On gray days, even the palest yellow draws the eye. At least it draws my eye. The dog’s enjoyment of a rain forest is not dependent on light. We turn a blind corner on the trail and Aki raises her head and cringes back, as if she hit a wall of foul smell. I can’t detect any scents other than the moist leaves filling the gaps between the understory plants.
The poodle mix relaxes, as she has solved the puzzle but moves forward with caution. At a place where a faint game trail intersects the one we are using, she takes a quick sniff and trots on.
While not a great reader of animal tracks, I have spent enough time with Aki to understand her sign language. She smelled a bear when we rounded the blind corner, determined that the bear was fading, then tracked it to where it dropped away into the forest.
Soon we hear the sound of out-of-sort gulls coming from the beach. I imagine a white cloud of them fighting with eagles or waiting for a humpback whale to power through a ball of herring. But when we reach the beach, the gulls are jammed up against the beach by high tide. One stands on a rock just offshore and lectures his flock. I wonder if gulls celebrate their sabbath on Saturday.
This morning dense fog hides the Douglas Mountain ridge and Gastineau Channel from those of us on Chicken Ridge. I think of last night’s cloudless sky that offered the first views of stars for weeks. Aki, if a person and his little dog climb up that steep service road at the ski area, they might walk in sunshine above these clouds. Aki sighs, as if she knows that we will never reach sunshine on that road. But she trots to the front door when called.
At the ski area the motionless chairs of the lifts hang empty from their cable. Most of the chairs hide in the fog. No man or dog breaks out of the gloom to join us. The tear and rattle sound of a landslide reaches us from the flank of Mt. Troy. I feel like the first victim in a horror movie filmed in an abandoned amusement park.
It seems that Aki is always lagging behind me on the climb. But she is just reading the pee mail. I am heartened by the appearance of the sun’s glowing globe trying to break through the cloud that we walk through. I imagine Troy and Ben Stewart suddenly poking out of the ground fog as the marine layer yields to the blue sky. I think, for a moment, that I was foolish to leave my sunglasses at home. But I will never need them.
The fog has settled into gaps between the mountain spruce and pines. We will have to settle for what beauty it can provide as it.
It’s a cruiseship-free day, the first we have had for awhile. Since May the big panamax ships, each a floating hotel/casino, have blocked views of the Douglas Island ridge for those walking the docks. Now, the boats are gone until next May. Gulls, and a knot of homeless telling each other jokes, are the only ones relaxing in the new emptiness.
Near the parking garage, a city worker tears away the wrapping from a sculpture fabricated from stainless steel mesh. When mounted on the dock, it will resemble a DNA helix topped with a whale fluke. The city will install identical sculptures in a line along the length of the cruise ship dock, giving next year’s tourists a handy background for selfies.
Ravens watch the installation from their perch on top of the library building. Even the gulls seem fixated by the action. Maybe they can’t wait to start enhancing the new artwork with their scat.
Gusts of wind rush through the Treadwell mining ruins, stripping yellow-brown leaves from the cottonwoods. Most of the leaves twirl to the ground. But some collect on the lower limbs of spruce trees. A small group has formed a nest in a mossy snag. When she was a pup, Aki chased and snapped at twirling cottonwood leaves. Today, she ignores them and concentrates on the important nose business.
On the beach someone has assembled a small group of cairns. They stand like opinionated elders on the beach above the bay formed by the collapse of a mine tunnel. I squat behind them to discover what they are eye balling. All I can see is a grove of cottonwoods being stripped by the wind, lines of busted wharf pilings, and a new squall moving up Gastineau Channel. Maybe the cairns were assembled two days ago, when strong sunlight would have enriched the cottonwood leaves with color, when a blue sky would have provided the leaves a background against which to shine.
For the first time in a week, Aki and I have to squint. We are moving up a sun-drenched Perseverance Trail. My little dog would be fine except for the barking of a dog ahead of us on the trail. It seems to be inviting Aki to join it. Aki barks back, probably telling the other dog that she would love to play but her poop-bag of a human won’t let her off her lead.
Aki will stay on her lead until we leave this busy section of trail. Normally a dog happy to be leashed to her human, she jerks from time to time, usually when I push the shutter release on my camera.
Things calm down when we take a narrow trail along the hillside above the wooden flume carrying water to a downtown hydro plant. Now off lead, the little dog trots ahead. She shows impatience if I stop too long to photograph the fall color. But I am like a man coming off a vegetable-only diet—starved for rich, visual food. This morning’s sun is turning the fading yellow-brown leaves into jewels
Aki and I were just blown off a little headland that sticks into Favorite Channel. The squall caught us as Aki sniffed for pee mail and I scanned the water for migratory waterfowl. Neither of us were having any luck before the wind rose, quickly followed by slanting rain.
Torturing myself with memories of the ducks, whales, seals, sea lions, bears, and eagles we had watched in the past from the headland, I barely notice the subtle beauty of turning leaves along the trail home. I do sample the fire-engine-red huckleberries hanging from yellowing foliage. But, like most of the wild fruit we harvested during this wet summer, the berries are more sour than sweet.
The rain followed is into the forest making the devil’s club broad leaves perform a percussion symphony with assists by the smaller alder and high-bush cranberry leaves. Breaking one of cardinal hiking rules. I dig out my cell phone and have it play the Pachelbel Canon. The rain’s percussive enriches his repetitive tune. I can no longer hear blue jay, thrust, or squirrel complaints or even a hawk’s unsettling cry, but figure, for today, it is a fair trade.
Aki and I are together again after I had to travel to the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada for a funeral. Following the service, Aki’s other human and I walked through a grove of Giant Sequoias. It had snowed there two days before but only a little of the white stuff colored the ground when we walked around the redwood forest. Sunlight reached through the forest canopy. As it warmed the redwoods, steam rose off their thick bark.
One redwood tree stood, dead black and bark-less, in the center of a small clearing. One hundred and sixty years ago a developer had stripped all the bark off the then living giant for use as a tourist attraction. The tree still held this ground against wild fires, winds, and snows. It survived tourist invasions and continues to use its ugliness to educate the humans it dwarfs.
Men have logged giant spruce and hemlock trees along side the rain forest trail Aki and I use this morning. But in our time, more of the big trees have tumbled to windstorms than chainsaws. While all the forest trees dwarf the little dog and me, none lecture us. They leave that to the eagles now scanning an exposed beach for salmon.