Monthly Archives: October 2014

Fall Color

Maple LeavesWords, even ones cleverly picked and organized

could never describe a maple’s dying leaf.

Red, Portland orange, or even poppy give

only part of the story. Ivory, daffodil, lemon, canary,

gold, and chartreuse could provide more clues.

You might need saffron, mustard, or even amber but don’t forget

android green, apple green, and for irony, bud green.

Add sand, goldenrod, and a dark enough tan

to give painters a recipe for something

a child could tape to a south-facing window

to be animated by light.


Scavenger’s Communion

deerAki and I are out to wrack more seaweed. She wanders near the car while I walk over to the top of a low bluff to check a pocket beach. A cabal of ravens scatters into the air when I reach the bluff edge. Still hunkered on the beach, an immature bald eagle doubles its apparent size by forming parenthesis with expanded wings. I have time to notice how his umber body is spattered with white feathers before he flies to roost in a nearby Spruce. The birds have left behind a deer carcass.

eagle 1The severed deer head, without antlers or eyes rests on the hind withers. Birds have pealed back the thick brown coat to expose the intact bone structure of the back, ribs, and neck. The fur lies like a rumpled blanket over the deer’s hindquarters. Scavengers have consumed the internal organs and picked the uncovered bones clean of most of their meat.

The bones have a durable beauty, especially the symmetrical curving ribs and long bend of the neck. I try not to acknowledge how human the rib cage looks from the side. Instead I remember watching a deer swim toward this beach followed by a sea lion. The deer made the beach just before the sea lion and stood panting, head bent low between the kayaks we were about to launch. Why did I find you now, when I just finished reading the deer-hunting essay from Nelson’s The Island Within? Seeing deer hunting as an offering, not a taking, Nelson showed nothing but respect when cleaning the deer that have given itself to him. Unless it died of natural causes, I fear that who ever shot this deer wasted most of the meat.

stormThe eagle and ravens complain about our presence at their precious find. They will return to their picking as soon as we leave, gently pushing back the blanket of fur to expose more and more flesh, devouring the exposed until only scavengers with smaller tools will be able to continue the harvest. It is this scavenger’s communion that will salvage meaning from the deer’s death.

Leaning Out

Robert's PeakWalking a creek valley bounded by two mountain walls on a sunny day can be frustrating. Aki and I are in shadow, sliding along an informal trail. We cross a leafy bench big enough to accommodate one troll family or a village of hobbits. The little dog seems to be searching for evidence of both. Sunlight is doing some special things to Mount Juneau on our left, intensifying the red and yellow of dog wood leaves and spotlighting bare cottonwoods. Low angled light underlines their longest limbs in shadow as they reach to the south. I start singing, “They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever.” Aki stares as if she can see the Leonard Cohen ear worm enter my brain. I sing about Suzanne, with her tea and oranges all the way from China as we climb up the trail and into the sun.cottonwoods

Lingering Fall

akiAutumn lingers on in the rain forest. Green leaves still cling to some of the understory plants and we found blooms on meadow strawberries. The devil’s clubs got the memo. Their leaves have turned limp enough to hang like wet paper from the plant’s thorny stalks. We find a few leaves on riverside cottonwoods but most of the tall trees have cast off their yellow growth.

down riverWhile winter delayed fools the plant life, it hasn’t encouraged birds or animals to stay here. The great runs of salmon that pulse up the river set the calendars of eagle, wolf, and bear. Even with the last run of silver salmon now on the upriver spawning beds, I had expected to see eagles and ravens on the river. The eagles must have flow 100 miles north to the braided Chilkat River where a late run of salmon will supply them with food. No telling about Raven.

treesNormally, I’d be impatient with lingering fall. But this year, its moist grey blanket soothes. After turning our back on the river, we move through the old growth forest, silent except for lecturing squirrels (Aki’s enemies) and the crunch of my boots on leaves. It’s raining but we don’t feel the drops until Aki shoots out onto the boardwalk that crosses a muskeg meadow. Here the rain falls in thick drops spaced far enough apart for a mosquito to pass through without getting wet. A shaft of sunlight rips through the overcast to turn the drops into prisms. Aki hunkers by my side during the lightshow. I expect a chorus line of coyotes to dance down the boardwalk on their hind paws or at least a unicycle-riding bear. But we have only sparkling drops trapped in old man’s beard and electrified moss.DR



Gulls and ducks squabbled in fog that obscured everything but the near sections of the beach. In such a world of almost total grey, displays of color from the tail end of autumn claim my attention. The sun formed a silver disk that I took to be a promise to power through the gloam. Across Favorite Channel, a snow covered sawtooth peak appeared for a minute.

peak“It makes me sad,” the tall man said. “So sad.” He stood in the glare from the sun about to break through fog so I couldn’t see details of his face, just the rolled watch cap from which a long ponytail emerged. A sea lion exhaled after surfacing, making it hard to hear him explain that for the first time in many years there weren’t clams for harvest. I was too inside myself to ask why. Something in the way he spoke—words used, pronunciation— suggested that he was of the Auk People who for many generations harvested clams on this point. Over my shoulder he could see their old village site. He could make out the areas once cleared for canoe haul outs just above a beach covered with dog tracks. As he left the silver disk of sun vanished, returning us to the grey. Promise broken.aki

Aki and I left the beach just after crossing in front of the old village site and took a trail through old growth. The returning fog silenced the ducks but we could still hear the song of a gull, sad enough to be the village’s lament.alder


