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.
I took this picture of a beaver dam when it was still warm enough in Juneau for bicycling. Recent wind driven rain stripped much of the color from these trees. Soon dropping temperatures will chase the pond’s resident black bears to their winter dens. I’m sad to see the disappearance of fall color but not that of the Juneau bears, one of whom still hangs around Chicken Ridge, making Aki’s nightly dog walks a little too interesting.
I’d forgotten about the beaver dam picture until uploading it along with some pictures I took during this morning’s seaweed gathering expedition. Someone had hoovered up all the lose rock weed from the drive up, load up, drive away beaches but I eventually found a little backwater to harvest. Aki kept herself entertained as I made long treks to and from the car with buckets in each hand. Looking up during a break I noticed how quiet the waters of Lynn Canal had become at slack low tide. Aki and I walked out to a view point under an occupied eagle’s roost. The eagle turned its back to us and the surf-less sea.
I photographed this peaceful portrait of the canal in comforting grays, perhaps more beautiful than the beaver pond dressed in fall yellow. If possible, I would have glided across the water with the little poodle mix to watch south bound humpback whales passing down Admiralty Island. Brought back to earth by the impatient eagle’s complaints, I returned to my wracking.
Two years ago I started this online journal with an entry about Fish Creek. This morning Aki and I returned to measure the progress of fall in this sheltered place. The salmon were gone, of course, bodies carried away by carrion eaters or washed away by the autumn floods. With nothing to attract them, we found no bears and only one bald eagle. We inadvertently flushed her when well past the places marked by the tracks of other hikers. It is so easy to find forest solitude on these rainy fall days.
After that visit two years ago, I wasn’t sure if I could mine Fish Creek for enough material to fill even one blog post. But an old growth forest, even at quiet times, always has some new trick to show you. Today it offered white lacy ferns in transition from green to dead brown, clumps of fungus mimicking a pipe organ, a squirrel willing to stare down a poodle in fleece, a freshly fallen spruce tree blocking the trail. Grown large and tall in disturbed ground along the stream that fertilized it with spent salmon, the gambling spruce paid the price for its easy riverine life. It will never grow to maturity like the spruce occupying the ground just beyond reach of the fickle stream, but its flesh could change the stream’s course.
Leaving the forest I drove further out the road to wrack for sea weed. We use it in the garden. Only thin lines of rock week marked the high time line at the beach I usually harvest so I didn’t bother with it. A flood tide almost filled Bootlegger Cove with water the color of dulled mercury, reaching toward the Mendenhall Glacier. Only a bright red buoy floated on the calm water until a common loon popped, corklike, to the surface. I resented the presence of the rude-colored buoy as much as I enjoyed watching the loon’s graceful comings and goings; I who just left the woods with an alway curious toy poodle mix, she wearing high visibility yellow and I bright red.
Just off the beach five harlequin ducks parallel the path Aki and I take. They own the water. Nothing else, not boat or bird, whale or sea lion shares the surface with them. Our most colorful local duck up close, from here the harlequins show as dark shapes against the gray sea and ski. This is a scene for capture on black and white film. The same is true of the forest behind up. The yellowing devil club leaves flap around in a building breeze over still red ground hugging sorrel but they can’t distract from the strong lines of old growth trees and witch-like limbs of near naked alders.
On the beach, Aki chases alder leaves, still crisp and brown after a strong gust rips them from their trees. They tumble until an upwelling lifts they just out of her reach, tumble again, then glide out to sea.