I thought that three days of heavy rain washed all the smells off this trail but Aki manages to find lots of work for her nose. I walk, head down, parka hood up and listen to the simple tattoo of raindrops on my hi-tech rain gear. No one else shares the wet joy with us. At least it’s warm rain—falling through 50 degree F. air so I am safe wearing cotton. In a week or two, when the temperature drops to hypothermia range, I’ll be hiking in wool and synthetics.
At the edge of a mountain meadow the rain stops and the sun returns. A rainbow arcs over Mt. Juneau. I know it is nothing more than sunlight shinning through saturated air above the mountain and not a sign of better weather. In minutes we are back in the rain.
After days of steady rain, the moraine has lost its ability to absorb water. Runoff floods the normally dry trails. It’s the same in the Troll Woods where water splashes up with each step on the moss covered ground. Aki soldiers on, searching for scent not yet washed away by the rain. Until we are close to it, the little dog doesn’t see the eagle, brown with white head and tail that looks miserable perched in a lakeside alder. “Couldn’t you find a drier hangout?” The big bird screeches a reply, then flies away.
If Aki is a typical dog, they have no interest in a raindrop’s sparkle or light shinning yellow through a translucent devil’s club leaf. She reacts to sudden movement, like a squirrel’s scamper or dark shapes that could be bears. Why am I drawn to nature’s bling? If I look at clumps of Oregon grapes, my eye is drawn to the light collected in the remnants of the last rain shower that cling to single grapes. What evolutionary purpose is served by making me a sucker for sucker for nature’s shiny things? shower that clings to a single grape. What evolutionary purpose is served by making me a sucker for nature’s shiny things?
The potential for beauty is here on the meadow, as it is in a practice room full of actors at a play’s first rehearsal. Under dull gray skies and without sun, even wine and red colored berry brush, the golden grasses, and yellow skunk cabbage leaves look drab. I imagine the plants as hung over or exhausted from working a second shift at a Toys R Us. An east wind fills the director’s role by ruffling the plants into action.
When the sun burns through, I stop more often to take pictures of the colorful plants, now actors with beauty enhanced by makeup. Aki acts like a nine year old at the theatre, suffering through Shakespeare, waiting to be rescued by intermission or the bard’s fart jokes
If I hadn’t mistaken high for low in the tide book we’d be on the flat beach trail but I would never have found the bluff trail along the mouth of the Mendenhall River. Someone has marked it with eagle feathers and we can hear the big birds complain as we walk behind their beach side roosts. It takes us past the hemlock tree that burned during our last visit. The tree still stands, charred and smelling of smoke. Stubby green needles still fan from its twigs and branches. But it will die a slow death as its needles brown and fall.
We walk past the tree and then drop to the beach beyond the point that would have blocked our path on the beach trail. A tongue of fog moves at walking speed down the channel. It silences the shotguns on the wetlands beyond the river by providing cover for their targets. I have never been on this beach at high tide. Most walkers would wait for the ebb tide to open the beach trail. Maybe that is why the eagles complain so loudly when they exit their old growth tree perches.
I hear a boat before we see it break out of the fog. It’s an 18-foot wooden hull with the conformation of a Kuskokwim River salmon skiff. The boat driver backs off on the throttle and points his boat toward us on the shore. Those in the boat wear hunter’s camouflage. Dressed in black, I worried about what I look like in the fog—perhaps a curious bear so I wave my arms. They come closer, like the pair of seals we saw earlier approached the beach to figure us out.
“Yah, just wanted to make sure you know I wasn’t game.”
“Were here for ducks. Which way are you walking?”
“We’re going this way and will soon be out of your hair.”
We heard the pop of their 20 gauges and had the cordite smell of expended shot as we climbed back to the bluff trail.
I am cheating Aki, at least that’s what she thinks. We have to squeeze in a quick walk this morning because I have a workshop for the rest of the day. To keep her somewhat clean, I take her on the Twin Lakes paved walking path. Normally, this would send the little dog over the moon with joy because it is a top dog walk path on the weekends. But today, it rains. The wind sweeps the path clean of everyone but my stubborn self and the little, low to the ground dog.
