Like a magician tracing a ley line, Aki confidently trots a straight path through wetland grass too tall for her to see over. An eagle does a fly over and two others perch. One of these occupies a stump in the middle of Lemon Creek. The other rests on a light standard that arcs over two lanes of traffic on Egan Expressway. Without knowing it, Aki is heading in the right direction—toward one of the odd little islands that seem to float on a tidal grass sea.
Fall and spring, foliage on the islands’ balsam poplars work like gold leaf on an icon to draw the eye. Spruce, alders, and elderberry bush squeeze onto the islands with the poplars. They all send roots into a mix of glacial silt and gravel carried there by the creek. Savannah sparrows nest in the grass bordering the islands. One of those diminutive birds flies to the top of an elderberry bush to watch us pass. I wonder what the tiny thing would do if we came near its nest. The severe look it flashes me as I pass within a few feet could not form on the face of a timid beast.
A raven plays with Aki on a beach made from Treadwell mine tailings. The beach was empty when we started the walk. Then the raven and a buddy flew over and landed on the beach in our path. One of them roosts on a piling but the other one flies a few feet ahead of my little dog, lands, and takes off again. In seconds the big bird lands on another piling and watches Aki wag her tail in anticipation.Down the beach two bald eagles scan the scene from a top a metal-roofed tower that once provided air to miners working the Ready Bullion tunnels. One spots food on the beach and glides down to investigate. It crashes chest deep into the water and splashes about until waddling onto an island of dry beach.
Overhead an immature bald eagle circles the scene, maybe planning in crowding in on the wet eagle’s find. But the one still on the mine tower flies up in a challenge and drives off the young one. It manages a more graceful return to its perch.
Aki and I shelter from a nasty rainstorm in an old growth forest. Earlier storms toppled a score of middle-aged hemlocks within our view shed. But the forest can’t protect our car from the guy stealing one of its fog light assemblies. The thief, probably a heroin addict, might be able to covert it into a fix. But it will cost me much more in cash and bother.
Happy in our ignorance, the little dog and I cross a pocket meadow decorated with cloudberry blossoms. If the summer dries out and brings enough sun, we will be back in July to harvest the succulent berries that are already forming in the heart of the dying blossoms. Cloudberries are fixtures of the tundra. Before last year, we never harvested many of them. Our summers were never hot enough for their ripening. Now global warming has given us a gift that I’d gladly turn down if the glaciers would stop retreating.
I’m impatient to see if the shooting stars are out on Gastineau Meadow. But Aki won’t be hurried. A scent stops her dead, makes her back track, turn ninety degrees and trot back on a path inscribing a right triangle. When a different smell sends her on another geometric path, I study the red alders that bow out toward the trail. Their wood is almost perfect for carving portrait masks. This makes me think of my father and the alder mask I carved after his death.
Done with her investigations, Aki slips around me and takes point on our walk onto the meadow. When I stop to photograph a wild rhododendron or meat-eating sundew, the little dog stares at me, apparently forgetting who slowed our earlier progress. Brat.
We push on and find the small section of meadow where shooting stars grow and find them in bloom. My dad learned to love the shooting stars that grew on meadows near his Montana home. Maybe he passed this love on to me, They are one of my favorite wild flowers.
As we back track to the car, I think again about dad’s alder mask and how carving it helped me grieve his death. Writing an essay about it help further. If you have the time, can read the essay, which was published in the fourth edition of Twisted Vine Literary Journal. ( http://show.wnmu.edu/twistedvine/category/issue-4/ ).
Little of today’s soft rain can reach Aki and I in this old growth forest. A stronger downpour, like we get in autumn, would drive off the peace by pounding on broad-leafed devil’s club bushes and ramp up the musical volume of the forest streams. But today the forest is a quiet place, its peace broken only a scolding squirrel.
Aki, who likes excitement and chance encounters with other dogs, might think the quiet forest desolate. But her ignorance of human language shields her from the rattle and squeak of radio news shows. She can find peace anytime in her kennel.
We break out of the woods and find the beach empty except for a desolation of crows. Even the rain-rattled water between outer point and Shaman Island is vacant except for a pair of mergansers wandering near the point. On the north side of the island, other crows fly over surf scoters and a mated pair of harlequins. They photo bomb my shots of the ducks and the cloud-shrouded mainland.
It’s raining in Downtown Juneau, raining on Aki and I. It’s raining on cotton clothing and sleeping bags abandoned by Juneau’s homeless population and on a brace of ravens that are either scavenging or guarding the carefully folded gear. Soon thousands of visitors will stream down cruise ship gangways and walk by the scene in the rain.
This morning, I drove Aki out to the glacial moraine in hopes of seeing some transient tundra swans. Nothing, not even a merganser breaks the mirror surface of Dredge Lake. But it’s early enough that we have the place to ourselves. Moving through a cloud of bird song we walk a circuit of the other moraine lakes.
Beaver leavings—dams, fallen trees stripped of bark, wood chips, scattered sticks marred by tooth marks—litter the trailside ground. Many of their diminutives logging roads cross the trail. On the eastern shore of Moose Lake I say, It’s funny little dog. We rarely see those responsible for all this mess. Just then, a beaver slips into the lake and paddles toward the glacier.
Minutes later, another beaver scrabbles out from underneath a bridge we are crossing and plops into the lake. Aki paces up and down the bank while I measure the progress of its underwater swim by the trail of breath bubbles. Four meters from the shore, the beaver surfaces, see us, and crashes back under the water with a tremendous splash.
We continued on our search for swans but find only a sole Canada goose. I give up the search after two birders tell me that the swans had left two days ago. Released, I can enjoy the morning light infusing new cottonwood growth and the personality of a yellow-rumped kinglet that shows itself to us.