I should be heading back to Skagway. Another day of writing school will start soon and I haven’t had breakfast. I’d be back on the trail if not for the duck.
He and I have a little pocket cove to ourselves now that the eagle and tern have left. The duck keeps repeating a puzzling routine: roll headfirst into the water, pop up a minute later, check behind for predators by doing a 180 degree turn, return to his course.
The eagle is back and the duck just slipped away, trying to keep a rocky point between he and the eagle. Time too for me to go. Soon the helicopters and the other engines of industrial tourism will be firing up.
The rain, the absence of unnatural sounds, and the calming dominance of forest greens are needed this morning. The little dog and I are near worn out by our recent stint of warm and sunny weather. Like the just sprouted seeds in our garden, we needed a little water from the sky.
The flowering forest plants are ahead of schedule. Tiny green balls have already replaced the lantern-shaped flowers on blueberry bushes. Yellow water lily flowers unfold onto the surface of the beaver pond. The fallen petals of cloudberry flowers dot the muskeg meadow we must cross to reach the beach.
No one would call all these small beauties exciting. But I’m fine with that. We had out excitement quota filled for the day when I stopped for a moment at the boat ramp. The old troller boat that had been beached was now afloat just offshore. I wanted to photograph it against a background of the smuggler cove islands softened by low lying clouds. Twenty meters away two eagles fought over a scrap of fish. The winner carried it down the beach, leaving the loser to sulk.
Thinking about the disappointed eagle, I follow Aki onto the Outer Point Beach. A solitary eagle flies from Shaman Island to a beachside spruce. Otherwise, only gulls and gulls animate the grey scene. A puff of vapor forms above the surface of Stephen’s Passage. In seconds I can make out the black back of an exhaling humpback whale. Just behind the surfacing whale, another vapor plume appears.
The whale sightings provide more reassurance than drama. I’ve seen humpbacks breach near my kayak. But reassurance that there are whales is all I need on this gentle morning.
Aki is covered in mud again. It just took seconds for her to sneak past her human family and slip into a pond that is thick with decomposing plant matter. We aren’t worried. Soon we will reach a pocket beach where she will get a quick bath.
It’s Memorial Day in Alaska. For Aki’s family it’s a day to drop out of normal life and spend time with each other. What better way is there to honor the family’s deceased? While Aki chases her Frisbee, I remember my parents and grandparents and the other honored dead. If they retain the love they had for life after joining the dead, they would smile knowing that their living kin were enjoying life, human and wild, on a wild beach rather than standing before their headstones.
We spooked an immature bald eagle to flight when we reached the beach. The crows moved in after the eagle left, teasing mussel shells off exposed rocks. The ones they couldn’t crack with their beaks were carried into the air and then dropped on a flat rock, which served first as an anvil and then a table for the hungry birds.
Aki and I made it to the Fish Creek Delta early enough to catch the clarifying effect of early light. But this morning broke hazy. The air it offers is obscured by forest fire smoke or pollution carried here by the jet stream. It feels like end times rather than a fresh summer morning.
Robin, sparrow, and the other songbirds work hard to lift the mood. It could be worse. We could have to suffer the complaints of the nesting crows. Near the pond an eagle roosts in the top of a spruce, it’s head turned away from the sun.
The little dog and I press on, my spirited lifted by the strong display of wildflowers on the spit that separates the creek from Fritz Cove. Purple lupine stalks dominate but must still compete with older swatches of magenta shooting stars and yellow buttercups. A single chocolate lily opens In the middle of the established flowers.
A single kayaker slides into Fish Creek just as we reach the creek’s mouth. Normally, I would grumble to Aki that the man’s presence has driven away shorebirds and ducks. He couldn’t have this morning. We haven’t seen any waterfowl. Besides, the present of another human is proof that the apocalypse didn’t arrive while we were rounding Fish Creek Pond.
The way Aki is panting, you’d think we were crossing the Gobi Desert in high summer. The little dog and I are on a mountain meadow warmed by the sun to 67 degrees (f.)—what we call Tee Shirt weather. Aki can’t strip off her coat of fur so is overheating.
I turn to mutter something to her about the abundant of bog rosemary flowers on the meadow and find that the little dog has moved to a shady verge. She looks content, like she could stay there until nightfall.
A loyal little thing, the poodle-mix follows me across the open meadow, past pocket ponds dry due to lack of rain. I lead her off the meadow toward the lush corridor of trees and brush drained by upper Fish Creek. Just before we reach it, Aki slips into a mud-bottomed stream and lets herself sink in to her chest. She emerges with her lower half coated in a chocolate-colored mask. Once dried, the muck will be almost impossible to remove. Aki trots toward the creek, acting as happy with herself as someone just treated to a spa day.
We find a spot along the creek where I can wash Aki without concern that the current will carry her away. She doesn’t squirm when I lower her into an eddy of the chilling water. She looks a little disappointed when I lift her back to solid ground. But she won’t bolt into the shade or seek out another mud bath when we walk back to the car.
Aki is 90% asleep when I slip on her harness and take her out to the car. We need to be at the auto shop in ten minutes. For there we will take the scenic route home. Aki demonstrates some mixed feelings about the whole project. The little dog would rather be home eating breakfast or at least sleeping. Now she is skirting around gas pumps and tire racks in the rain. We walk toward the whale statue. Aki throws on the brakes when we pass the Juneau Hotel. Maybe she smells breakfast cooking. In a minute we are back in motion.
The whale statue plaza is deserted. On a mid-channel navigational marker, an eagle sits, its head turned toward a gang of gulls clouded over a school of salmon smolt. The big bird launches from the marker and glides toward the gulls with talons extended. In seconds the gulls drive away the eagle. One escorts the still hungry eagle back to its mid-channel perch.
While climbing up Main Street we spot two ravens in conversation. The smaller of the two birds is upbraiding the larger one, which is bent almost in half in supplication as the lecture ends. Ravens are the most human of birds.