Monthly Archives: September 2019

Wake of Unseen Objects

Aki and I are at the end of the road, looking for low-bush cranberries. It’s a gray day, one that threatens rain. We walk along a narrow boardwalk between yellowing willows. Our steps flush a Stellar’s jay onto the trail. The top-knotted blue bird gives Aki a casual glance and flies away. The little dog trots down the trail like she never saw the jay. 

            We find cranberries in low numbers. Most are still unripe. We will have wait for the first frost to turn them. I stash my bucket to be picked up on the walk back to the car. We cross over a small stream where the wakes of unseen objects jangle reflections of the streamside foliage. Aki and I walk up and down the stream, trying without success to discern the things responsible for such pleasing disturbances. The day, which started as a search for the tangible, has turned into one for the solutions to submerged mysteries.

            We work out way to the beach, listening to the calls of an eagle that we will never see. This frustrates me, as does the fact that the humpback whales that often feed off the beach don’t show themselves. As Aki gingerly works her way over beach cobbles, I almost step in a tide pool full of sea anemones with their translucent-green arms opened wide in welcome for their next victim. They are such lovely killing machines. 

As a kid I was never dared to stick my finger in an anemone. When one of my braver friends did, the anemone collapsed around her finger. She was able to pull her digit out intact, smiling like she had performed a magic trick. But I don’t remember the anemones of my youth containing the shells and partially digested bodies of their victims like the ones in this Alaskan’ tide pool. 

Strangers in Our Own Land

I didn’t know that they allowed dogs on board the ship? The question, coming from one of the thousands of cruise ship passengers trudging their way to Nugget Falls, stopped me in my tracks. Aki, who generally likes all people and most dogs, wagged tail as the women who posed the question rubbed her curls. It never occurred to her that we were locals. I looked around for a familiar face and found none. Aki and I had become strangers in our own land.

            I led the little dog onto an alternative path to the falls and pondered how Occam’s razor convinced the friendly lady that we were fellow cruise ship travelers. I’m wearing a battered Alaska Marine Exchange hat, so authentic that the bill edge has been tattered into threads. A blue hoodie with the logo for Sitka’s Sheldon Jackson’s College covered my torso. On a rainy day, when my little dog is wearing a stylish wrap, I’d blame her. But, thanks to the warm afternoon sun, she only wears a harness. 

            Over thirteen thousand people poured off one of five mega cruise ships today. We thirty thousand locals still outnumber them. But almost every Juneauite is taking the sun on less crowded land. We’ve yielded one of our most beautiful places to the visitors. From the happy tones of their conversations, they seem to be appreciating it.  

Flat Light

This is going to be a frustrating walk to the mouth of Fish Creek. Aki and I came with expectations of sunshine, eagles, and ocean-bright silver salmon. The weather folks promised the sunshine. We have good reason to expect eagles and silvers. Their presence should be a matter of course this time of year. We will end up having to make due with eagles and aging pinks. 

            Two adult bald eagles roost in a spruce overlooking the pond.  The hump of a spawned out pink salmon male ripples the pond’s surface. With a little effort, one of the eagles could snag the salmon and fly it to a gravel bar for a feed. But they barely flinch when the salmon swims past their roosting tree. 

            Hoping that the eagles have already had their fill of silver salmon, I follow Aki down the trail to the creek mouth. We do spot a run of the creek full of frisky salmon. But we can’t investigate without disturbing two eagles perched on a driftwood branch. The mottled birds look dull in this morning’s grey light. 

            Low clouds obscure our view of the Chilkat Mountains and that of the glacier on the other side of Gastineau Channel. The sunshine currently bathing Admiralty Island should reach the glacier and Fish Creek in a couple of hours. Aki will be home by then, sunning herself on the back steps.  

A Last Color Rich Day?

After the channel fog burns off this morning, I drive the little dog out to Mendenhall Lake. While she uses her nose to investigate I plan on searching for late blueberries. I’ll find less than a handful. This may be one of the last color-rich days we will have until the monsoon season begins. Then we will have to wait for winter to bring clarity.

The lake is swollen with rain and glacial melt water, covering the beach path we normally use. Instead we use the little path between camp ground and lake that the little dog prefers With the temperature holding at 60 degrees F. I find myself sitting often in the sun to enjoy the glacier reflection on the lake’s surface. I take a few pictures of it, aware that I have many similar shots on my computer. It still thrills to capture the image with a click. 

            Displays of fall color could divert me from glacier gazing. But most of the lake foliage is still summer green. Only where the Mendenhall River escapes from the lake do I find a cottonwood in fall yellow. It stands out like an unnecessary candle on this warm, bright day.   

Do They Ever Smile

Aki and I are walking down along the north bank of the Mendenhall River. The rain and grey of yesterday have given way to sun and blue skies. You would think that the eagles in the trees above us would be happy. 

