Aki and I are alone when we leave the Treadwell woods for Sandy Beach. The minus low tide has uncovered a huge expanse of the fine mine tailings that we call “sand.” Racing her impatience, the little dog charges onto the beach, makes a tight circle, and then runs along the high tide line with her nose close the sandy surface. I understand her reaction. So much openness also makes me want to run because we live in a deep-sided valley drained by a fjord and most of the flat ground is forested.
While I consider walking to the edge of Gastineau Channel, two small white birds (gulls?) dive on a pair of northern goshawks. The goshawks had been on the beach. Their tiny tormentors drive them out and over the channel. One of the goshawks eludes its pursuer in the air over Suicide Falls and arcs back to Sandy Beach and flies over our heads. The other goshawk is still being harassed as it flies out of our sight.
After watching the second goshawk disappear, I count four cruise ships docked for the day near Downtown Juneau. Thousands of their passengers are disembarking. Many of them will take a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. The richest will hire helicopters to land them on the Juneau Icefield. We will hear helicopters and tourism float planes all day. The little dog and I have had to adapt to this seasonal invasion, as have the whales, deer, eagles, wolves, bears, goshawks and gulls.
Three harlequin ducks shared a near shore rock, each bending over as if to preach to the rest of their raft as they floated in the water. No bird attended to the sermon of a crow standing alone on another rock. Then, as if conducting an ordered evacuation, the three ducks dove one after the other into the water. Without the little dog or I knowing it, two bald eagles had been watching the harlequin performance from high in the spruce tree behind us.
After screeching out a critique, the eagles flew over our heads and glided over the ducks. If the eagles were planning on diving on the ducks, they soon gave up on the idea. Instead they started what appeared to be a game of tag. One eagle closed on the other. When a collision seemed imminent, the two birds sailed apart. They continued the dance over the ducks for a minute and then flew off in different directions.
The raft of harlequins, which had moved close to the rocky shore, spread out and returned to their fishing.
This week’s storm is at the volatile stage. Wind gusts tear up and then coalesce the cloud cover. Wind driven rain strikes Aki and I as we start down the Outer Point Trail. Just a few hundred meters in, shafts of sunshine hit the forest floor. Leaks in the damns of overworked beavers pour onto the trail where it rounds their pond. Good thing for them that the storm is weakening. Good thing, too, for Aki and I. The rain-swollen pond now covers part of the trail with boot-high water. If the rain doesn’t slacken we won’t be able to use one of our favorite trails.
The tide is receding when we reach the beach but the causeway between Shaman Island and us is still underwater. At the water’s edge an immature bald eagle rests on a rock. Two mature eagles bicker at each other from their perches on the island. The immature bird is watching a small raft of ducks fly back and forth over the sunken causeway.
After the immature bird flies away, I walk toward it’s rock. Aki is slow to follow. I think of a recent BBC post of a bald eagle lifting a fox in the air. The eagle’s talons dug into a rabbit the fox was carrying and not the fox itself. But the blow snapped about the fox’s body as if it were a rag doll. Looking at my reluctant little poodle-mix, I wonder it she accesses our computer while her humans sleep. (http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-44250472/fox-catches-rabbit-then-eagle-swoops-in)
Sunshine floods Stephen’s Channel between Shaman and Admiralty Islands even though it is raining. The resulting rainbow forms a low, multicolored arc over the water. I remember how, according to the Bible, God filled the sky over Noah and his family with a rainbow to commemorate His promise to never again allow the total flooding of the earth. I think about our weatherman’s promise of an end to the rain by mid-week. I wonder if the beavers will be upset or relieved when the rains stop.
Just as Aki and I move out of the alder thicket and onto the beach, a common loon sings. I haven’t heard that melancholic call for years. The loon, with it’s ring of white vertical neck stripes, hurries on the water toward another loon. I think one of the birds called again but can’t be sure because of the arrival of two teenage girls. Weighed down by backpacks and looking at the screens of their phones, the young women’s conversation, a typical adolescent combination of judgmental slur and insecurity, obscures that of the reuniting loons. Aki agrees to wait until the back packers reenter the forest where the old growth trees will absorb their noise.
While waiting, I watch the original loon and two others swim in formation and then dive on fish. All are adult birds. None sing but I welcome the silence. After giving the backpackers some space, I lead my little dog into the forest and then climb a headland covered with bog forest of alder and mountain hemlock. It leads to another beach where, from the sounds, I believe that scooters hover just off shore, large dogs bark and play, and young boys scream out their joy of being alive in the woods.
Aki and I hike to the edge of this new beach and watch two border collies swim in the bay while a coven of small boys runs about on the gravel. Someone is chopping wood for the campfire that sends a large plume of gray smoke skyward. Aki doesn’t argue with my decision to turn back.
After re-crossing the headland we leave the trail and drop down onto a pocket beach. Magically, no noise beyond the headland reaches us. The beach fronts on a small channel. At one end of the channel, eagles dry their wings while perched at the top of evergreens. Another eagle flies toward them from the other end of the channel, then executes a wide turn and returns to its perch. One of the eagles it was heading for starts to screech. Aki and I leave.
“Oh,” is all I said. But it was enough to spook a great blue heron to flight. The bird and I surprised each other. It was wading in a small pond. I had just climbed onto a dike that bordered its fishing waters. For a few seconds I could see the surprisingly large swell of its belly before the heron’s big wings lifted it into the air. In several more seconds, the bird was more than halfway across the meadow.
Three eagles that had been bickering over someone in the meadow grass also took to air. But a robin froze like a statute at the top of a young spruce. Later a swallow, after bouncing it chest five or six times on the pond surface, gazed at me from a perch on the thinnest branch of a bare alder tree.
This morning only small birds posed for us. But shooting stars and lupines made up for it.
I didn’t expect much from this quick walk on Sandy Beach. But at least three bald eagles were screaming at each other when we reached the beach. One had fallen into the old glory hole. It took only seconds for it to struggle up onto a rock occupied by another eagle that screeched apparent disapproval at the soggy bird.
The tall dorsal fin of a male killer whale rose above the gray waters of Gastineau Channel. A female whale surfaced next, sending up a plume of exhalant. Next to the female swam a young whale. They and the rest of the orca pod moved slowly up channel towards Juneau, hunting king salmon on their way to the hatchery.
In a half and hour someone in one of Juneau’s mini-high rise office buildings might look up from their desk and see the pod of whales swim past. Even though it is not uncommon in May for killer whales to chase salmon up the channel, the office worker will probably shout down the hall to let other people know that the whales are back. They will snap a few photos with their phones and resume their workstations.
When Aki and I head out into wind driven rain I am greatly tempted to walk her around the block and return to our warm, dry home. But then I think, there might be whales.
For the first day this week Aki has to squint when looking down the trail. As strong morning sun burns fog off the channel, we climb the gentle trail up to Gastineau Meadows. Aki likes the lower portion of the trail but always drags her paws when we near a side trail made last winter by coyotes. Today it is no different. Since the little poodle seems to love all dogs, I wonder why she is averse to meeting one of her wild cousins.
I hunt the meadow for wild blooms but only find the curling yellow flowers of the skunk cabbage and tiny magenta colored buds of Labrador tea. If they survived the winter, the meat eating sundew plants haven’t emerged.
When I leave the dry trail for explorations on the boggy muskeg Aki doesn’t follow. Instead she stands stiff as a soldier with head cocked to one side as if seeing me at a different angle will help her understand my strange behavior.