Today, before a Pacific storm can hammer Juneau with high wind and up to eight inches of rain, I take the little poodle mix out to one of our favorite trails. It runs through the cottonwoods and spruce that border Eagle River and then swings north toward an open meadow. The untended-outhouse smell of dead salmon dominates the woods. Through a screen of alders I see gulls and ravens feeding on salmon flesh. They don’t worry me but a crashing sound that silences the bickering gulls—that cause concern. It could only be a bear. I start singing the Aki song to keep the little dog focused on me and to warn any bears of our presence. If we don’t startle one or come between it and it’s young, we should be ok.
We reach the meadow without seeing any bears and cross it to reach the Glacier Highway. From there it is a short walk to a riverside meadow that is fertilized each year with salmon flesh. The big fish swim up small tidal streams during a flood tide and die after being stranded by the ebb. Here too, is the smell of death.
On an Eagle River gravel bar, an immature bald eagle feeds on a salmon carcass. After ripping off a portable piece the bird flies across the river to finish its meal on a driftwood stump. This is the first of many eagles we see feeding or roosting along the river. After passing one just before reaching the parking lot I think of the Haines, Alaska bald eagle confab that happens at the beginning of winter. Thousands of bald eagles gather there to feast on the participants in a late salmon run. Hundreds of people shiver in the cold to watch eagles bicker with each other over dying salmon flesh. As the first drops of promised rain fall, I think how much better we have it today. We only have to put up with a little rain and the constant smell of death.