            We pass two adult bald eagles sharing a tree, like mates will after fledging chicks. Each fiercely stares across the river where mallards are cackling away like residents of Bedlam. Aki keeps close as we walk under their tree. She need not worry. They seem too self possessed to even notice a ten-pound-poodle-mix. 

            One eagle, the one lower down the tree, flies off first, darkening the grass at our feet with its shadow. Minutes later the other one launches itself up, pumps its wings to gain altitude, and glides over the forest until out of sight. 

            We will flush several more adult eagles on the walk downriver to Fritz Cove. Each will look fierce or disgusted or frustrated or merely bored. I will search unsuccessfully for a memory of an eagle expressing joy or happiness. Do they ever have a laugh with their friends? 

            On our way back up river we pass under an immature bald eagle digging its beak into its chest feathers. Then it spreads wide its tail feathers and stares at them as if searching for fleas. The beach grass beneath its roost is dotted with soft feathers. When it spots the little dog and I, it raises its beak as if it smells something foul.

Eye Wide Open

Today’s heavy rain must have dampened people’s desire to hike. The little dog and I have the Outer Point Trail to us. It leads us through a silent forest. No birds or squirrels break the quiet. Storm clouds have grounded the airplanes that usually fly over our heads on their way to one of the Admiralty Island villages. The quiet is a reprieve from the noise of airports with their multi-lingual amplified announcements and over-loud conversations that hammered me during the return home from Sweden. 

            Rainwater swells the forest ponds and streams, which threaten to flood low lying sections of the trail. Fat raindrops turn the broad skunk cabbage leaves into a percussive orchestra. The rain forest drought is broken. 

Aki hurries me toward the beach, now partially flooded by a high tide. Half a kilometer away, at the mouth of Peterson Creek, two bald eagles hunch to avoid aerial attacks from a gang of gulls. The eagles screech out protests and then launch a counter attack, abandoning the salmon carcasses they had been scavenging.  

            Late arriving pink salmon fly out of the water, making a noisy splash on their reentry. The heads of two seals and a sea lion appear and disappear above the surface of the water. One of the seals swims close to the shore and lifts its head up and out of the water for a better view of the little dog and I. 

I think of the seals that I saw performing a Lofoton aquarium; how they had their eyes squeezed shut in every photo I took of them. I know that when I look at the pictures I took of the Outer Point seal, its eyes will be wide open. 

Hello From Sweden Little Dog

Dear Aki, 

           Your other human and I send you greeting from Stockholm, Sweden. Hope you are enjoying your stay with Cedar and her humans. We’ll be home in a couple of days. I tried to send you some letters earlier but ran into insurmountable technical difficulties. 

        Before we left we told you that this was a trip for renewing friendships in Sweden and Norway. Food was another incentive. I had long been craving pickled herring on hardtack and filmilk over cornflakes. 

        We stopped first in Uppsala, where the weather was hot but we still manage to visit Linneas’ garden where butterflies clung to flowers that swayed in a cooling wind. We also rode bikes out to the royal burial mounds at Gamla Uppsala. 

        Afterwards we visited an open air farming museum where every building had been painted rust red. It’s the unofficial national color of Sweden, more unifying than the blue and yellow of the Swedish flag.

       While drinking coffee with a 92-year-old friend, we learned the red paint tradition started long ago in Darlana, when people learned that painting their building with iron oxide from the Falun copper mine preserved them. Today many houses and most barns in Sweden are red with white trim.    

        Later in the trip we moved to Avesta where an old friend and I rode bikes along the Dalälven (river) and out to a crossroads church that had thick walls and old window glass that distorted the images of surrounding birch trees. We passed sheep and horses, which you would have tried to herd. It’s a good thing you stayed home. 

      After Avesta we flew to the Lofoton Islands of northern Norway to spend time with other long-time friends. They are nice and like dogs. You would have been popular in their home until the two moose calves stopped by to sample plants in their garden. 

        Each morning I borrowed a bicycle and rode along bays, disturbing herons when my brakes squeaked. This was fishing and farming country with farm houses and fishing huts painted as red as a Swedish barn and bare wooded pole racks where folks dry salted sides of arctic cod.  

      It rained during most of our visit to Lofoton but the clouds rarely blocked our views of the island mountains, many shaped like battered witches hats. I first saw the mountains over thirty years ago from the deck of a coastal mail boat. We had spent most of that trip from Narvik in a tiny parlor where the only chairs formed a circle around a coffin containing a body being brought home for burial. Cod fishing and salmon farming drove the economy then. Now, like Juneau, it’s becoming an international tourist destination.  

            Well, little dog, it’s late and we have an early flight to catch in the morning. We will pass part of the travel time telling Aki stories. It’s a thing people do when they are missing their dog. 

See You Soon