Even though it is only five meters thick, a fog smothering Fritz Cove totally obscures the water. There could be a pod of killer whales fining up the cove and we would never see them. Without a compass a kayaker would be lost in the soup. But fog is a fickle thing, quick to blind, quick to disappear. No fog will block our view of Lynn Canal when we reach the North Douglas Island beach this morning.
As we walk down the Rain Forest Trail, I think about my times being trapped in fog. Fear was always involved, even when I had a compass and enough time to take bearings before occlusion. The fog took away my ability to identify the direction of sound. It made the air smell like atomized seawater. The relief felt when I suddenly broke into the open almost made it worth it. The worse thing was to be taken by surprise by fog.
The beach path we take after leaving the forest is just wide enough for us to pass without rubbing against the grass lining both sides of it. Rain drops, looking like tiny snow globes, cling to the grass blades. Down beach the low causeway connecting Shaman and Douglas Islands is being buried by the incoming tide. Two hikers, taken by surprise by the flood hesitate at the Shaman side of the causeway. If they delay too long they will be wading through waist-deep waters. Facing facts they start mincing their way toward Douglas Island.
There is something unsettling about the golden eye hen, the only duck on this moraine lake. It hunts for food with the aggression of a belted kingfisher. Rather than slip into the lake in search of fish, the golden eye slams its head into the water, pulling its plump body after it.
I’m trying Aki’s patience with my attempts to catch a trout. Just as I am about to give in to her whining, a cut throat trout leaps out of the water with my lure lodged in its jaw. It is free of the lure a second later. I am not surprised since I use barbless hooks. Responding to all the splashing, the golden eye cruises towards the little dog and I.
I think of a friend who once hooked a gull while trolling for salmon. The seabird flew into the air and floated like a kite above the boat. With much effort my friend managed to pull in the gull and free it from his hook. I reel in my lure until the golden eye paddles away.
Usually, when Aki and I take this trail into the Treadwell Woods a gaggle of domestic geese give an alarm. This morning they are quiet. A pathetic looking eagle might be the cause for their silence. It sulks in a spruce tree above the geese yard. I wonder if it has designs on a plump gander. It’s tough to raise poultry in this town unless you protect your birds with an electrified enclosure. Last week our neighborhood bear chomped down on a free-range chicken.
Low clouds hide most of the Gastineau Channel and the mountains that line it when we drop onto the beach. The rainstorm that soaked the woods last night continues to drop much needed rain. My pants and Aki’s fur were soaked when we passed through a grassy verge to reach Sandy Beach.
A waterlogged eagle grooms itself while perched on top of the old ventilation tower. With its fierce gaze and feathers all ahoo, it looks like an awakening dragon. But a puff of down sticking to its beak shatters its tough guy image.
It’s low tide. Down the beach three ravens search the recently exposed sand for snacks. One flies to the top of an gnarled wharf piling and pretends to dig a feast out of the top of it. Then it balances on one leg and kicks the other one up like a can can dancer.
Even though we are at the height of summer, Fritz Cove and the beach seemed empty of life. Next winter, when cold, wet rain will slicken the shore rocks, eagles will roost in nearby trees and sea ducks and scoters will fish the offshore waters. Today they were elsewhere. Rounding False Outer Point Aki and I only saw a small murder of crows fighting over scraps. That’s why the kingfisher was such a welcome surprise
The feisty bird skimmed a few feet above the water and then crashed into a shallow dive. After repeating this three times, it flew out of our sight. I doubt if Aki ever saw the kingfisher. I know the little dog never saw the bald eagle even though we walked within a few feet of its roost.
If the eagle were a human I would have said that it looked bored. It spent more time looking at its chest than at the little dog or I. After the eagle we worked our way to a forest trail and used it to return to the car. As we approached a murder of crows started dive-bombing the eagle. When it flew, the crows started going after each other.
Aki and I passed just one cruise ship on our way to the glacier. It was just tying up at the old steamship dock. In a few hours five more of the floating hotels will be docked and disgorging over 20,000 passengers onto Juneau’s downtown streets. Many of those visitors will take buses out to the Mendenhall Glacier. Some will clog the trail to Nugget Falls. We should be early enough to have the trail to ourselves this morning.
Two ravens scrabbling over a discarded sandwich roll take little notice of Aki and I as we leave the visitor center area for the falls. After one of grouchy birds chases off his competitor we stop to watch the winner tear into the roll. It gives me the stink eye, encouraging us to move on.
