Aki keeps a respectful distance from the fawn’s corpse. She sniffs and pulls back, then leans forward to sniff again. Still beautiful, even charming in death, the little deer died along the road after being struck by a car. I think about marks made in beach gravel by a deer that must have been panicked by our approach. The caution it showed might cause it be more careful when crossing highways.
Discordant bird chatter distracted me from the deer tracks. Two belted kingfishers were in the midst of an aerial dogfight. Maybe “ballet” is a better word to describe the way the two birds weaved in and out of each other’s flight path, sometimes almost touching salt water. So much life.
Aki and I are walking above Gold Creek on a trail that could take us to the ruins of the Perseverance Mining District. An hour ago, fog filled the Gold Creek valley but it is gone now, burned off by sunlight. The little dog plays touch and sniff with other dogs. Strong, slanting sunlight turns the broad devil’s club leaves translucent and makes even dying foliage beautiful. All summer the plants in the valley have taken energy from the sun and necessary moisture from rain. Soon they will drain their leaves of color until the yellows, oranges and reds of fall have replaced summer green. Then the lovely leaves will hang for a week or two like an offering to the sky that nurtured them and a present to those of us who preserved through a long, wet summer.
We start on the university campus and walk around Auk Lake. Aki jumps when a salmon splashes near the shore. But she soon settles into the walk. I didn’t see the jumping salmon and spot only indirect evidence of fish presence in the lake. Once the wake of an unseen object, a subtle “v” shaped wave, moved along the trail’s floating walkway. Other times we would hear splashes.
Even though we have a sun its light can’t penetrate through the lake’s surface. No wind ripples the lake so the souls of glacial mountains appear trapped in its waters. Other than some eagles’ screeching complaints and blue jay scolding, we hear no bird song. I take my cue from Aki and ignore the portents, enjoy the smells of a forest well into autumn.
Aki and I are soaked from brushing up against understory plants. Maybe we shouldn’t have taken this seldom-used path that cuts across headlands to a pocket beach. But it’s the end of summer when the little dog and I make a pilgrimage to the beach for its view of Favorite Passage. We usually spot an eagle or two, maybe a whale, seal, or sea lion. A bald eagle does flush from a spruce when we break through to the beach. But only one guillemot dots the passage.
We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s been a challenging summer with little sunshine and lots of rain. The rain plumped the harvestable berries but ripening without the benefit of sunny days, they are either insipid or sour. This has made me pessimistic so I am not surprised by the lack of wildlife. I give little attention to an oval of blue forming above Shelter Island. Dark storm clouds will soon cover it.
While climbing over a low coastal hill, we pass a patch of blue berry brush that sports a handful of ripe fruit. The one berry I can reach is as sweet as farm grown. Next to it is a bush already darkening to fall reds and browns. But the optimistic plant also has new flowers that now glow in an unexpected shaft of sunlight.
Aki and I walk a route through Downtown Juneau. Because it offers rich opportunities to check pee mail as well as good chances to grab a goody dropped by a tourist onto the sidewalk, it is one of the little dog’s favorite walks.
This morning we moved down Gold Street and then up Gastineau, passing the ruins of the old A.J. Mine. Forty years ago Aki would have seen many feral cats. They lived in the relatively warm mine tunnels and scavenged meals in Juneau Cold Storage. But that intuition burned down and parvo virus wiped out the cat population. Tourist shops and homeless have replaced them on the downtown streets of Juneau.
While climbing backup to Chicken Ridge, we stop to study the new statute of William Seward. While Secretary of State Seward engineered the purchase of Alaska from Russia. This mads him one our patron political saints. After the purchase, Seward visited the Alaska panhandle, including the Tlingit village of Saxman. The village residents feasted Seward and gave him valuable, hand made gifts. Unaware of Tlingit cultural rules, he never reciprocated with gifts of his own. After a reasonable time had passed, the Saxman people erected shaming totem pole with an unflattering effigy of Seward at the top. If Seward had satisfied his cultural obligation they would have lowered to pole. But, it stood like a public dunning notice until this summer when, after being attacked by carpenter ants, the section of the pole carved in Seward’s image had to be removed.
