A painter could make something beautiful out of the hay colored grass stalks that stood at least three feet tall before this weekend’s storm. Now water soaking into their rust red seed heads bend them toward the ground.
Something large—alien UFO or sleeping bear—flattened circles of grass where we find wine-red nagoon berries. (If you hurry M, you can probably collect a pie’s worth of your favorite fruit before bears come looking for desert). The dried natal leaves pull away with the berries when I pick them. At first I try to dig out the leaves but soon treat them as crunchy garnish.
Aki follows close at my heals, letting me knock rain drops from grass in her path. She breaks ahead when we reach the chuck, then wades chest deep to drink. When she’s had her fill we move to the waterfall that separates salt lake from the sea to find the ruins of salmon meals on almost every rock.
I can see how this outdoor restaurant formed. First came a flood of dog salmon, pooling up at the base of the waterfall at low tide. They rode the surging high tide over rocks and into the lake. Seals hunted the edges of their school. Bears quickly gathered to snatch the fat rich fish from the shallows. Some moved into the forest to eat in private. Others, probably the dominant ones, feasted openly on exposed beach rocks. Later small fry—land otters, ravens, maybe mink—cleaned left over meat from bones, leaving for a tip lovely collages of bone, skin, and gristle in the crotch of rocks.
Something on the opposite side of the waterfall moves, startling crows and a raft of mergansers into flight. I scan closely for returning bears who could easily splash across the waterfall to reach us. Seeing nothing, I turn my attention to the sea where a seal watches Aki moving over rain slick rocks. Is it curious or looking for a new source of meat now that the dog salmon dinner has moved upstream beyond reach?