A stiff wind startles the little dog when she hops out of the car. The wind carries a mix of snow and rain that makes Aki blink. She turns, anyway, into the wind and follows me up the mountain meadow trail. I snap a few pictures of the meadow-side mountains, just white from the morning’s snow. But I switch to more intimate subjects on the ground to avoid having to wipe rain off the camera lens filter.
With little more than fundamental knowledge of composition, I rely on emotion to frame a shot. Today, I’m warmed by the thin sheet of new snow bending over waves of tough yellow grass. My eyes can see the energy of movement pushing against the snow like the emerging limb of an abandoned Michelangelo sculpture. The camera can ‘t capture it.
I carry home the limb of a blueberry bush. It’s leaf buds swell even though it has been severed from the bush. In our kitchen we will watch the leaves fill and, if lucky, enjoy creamy blossoms, each a tiny Japanese lantern swing from the maroon twigs of the branch.
I suppose it is silly to be jealous of a beaver. But I feel a little green each time Aki rolls on a beaver trail. It’s the ecstasy that shows on her face—eyes squeezed shut with pleasure, lips curling up in a contented smile. She is ecstatic today with beaver sign spread everywhere we walk on the glacial moraine. Since our last visit the beavers have been reduced to logging alder trees along Crystal Lake. They have dropped and stripped the bark off of most of the lakeside cottonwoods. Only ones with trunks protected by wire fences stand. My resentment changes to concern when I think of the hard times ahead for the big-toothed rodents.
The flat, grey light doesn’t diminish the little dog’s excitement on this hike up the Perseverance Trail. Yesterday’s heavy rain hasn’t washed away the scents she loves to sample. I carry a camera with little enthusiasm. We walk over familiar ground unenhanced by sunlight, frost, or even rain. As if to lift my mood, the sun’s ghost appears just above the outstretched limb of a cottonwood tree. A robin settles in the tree. I snap their picture before the ghost departs.
The forest, this gray morning, reminds me of an actor awoken too early by noisy neighbors. The neighbors, clouds and clouds of pine siskins, never stop their shick-shick song. The forest, almost monochrome in the flat light, looks sleepy, maybe even grumpy. Sunlight breaks through the marine layer when we leave the woods for meadows drained by the Eagle River. Small groups of Canada geese, their honks blocking out the siskin’s song, stir in the yellow meadow grass. The geese fly off when we are still hundreds of meters away, heading toward the white Chilkat Range before landing on the river’s opposite side.
We spook a flock of American robins, which settle in a small alder. It is too early for them to sing their love songs but their presence en mass is an incontrovertible proof of spring’s arrival. Another proof is just across the river. A collection of white fronted geese take a break from migration on a sand bar. Some stand on one leg while one is sprawled, neck extended and wings stretched out to its sides on the sand.
Aki doesn’t chase a clutch of Canada geese that we stumble upon just before returning to the forest. They walk slowly across the trail, honking in a frustrated tone. The little dog just watches them take flight. God dog.
If the forest were an actor, he must have done his toilet, had his coffee and cigarette, read favorable reviews because the place thrives in morning light. Shafts of it enhance the electric green color of ground moss and make the forest’s watercourses sparkle. He had better savor the moment like a seasoned veteran. Wind driven rain will be raking him this afternoon.
Aki ignored the tanner crab shell until I took an interest in it. It was on its back; something with shape, substance, but little weight and no smell. The later explains Aki’s lack of interest.
We find many crab shell husks. The Dungeness ones are best because you can’t find a point of egress for the former occupant. (This tanner escaped by popping the top off his carapace.) But the Tanner husk that Aki noses with distain is unusual because it still has its delicate claws. I admire their slender pincers and walk on. My little dog stays by the shell giving me a look that would convey judgmental surprise on a human face. She only agrees to follow me when I try to photograph her next to her prize. Aki is not in the mood for modeling.
It’s almost low tide. A hundred gulls, made bright white by the low angled light, rest in a thin line on the sand. They mimic the light enhanced Chilkat Range on the horizon. When they rise in a porous cloud I realize that we walked over the place they vacated yesterday morning. Now, the little dog and I walk across the gulls’ horizon. Two bald eagles fly from nearby spruce trees out over Smuggler Cover. I turn away for a moment. When I look back, the placid mallards and scoters we just passed are nervous. A raft flies off, passing one of the eagles on an opposite trajectory. That eagle lands on a sandbar and looks around it like a tourist looking for the bus stop. The other one hunches over something on another sandbar, bobbing his head like the big birds do when the rend flesh. I can’t see what he holds in his talons but know it must be food. In minutes two crows land on the bar and stand at a safe (respectful?) distance from the eagle.
As the crows wait for scraps, I once again wonder at how much violence is committed in this place we humans find so beautiful. I honor the eagle for his skill in plucking a meal from the sea, understand his need to feed, respect the role of hunter and prey, yet find myself rooting for those lower on the food chain. I could almost pray that the molted tanner crab will survive his brief, naked existence on the ocean floor, until again protected by a hard shell.
I struggle not to attribute human attributes to the wild animals Aki and I see on our walks. These eagles are making it tough. They share the top of a spruce that offers a great view of the Mendenhall River and wetlands. When I approach with my old camera ready they stiffen and appear to pose, as if for a military poster. After taking a few bracketing shots, I shift twice to capture them from other angles. More posing.
Just before the little dog and I move down the beach, one eagle gives out a screech and glides over to the river. Through my unfocused lens I see it hit the water, talons extend. The splash sparkles in early morning light. Pulling out from the shallow dive, my model pulls up and arcs closely around us and then flies back to his perch. From there he seems to offer to do it all again I didn’t capture his glory. As a parting gift, he screeches out a warning. As it fades we hear a wing of panicked Canada geese that soon fly over our heads.