Monthly Archives: September 2014

Tree Fire

Tree FireWith white mist floating between trees on the hillside forest, it was natural for me to assume that the smoke from a tree fire was harmless fog. It didn’t even cause an eagle to abandon its roost in a nearby spruce tree. That’s why Aki and I walked past it on our walk around the Mendenhall Peninsula.

SealJust before we turned the corner a curious seal swam up the river toward us. He appeared to look at something over my shoulder so I turned back to see a tan plume of smoke mix with the white. It didn’t take long to find the source. At the base of a tall, straight spruce, where its roots wrapped around a great granite block, a crackling fire burned. While its flames chewed away at the tree’s trunk., the fire sent streams of white smoke through the small animal tunnels that honeycombed the moss covered forest floor.I hurried the dog back to the trailhead and called 911 on a borrowed cell phone. When I left, the authorities were working out what agency was responsible for the fire while it charred the 200-year-old tree unchecked.smoke

Last Trip to the Pass

Herbert Glacier

The captain and I couldn’t squander yesterday’s September sunshine so we made one last trip of the season to the North Pass for silver salmon. Since Aki would soon become bored on the captain’s old Sea Dory, I left the little dog home on Chicken Ridge.

Harasssed Sea Lion

We motored into a light north wind that barely rippled the open reaches of Favorite Channel. A Stellar sea lion battled a cloud of gulls for scrapes from a silver salmon he had just snatched from the cold current. When he barked at the birds, they dived for the salmon bits that flew from his mouth. Near the north end of Shelter Island a small pod of humpback whales worried a school of herring into a convenient ball of feed.

Shelter Island Whales

Sea lions and whales fished the pass. We tried to keep our distance from them, but a pair of sea lions swam around and under the boat. Twice our rod tips bent toward the water and then snapped back after a sea lion had snatched away our bait herring. Twice a hooked silver salmon jerked a rod tip up and down and then vanished along with the hooks and line that secured them to rod. Since we used strong test leaders, we blamed the sea lions for these losses.

Our luck improved after we passed through the sea lions’ territory and into Hand Troller’s Cove. In a few hours of trolling twirling herring around the cove we had six fish of size in the ice chest—enough for over 40 pounds of fresh or smoked salmon dinners. Like the seal lions, whales, and bears hunting on the spawning streams, the captain and I have come to rely on fish to help us through the winter.

Whales II


Nature Abhors the Straight Line

P1020253Across the channel from Treadwell, the marine layer cuts off the ridge line of the mainland mountains with a border between green and gray that couldn’t be drawn without a ruler. Between it and the equally straight Thane Road, a rain charged creek deepens its crooked channels in the Mt. Roberts’ avalanche chute. The straight line takes me aback. Nature favors curves and rarely tolerates a hard edge. Look at Aki, the little poodle-mix peeing on a scattering of curvy cottonwood leaves. Her form could be reproduced with ovoids and “o’s.”

P1020256The men and woman that replaced the Douglas Island old growth forest with a turn of the 20th century gold processing town were all about the straight line. The walls and floors of of their now windowless buildings are still square. But as the alder and cottonwood trees undulate the old town’s open spaces with their roots, shrubs, grasses, mosses, and even hemlock trees eat away at the town’s flat roots. They have reached the tipping point. Even now formerly sharp building edges are curved. An iron water pipe still cuts a straight line over an alder filled gap but I can see corrosive wounds on it’s underbelly.

Berry Picking Ethics

Aki with Best FriendWe were standing on a steep mountainside in between rain storms. When not interrupted by Aki’s demand to toss her frisbee, I filled a converted plastic soy sauce container with blueberries and huckleberries. After the little dog started to pester her other human, I slipped into that Zen state that comes to berry harvesters. An odd thought bubbled up. Am I cheating these berry bushes that worked so hard to package their seeds in tasty blue packages.  They were designed by nature to seduce birds and bears that can carry the seeds to remote parts of the forest and deposit them where their off spring will be enriched by the animals’ scat. My berries will go into pies or pancakes but thanks to cultural restrictions, their seeds will end up at the Juneau sewage treatment plant. Berry Bucket

Draining Away the Green of Summer

P1140496Fall chips away at summer’s monopoly of green in the troll wood. Willow, alder and cottonwood roots suck chlorophyll from their plant’s leaves. Aki peed on all three. She doesn’t discriminate but I favor trees that produce colorful leaves like the willow, cottonwood and wine red high bush cranberry.

P1140545The leaves on alder trees, no nonsense pioneers that first colonized the glacial moraine, immediately go from green to dead brown. Their roots hoover all the color, nutrients and beauty from each leaf as if worried about a thief in the night. Willow and cottonwood roots sip the chlorophyll until yellow and oranges replace the leaf greens. I took many photographs of the colorful ones but only one of alder leaves and then only because they cradled a heart-shaped cottonwood leaf.P1020169