Geometry Lesson

AkiFog drew me here. But we were turned back by ice.   The trail took us along the old Treadwell water ditch and then onto a boardwalk that climbs into the Dan Moller Bowl. Even though the mining machinery the ditch once served closed almost 100 years ago, it still holds water. Pale, teardrop shaped leaves contrived to form a single line around the edge of one of the ditch’s narrow ponds. They also circled a willow island. Only the teardrop tops touched the island. The central vein of most leaves formed a 90-degree to the willows. It is hard to believe that gravity, wind, and current alone placed the leaves with such geometric precision.

leavesWhere the trail climbed into the bowl, Aki wanted to remain on the ditch trail. Did she hope to find a doggie friend or two strolling along the ditch? After giving the begging eyes, she followed me onto the boardwalk trail to the fog. In minutes I stepped on my first ice of fall, sliding a few inches to an abrupt stop. Aki turned around and started back the way we came. Ahead, mountainside spruce appeared to be playing catch and release with fog tendrils. Wanting practice taking fog pictures, I continued up the ice covered boards until slipping again. “Okay little dog, best to return to the ditch.”  ice



glareWe could have picked a better day for it. With wind smashing rain against the house, Aki and I mount up for a wracking expedition. It’s something we do every fall, like picking berries or raking leaves. The seaweed we collect will protect our perennials from hard freezes. Next spring it will enrich our compost.

wracking beach            Like a child left with an inattentive father for the day, Aki entertains herself on the beach. She sniffs and pees, sniffs and pees, then noses a full collection bucket. Finding nothing of interest there, she searches the beach for a fun distraction. I carry two of the heavy buckets up a steep path to the car. Aki follows at my heels and appears more than willing to jump in and wait for me to fetch the other buckets. Did I mention the pouring rain?

admirality   Chores done, I drive to the end of North Douglas Island and lead Aki through a swamp full of nonproducing lingon berries to another beach.. “This is just for fun little dog.” The sun muscles out from a cloudbank and partially blinds us with reflective glare. We stand at the edge of a rock shelf just above diminutive surf. We have sun and the comforting sound of breaking waves; the beauty of Admiralty Island partially shrouded in clouds and four buckets of wrack stored back at the car.

Better in Black and White

RiverAki must be getting used to gunshots. She trots down the trail toward booms that grow louder as we near the moraine lake. Most sound like they were fired by shotguns pointed up at passing ducks. A few had that lingering echo of a gun discharged over water.

ice bergThe shots stop a few minutes before we reach the lake where the wakes of three Bufflehead ducks move toward its center. A newly stripped log bobs on the lake like a corpse—the remains of a beaver’s meal eaten in last night’s fog.

pondWe head toward the Mendenhall River, thankful that the guns are gone and there is no rain. Aki leads me over to a beaver pond that has captured the top of Mt. Stroller White. If Aki and I could walk on water, the pond would be an avenue to Mendenhall Lake. We can’t, so we continue down a muddy trail to the river. Fog moves with surprising speed through the riverside forest, hiding, then revealing the glacier and surrounding mountains. I wish I had my old Nikon loaded with Pan X and the patience I once used to take analog black and white photos. It’s all here for a master like Ansel Adams—the hard and soft textures, shades of white, black and gray; rock-river-ice.eagle

Swamp of Misery

berryThe plan was for a quick walk through the woods on gravel paths. I wore my city coat and good wool cap. We ended up in a swamp of misery. Aki had no problem negotiating the moss-covered ground. She slipped under the tangle of bare blue berry brush and tilting, moss covered alders. I pushed through it, feeling moisture seep into my boots as I cursed my way through the mess. I should have cursed the duck hunter hunkered down on the beach across the easy path to the car. I might as well have cursed the wind for covering another part of the trail with windfalls or the coyote that left the tracks I followed into the swamp.

AkiPulling aside a stout limb I saw a blue berry, round and alone on the leafless bush except for a clinging raindrop. Should I eat the rain washed berry or leave it for wild things? I moved on, fingers innocent of berry juice. We made it out of the swamp. Moss and mud clung to my jacket and rain pants. Aki fine gray hair was moist but clean. She smelled like the forest, like she spent the morning at a cleansing spa.bear bread

Alaska Day

Bare CottonwoodsOn October 18, 1867, after purchasing the Alaska Territory from Russian, US government officials raised their flag over Fort Sitka. Government and bank employees get today off from work to celebrate. Rather than contemplating how different their lives would have been as Russian citizens, most of the freed employees are walking up the Perseverance Trail. In full sunlight we climb with them to the top of Gold Street and walk along basin road, past the old craftsmen style houses that cling to the side of Mt. Maria, and onto the trestle bridge.

AkiIt’s windy, blowing with enough power to strip the mountainside willows and cottonwoods of yellow. We follow the creek bed where yellowing leaves still stir in a wind that carries the sweet scent of cranberries ripened by last nights freeze.

ravaged leavesTired of overheard voices—a helicopter mom’s one last checkup call before walking out of cell range, good friends comparing marriages, harsh laughter, a dog’s name called in anger—I lead Aki onto a back trail. We meander along a loose connection of deer trails, otter runs, and access routes to a homeless campsite, pleased that nothing can be heard over the low roar of Good Creek except the rustle and crunch of Aki and my footfalls on crisp, downed leaves   With the canopy of cottonwoods bare, the sun sends shafts to the understory. One beautifies a clutch of dying leaves. Does nature provide northerners such things on crisp October days so we can weather the storms of early winter?trail