Glacial runoff has swollen the lake. It covers low-lying parts of the trail and encroaches on the nesting grounds of arctic terns. Some of the fork-tailed little birds hover like helicopters over the lake. A raven invades the nesting area of spotted sandpipers looking for an easy meal. The peeping birds are too quick to be caught.
An iceberg recently calved by the glacier has grounded out a few meters off shore of the nesting grounds. Two kittiwakes, taking a break from their paternal duties at the rookery, sulk like bored teenagers on the little berg.
Aki looks frustrated. She sees no point in lingering on this remote mountain meadow, which is well off the beaten dog walker track. Why leave that rich environment to fill a recycled yogurt container with yellow berries?
I’d have much luck explaining my actions to the darning needle dragonfly that just landed on a weathered trail board as to the little dog. She has never bounced across a tundra meadow in Western Alaska during cloudberry picking time. She’s never climbed to a Swedish meadow in search of hjorton, the name the Swedes have given the cloudberry.
I stop to plop one of the segmented berries into my mouth and remember watching families on a tundra plain near Bethel gathering in gallons of cloudberries, which they call “salmonberries,” so they could enjoy wild fruit during the coming winter. The kids giggled, the parents smiled and let all their worries disappear as they harvested summer.
I’m bouncing through the North Pass, riding in an old fishing boat to the east shore of Admiralty Island. Aki is safe at home. The little dog does not like boats. The boat captain and I will spend day in a fruitless attempt to catch silver salmon. We will have to settle for one pink salmon. But there will be whales.
We already passed four humpback whales in the pass. But up ahead, just off Point Retreat, a pod of them will be bubble feeding. They will swim circles around krill, forming a net of bubbles that will hold their favorite food in place. Some of the pod will burst up through the krill, jaws open wide. The rest will chase the remaining krill before forming a new net of bubbles around their prey.
It’s a flat, gray day, the kind of day when I have to dig out beauty from close in things. Aki is having a great walk along the crescent-shaped beach at Auk Rec. Her joy depends on smells, not sights.
We move into the woods and then to the tip of Point Louisa. A few months ago we watched seal stalk a small raft of harlequin ducks. Those ducks are gone, moved out to the rugged outer coast waters. The seal is still here looking to nail one of the pink salmon leaping in and out of the water.
Turning my back on the seal, I watch honeybees flitting about stalks of magenta fireweed. We won’t see anything more beautiful today.
Aki and I are walking through one of the grittier sections of Downtown Juneau. Most visitors wouldn’t be impressed with its grit. But it is a place of parking lots, gas stations, and resident hotels. Aki isn’t happy walking through this landscape. But we’ve just dropped off the car for servicing and need to pass through here to reach home.
I manage to convince the little dog to accompany me to the waterfront where we find a young woman sleeping rough. Her possessions form a fabric wall around her. She may have fallen into a financial hole, but still appreciates natural beauty. A handful of fireweed blooms, carefully arranged in an empty beer bottle, brightens the scene.
An adult bald eagle perches on top of a driftwood snag a few hundred meters away. The snag was planted by the city next to a new boardwalk. Rain has soak the eagle’s feathers, which makes it look hung over or like a homeless person in need of a cup of coffee. The eagle ignores Aki and I as we walk under its perch, like it can’t be bothered with the diminutive poodle-mix.
Aki knows that something is not right. She left the house in a car with two of her humans. Before starting this walk to salt water we had dropped off one of her people so she could pick berries. Aki wants to go back for her—-to return her lost human to the family herd.
I coax her down the trail, keeping her on a lead in case she decides to take matters into her own paws. Each time I stop to snatch up a ripe cloudberry, the poodle-mix tries to pull me back toward the car. We cross a meadow of tall grass, some knocked down by a sleeping bear last night. Now Aki has something else to worry about.
The trail to the beach takes us under an eagle’s nest. An adult eagle guarded the nest the last time we passed by. This time it looks to be empty except for bird sounds that could be made by juvenile eagles calling out for food.
Aki tolerates my decision to sit for a bit on the beach. From there we watch two unsuccessful attempts by eagles to pluck fish from Stephen’s Passage. Then a Dahl porpoise makes a rapid transit past us. None of this takes the little dog’s mind off of her other human. The sudden appearance of a deer focuses her attention until it runs into the woods. A frustrated little poodle and I drive back to the berry patch where Aki squeals in delight when her missing human approaches carrying a half-gallon of blueberries.