Monthly Archives: March 2015

What are We Doing Here?


What are we doing here Aki?

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.

Rodent Envy


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.


Sun Ghost


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.

Have You Ever Seen a Whale?

channel ducks

On wet winter days

when only pastel craftsmen homes

remind us of spring and

drenched ravens harmonize

with a barking dog

an imaginative man

finds the will

to pull on rain gear

push outdoors

ignore drizzle

soaking his sensible

if ridiculous hat.

He skips down crooked steps

like one who

might see whales in the channel

spot eagles near the moored black cod boats

just make out spring-white goats on Mt. Juneau.

He wonders on the way

what imaginatives do

in southern cities

where robins always sing

to a cloudless sky

crime and traffic

provide the drama

and no one has even seen a whale.


river 2

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.


Trying Not to Take Sides


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.

eagle 2

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.


Note to Self: They are not human


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.


Winter Cusp


mountainDuring this cusp of winter, rain forest natives offer hope of spring. Blue berry brush blush to an almost purple shade of red as their leaf buds swell and crack open. The willow branches turn orange before leafing out. Even the canopies of red alder trees show color. This morning, as sunshine burns the fog out of the Gold Creek Valley, only the balsam poplar still wear winter colors. They stand with their gray and black bones exposed, as they have since stripped of yellow leaves last fall.


The poplar bones emergence from fog is the most beautiful seen so far today. When we left home, the gray still closed off Chicken Ridge but we could see blue sky breaking out above Douglas Island. Something animated the fog. Discrete patches climbed between the spruce trees on Mt. Roberts while a cylinder of grey hovered on the edge of the Franklin Street stairs. Now I wonder if animation is the last step before dissipation in the life of fog.


We climb above the creek on a path that offers views of mountains over the stoic poplars. Mr. Roberts and its buddies, freshly dusted by last night’s snows, muscle their way out of the dying cloud clover. With eyes trained by a week of rain and cloud diminished light, the mountains look too rich, like the window display of a Swedish konditori. Bald eagles add to the opulence of scene. Several sun themselves in trailside poplar trees. We drop back to the creek and find four more around something emerging from the snow. Jumpy, they fly into separate poplars to wait for us to leave.


I cheer on blueberries and that the other Southeast plants that have already committed to spring. But I respect the poplars’ reticence. They teach patience and hope. The trees will wait with knurled limbs exposed until the northern tilt of the earth banishes frost. Then, during the first warm days of summer they become natural censers. Their leaf buds will swell and burst to perfume Downtown Juneau with balsam incense.

Tell me it is spring

causewayWe stand on the causeway edge, two guys in sensible rain gear, not caring how clumsy we look compared to the sleek scoters and ducks that float just offshore.

“You been out to Shaman Island today?”

“No, I come down here on a good low tide, work over to the point and back before the tides floods in. Use to have coffee with Mr. ______ when he had a cabin over there.”

He bends down to pet Aki, sliding his other hand down the walking stick he had just carved from alder wood. When he rights himself, I can see that salt spray had reddened the whites of his eyes.

“It was low tide at 8:30 so she will be smoking in now to cover this (pointing to the causeway) soon.”

The rock and sand path to Shaman Island looks to be a good three feet out of the water so I decided to sneak over and back before the tide covers it.

scotersThe wind sweeps across the causeway, holding Aki’s windward earflap straight up in the air. Every few steps she stops and shakes her head to return the flap to its proper place. The wind and Aki continue the battle until we reach Shaman Island where a single American Robin feeds on a patch of green grass. We have seen and heard other proofs of spring on the walk like varied thrust song and swollen buds on the blue berry brush. But this robin, if it sang, could make me believe the calendar and its assertion that winter is over. It stays silent.


In minutes we need to start back across the causeway. As predicted, the tide is smoking in. Small fingers of water pulse and retreat beneath our feet as we cross over to safety. When we reach higher ground I hear eagle complaints and see two mature bald eagles, white heads and tails book ending chestnut bodies, glide together and apart, together and apart, like flirts dancing in the wind. If he had not left, the man with red-rimmed eye might have told me that bald eagles mate for life and that these a the mating mood.


Mellowing Fog

glacierThanks to the fog, Aki and I are alone on the Nugget Falls trail. One couple passed us when we were still near the visitor’s center, disappeared into the grey, reappeared and then melted away as they returned to the parking lot. Aki doesn’t enjoy the solitude brought by the thick blanket. She hunts for other people and dogs, sometimes roaming farther away than normal. But I have an advantage over the little dog. I can imagine the glacier and Mendenhall Towers that rise above the ice. We both can hear the falls but my mind sees its braided courses plunge into the lake. It can also see mountain goats, white fur tinged yellow, feeding above the falls. This requires more faith, given the fickleness of wild animals.


When the fog lift I can see the glacier’s foot, the falls, and three pure white dots that my telephone lens transforms into mountain goats. An adult and kid feed without consideration of the little dog or I. The other adult looks down on us before he too feeds. They know neither dog nor man can climb their steep hillside.


Recently, someone had a picnic dinner at the base of the falls and left the Styrofoam tray that once held his pork tenderloins. I know his initials, W.C., because he also dropped his Alaska Airlines boarding pass for a flight from Seattle. On a sunny day I might get angry while carrying W.C.’s garbage back to the visitor’s center trash can and imagine him as a littering yob who eats unhealthy food in the presence of goat and glacier. But walking through country made indistinct by low clouds, it is easier on my heart to assume that wind had ripped away W.C.’s trash.Aki