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.
I try not to write about the weather, about the wind-whipped rain that soaks the beach sand and forest duff. But all is weather-related. Swollen creeks have already eroded strips of the beach down to rock and gravel. Wind and waves have driven off the waterfowl residents. Only the smallest, the biggest, and the grouchiest birds remain. Aki ignores them all. She doesn’t acknowledge the tiny sparrow that settles briefly on a pilling stump. The little dog sniffs while the kingfisher scolds from an alder limb. She does slip back into the woods when the eagle appears, but if you asked her, she would deny that she saw it.
I take many photos of robins this time of year. They are always posing. Today, on the gravel road leading to one of our favorite meadows, a robin stands fifty feet away. When neither Aki nor I try to catch it, the bird turns so we have a better view of its prominent red breast. It waits for Aki to finish her business and for me to bag the resulting product in plastic. Only after we move ten feet closer does the robin make a showy burst into the trailside alders.
Two robins seem to wait for us as we make our way back to the car. Aki runs towards one, which flies easily to a perch just a few feet away from the little dog. The other robin trots away slowly, stops, and when neither Aki nor I head toward it, moves back in Aki’s direction. My little dog, apparently bored with the game, ignores the bird. I want to tell the robins that they can save their breath for singing. We have no interest in harming their nestlings and so they don’t need to decoy us away from their nest.
Aki watches with apparent approval as I drop a bag of her poop into a bear-proof trashcan. A little dog that finds great value in dog feces and urine, she must think of trailhead rubbish drops as banks. If that were true, Aki and I would be rich. I don’t leave the house without a pocket full of crinkling plastic bags.
After making the deposit, I follow Aki to pond normally dotted with goldeneye and bufflehead ducks. This morning it is empty. Fish Creek that drains the pond, normally loaded with waterfowl, is another bird desert. We only find a greater yellowlegs working a shallow pond, two mergansers, and a clump of spruce overburdened by crows.
We can’t see the glacier through clouds but spot an Alaska State ferry making the Lynn Canal run to Haines. Sun streaks provide a bright backdrop for its passage.
Like the tourists now crowding the northbound ferry, the birds that normally crowd this creek delta have moved on to their coastal summering areas.
You would expect disharmony from the mismatched trio. They don’t disappoint, The bald eagle opens with its sharp pitched screech. As it echoes over a calm beaver pond, varied thrush follows with a warbling whistle. A winter wren gives out its own trill. I hear repeats of their shrill refrain until Aki and I cross a small muskeg meadow and drop onto the beach where a oyster catcher bobs near the water line.
Back in the forest, we hear another eagle’s scream then an unseen Swainson thrush practices its scales. It’s a happy sound, as cheerful as the robin’s song. I notice that the rain has finally stopped. Last night’s storm has swollen the forest watercourses and soaked the ground.
Ground hugging clouds obscure upper Lynn Canal when we return to the beach. The white wall seems to swallow Lena Point and the scattering of islands just north of Auk Bay. This new storm soon reaches us but brings a soft, almost warm rain, not the cold, pounding stuff of last night. Is this to be our summer start—marked by warm rain replacing the cold and thrush song?