Aki and I have just walked into the rain forest. I swear that my blood pressure dropped the instant we stepped under the canopy. Maybe it’s the muted light or the sound of a downy woodpecker tapping on a spruce trunk. It might be the lush green colors that dominate this time of year. Aki does her business and stares up at me, like she is considering calling an ambulance if I don’t come out of my trance.
After assuring her that all is if fine, she leads me down to the beaver pond and where the mallard family lurk in a blind of reeds. Later I’ll spot a rambunctious bird dog splashing into water near Shaman Island and assume that he did the same on the beaver pond.
Not wanting to contribute to the mallard hen’s stress, I follow Aki down the beach trail. A seal swims just offshore, hunting for silver salmon about to leave salt water for their spawning stream. Yesterday, I hunted salmon in Lynn Canal, boating a silver-bright chum salmon. Last night, while Aki chowed down a scrap of the salmon’s ski mixed with rice, her humans enjoyed what the seal sought.
It’s been more than a week since Aki strained a leg muscle. She shows no sign of soreness this morning. Keeping her leash in my pocket. I join the little dog on a gravel trail that crosses one of our mountain meadows. I slow my pace, like I had to when tethered to the poodle-mix.
Clouds hid the surrounding mountains when we started the walk. Now they lift to reveal peaks and ridges and let shafts of sunlight reach the meadow. This is a good wildflower meadow in a normal year. This one is exceptional. Magenta-colored shooting stars, bog laurel and rosemary for islands on the green muskeg. Yellow avens flowers surround the skeleton of a downed Douglas pine. Clusters of white Labrador tea blossoms line the trail.
Aki and I ignore each other, she mapping scents and me counting wildflowers. She ignores the robins dragging their skirts along the trail. But when something, maybe an ermine or mink slinks across the trail, she charges after it. Now I feel bad for not keeping her leashed. But she trots back, tail wagging, showing no signs of aggravating her injury.
Aki is quite pleased with the situation. She has her human under control. He had to hold on end of her leash while she sniffs and pees her way around the shore of Mendenhall Lake. Her human, me, would like to speed up the walk. Aki won’t let that happen.
Once I accept the situation, I can relax and look at things I would normally overlook. I can inventory the number of blossoms on ground hugging low bush blueberry plants. I see tiny white flowers that I might have stepped on if Aki hadn’t slowed me down.
Now completely soaked, I enough Aki to leave the lake shore and move onto a trail that provides access to a series of small ponds. A common golden eye, raising a brood of chicks on a reed-choked pond, doesn’t reach to our presence until I stop to admire her chicks. Then the chicks surround their mon even though they would be safer if they sheltered in the reeds.
The eagle, Aki and I—we are all wet. Aki seems the least disturbed by the rain. I feel sympathy for the eagle, which is hunched over on top of the old mine ventilation shaft with feathers ahoo. Then it bursts off its roost and glides onto the beach.
A sandy ridge blocks my view so I don’t know if the eagle secured something to eat until I climb up the small rise of beach. The big scavenger is on the beach, ripping at something with his beak. While balancing on a small rock, it screams out something to its mate, which is feeding a little further down the beach.
To make sure that she doesn’t further injure her leg muscle, I carry Aki over the loose-sand portions of the beach. When she starts to shiver, I carry her into the Treadwell Woods, which offers a little shelter from the rain and wind.
Two teenagers, each weighed down by a large backpack, sulk at the junction of Dan Mollar Trail and the Treadwell Ditch. They must have spent the night at the Forest Service cabin with family members who are still up the trail. Aki usually draws “ooooo’s” and “ahs” from woman of this age. They ignore the little poodle-mix and her humans. I have to ask them to move so we can have two meters of space when are pass.
While walking up the plank trail that leads to the cabin, I wonder whether the backpackers were upset about the rain currently soaking into their fashionably bare heads or were going through no-phone withdrawal. They seemed happy to move out of our way and weren’t worried when I told them about the fresh pile of bear scat steaming nearby. Perhaps we had just crashed a counseling session.
Aki normally takes point on this trail. Today, she is content to follow at a slow pace. We cross wildflower meadows that look like threadbare carpets due to damage done last winter by snowmachines. A dark-eyed junko hops between magenta-colored clumps of bog rosemary and the yellow blossoms of large-leaved avens.
We pass a yearling bear on our way to the glacier. Grazing on meadow grass, it gives off a contemplative vibe, like a pastured Jersey cow. It’s brown like a grizzly, but lacks the shoulder hump of one. I suspect it is a cinnamon black bear. Being able to view the bear at a safe distance is cool. But this trip is about arctic terns.
