It’s almost October, when sunny skies normally bring crisp nights that leave the Dredge Lakes skimmed with ice. When Aki and I headed out to the lakes this morning, I dressed for a sunny but cool day. Now I’m sweating. Aki could have gone without the wrap she wears. I almost envy a yellow lab that runs past us and crashes into Mendenhall River.
No ice skim covers the lakes. There is nothing to prevent migratory waterfowl from landing on the water except the sound of shotguns that comes from Norton Lake. It is only spot on the glacial moraine far enough away from a road to allow legal hunting. Was it last fall or the one before when a flock of tundra swans rested on Moose Lake for several days? Today the only waterfowl we will see were a mile from Downtown, crowded on one of the Twin Lakes where they were safe from hunters.
Aki and I push through an alder thicket to gain a better view of one of the lakes. Thick mist softens the reflection of mountains, yellowing trees, and the glacier on the lake’ surface. As the sunshine grows in intensity, the mist rises above the tops of shoreline trees and melts. None of this interests the little dog or a magpie that lands nearby on a grassy island. The little corvus, with it’s crisp art deco design, flits off the minute it spots us.
Judging by the bird activity near the North Douglas Boat Ramp, there is a lot of food lying around here. One eagle sits alone near the water line. At least three more call abuse upon it from nearby spruce trees. A murder of crows struts near the boat ramp until flushed by a patrol of the larger ravens. After one of the ravens swoops her, Aki keeps to the brush line.
One of the wonders of living in raven country is being able to hear the whoosh their wings make during flight. But you have to be close. This morning, Aki wishes to never hear the sound again.
A raven could knock the wind out of my poodle-mix if it cared to. With me around, there would be no point in such a display of malice. The raven would be chased off before it could do more than gloat. Besides, ravens like to tease dogs. They would rather pluck a bit of fur from Aki’s back than flatten her.
Fog is easier to see on a beach but you can discern its presence inside a thick forest. Aki and I have no problem detecting the way it thickens the air in the Treadwell forest. She pays it little attention. Fog doesn’t diminish the rich smells she searches for in the forest.
The little dog is slow to follow me from the forest down a grassy trail to Sandy Beach. As I wait for her to catch up I spot the resident pair of eagles on top of the old mine ventilation shaft. They appear to be gossiping, although with their profiles softened by fog it is hard to tell. More than one person has noticed how eagle pairs interact like long-suffering human couples who keep together for the sake of the kids. One is almost always scolding the other. The one receiving the dressing down will bow and shrink like a penitent. This pair looks like a couple of drinkers leaning toward each other over their Alaskan beers.
Aki finally pushes through the splash-zone grass to join me on the beach and spots a canine friend waiting for her. Even though they are both over ten human years old, they chase each other over the sand like puppies. Now the eagles have something to gossip about.
Should dogs have spirit animals? If Aki had one, it would be the belted kingfisher. We spot the feisty little birds on many of our rain forest walks. This morning, one burst out of a spruce tree chattering abuse, flew over a moraine lake that I was photographing, did a barrel roll and disappeared into a balsam popular tree in fall color. If you had wings little dog, that would be you.
Aki, who had once chased a black bear up a tree close to the kingfisher’s roost with only her bark and attitude, gave me her “Don’t be Stupid” look.
It had been raining where we started this walk through the glacier moraine but now it has stopped. No drops strike the lake to ruin the reflection of the poplars in high color. I’d expect ducks or even transiting swans to be resting on the lake. But only the kingfisher makes an appearance.
This morning, Aki’s red coat might be the most colorful thing in the rain forest. Without the sun to charge their colors, the yellowing devil’s club leaves look as dull as the dying blueberry leaves that surround them. There is not much more to stimulate our retinas on the beach.
The tide is out, exposing the Shaman Island causeway. But soon that distraction will be covered by the soft gray sea. The skeleton stalks of last summer’s cow parsnip flowers have a permanent stoop, as if they are supplicants that prayed all their lives to the island. It’s one of those testing days that help newcomers decide if they can winter over in Alaska.
Aki is enjoying herself sniffing and peeing. When the rain load in her fur gets too heavy, she just shakes it all away.
On the cusp of summer and autumn, around the equinox, we always search the mountain muskegs for lingon berries. Aki generally finds these expeditions to be boring. Today’s search for the wine-red berries is no exception.
