I knew, before we arrived at the beach, that the tide was out. But the expansiveness of exposed beach surprised me. We can walk all the way to Shaman Island by crossing a land bridge underwater during a normal low tide.
Because of eagles, Aki fears the land bridge. The big birds lurk in the trees on Shaman Island or rip chunks of flesh away from spawned out salmon when we cross during a normal summer. But no salmon carcasses litter the tidelands. No live salmon schooled up at the mouth of Peterson Creek.
A handful of gulls watch the little dog and I reach Shaman Island. They don’t need the salmon, being able to survive on the scraps of food exposed by the ebb. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot three harlequin ducks start off the from beach. Most of their brethren are fishing outside waters this time of year. I hope all is well the trio, who won’t have to worry about hunting eagles on this flat-gray day.
We are deep in the Troll Woods when Aki alerts, stiffening as she points her noise in the direction of recent motion. Then she barks. I stop berry picking and look where she is looking. Expecting a bear, I spot a gang of thrush, maybe ten of them, dive bombing blueberry bushes. The bushes bounce up and down as each bird flies away. They bounce again each time another thrush flies into them.
After thinning out the fruit on their targeted bush, thee birds fly over our heads and attack another one. I had suspected bears or people had plucked most of the bushes clean. But the bear poop we passed to get here was grass green, not berry blue. It must be the work of the tenacious thrush.
Because I can’t find any blueberries, I snatch a huckleberry and pop it into my mouth. While expecting the usual insipid flavor, I am surprised by its rich, fruity taste. A blue jay screams abuse at us as I consider grabbing another berry. But Aki is ready to move on, so we do.
We head down to the beach, through an old growth forest soaking with recent rain. Few, if any of the berry bushes we pass have fruit. In any other summer, I’d except that the berries are having an off year. But the pandemic has forced more folks into the woods, where they can avoid contact with those with Covid. This might be the explanation. When I spot berries, they are growing too high above the ground for a person to reach.
A short waterfall connects Peterson Lake with salt water. That makes the lake a salt chuck. This morning Aki and I watched dog salmon power their way up the waterfall’s cascades and into the chuck. Two eagles and a handful of crows watched as well. One of the eagles had just feasted on a salmon not quite up to the climb.
Later we move to where a stream enters the lake. Soon the salmon we watched in the waterfall will swim across the lake and up the stream to their spawning grounds. It will be a one way trip. There will be more eagles and corvids there, as well as wading black bears. We take a casual trail that leads down the stream and hopefully away from the bears.
We drop down onto a tidal meadow covered with six-foot-high grass. Neither Aki nor I can see over the grass but are able to follow a faint path that ends at a bear’s sleeping area. I would have taken another path if I had known where it would lead. The bears have crushed flat a section of meadow grass large enough for a small office. An eagle feather lays on one edge of the bear bed.
I should be worried that the bears will come back or that we may startled one of them when we walk further into the meadow. But Aki doesn’t act like she does when she smells bears. A half-a-dozen electric-blue dragon flies, called “darning needles” fly around the bear bed. Wouldn’t it be cool, little dog, if one of the darning needles landed on the eagle feather? As Aki gives me her, “you have got to be kidding stare” a darning needle alights on the feather just long enough for me to take its picture.
Aki is banned from the house. She isn’t being punished for a sin. All she did was lower herself into a muskeg mudhole on a very warm morning. She and I were hot, exposed on an open berry picking meadow. Our bodies had been generating heat by helping us bounce over the soggy surface of the meadow.
Before she sought relief in the mud, I tried to cool Aki off by feeding her cloudberries. I chose the overripe ones because they dissolved easily on her tongue.
Juneau is enjoying our annual mid-summer sun spell. The clouds broke early in the week, after dumping near-record levels of rain on us. The weather folks are threatening a return of rain tonight. I’d have welcomed a brief rain shower when the little dog and I were picking cloudberries. Aki’s glad that we still have clear skies. After trying to sneak into the house, she curled herself on a patch of sun-warmed bricks and fell asleep.