Downtown Juneau in summer often has more visitors than locals. This morning Aki and I meet two couples. One man and woman are from the British Isles, the other couple from Atlanta. As she usually does, Aki acts as an icebreaker. She reminds the woman from Atlanta of the little poodle-mix that waits for the woman to return home. Her voice breaks describing that dog. The Brits are more reserved but melt as we watch two bald eagles resting on an abandoned wharf. It takes so little to bridge social gaps. Sometimes, you need a little dog. Sometimes it just takes a couple of eagles on an aging wharf.
Aki can be a stubborn little dog. This comes through each time we try to walk the flume trail. She’s fine until we reach the spot where the Christopher Trail drops down towards Gold Creek. Here she acts like death or at least dismemberment will surely come to both of us if we continue down the flume.
Today Aki’s human sister has a plan. I’m to continue on down the Flume Trail in hopes that Aki will eventually give in and trot after. This actually works at the Christopher Trail junction. But, not the second time she throws on the brakes near a nondescript rock. She looks up at me with a “”It’s okay, I’ll just eat cereal” martyr look. It changes into a “if you really won’t go back to the Christopher Trail, I’ll just make a home here next to this rock even through it won’t protect me from wind, rain, snow, or bears. After an embarrassingly short time, I gather the little brat into my arms and carry her down the trail.
This eagle tells you everything you need to know about today’s weather. He squats in the top of a hemlock tree, rain-soaked wings spread out to dry. He will hold that pose for the ten minutes that Aki and I explore the false outer point beach. I poke at a spray of purple beach pea flowers, snap a photograph of them, pet the dog, and look up at the eagle. He holds the same pose. I talk with Aki’s human sister, watch her skim stones on the calm water, pet Aki, and look up at the eagle. I smile at a brown junco with the nerve to land on a drift wood log a few feet away and stare at us. I squint out toward Shaman Island at the head of a curious seal, apparently wondering why we linger on the beach. The eagle still hasn’t moved. That’s how hard it rained today.
The dogs looked miserable even though they reclined at the feet of doting owners next to bowls full of food or water. In the sidewalk seating area of an Oregon brewpub, they coped with 100-degree heat by sleeping. Tired from a morning bike ride along the Pacific and full of pub food, I felt like joining the pups. Aki, who even though she likes to sleep next to a heating vent in winter wouldn’t know what to do about the heat.
The next morning, while getting in one last bike ride before our return to Alaska, I thought about the flexibility of man and dog. In urban Oregon, dogs stay home while their owners ride crowded public transport to inside jobs. Each must look forward to the nightly reunion. They have many walks in the rain and some in snow. But one sniff of the tea roses perfuming the bike paths and you know that they have a gentler climate than Juneau. They have shopping, wineries, fancy beer parlors, and quality cell phone coverage. We have Costco, a hometown brewery, and ready access to the woods and sea. Orcas chase salmon and sea lions in front of Juneau. What predators work the streets of Portland?
This morning, back in Juneau, I join Aki for a walk on the Rainforest Trail. Soft rain collects on the path-side plants. It soaks my pants when they brush against the cow parsnips leading over the trail. How nice, little dog, to be soaked by rain rather than sweat, to walk through air cool enough for comforting fleece. Aki, who rarely has to pant, would probably agree.
Yesterday was so hot in Portland that we opt today for an early morning bike ride on the Oregon Coast. It’s a place of great
beauty but also heavy tourist development. But people still make a living from fishing or oyster farming. We pass a great blue herron, pale in the strong morning light. Heavy road noise covers our approach to the large wader.
This morning’s ride reminds me of why I love bike touring—so little separates you from natural beauty. But, only a few feet separates you from speeding cars and trucks. This makes rides like this acts of faith in the skill of passing drivers.
Spending a week away from Alaska and Aki bicycling near Portland. It’s in the 60’s in Juneau and rain is on the way. Today at Hood River it was 97. In full sun a friend and I rode past wineries, fruit stands, orchards and vineyards. Some offered views of two quiet, snow covered volcanos: Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. Prior eruptions enriched the soil of the Hood River Valley, which grows legendary cherries, pears, and apparently happy wine grapes.
During today’s ride a man yelled, “go home” at me while he passed in his pickup truck. He left me wondering what old guys on bikes have ever done to diminish his life.
The weather service issued a heavy-rain advisory for this morning. Mendenhall Lake could rise two feet and Montana Creek is likely to flood. In my mind I measure how high the arctic tern nesting colony is above the normal lake level. The colony just might survive a two-foot rise but not much more. If birds can experience fear and grief the terns, who migrated here from Patagonia to nest and feed, must have heavy hearts.
