Fall has drained most of the color from the tideland meadow we crossed this morning. Grass and sand now dominate the scene. Even the Herbert Glacier, wedged in a mountain gap upriver, lacks attraction under the gray sky.
One wolf left a description of his passage over a sandbar—stalking steps, a leap, quick turn after escaping prey, then purposeful exit into the woods. A mile away a bear ripped up beach grass in search of roots. We followed the path he broke through waist high grass to the spot, now stripped to the sand dune below. At least he made a meal of it. Given Aki’s recent aggression toward bears, I stopped often afterwards, scanning the beach and meadow for a black hump moving in a digging rhythm. Nothing stirs the grassland until a raven lands. Just before moving into the spruce forest we hear Canada geese being flushed from the tidelands—the only discord over a land going to rest for winter.
Honor these cottonwood trees
reduced to bones by autumn,
simplified of leaves,
black and gray form lines,
of summers past,
ikons of late middle age
that I struggle to describe
without others’ words.
Handicapped by beavers and a malfunctioning camera, this morning I joined Aki for a walk over the moraine. Recent heavy rains floated the normally dry portions of the trail. Water backing up from the beaver’s new superdam cut us off from the heart of the trail system. Even our work-around—a seldom used trail through the troll woods, was under waters from another beaver-infected lake.
Giving up on our favorite moraine trail, we tried one less appealing but heavily used by dog walkers. Aki loved it and all the dog meet and greats she had along the way. The sun shone all over the moraine, except on us. Still, the rain held off until we returned to the car. On the way we passed a raven and an eagle in the top of a leaf-free cottonwood tree. Eagle screech a complaint at Raven who, being higher in the tree, seems to be crowing his accomplishment. Raven flew off when we approached, dipping low to make Eagle hunch in a cringe. I understood how both of them felt.
No seals swam Eagle River when we walked along it this morning. No eagles huddled in the rain, complaining about our invasion of their privacy. There was a heron and one duck flying fast and low over the river, offering little more than a glimpse before disappearing into river born fog. With sand bars bared by an ebbing autumnal tide, the table was set for birds and wolves but no one took advantage.
Our path across the tidal meadow was greasy with rain water and the decomposing flesh of this year’s salmon—an image as comforting in the rain forest as water and fertilizer being poured onto crop land is for a farmer. I didn’t mind the greasy ground, the absence of animals or even the little islands of salmon jaws, gill covers, and backbones we found scattered at random on the meadow grass. The latter are fitting fall decorations for land along a salmon stream.
This has been a week of little adventures. They started with the cutthroat trout, of size and caught in an unexpected place on an unexpected sunny day. Hooked while gobbling up silver salmon eggs, it served us for two dinners. Aki, it turns out, loves trout as much as her humans. A few days later Aki chased off a large black bear. We heard the bear the night before, banging away on a neighbor’s garbage can. I’ll be glad when he and his clan returned to their winter dens.
Today we walked on an aging boardwalk that climbs a series of mountain meadows to a Forest Service cabin. Aki started, in her usual fashion, by eliminating the residue of recent meals. Afterwards, she stood by as I captured her product in a plastic bag and threw it in a bear proof trash bin. This, her eyes seemed to tell me, was right and proper. Such a precious gift must be kept safe. We climbed the boardwalk, she guarding the rear, me watching a ribbon of fog float up from the meadow toward a mountain summit. A single cottonwood, still retaining its yellowing leaves, burned like a candle through the rising fog.
I could have picked a trail sheltered from the 20-knot wind climbing up Douglas Island from Stephens Passage. It broke over a saddle above the meadow where we walked, then slammed us with heavy rain drops. Aki never complained or gave me her, “pick me up I am so pathetic” look, even after her thin fleece wrap grew heavy with rain.
Why suffer the wind to cross monochrome mountain meadows? I like facing into the wind. Besides testing my foul weather gear, the rain provided most of the drama and beauty. It swelled Fish Creek and its tributaries to near flood and pounded the surface of meadow ponds
I wasn’t surprised by the expanding circles sent out by each heavy rain drops that struck exposed pond water, but didn’t expect the perfectly clear spheres that popped to the pond surface. The wind pushed these prismatic spheres across the pond until they burst. The spheres appeared to capture all the morning’s brightness in their short lives, offering little promises of winter sunlight to come.
A raft of surf scoters gave out a chorus of the Three Stooges theme song when Aki and I spooked them near False Outer Point. We were out there this morning at sunrise. We didn’t see the sun, just an increase in the ambient light filtering through gray.
It was one of those “if only” mornings. Most of the tidal land bridge to Shaman Island was exposed when we left the forest for the beach but soon disappeared under the incoming tide. If only I had turned off the Manchester United v. Southhampton football match at half time, we could have walked across the land bridge for the first time in a year. If only I had spotted the eagle before it dived for fish or my foot hadn’t slipped into surprisingly deep water when I checked out the beaver dam. If only there was enough sunlight to bring out the red of a crabapple leaf hiding among dead blades of beach grass. Only two sharp-sided rocks, just fallen from a golden and brown seam, managed to impress with the help of freshly fallen rain.