While looking over the photos that I took this morning on the False Outer Point trail, I ask Aki what it is about a curving line that draws attention. Every one of my trail shots curls into the forest. I framed each picture of the Chilkat Range with a “c” shaped raft of surf scoters in the foreground.
Is it the question they raise as they curl into the horizon? Aki looks at me like she would any other fool. But I persist and ask about the boardwalk photo. It features an elevated plank trail snaking in a compound curve above new ice. Since we don’t have snakes in Alaska, Aki has no reference point and refuses to answer. To placate the little poodle mix, I promise to include a picture she will like—of her looking fierce on a snow-covered beach.
If, on this Ides of March, I lacked faith and sought it, I might deify the two mountains that suddenly appear above the Gold Creek valley. Below all is dark, lit only by translucent ice and fresh snow—a place to plod in the gray. Above, two sun brightened peaks float in a thinning snow squall. My camera can’t capture them, which adds to their divine resume. Maybe I’ll consider them ghosts. Aki must think them to be from another plane. She growls and dances like when she wants us to move away from perceived danger. She calms when the squall thickens to vanish her enemies
Today’s forecast calls for snow and thunder. We drive through thick snow squalls to the Sheep Creek delta. Walls of light gray hide most of the channel and all of the Douglas Island mountains. There is no thunder. We have crows and mallards to watch as they feed on ground just revealed by the ebbing tide. They hunker in defensive, even grouchy postures.
A foghorn sounding near Lucky Me does not move the birds. In minutes, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spar, a buoy tender stationed in Kodiak slips out of a diminishing snow squall.
When I walk toward the channel for a better photo opportunity of the cutter, a small raft of mallards lift off the channel in unison like a precision wing of harrier jets.
I found little silence in California, even on early morning bike rides. Cars and trucks could always be hear over sea lion barks, gull shrieks, and the more soothing mutter made by waves collapsing on Monterey Bay beaches. But it is a place where the stars of nature seem to have negotiated peace with the tourist trade. We biked out 17 Mile Drive along the edge of a famous golf course to Bird Rock. After maneuvering around tourist buses decorated with kanji and slim Asian women trying to capture airborne pelicans in their selfies, we stopped to watch the animals and birds crowd onto the offshore rock. For two quarters we used a high-powered telescope to spy on jostling sea lions and cormorants drying their wings. In closer kelp beds sea otters floated on their backs. Before returning our rental bikes, we watched harbor seals in Monterey Harbor relax, motionless on rocks like plump politicians in steam bath.
During a Seattle flight delay on return to the rain forest, we walked through the Chihuly Glass in the Garden exhibit at Seattle Center. I enjoyed the manufactured beauty— glass shaped into pleasing shapes with colors only found on tropical fish. The music of a street musician’s flute mixed with the spring smell of hyacinth bloom. Bird sound couldn’t be heard. The last wild flower had been rooted out by the gardener.
After surviving heavy turbulence on the descent into Ketchikan, Flight 69 bounced me into Juneau last night. This morning, Aki and I wander the meadows around a favorite salt chuck. While Aki springs through the thin snow cover I spot four river otters hauled up on slough ice. Since she has bad eyesight and we are downwind of the otters, the little dog will never know they were there. I have no problem leading her into the forest were we make a wide detour around them.
After, we walk through clouds of small birds (chickadees, wrens, red poles, kinglets) all singing their work songs. Other than flying from the ground we occupy, the birds give little reaction to our presence. Do we, the otters, birds, dog, and I, live under the sort of armistice reached by animal and man in California? I just know that today we tolerate each other. Aki acted out of ignorance with the otters, but the others, like the people and animals in California have knowledge.
Another day of low clouds, mild temperatures and rain. Such conditions never dampens Aki’s love of the North Douglas forest trails to the beach, For me, it is a day for hearing, not seeing special things. The jackhammer .rhythm of a sapsucker provides a pace. Overhead, just above the canopy, the leader of a line of geese gives a single honk. We startle a small raft of mallards and they burst up from an opening in ice made by a stream flow into a muskeg pond. They are gone before I can see more than their characteristic wing pattern. On the beach, when we are just abeam of Shaman Island, I hear a splash like a child makes by tossing a large rock into a pond. Near the island a bald eagle, talon deep in the ocean, struggles to free itself from the water. Two other eagles cry and circle around the scene. The partially submerged eagle manages to fly off but without anything in its talons to show for it. I think of the men and women on nearby False Outer Point, who also fish in the rain for king salmon.
We have so many of these flat light days in the rain forest. Only the sharpest eyes can ferret out patterns in the gray sky. It’s even hard to see the border of white mountain and soft sky. While Aki bounces around the still frozen mountain meadow, I look down, finding small beauties in ice. With their interesting shapes and captured light, the thin sheets of ice monopolize the drama.
Aki and I pass some new fallen alders along the glacial moraine trail. Large wood chips, marked by beaver teeth, surround the resulting tree stubs. We never heard or seen a beaver drop a tree until today.
The snow is gone but a strip of smooth ice covers the trail. I slide down it while Aki checks the peemail. She sniffs something on one of the beaver dams near Norton Lake and then starts a wide sweep of the area. When a tree crashes onto the frozen lake, the little dog flies across the ice to investigate. I grow uncomfortable waiting for her to return, thinking about what a beaver’s teeth can do to a tree trunk. But Aki dashes onto the ice before I can head over to the beaver’s logging site.
An hour later, while we circled one last lake in the troll woods and hear another tree crash. Two years ago Aki broke through this lake’s ice when we heard several beaver tail slaps. I thought I had lost her that time. Today she runs to where the tree lays on the lake ice but is back before I can worry.
The varied thrush told me it is spring, as did the warmish temperature, sun, and a brace of eagles circling low over Chicken Ridge. The eagles warned that it is also a time of famine for the big birds by hunting cats in the neighborhood. Aki and I headed to the Fish Creek delta to check its grassy wetlands for migrating waterfowl.
The parking lot was empty when we arrived so it was no surprise to hear the complaints of unseen ducks and geese when we approached the pond. We spot hundreds of nervous birds through a screen of trees on the pond’s edge. Some sound like geese, but not our Canada residents. Even though I am hundreds of meters away, the birds explode into the air when I start taking pictures. In minutes they are gone.
As punishment for displacing the birds, I find the glacier hidden behind clouds. Maybe it is not punishment. The clouds reveal enough of the ice field mountains to create beautiful reflections in the waters of Smuggler’s Cove.