But For

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Our path is lined with chest-high lupines but I can’t appreciate their purple beauty. Someone at a nearby picnic area is attacking metal with a grinder. When a side path through the lupine appears, I lead Aki out onto the tidal meadow and away from the noise. A heavy malamute dog charges through walls of flowering cow parsnip and leaps at my little dog. The incomer shows no malice but it could hurt Aki if it landed square on the poodle-mix. For the first in a long time I’m called upon to protect Aki—uttering the sounds that Yupik friends used to scare off stray northern dogs. Finally, the malamute’s owner manages to leash his dog.

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As we continue across the meadow I realize that, but for the noxious grinder noise, Aki would have never been at risk from the malamute.  Aki and I have experienced many but-for moments during her 11 years of life. But for the puppy Aki’s sudden interest in hot dogs cooking in a covered picnic shelter, a diving eagle would have carried her away. If she had not startled an approaching black bear, it would have dispatched Aki with a quick swipe of its paws. Good reactions of a driver saved her, more than once, from being smashed flat by a car tire.

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There are many positive but-for stories. If we hadn’t been standing on a shore-side boulder, we wouldn’t have been able to watch a dozen Stellar sea lions swim close enough for me to count their whiskers. If I hadn’t chose to walk down the Mendenhall Peninsula Trail, we wouldn’t have been able to watch a cloud of thirty eagles dive on bait herring.

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The sun breaks out from the marine layer, driving away my contemplative mood. We walk up along Eagle River to the place where Aki once chased a black bear into the woods. She sniffs at a recent pile of bear scat and then at a spot where the bear might have spent the night. If this had been an early morning walk…

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The sounds of human laughter and conversations ahead cause me to leash Aki. I slow down and hope that the people will walk out of earshot. But, they are in no hurry so I keep my little dog on her lead. When something rattles the trailside brush Aki tries to break towards the sound. I spot a porcupine moving slowing away. But for our noisy neighbors, who forced me to leash Aki, I might be pulling porcupine quills out of the little dog’s nose.

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