Monthly Archives: July 2018

Change Day?

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Aki stands on the north side of the fish creek bridge, which surprises me because normally I have to carry her across it. The sound of turbulent water usually  keeps her planted at the edge of the south side.  The blade of grass she gripped between her teeth surprises me more. The little dog likes to like moisture off of grass blade but I’ve never seen her chew on one.

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We have worked our way to here by crossing a mountain meadow using a decrepit corduroy road. The name is a disservice to roads and to corduroy cloth. The “road” is just a muddy wound that meanders through the meadow. To make it passable, someone has dropped bark-less rounds of Douglass pine into the mud. As I danced down the meadow from half-sunken log to half-sunken log, Aki trotted easily on a thin, grassy verge.

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As we walked, a morning wind blew away clouds that had hidden the surrounding mountains.  It also disturbed the calm of the meadow ponds, causing water skaters to move toward wind-protected water, and ruining the reflections of yellow pond lilies.  Even though the corduroy road is rarely used, Aki manages to find some exciting smells. She doesn’t seem to mind me stopping for pictures or to listen to the lark-like song of an unseen bird.

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Giving In

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While Aki sniffs at a spot back up the trail, I watch drops of water fall onto the surface of a beaver pond. Minutes ago, before the rising wind shook droplets from an overhanging tree, the pond surface was still. Grey clouds clogged the sky. Rain fell. The forest showed only muted earth colors. But the sun broke through as the wind started to shake loose the raindrops.

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If not for the working songs of birds and the creaking of wind-animated trees, I could hear the spat of drops hitting the pond. It’s too early in the day for the start up of the industrial tourism machinery. Aki and I are alone on the trail.

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I should be at Tai Chi class. But Aki gave me a hard look each time I tried to explain the need to postpone this morning’s walk. She held the moral high ground. I had gone fishing for salmon yesterday rather than take her for a walk. In order to shift things to a more equal footing, I reminded her of how, last night, she had enjoyed eating the crisp skin of one of the salmons that I had caught while she stayed home. I wasn’t surprised when she rejected the argument. The little poodle-mix tends to remember her disappointments better than her happy moments.

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What started as an enterprise driven by guilt turned into one of wonderment after the sun broke through the clouds. Aki, who never seems to raise her noise more than three inches above the ground during our walks, probably doesn’t even recognize the power of the sun to turn rain soaked leaves into jewelry as it is doing this morning on the False Outer Point Trail.

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The Usual Posse

 

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The heavy rain that started Saturday continues to rinse Juneau’s streets clean. Aki and I are seeking shelter from it in the Treadwell Ruins’ forest. Wrapped as I am in waterproof clothing, I can enjoy the rain as long as it isn’t accompanied by wind to whip drops into my face. Aki has only her curly fur and a water resistant wrap. Rain darkens her fur and soaks her wrap but she doesn’t seem to mind.

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Out on the beach, the usual posse of eagles and ravens monitor for suspicious activity. The ravens do this with style, strutting about as if they ordered the weather.

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One of the eagles clutches the metal ridgeline of the old ventilator shaft. It looks like is about to say, “What’s all this then?” The other roosts on the top of a rusting anchor. Both watch Aki run circle around a Bernese mountain dog that has just galumphed over for a visit.

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Waiting Game

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The beaches and bays around Amalga Harbor are places of waiting. Most are waiting for salmon. A protected area just outside the harbor is full of seine boats. Their captains and crew kill time until the next commercial dog salmon opening. The bears that recently left scat on the Amalga Meadows trail also wait for the fish. Salmon stage for the incoming tide to carry them to the top of the waterfall the drains Peterson Salt Chuck. Hungry Black bears will be there to greet them.

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Aki and I walk across the meadow, and then up and over the low ridge that separates the meadow from Lynn Canal. Heavy rain drops plunk and plonk off the trailside devil’s club and skunk cabbage leaves. Tired of waiting for other victims, mosquitoes swarm out of blue berry bushes to bite the little dog and me. Tired of being bit, I speed out of the forest and onto a rocky point.

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In front of us, the seine boats have formed a waiting community. Behind, a half a dozen eagles, including one with cruciform wings, wait on spruce roosts. Others fly circles over the beach. Feeling the place too exposed for the little dog, I waste no time returning to the protection of the woods.

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Bastille Day on the Moraine

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Even though she was born in Missouri of mix parentage, Aki looks like a French Poodle. I am tempted to wish her “Happy Bastille Day.” But we are out on the glacial moraine under gray, rain-filled clouds. She demands, not a parade, but for her humans to send her Frisbee spinning down the trail. While chasing the flying disk she growls like a wolf chasing down prey. She is no one’s poodle.

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While the little dog is content with chasing her Frisbee, I am looking to pick enough blue berries for next Saturday’s pancakes. We recently used up last summer’s berries. Domestic blue berries for the store don’t work. They are overpowered by the sourdough pancake batter.

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Water from the Mendenhall River is all but covering the trail and we have to press up against a hedge of alders in order to skirt a flooded out section. Aki dashes through the detour and waits for her two humans, Frisbee in her mouth.  Later she will wait for us to pick a pint of blues and then walk back to the car in the rain.

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Giving and Taking

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The sun gives and it takes beauty this morning on Gastineau Meadows. It backlights the plain Jane alder leaves, making they sparkle it costume jewelry. It creates patterns of shadows and light on already mottled alder bark and makes the bones of dead pine trees glow. But under the sun’s harsh glare, south facing mountains on the other side of Gastineau Channel lose definition. Only Mt. Juneau holds it beauty in the morning light.

