As a flood tide swells the Mendenhall River, Aki and I walk towards its mouth. The ice-free river must look like a miracle to migratory waterfowl looking for a feed. On this flat-light day, the river looks to me like a dark-gray snake slithering across a barren grassland. A Canada goose might agree with me. It flies low over the drab scene, repeating over and over a honking lament.
Ignoring the lamentation, I lead Aki off the trail. We cross tide-soaked grass to the top of a low bluff. Below, the current carries three sleeping ring necked ducks up river. At least 50 more of their fellow travelers are waking up to feed a kilometer down river. They have a long way to go to the breeding grounds in central Alaska. After they resume their northern migration, we won’t see their kind again until next spring.
Aki and I squelch our way back to main trail and use it to continue our own journey to the river’s mouth. Out of the corner of my eye I spot a large mammal slinking through the wetland grass. It moves with feline sensuality rather than lumber like a bear or lope like a dog. I can’t make out a tail. Is it a lynx? A short way away from the mystery guy, two Labrador retrievers start toward it until their owners call them back. I’ll look without success for the predator for the rest of our walk.
We will spot other recharging ducks on our walk down river. One Eurasian widgeon, with aquatic weed handing from its beak will feed along side an American widgeon. She needs to top off her tank. Her migration will take her to the Aleutian Islands, over 3000 kilometers away.