Aki is soaking wet from rainwater that has collected on blue berry bushes. She pounds down a bear trail in the forest moss, leaps over bear scat (berry blue with red high bush cranberry highlights), and scoots under thickets of berry plants. She is chasing her orange Frisbee. Her other human and I hunt and peck for the remainder of the blue berry crop. The blues hang, plump and sweet, from inconveniently placed plants. We have to lean over wet, bare plants to pluck the fruit. I imagine a bear ambling through the berry patch, stomach already full of sockeye salmon, grazing on the easiest-to- reach berries but not bothering to reach inside the patch for the fruit we drop into our buckets.
The low cloud ceiling and rain have given us a rare summer thing—solitude. Aki and I are walking a thin strip of old growth forest that rims a crescent-shaped beach. We have the place to ourselves, which doesn’t make Aki very happy. She loves to meet another dog, squeal in a tiny voice when they meet, crouch in submission, and dash around until she and her new friend tire of each other. Today she can only search for food scraps beneath the picnic tables.
I should be more thrilled with the solitude. We even have silence. The low cloud ceiling has grounded the noisy helicopters and planes that usually fly over here each summer day. But, like Aki, I miss the presence of other animals. No birds float on the water or fly over our heads. No Dall porpoise cut the bay’s surface with their stubby dorsal fins. There is not even squirrel chatter to break the silence.
Yesterday, the sun shone and there was little wind. There were ravenous sea lions, feeding humpback whales, and one harbor seal so bewildered that it swam, apparently unaware of our existence, within feet of my friend’s boat. There were also enough silver salmon in the boat cooler to get us through the winter.
Today, there is no sun, much wind, and pounding rain. Out here on the glacial moraine, there are no whales or sea lions or seals. There is a little dog, wrapped against the rain. Nothing dampens her enthusiasm. We walk along the river, where fog partially obscures a raft full of tourists. I wonder that these folks left their bacchanalian-like cruise ship surroundings to float through fog that blocks the views they paid for of the glacier and its mountain cohorts.
She must have spotted a squirrel. That what I think when Aki brakes from the trail, growls, then raises her wagging tail. She stops suddenly and turns to me with a questioning look on her face. Two feet away, a huge porcupine is burrowed into the trailside grass. The large bald spot on its back is proof of previous dog encounters. Those must have ended with a trip to the veterinarian for quill removal.
Relieved that my little dog has the sense not to tangle with porcupines, I lead her down off the mountain, stopping to pick and hand feed her blue berries. It’s the least I can do for the wise little dog. At the bottom of the hill she breaks away, directly toward another porcupine, acts stunned when I call her back. As the spiny creature waddles under a blue berry bush I am not at all certain whether Aki would have survived without a mouth full of quills if I had not called her back.
I should be in the North Pass making a last try for silver salmon. But a strong low-pressure system moved over the fishing grounds last night bringing high winds that keep the captain’s boat tied up at the dock. This pleases Aki, who trots across the forest floor on a walk that would never have happened if the fishing trip had.
The strong winds have blown a hole in the marine layer so sunlight floods the forest and makes a large devil’s club leaf shine like a sheet of stained glass. The hole lasts until we reach the beach, where gulls, murlets, and mergansers shelter close to shore. I look up Lynn Canal, past a brilliantly lit Shaman Island to places where we would be fishing on a calmer day.
A lot happened on this beach before Aki arrived with her Frisbee. Even as nearsighted detective as I can find the evidence. First, there’s the singing raven, running through his collect of chortles and croaks until he spots my little dog. Then he squawks. There are other signs: rock painted white with eagle scat, several of the big bird’s brown and white feathers scattered nearby, salmon backbone almost picked clean of meat. Over there, a confusion of gull tracks show where they hunkered like hyenas waiting for a lion to abandon its kill. The gulls now float just offshore, beaks pointed toward the beach. But I can’t explain the fresh tracks of a deer that walked up to a salmon carcass and then darted into the woods when we approached. Perhaps it just wanted to see what the raven was singing about.
Aki enjoyed our passage through the woods. She ran ahead, draw by smells and signs. I moved slower, tried not to trip on spruce roots exposed by rain. She turns into a symbol of caution when we reach the beach, walking just behind me as I work through the wet grass still bent down by last night’s flood tide. Maybe she is worried about the eagles.
An immature bald eagle from a beachside spruce, arcs over the Mendenhall River, and flies down the beach. More follow, including one with a missing flight feather. Another, in the white and brown coloring of a mature eagle, remains to sulk. At least that’s what I think because it lets its head droop like a person might who had hoped for sun and received rain.
Seamus, our digital station icon and the National Weather Service made the same forecast this morning. They told Aki and I to expect heavy rain and wind when we reached False Outer Point. We find gray skies, but no wind or rain. I’m overdressed in my storm coat, vest and sweatshirt but am able to strip down to my tee shirt when the sun comes out.
Two, battling belted king fishers fly past when we round the point. But my eye is drawn to currant, maple and wild crab apple leaves that have already show their fall colors. Some have dropped onto the still wet rocks. One rests uneasily in a tide pool, sides curled up as in a vain attempt to stay dry. Everything is ahead of schedule this year. The salmon runs hit early, the leaves are already turning. We have two gallons of blue berries in the freezer and August is barely half gone.
Aki hesitates at the edge of a swollen stream that cuts a path to Lynn Canal through the beach gravel. For a moment I think she is reacting, like me, to the defacement. Someone, not without drawing skills, has painted white designs on a line of beach boulders. They can’t be religious symbols for what faith would advocate vandalism? They can’t be meant as art. What artist would ruin natural beauty? That leaves ego of the kind that can only be swelled by destruction.
Aki searches among the Treadwell ruins, her gray curls absorbing the morning drizzle. When we break out onto the beach, she dashes to the base of a faded piling, attracted by a raven singing a song of few notes. The raven shows no fear or even acknowledgement of the little dog’s presence. Aki looks at me, like she needs direction for her next action. I vote with my feet, walk down beach where an eyeless carcass of a dog salmon lays rotting on the sand. It is a male with its jaw wide open, as if to bite the tail of a rival on the spawning beds.
Even though it ocean bright colors— silver, red, green—have faded and its skin has the texture of a wet newspaper, it is a beautiful thing. I take a few pictures and wonder if the raven isn’t waiting for us to leave so he can have the dog salmon for lunch
Yesterday Aki and I harvested blueberries. Well, Aki’s other human and I picked berries when we weren’t throwing her Frisbee. All the little dog did was chased it or dig it out from beneath clumps of berry brush. (She was kind of a pest about it.).
Yesterday we had sunshine and comfortably warm temperatures. Today, it is cool and rainy. Ali still chases her Frisbee while we check out an old cement dam near one of the mountain meadows. This requires climbing into and out of a small ravine that requires the help of ropes. Aki manages on her own even with her precious Frisbee in her mouth.
The dam, a little gem, was poured at a time when Juneau was full of craftsmen, a time before plywood and pressure treated wood, a time of pride. The Treadwell ruins are full of the old craftsmen’s work: cast rails and wheels, gears and water baffles. The little dam spans a diminutive creek with a graceful arc. The builders provided a crossing path on top bordered on each side by a waist-high wall. This path could lead to a Frank Lloyd Wright house or across an English moat.