When Aki alerts to danger, I take her seriously. She has spotted several bears that I would never have seen without her help. But, today she growls at a small stream coursing along the trail. It the water, moving along a wooden boardwalk trail section does have a bass resonance. It is dark except where it turns translucence after breaking over a damn of sticks and sparkles. After growling, the little poodle-mix drops her trail and sulks to a spot behind me. A hundred feet further up the trail, she retakes point.
This morning I am a little overwhelmed by forest greens. Aki and I are walking through a protected old growth forest that is not surrendering to fall. All life has already drained from the line of cow parsnips that buffer the forest from the sea. Atop their dead-brown stalks, the plants’ large flowers have been replaced with circles of seeds. But under the forest canopy blue berry bushes still display fruit on their summer-green branches.
In a few weeks, scoters and ducks will work the waters just offshore from the beach. But now the sea is empty and only a brace of gulls walk the beach. Aki keeps her nose down, hunting for sign. But we only meet one dog on the walk.
Around False Outer Point and across Gastineau Channel a remnant of Lemon Glacier hangs above Costco and the state jail. On most days it looks no more remarkable than a snowfield. But there is something about today’s light that turns its ice a pastel blue. In the Alps or even the Canadian Rockies, there would be a good trail leading to the hanging glacier. But here, its just another sign of the warming earth.
On a gray day, one without weather drama, Aki and I climb a gravel road leading to Gastineau Meadows. Aki sniffs along in work-dog fashion. If she saw the two used syringes laying orange and white in trailside grass, she gave no indication. Hopefully, the children who played loudly on the nearby school grounds haven’t found similar needles. I’ll trash them along with bags of Aki’s scat after we finish the hike.
I won’t notice any birds or animals on the meadow, except for the water skimmer bugs that skitter across the meadow ponds with the tips of their legs jammed just under the water’s surface. The surrounding mountains—Juneau, Sheep, Jumbo, Gastineau—will look tired, like aging actors in late morning light. A light fog will rise off the channel and threaten to give the mountains cover and then dissipate before fulfilling its promise.
Aki doesn’t want to be here, neither does the eagle. Both are bothered by the rain. The eagle hunkers down on the roof of the old mine ventilation tower. From there she can scan the beach for food. There is plenty here. Just seconds ago, Aki was sniffing the relatively intact body of a plump chum salmon. In famine times, the eagle would have gorged itself on the salmon’s flesh. The bird must be stuffed with other carrion.
From its perch fifty or even sixty feet above the beach, the bald eagle could ignore the little dog and me. Neither Aki nor I do anything to disturb it. But when our path takes us too close to the man made aerie, the eagle lifts up and flies over our heads and then follows a line of broken wharf pilings toward the mining ruins. So there.
Last night the remnants of a Pacific typhoon dumped rain on our Alaska panhandle. Aki and are trying to sneak in a forest/beach visit during a lull in the storm. The little dog dashes up and down the trail, apparently inspired by fresh pee mail. I’m relieved not to have to keep the bill of my ball cap down, happy to be able to point my camera up toward the canopy without having it smeared with rain drops.
Everything is fresh washed and glistening by moisture delivered by the typhoon. Drops of runoff have collected along the base of bear-bread fungus, making it look like an alligator’s jaw. Others make the reddening blue berry leaves sparkle in the gray light. While somewhere in the Lower 48 States, people wearing cartoon dark glasses watch the moon extinguishing the sun, I stare up at the underside of broad devil’s club leaves that collect storm light.
We find a fern, delicate as Queen Anne’s lace, shiver in a tiny breeze. Giving up on summer, the fern and its clan are already ghosting to white. Soon they will dry to dark-brown and then be crumbled by the first hard frost. In minutes we are back at the car. I have to coax Aki into it. We didn’t see anyone during the walk. Is she disappointed by the lack of dog company, or does the wise little thing know how to read fern sign?