While holding Aki, I move a couple of meters off the Marriott Trail and stand in shallow marsh water. Seconds before we were walking on a dry gravel trail that cuts like a pencil line across a swampy meadow. A minute ago, I left the trail to photograph a clump of wild rhododendrons, returning to see a family of four approached us down the narrow trail.
The parents wanted to move quickly past the little dog and I. But their four-year-old son stopped when he saw Aki. He stood like a statue with right hand pointed at the poodle-mix, grin affixed to his face. Nothing, not his parents’ orders or my pleas moved the little guy to action. The mosquitoes did. He finally trotted off toward his parents as the biting bugs swarmed around the little dog and I.
Wanting to avoid another traffic jam, we move into the woods on a trail that winds through a series of forest clear cuts. Each as stark as a battlefield. Ferns and blueberry bushes flourished in the oldest clear cut. Thin trunks of spruce trees rise above the green flour to support a thinning canopy. But nothing grows on the ground of the youngest cut, which was logged in 1962.
Before passing through the first clear cut, we meet a Tlingit man sitting beside a small smudge fire. He looks happy, if a little disappointed in the fire, which doesn’t produce enough smoke to the keep the mosquitos away. Still. he has found himself a quiet island in a forest surrounded by low income housing, the state prison, and our town dump.
The trail takes us down a steep hillside to an unlogged creek valley. Spruce trees older than America grow along the stream. I once found the carcass of a bald eagle in this almost-untouched place.
Aki has no problem climbing out of the old growth valley. We circle back to Switzer Creek and walk along it toward the car. On the last bridge before the trailhead we meet an old man wearing a painter’s billed cap. His tired-looking mountain bike leans against a spruce tree. He tells us that he comes here every day for the squirrels. “They’re back after months of being gone,” he says and them shares a crooked-tooth smile. I imagine him riding his old bike here every day that ice didn’t make the trail impassible just to check on the squirrels. He came to visit them when red-bodied salmon swirled beneath the bridge, and when trout flashed through the creek waters after salmon smolt. He came when rain muddied the trail or wind threatened to knock him from his bike. All for squirrels.