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Last winter I had to cajole Aki into crossing through an area of the meadow frequented by coyotes. Today she trots over the trails of her wild cousins, more interested in a spot of dog urine than their whereabouts. I again marvel at the capacity of the little dog to forget the unpleasant details of her recent past.

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Aki remembers the important things like the approaches to our favorite trailheads and the scent signature of dog friends. She can never forget her feeding schedule or the sound of cheese being sliced on a cutting board. But thankfully, the warning ghosts of her past never appear to trouble her.

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Having Her Way

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Any dog trainer watching Aki and I this morning would be shaking her head in disgust. Rather than exerting dominance over the little poodle-mix, I let her set the pace. A dog whisperer of kind words rather than commands I even yield to her choice of direction. When I put up a fuss, she lets me drag her across Gastineau Avenue so I can take a picture of today’s collection of cruise ships. Otherwise I follower her zigzagging pee trail.

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Yielding responsibility to the ten-pound dog frees up my mind for wandering. I’m daydreaming about the cats that use to live in the nearby ruins of the old stamp mill when two deer does spring out from behind a screen of salmon berry bushes and hop down Gastineau like kangaroos. They sprong past a low-income apartment complex and up the hillside.

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Aki, so intent on cataloguing scent, never sees the deer. She leads me down to the docks and then up Lower Franklin Street past the Red Dog Saloon, Pilipino Hall, and the homeless shelter. She drags me away from a young man rapping out a poem. We climb up toward Chicken Ridge and into Capital School Park. A bronze chair in the park commemorates the forced internment of the high school valedictorian just before graduation just because his grandparents came to Alaska from Japan. Rain beads up on the bronze chair and a small string of origami cranes formed, out of necessity in the rain forest, with waterproof materials. Aki waits for me photograph them.

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Sliding Out of Summer

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The understory plants in the rain forest are showing their age. Gone are the clean green days of early summer when berry bush had unblemished, sharp-edged leaves. Insects and disease have scarred many of the leaves and killed others.

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Plants growing on the beach verge also look battered. While some lupines still display a few blossoms, seedpods have replaced most of their flowers.  I find a beauty in the destruction. I find sadness in fireweed flowers because when they finish blooming it will be fall. I want to start a philosophical discussion about these ironies with Aki, but the little dog has moved down the trail to a spot where another dog has recently peed.

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We both miss spotting an immature bald eagle feeding on the beach not ten feet away.  The big bird pulls into the air and flies along a line of beach grass until it reaches the safety of the water. With its mottled feathers and neck stretched out in flight, it looks as ragged as the plants.

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Summer Famine

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There are many reasons why we don’t visit Fish Creek this time of year. All of them are linked to salmon. In a normal year, hundreds of king salmon would be splashing in the creek’s pond. These draw crowds of fishermen trying to snag the big fish with weighted hooks. Chum and pink salmon should be holding in the creek, ready to move upstream to their spawning grounds.  They bring the attention of bears. But today, perhaps because of the disappointing salmon returns, there are no cars or bear scat in the trailhead parking. These absences, plus the fact that the low-gas-warning icon lit up five miles ago cause me to pull into in the empty lot.

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Two ravens guard the footbridge over Fish Creek, hopping slowly down the railing as Aki and I start across the bridge.  I look down at a gravel bar for the expected dog-salmon carcasses and find none.  The ravens must be here to attack a garbage bag that hangs partway out of a waste bin. Above the ravens, an eagle screams.

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A king salmon, already robbed of its silver color by time in fresh water, rises on the pond surface, drawing the attention of an airborne eagle. Nearer to us, two other eagles perch on pond-side spruce trees.  The one with the chestnut and dun feathers of an immature bird appears to take interest in Aki. I think about putting the little poodle-mix on her lead but in a minute we will be back in the trees where she will presumably be safe from eagles.

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A minute later, while we walk down a forested path, the immature eagle flies low over our heads and lands clumsily thirty feet up a nearby spruce. We watch each other for a while and then I follow Aki away from the pond toward the creek’s mouth.  This eagle will follow us to the mouth and back to the pond—with the purposeful casualness of a spy, not the focused intensity of a mugger. After the third eagle flyby I clip Aki’s leash to her collar as the immature eagle settles onto another spruce branch.

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Over morning coffee I promised Aki that she would not be left behind today. She exhaled loudly and dropped into a nap. After breakfast she hid under the bed, watching me sling my camera over my shoulder. Only after I call for her did she join me at the front door.

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We drove out to a wetlands access point by the airport, driving under light standards on the Egan Expressway that appeared weighed down by bald eagles. Six of the big predators perched upright on one of the standards. One of the birds had its wings spread out to dry. Another leaped into the air and then dove toward Twin Lakes, which had recently been planted with immature king salmon. It didn’t have anything in its talons when it climbed back to its light standard.

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There was not as much drama on the wetlands when we arrived at the trailhead. No waterfowl floated on the Mendenhall River. A family of crows made what sounded like rude comments when Aki and walked past them. Sweeter voiced sparrows, Savannah and Lincoln, seem to be everywhere, feeding on the seeds of the maturing wetland grasses.  When planes weren’t taking off or landing at the nearby airport, I listened to sparrow songs.

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Down river I made out an adult bald eagle perched on the top of the root system of a driftwood log.  It watched a retriever swimming into the river to receive a tossed ball. The dog’s owner was closing on the eagle as the dog pulled onto the beach to return the ball to it’s human. How many more ball tosses will the eagle tolerate but it flies off to a quieter stretch of the wetlands?  The eagle answered my question by flying across the river to where no dogs could reach it.

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