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.
This morning Aki and I walked around the moraine with a mutual human friend. It was a dark morning but with no rain. Even the faint color of yellowing willow leaves seemed candle like. Aki played with the many dogs being walked on the trails as the two humans talked about the sadness we had know while living on the Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska. We welcomed this chance to air out and then jettison grief, comforted by each other and the gentle beauty of lake side forests going to rest.
We moved back from house sitting at Auk Bay to Chicken Ridge last night, exchanging quick access to beach life for the quieter mountains. Staying in the neighborhood, Aki and I walk past the craftsmen houses along Basin Road where purple delphiniums and purple-red fushsia blooms stand near native plants fading to fall yellow. Under the old Basin Road trestle bridge, strips of fog rise from Gold Creek to join a blanket of clouds that hides the top half of Mount Juneau. Seeing no traffic, car or foot, I let Aki off her lead. On a normal walk she would use this freedom to dash out and back, marking the area with her pee. Today she stays close, stopping when I do. I look up after taking a photograph to see her starring back with apparent concern. I find peace in this hemmed in valley with its cloudy cap. She must not. Rather than climb into the clouds, I lead Aki across a Gold Creek footbridge and onto the old flume that feeds a small hydro electric plant near the Indian Village. She relaxes enough to dash ahead on the trail boards that enclose the flume. Charged with recent rain the flume carries a noisy load of water. Aki waits for me where a side trail drops down to Gold Creek, as if suggesting it as an alternative. I accept and follow her to the creek and then home.
Who was more surprised, me or the heron? He had been hunting near Auk Bay Harbor when a boat wake flushed him toward me. Camera already focused to photograph shorebirds, I clicked the shutter in time to capture his hasty landing. He must have pulled up short on seeing me and the dogs, choosing the company of gulls and crows to ours.
This afternoon Aki shared the riverine forest trail with best dog friend, Zoe. We haven’t been back since the incident last month—when Aki tried to chase down a fleeing black bear. Zoe, an Irish water spaniel, was the most bear-like creature we saw. There was plenty of the subtle fall color that highlights our forest in fall: yellowing devil’s club leaves and bright red high bush cranberry brush, some backlit by a surprise appearance of the sun.
Always the drama queen, Aki broke into the woods, barking all the way to the base of a large spruce. Zoe, older and therefore wiser than the little poodle waited on the main trail until Aki returned to my side, no bear in chase. There was no more drama until we reached the river meadow where four seals moved upriver. Their presence encouraged a raft of Canada geese to move into some upriver shallows and cackle like gossips.
One seal surfaced in mid-river then kept us fixed in his eyes as he floated by. We saw no menace or curiosity in those round brown eyes, just the pity invoking sadness of a homeless orphan.