It is not raining but last night’s downpour has loaded down the muskeg plants with water. Soon the little dog is soaked. Because her other human I are moving slowing, she has to do a lot of standing around. Soon, she is shivering. But she doesn’t whine.
Watching me plop lingon berries in my picking bucket, Aki nuzzles my hand, like she does when she wants a treat. I pick a half-a-dozen more berries and offer them to the little dog. She eats them out of the palm of my hand and asks for more.
Eat time I fill my palm with berries she eats them, like a horse eats oats from a wrangler’s hand. Since Lingon berries are as tart as blueberries are sweet, I am surprised that Aki likes them.
This morning Aki is at home with her other human. I’m out the road, twenty-some miles from home at writer’s camp. At least that what I am calling it. Ten other writers share the same cabin. When not eating, walking, or talking we write.
I wake early, down a cup of instant coffee, and leave the cabin. The beach in front of the cabin is still in dusky shadow but across Favorite Channel, the Chilkats are warming with Mediterranean light. In a half-an-hour I might be able to warm myself in sunlight but view across the channel will be too soft to impress. Birds that are just silhouettes bounce through the splash zone. Close in to the beach, a sea lion rumbles up for a breath and then splashes back into the water. Across the channel, the mountains are losing their buttery color.
Because there might be bears there, I have been waiting to return to the Eagle River until Aki is otherwise occupied. Now is my chance so I drive from the writer’s camp cabin to trailhead and find the river diminished by drought and a very low tide. Side streams that might otherwise be filled with spawning salmon are dry. I have to step carefully around and over desiccated chunks of salmon and great piles of bear scat. There are fresh brown bear tracks but I will not see a bear today. They may already be heading upriver to the salmon spawning grounds. Soon we can return to this spot, one of Aki’s favorites.
Aki, you’d think I’ve been too spoiled by natural beauty to be wowed by a borrow pit.The little dog gives me one of her “don’t stop gushing again” looks.
The poodle-mix and I are walking on top of a dike pushed up by men miring for gravel. The “U” shaped dike has captured a small pond by connecting to a length of gently sloping meadow. A beaver family has already colonized the pond. The big rodents’ earthworks killed a small copse of spruce trees on the opposite shore of the pond. It’s the reflection of these skeletons on the pond’s surface that’s gob smacked me.
Alder trees, gilded by backlighting morning light add to the show as does the dissipating globs of mist that hover just above the pond’s surface. When I walk without taking my eyes off the scene, I slip and fall where river otters have installed one of their “U” shaped slides. It’s pretty clear that nature and its wild children have claimed ownership of the old barrow pit. Tough skinned spruce roots snake over the top of the dike. Cow parsnip, fireweed, and the other aggressive forest plants color the dike with whites, yellows and reds.
Little dog, let’s hope that nature never loses the power to repair our messes.
We’d be alone on the Gastineau Meadows if not for the Stellar’s jays. Aki could enjoy the touch of morning sunshine that warms her curls if the birds would just shut up. Two of the birds follow us like private security guards on a gated estate. The little poodle-mix and I are persons of interest.
Turn about being fair play, I switch my attention from the glowing meadow grasses to the jays; watch their pump and glide flight along the trailside trees. They are too beautiful to be so grumpy. When we have demonstrated our harmlessness, the jays fly to another section of the meadow where one chases the other out of a tree, chattering abuse the whole time.
We will soon be facing seven months of winter so why and I taking Aki into the mountains. We could have taken a sea level hike, maybe even taken a nap in the late summer sun. But ice and cold bring beauty. That is certainly true of this mountain meadow.
Frost had whitened the entire meadow before the sun climbed above the Douglas Island ridge. But it has softened to dew everywhere the sun touched. In their fall colors of red, yellow and order, most of the meadow plants still sparkle with moisture. But their dramatic display will end when they dry out in the sun.
Last night’s temperatures froze over the meadow ponds. The new ice grips the long legs of a water strider that was trapped by the sudden freeze. I wonder if it will be alive when the ice melts.
Hoping to locate some ripe lingonberries, I leave the gravel trail and walk on to the meadow. The muskeg is crunchy with ice and seems to break underfoot. I can’t find any lingonberries. Just one low-bush blueberry. After eating it, I look for Aki and find her planted near the gravel trail. She makes me feel guilty for damaging the fragile muskeg with my boot prints. I try to ignore her distain but, as is often the case, she will win the battle.