Twin Lakes were formed by the construction of Juneau’s only four lane highway. It cut off two bays from Gastineau Channel. On the map, the highway forms the straight line of a poorly drawn capital letter, “B.” The path outlines the twin swellings to the right of the upright. The lake waters magnify truck rumblings from the highway and no forest blocks the rain or the sight of highway traffic. It has little to offer but light and a view of the Douglas Island mountains rising above Gastineau Channel and the highway. But these, Aki and I have to ourselves.
I shouldn’t be frustrated. Last night’s rain showers ended at first light and I can see the ridges on both sides of the Gold Creek Valley. Aki has traded sniffs with some dog friends and hasn’t growled at anyone except for an innocent looking longhaired dachshund that eyed her in fear. The sun is the trouble. To be more accurate, it’s the broken clouds that parse out the sun’s enriching rays. They roll back enough to release a shaft of light onto a patch of alders, all covered with dead leaves but not the solitary cottonwood tree that, in full sun, would be a yellow candle against its mountainside of green spruce. When sunlight does reach the cottonwood, I am busy bagging Aki’s scat. Poop in bag, I raise the camera and find the sun gone. I move up the trail. Sun shafts, like lightening, can’t strike the same tree. Whipping around, I see the cottonwood’s again jewel yellow leaves dull as the sun moves back to the alders.
It doesn’t get any better until we reached the overlook where we meet a stay-at -home dad shoehorning in some alone time before his child gets out of school. He gives me a little lecture on cloud formation (helpful) as out of the corner of my eye I spot the a shaft of sun turning a cloud of brown-yellow willow leaves gold. I ignore the show and listen. We part without enriching either’s day and I head back to Chicken Ridge. Multiple shafts of light escape the clouds and light up the view I had at the overlook. If I had done the right thing and sat with the man, had conversation, we both could have enjoyed sun light up the deep gorge and its still green covered walls, might have become friends. The teacher managing the clouds gives me two consolation prizes—a slash of light across the creek valley and an illuminated waterfall.
Aki and I are at cross-purposes. She works hard to keep her pack (she and I) together with another—two ladies and three Aki-sized dogs. I look for solitude. The little dog’s loyalty defeats her as the gap grows between the gang of five and I. They are one molecule and I am the proton of another. Aki acts like an electron bouncing between the two. But, our bond is strongest so she constricts her orbit around me as I stop to photograph the glow of backlit skunk cabbage.
The sun shines on this porcupine in Amalga Meadows but not on the beach from where I had hoped to spot whale plumes and, if lucky, watch seals watching the little dog and me. A porky that looks a lot like this little guy (small size, big bald spot on back) has been “pruning” our young cherry tree. Even now, back on Chicken Ridge, it might be snacking on the tree’s still sweet limbs. I try not to hate this meadow porcupine for the sins of his Chicken Ridge doppelganger. On this tidal meadow, he only preys on wild things as dictated by evolution. Maybe he wants company—to share the meadow with his separated-at-birth twin now hammering our garden. It can be arranged.
I was looking for fall color in fog, not bears, when I let Aki show me the way into the Gold Creek Valley. The cottonwoods provided a little drama, but not enough to encourage a climb further up the valley so we cross the creek and headed west on the Flume Trail. I followed the little dog down a steep trail to Gold Creek and stopped just below a muddy section to wondered whether the bear, whose paw slipped and left five parallel grooves on the dun colored mud felt pleasure or fear. If it was the young black bear we saw on 7th street last Tuesday night, she must have enjoyed the trill. Still wet from crossing Gold Creek, she moved with surprising grace, the kind some rhythmic overweight people reveal when they dance. The bear bounced step by step down the street, stopped at each trash can to make sure they didn’t contain something tasty, then disappeared into a neighbor’s open garage. Such sweetness; such dangerous behavior. Already addicted to garbage and comfortable around people, the little bruin is not long for this world.