Knowing that there is nothing we can do for the tern colony, I decided to drive Aki out to the Eagle River. From under a bed the little dog watched me assemble camera and rain gear, showing no interest in joining the expedition. She listened to rain tattooing our roof as I pulled on rain pants and jacket. Just when I was about to walk out the door without the little dog, she stretched and trotted up, tail wagging. Maybe the rainy weather made her sleepy.
The rain stopped by the time we reached Eagle River. But the sky stayed gray. Aki jumped out of the car and headed up the trail. I followed behind. We entered the forest where green understory plants were already taller than me. The time of flowers has passed and that of colorful berries is weeks away. The forest only offered varying shades of green. But envelopment in such a green world calms like a day spa can never do. I must have slowed my pace in response because Aki stopped often to stare back at me with what looked like concern.
Later we crossed a riverside meadow rich in flowers. Blue lupine, magenta shooting stars and nagoon berry flowers, yellow buttercups, red columbines, and wild strawberries thrived. I remembered summers passed, when we watched chum salmon swim up the tiny watercourses that drain the meadow. At high flood tides, the salmon would swim across the meadow and die where the retreating waters left them. That part of their bodies not carried away by carrion birds, stayed to fertilize the meadow flowers and berry brush.
While planning where to hike this morning, I look out at the garden where heavy raindrops make the tough kale leaves bounce. No wind blows them off course. Already the storm is soaking the old growth canopy. But the little dog and I still head to the Outer Point Trailhead.
I am not surprised to find the parking lot empty and pleased that nothing falls from the sky. Ironically, inside the forest that usually protects us from the worst of storms, it is raining. Fat drops drip from the canopy of spruce and hemlock. Storm light, more pearl than gray in color, reaches into the forest and turns the surface of a beaver pond into a fairy tale mirror. It might tell Aki that she is the fairest dog in the forest. That wouldn’t be a lie since the place is empty except for local residents like the red-breasted sapsucker hammering into a 100 year old hemlock. The overdressed bird grips an imperfection in the bark with one foot, which in my mind, makes it look desperate, as it pounds yet another hole into the hemlock. Hell for the hungover must be full of such unrelenting woodpeckers.
Islands protect this crescent-shaped bay. It’s the perfect spot to house people who make their living on the sea. Once it did. The Auk people lived here before the offer of mining jobs ten miles away in Juneau seduced them to move into town. The bay’s graduated gravel beach would still offer easy access to the sea for the Auk people’ big cedar canoes. Now thimbleberry thickets cover ground where they stored their canoes in winter. They left behind a totem pole. But, the happy cries of their children have been replaced by robin songs and thrush trills.
Aki and I are the only ones here to listen to the birds. The beach is empty of people, dogs, and even sea birds. Only the fins of Dahl porpoise mar the bay’s flat-calm surface. In winter harlequin ducks and scoters will fish the bay close to the shore. Gulls will bicker on the beach. But they have no need of shelter today. They are out chasing feed or in the gulls’ case, haunting salmon streams.
Today the ban on king salmon fishing ends. Men around Juneau will troll for what salmon that haven’t already entered their spawning streams. The commercial guys will haul their catches to a processing plant two bays south of here. A white cloud of sea gulls will form over each boat as it unloads kings. In Southeast Alaska, where we still rely on nature directly or indirectly to feed our families, such scenes at a fish plant are metaphors for joy.
Aki and I have climbed this gravel road in all seasons, winter through fall. The calendar tells me it is still spring but I recognize the green of high summer when I see it. The showy summer plants have all leafed out and now crowd the road, turning it into a green tunnel. Feeling slightly claustrophobic, I speed up to reach the proper trail to Gastineau Meadows.
As usual, Aki is all about the smells. She drags her tiny feet to buy time for sniffing. I watch her closely as she smells a fresh explosion of bear scat, ready to grab her if she starts to roll in it. She is fully capable of rubbing her shoulders into the foul stuff as her face relaxes into ecstasy. Today she only gives it a cursory sniff before moving onto the meadow.
Here the time of magenta flowers has passed. With the exception of a scattering of chocolate lilies and yellow blossoms I can’t identify, white flowers dominate the meadow. Around dying pine trees, sorrels bloom as do the tasty Labrador tea plants. The lush greenness of the day emphasizes the dead nature of the countless pine skeletons that crowd together on wet sections of meadow. They lived like anorectics on the shallow, poorly drained ground, while meters away Sitka Spruce thrive on better fare.