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?