While I get out her leash, Aki trots along the Mendenhall Lake shore. I need to get her on lead but the terns distract me. They hover over the lake, whipping their wings back and forth like a hummingbird and then dive into the glacier-silted water. Few catch anything. Those that do fly with it over to their nest.
By jogging, I catch my little delinquent and snap on the leash. Now tethered, she stops every few feet to sniff and pee. Does she know that I am in a hurry to reach the Picture Point overlook for a better view of the terns? I try not to fume and remind myself that the little dog needs to take it easy or she won’t recover from her muscle strain.
We take it very easy on the trail to Nugget Falls, stopping once to watch a tiny tern divebomb a raven. The raven, easily ten times larger than the tern, is hiding in a clump of willows. I suspect that the raven had been caught robbing the tern’s test. When the tern flies back to her eggs, the raven cruises over to a cottonwood tree and harasses a large bald eagle to flight. Attitude is clearly more important than size on the glacial moraine.
This is an experiment. Rather than restrict Aki to a short neighborhood walk. I’ve driven her to the False Outer Point trailhead. We will walk the trail while keeping Aki on her leash. This will keep her from running. It will also keep me pinned down each of the many times she will stop to pee or sniff.
Yesterday she paced about the house, letting me know that she needed more exercise than what she received during the short neighborhood walk. It takes twice as long as normal for us to reach the beaver pond. The resident mallard hen stands exposed on a tiny island. The remains of this year’s chick brood hides near her in the grass. A bald eagle circles over the scene. Last summer she lost most of her chicks to an eagle and a great blue heron. I hope she has better luck this year.
We wander past the hen and move as slow as a geriatric drill team to the beach. Just offshore a belted kingfisher hovers fifteen meters in the air. Then, it drops like a dive bomber into the water. In another second it bursts skyward with a captured fish in its beak.
Aki hid under the bed as I gathered things for our morning walk. With a pocket full of poop bags, camera over my shoulder, and my hands full of leash, harness, and raincoat, I crouch on the bedroom carpet to determine whether the dog is too sore for a walk or is just playing hard to get. When I walk away, she pokes her nose out so she can see me open the inner door. Before I can step through it, the little dog scoots out and does a truncated version of her downward dog stretch.
Her tail is wagging when she leads me out to the street. Following the Vet’s orders, I’m keeping the walk short. We won’t even leave the neighborhood. She will be stuck reading local pee mails. We’ll walk past lilacs heavy with browning blossoms, white or magenta Alaska roses drooping over cement walls, and sweet smelling wild phlox flowers—all planted to brighten rainforest gray days.
Since her pain is masked by anti-inflammatory drugs, Aki will try to drag me down Gold Street. That is when I will hope that she understands why we can’t do our usual loop through Downtown.
It’s odd taking a walk without Aki. She suffered soft tissue damage running frantic laps around a Labrador retriever and has been ordered by the Vet to keep off her feet. Without her to move me along, I took much longer to complete the Rainforest Trail loop. She wouldn’t have begrudged me the time I took to visit with a friendly dog walker. She would have loved to sniff and greet the dog. But she wouldn’t have the patience to wait for the whale.
If Aki were here, I would not have been circled by a crow. The corvid strolled toward me until three meters separated us. Then it walking along the three meter line as I clicked away. I would have never seen the whale breach. I was standing near the beach-forest border, staring across Lynn Canal, listening to small waves hit the beach. Something large and gray blew out of the water and crashed onto the surf, sending up a “v” shaped splash of water that could be seen even with my old eyes two kilometers away.
Aki wouldn’t have let me take the time to doddle. She doesn’t care that the doodlers see all the good stuff. Because they resist the need to progress, they are often hear the swallow sing.
Tide and current often expose bones on the Sandy Beach. This morning Aki and I step over deer bones tumbled smooth in Gastineau Channel. They will soon breakdown into white specks to become lost in the pulverized gold ore that gives the beach its name.
The little dog and I also step over bones made of iron, or ceramic—train rails, machine shop pulleys, slabs of ore cars, and pottery shards. These 100 year old relics of a collapsed mining community won’t be disappearing soon.
Nature is working hard to reduce our human detritus to its base components. Mussels and barnacles have colonized the iron train rails and wooden wharf pilings. Wind, rain and sun work then over after the tide ebbs. Currents rub the rails together, scarping and scratching away tiny bits. But the relics will be rusting or wearing away long after Aki and I are gone.