Remembering how a few years ago, rafts of migratory birds filled Eagle River at high water, I am walking along the river with my old camera, brought for its 420 mm lens. We find no ducks, swans, cranes, or scoters on the river. Instead, the subjects vying for a photographer’s attention are fiddle head ferns on the verge of unfurling, swelling lupine flowers, and my favorite guys—the shooting stars. Unfortunately, the camera is rarely able to to focus on flowers.
I inherited an appreciation for the little magenta shooting stars from my dad. He had to hike into the Montana high country to find a few of them. The name triggered for him images of clean, green meadows with an elk gazing on the edge lined by woods. This meadow drained by Eagle River is covered with the flowers. Aki dashes around them when retrieving her beloved Frisbee. Alaska is rich in these icons of wild country—the lupine, the shooting star, the bear, the whale.
I had to step around fresh bear scat today but fortunately, we didn’t see the guy who produced it. Yesterday, I spotted a large black bear lounging in a swatch of flowering dandelions, languidly grazing on their yellow flowers. Today, I see my first whales of the year. One surfaces in Pearl Harbor, near the Shrine of St. Therese. Its exhale sounds, as it should, like air being forced through a fire hose. It dives and surfaces like it is feeding on herring. A pod of other humpbacks paints the sky near Shelter Island with their white breath plumes, each vapor cloud hanging in the air long enough to sparkle in the afternoon sun. Frustrated by trying to photograph the flowers, I left the camera in car when we visit Pearl Harbor. This frees me from the responsibility of capturing the whales’ beauty, allows me to watch undistracted, the big creatures fattening up after their long, foodless swim, from Hawaii.