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.
If I had more patience on this gray morning, I’ve have a picture of this eagle in flight instead of one showing him skulking on an exposed tidal rock. He must have flown off when the kettle came to boil, gone when I returned with the day’s first cup of coffee. The hunters, eagles, otters, and heron, have moved on with the season, leaving the beach to the professional scavengers—crows, ravens, and gulls. With the movie stars gone, I can appreciate the beauty in a gull’s flight.
This morning Aki and I cross Gasteneau Meadows under high overcast. It’s what we expect in October—subtle gray light of fall, usually illuminating some form of rain. No precipitation falls but it can’t be far off.
The lower portion of the trail leads past a school playground full of happy kids. Give a Juneau kid a rain coat and he will find the same joy in playing outside as one in Southern California. Aki ignores them in a search for dog sign. Many passed this way recently but we won’t see another dog on today’s walk.
A shaft of sunlight would bring out the color of the red in the dying berry bushes and emphasize the tone variations of gold yellow meadow grass. With no hope of that show, I am satisfied with the color contrasting in places where red or yellow plants crowd the barkless flesh of dying pine trees.
On most walks I have to wait for Aki but today she presses ahead, stopping just before disappearing from my vision. The trail leaves the open meadow, moving into the heavy blanket of spruce that covers most of Douglas Island. That’s where I hear the squeaky door song of migrating Sandhill Cranes. They must be far off, flying high and away from congested Juneau. A guy standing on the meadow might see their thin dark lines against the gray sky. I’m suddenly homesick for the tundra of Southwest Alaska, where for a few days each fall I’d listen to cranes forming up then flying south before winter denied them food. How can the memory of migrating cranes’ noisy passage through the delta’s dark blue skies trigger a longing for a place when recollection of more common events can not? Is it the other memories that form a rosary with that of the cranes—sinking into fragrant tundra to watch the birds pass overhead, tasting the last ripe berries as blue as the crane’s eyes, listening to a small child’s giggles as she uses a rolling gait to move across spongy tundra toward the arms of an encouraging mother?