We slip off Chicken Ridge before the trash truck arrives, before the guys at the Capital building start chipping bricks off its façade. Aki and I drive out to the Fish Creek Delta because it is sunny and perhaps early enough to catch some animals in their relaxed, post-dawn state.
Just after leaving the car I spot a young, male Sitka blacktail deer feeding on new grass along the creek. The sound of rushing water must have masked from it the sound of our old Subaru bumping into the parking lot. Aki, busy checking all her pee-mail messages doesn’t notice how the deer’s long black tail bisects its tawny haunches. It jerks slightly each time a car passes over the creek bridge. We won’t see the deer on the return trip.
The purple lupine flowers are peaking beside shooting stars with fading magenta petals. Frost covers lupine leaves in areas of the meadow yet to feel the morning’s sun. Our presence discomforts the resident mallards and surprises to flight a lone, red-breasted merganser. But the song sparrows seem more interested than frightened as they settle on the tops of nearby trees and bushes to sing.
It’s once again low tide so the eagles are out on the exposed flats, bickering at their children like human parents do before the coffee kicks. We walk through columns of mosquitoes without getting bit. Instead of feeding, they form and reform abstract ghosts at the edge of the alder forests. With the rising heat of the day, they will switch from artists to vampires. The little dog and I will be long gone before their transformation.
Back from Sitka. Picked up Aki from a friend’s house last night and returned to Chicken Ridge surprised at what a few sunny days can do for the garden. The lilac blossoms have popped open and even the conservative apple tree leafed out.
Aki would have like part of our visit to Sitka—the hanging out with our friends’ two dogs and the walks we took with them each day.
She wouldn’t have noticed the changing sky, capable in three days of emptying itself self of clouds then giving into to a Pacific front that brought, rain, Turner skies, and rainbows.
She would have moved with caution under eagles roosting on hemlock trees or the cross tower of St. Michael’s Cathedral.
Aki would have had nothing to do with the brown bears that played in the huge red liquor tanks of the now-abandoned pulp mill.
I am in a hurry to reach Gastineau Meadow so I can see its wildflowers glow in early morning sunlight. Aki, color blind, has never shown an interest in flowers unless another dog peed on them. She stops often to eat grass blades after first giving them a sniff. I try not to think on what she smells on grass.
Even with the little dog’s delays, we reach the meadow with the light and find clumps of shooting star flowers at their peak. Soon they will change from pollinator attractors to seed cases. But now their magenta beauty reminds me of my father, not a physically beautiful man, but a man who always smiled while looking at beautiful shooting stars.
Aki and head out early this morning to see the Sheep Creek delta in low angle sun. Well, that is why I dragged the poodle-mix from her bed. She settles in quickly once we leave the car. We are four hours from low tide so the wetland feeders—crows, gulls, ravens, and one eagle—are hunkered down near the water. Only the eagle is animated. It bursts from a spot along the creek after being attacked by gulls. Three or four of them chase the eagle in an aerial dogfight twenty feet above the ground. In minutes, the bald eagle is back its spot along the creek. Minutes later the gulls, bright as angels in the early morning light, finally drive it off. Raven, shinny black in full sun, watches with apparent detachment. I wonder who he roots for.
At least two score of bald eagles lounge on exposed tidelands. More watch from perches in the spruce trees we pass under. Most of the mature birds, the ones with white heads and tails, chill. The immature ones fly out and back from the trees, sometimes getting into a tussle with other young birds. They are all waiting for the hatchery truck to finish the transfer of young king salmon from truck to an enclosed pen that now floats on the waters of Fish Creek Pond. It’s as unnatural as humans in character costumes standing in line for days before the opening of a Star Wars movie.
The released salmon smolt that survive eagles and predator fish will swim into the Gulf of Alaska. Six years later, maybe thirty pounds heavier, they will return to the pond, circling it until caught by a sport fisherman or they die of natural causes. A few will follow the pink and dog salmon up Fish Creek to spawn but nothing will come of their effort on the unsuitable gravel.
Those birds not looking for an easy meal, like green winged teal and sand pipers work the estuary waters. I surprise a northern goshawk while it eats a shrew. It bursts into the air and over the heads of some eagles roosting near the top of a spruce tree. The goshawk is ignored by the eagles but not a crow, who chases the bigger bird from its sky.
On this soft, gray morning, Aki and I make our way up the old road to the Perseverance mining ruins. I am glad that we missed by eighty years the destruction of the Gold Creek Valley. Instead of ore stamping mills and high-powered hydraulic hoses, we hear robin and thrush sing. Except for a wide strip along the now clear running creek, alders and poplars cover disturbed ground. Elderberry and salmon berry blossoms thrive in their shade. As northern poet Robert Service once wrote, “There are strange things done in the mid-night sun by the men who moil for gold.” We are thankful that they moil no more in the Gold Creek Valley.
The red tulips we planted last fall made their appearance during last week’s storm. Some of their petals dangle down like climbers stranded on a cliff. Able to relax in today’s sunlight, I feel like a rescued climber, fingernails stressed, not really believing how lovely Mount Juneau looks without its usual cloud cape. To celebrate Aki and I head out to the moraine where high water floods over parts of the trail. Beavers, not storm work caused the lake waters to cover our path. Aki charges through. I slosh, happy to escape with dry socks. There is always more moraine magic on days like this—the first dry and sunny one after a long stint of rain. Every leave seems washed clean. The new poplar leaves glow like they will in the fall as their life drains back into the tree roots.