Walking through the rainforest on a fall day is like walking through an art museum with fogged up glasses. When you wipe your glasses clean, the beauty appears. This morning I literally have to whip rain off my glasses to see anything. The clouds that hide the mountains earlier are thinning to reveal a slice of Sheep Mountain summit.
The summer colors are long gone from the meadow. But they have left behind a field of yellows and browns that set off the deep green of the stunted pines that struggle in the poor soil. This morning it is a worthy subject for Sargent or Monet.
Aki and I have returned to the riverside forest where the little dog has had more than one run in with a bear. After the last encounter I decided to postpone future visits until the bears are safely in their winter beds. We will see no bear sign during our visit. For the most part, there is nothing for them to eat here. After the salmon spawn, the place goes as quiet as South Franklin Street after the last cruise ship leaves.
While the place is a museum of quiet beauty, I miss the drama of the other seasons. Winter snow covers the forest floor and brightens the trailside spruce with white flocking. Then we will have spring flowers to enjoy—starting with the Japanese lantern shaped blueberry blossoms. Of course, summer is a riot of flowers, berries, and salmon.
Even on this grey, late autumn day, you can find a little bit of summer drama. A half-an-hour into the woods we find three bright red cranberries hanging from a leafless branch. They have been ignored by bears and birds that gorged into the fall on blue berries and huckleberries. Perhaps their purpose is more aesthetic—to give tiny but bright counterpoints on fall days when winter seems so far away.
Each year more than 60 inches of rain falls on Juneau. Most drops as mist or light rain. Today it hammers down on the town. In unprotected areas, strong wind drive it sideways. That’s why the little dog and I are in the Treadwell woods, which soften the wind and give us a little protection from the rain.
After she does her business (bodily functions), Aki looks to be ready to return to the car. She is already soaked through and her trick of shaking off accumulated moisture is not working. But we both need exercise so I walk on, knowing that she will follow.
Even through it is a weekend day, the woods are deserted. The only beings on Sandy Beach are skulking gulls, and a small raft of golden eye ducks huddling behind a line of ruined wharf dolphins. I don’t bother to look for the two resident eagles, figuring that are 100 miles north gorging themselves on a late run of chum salmon, until they sing a harmonious duet.
The sun almost blinded me as we drove across the Douglas Island Bridge. It illuminated Sandy Beach to our right. To our left it highlighted a line of fog that reached out across Fritz Cove. I turned right, not left, when we reached the bridge’s roundabout. Then the sun disappeared behind a cloudbank. We were in for a world of gray.
Dogs are reported to be colorblind. Maybe that is why Aki shows the same enthusiasm for a dark forest trail as she does for one flooded in light. I’m too occupied with not slipping on the icy trail boards to check for forest for action. But the little dog has an updated catalogue of smells by the time we reach the beach.
Last night the sand froze and frost formed on the beach pebbles. For once, it was easier to walk on the sand. Storm tides had ripped bull kelp from their anchors and dumped them on the beach along with jellyfish, and rock weed. Frost forms on the edges of the seaweeds. Freezing temperatures turned the once smooth surface of a jellyfish into one covered in leaf skeletons.
Aki and I are beach walking in front of the old Tlingit village where October storms had cut deep wound-like channels from the grass fringe to the water. Aki disappeared from site when she crossed them. This month’s autumnal tides have healed most of the gashes.
A trio of grebes plop one and a time from under the surface of the bay. Their white feathers glisten when hit by shafts of sunlight. Until now, the little dog and I have been walking in a gray world. The sun has finally broken through the clouds smothering the Chilkat Mountains.
Like the tides, winter sunlight can repair some of the day-to-day damage of rain forest life. I don’t need such help today. Aki’s other human and I have just returned from Hawaii. But I think I can detect a little improvement in the little dog’s mood.
After taking the red eye out of Honolulu, I am back in Alaska. It was ninety degrees when we left Oahu. Here in Juneau it’s a balmy forty-three. Aki and I are checking out the Fish Creek Pond. Less than 24 hours ago I was standing on Ewa Beach, watching the sun rise over Diamond Head. Now Aki and I are standing on the high end of Fish Creek Pond, enjoying the soft, clean smelling air and the pattern of rain drops hitting the pond water. It’s good to be home.
I’m in a Hawaiian bike and fishing shop. It’s too hot for biking and too windy for fishing. But all I want to do is exchange the set of bike tires I bought earlier for a better size. The ones I want to exchange for cost a bit more than the ones I had purchased here an hour ago. The owner says something in Hawaiian and waves away the difference with the back of his hand. It’s a gesture that dismisses the matter and directs me to the door.
On the way back to the place Aki’s other human and I are staying, I wonder how the little poodle-mix is doing back home. She has already taken her morning walk in the rain when the temperature was close to freezing. She would have enjoyed the brief time we spent on this trip in Anchorage between flights because there was sun and new snow. But there were also eagles roosting in trees along the Cook Inlet trail I walked while waiting for my flight to Honolulu.
She would be having a great time here in Hawaii scooting over the beach sand as long as the scooting were done before the heat of the day. She’d be here for the sand and interesting food scraps and, I hope for a chance to spend more time with her humans if she didn’t hate to fly.