Author Archives: Dan Branch

Museum Meadow

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I was drawn here by the meadow’s promise of a little solitude.  Cars clogged the parking areas for the trails I would have preferred on this Father’s Day. But this meadow has few summer visitors.

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With silence broken only by robin song, Aki and I fall into our usually routine. She sniffs and pees, updating her message system with a plain-faced concentration. I stroll past the low growing wild flowers, stopping occasionally to enjoy the way water droplets cling to colorful blossoms.

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Each flower displays the complexity and beauty of great paintings. But I am the only human in attendance at this outdoor art museum. There are art critics here, insects that show their appreciation for a flower’s form or color by landing on it. The flowers getting the best reviews will soon reproduce.

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Foolish with Trust

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The rain doesn’t bother Aki.  I’m not surprised because it falls like a gentle cloth onto the wild flowers of Kowee Meadows. Remembering past sunny days on the meadow, I do wish for a shaft of sunlight to break through the marine layer. But that might wash out the purples of the iris and the magenta color of the river of shooting stars we skirt.

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We continue walking over the meadow and then drop down onto a gravel beach where iris and the purple flowers of beach peas color the bordering grass. While we eat lunch a doe deer approaches. It stops when thirty meters off, gives us a hard look, and continues in our direction. Could it be curious or is it just foolish with trust.

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I grab Aki and hold her in my lap as the deer approaches. When it reaches the ten-meter line that marks the border of my little dog’s comfort zone, Aki growls. The deer slowly walks into grass and disappears.

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We won’t see another deer but will hear the warning scream of marmots and step carefully over countless piles of bear scat. The scat and holes in the meadow dug by foraging bears will keep us aware that we are in a wild, maybe dangerous place and not a tame flower garden.

Bears, Beaver, or Ghosts

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What are you doing little dog? Aki is too busy to answer as she dashes into the woods on one side of the trail, stops for a second, and then charges to the other side of the trail. Are we surrounded by bears, beavers, or ghosts? I’m guessing it’s ghosts because I can’t see anything but plant life in the trail margins.

There is plenty of evidence that bears and beavers have recently occupied the area. We pass many piles of bear poop and a myriad of cottonwood trees felled by beavers. But we don’t hear trees crashing to earth or bears crashing through the undergrowth. Aki leads me off the main trail and onto a narrow path. Even if they were here, I wouldn’t see bears or beavers through the tangle of hardwood brush that closes in on the trail.

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When the trail widens I spot flowering Nagoon berry plants, not bears. Later in the summer, the berries will draw a crowd to this trail. The berries have a cult following in Juneau whose members will race the birds and bears to harvest this patch.

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Revealed by the Tide

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Aki goes on alert—head up, front feet planted in the sand, tail straight as a mast—and stares at the fluttering wing of a bull kelp strand that had been snagged on a splintered piling. I could tell her that the long strip of stranded seaweed poses no threat. But until she has made her brave charge at the perceived enemy, she won’t believe me.

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Up Sandy Beach, a raven cocks its head in wonder or dismay as it watches my little poodle mix act out a scene from Don Quixote. A bitter sounding bald eagle, perched in a beachside spruce might be offering its own commentary on Aki’s actions.

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After the raven flies from beach sand to the top of its own piling, we push on toward the small but deep bay formed when one of the Treadwell mines collapsed. A recent high tide has stripped away the sand covering the body of an old pickup truck. It could have been abandoned after the tunnel collapse in 1916. It might have been buried and then revealed by tidal action many, many times. But I’ve never seen it before. The bed box of the pickup contains a rusted tool and shards of a heavy ceramic bowl that might have held oatmeal eaten by one of the miners on the morning of the tunnel collapse. I could slip one of the shards out of the box and into my pocket. Would that be a relic rescue or interference with nature’s efforts to cleanse?

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Tourist Blues

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As if sleeping off the effects of yesterday’s party of sun and wind, the rainforest indulges in a few hours of gray calm.  This doesn’t discourage Aki from squeaking as I pull into the Sheep Creek trailhead. Only the bickering of eagles breaks the silence until the weekly AML barge chugs up channel toward the creek mouth. Two tour buses, a charter fishing boat and a Ford Expedition top the stacks of metal shipping containers that weigh down the barge. The barge’s wake stirs a great blue heron to flight.

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Down channel, the day’s third cruise ship rounds Marmion Island, trailed by a plume of its pollution. A herd of venue buses are already queued up near the old steamship dock, ready to carry the ship’s passengers to the glacier or one of the whale watching boats.

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Boy Scout Beach

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Aki turns back, giving me her “aren’t you coming” look. Her other human and a friend walk along side the little dog. Through my camera’s lens I see the trio moving between a grass-covered dune and a line of small surf slapping Boy Scout Beach. Beyond them lays a choppy Lynn Canal, Admiralty Island, and the white-capped peaks of the Chilkat Range. If Aki could fly, she’d be over Glacier Bay in a half-an-hour.

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It’s too early for the wild flags (iris) to be in full bloom, but on the way to the beach we stumbled on two of them in flower. Magenta patches on the tidal meadow mark where the shooting stars thrive. Everywhere there are the blue or purple flowers of lupines and beach peas. If not for the cooling wind, we’d be in high summer.

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I love the walk to this beach for the wild flowers and the frequent sightings of Canada geese it offers. Just before the beach, you can turn, look up the Eagle River, and spot a turquoise wedge of the Herbert Glacier dividing snowy peaks.

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I hurry to join Aki and her humans just in time to watch a trio of crows force a raven to land near the surf line. The raven works on something with its beak as we approach and then flies over the water and back to where it must have found the treat. We push on to a spot with a little wind break where we eat a picnic and watch a trio of Canada geese fly by followed in minutes by an immature bald eagle.

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Later we will see a score of geese fly low overhead in a formation that could be a from measure of sheet music from Ode to Joy. Probably not. If the sound made by the geese is any indication, the notes would be from the Three Stooges theme song.

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Rainforest Eagles

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Last night Aki and her other human waited for me to deplane at the Juneau Airport. When a puppy, she would have squealed and squirmed when I walked out of the TSA waiting area. Now she just lets me lift her into my arms. This morning we walk through a rain forest that would be quiet if not for the songs of thrush and wren. Hard, green berries hang from the blue berry brush and the white buds of crabapple flowers swell with rainwater. It’s good to be home.

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As Aki puzzles over newly deposited scent, I sneak onto a beach that borders the forest. In close there is only a robin trying to lead us away from its nest with moves designed to give a predator false hope of an easy meal. From a spruce tree behind us an eagle screams. Otherwise the skies are as empty as the little bay. Far off shore a kayaker has come to rest on the flat-calm water. I wish we could trade places with him. Sun shines on a valley on Admiralty Island, giving me reason to hope for at least a partial suspension of the rain.

 

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We are about to break back into the woods when three eagles drop from perches on Shaman Island and dive toward the same spot in Lynn Canal. When one looks ready to snatch some food from the water, the other two eagles dive on it. In seconds all three birds are flying at each other like fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. The eagle that we heard earlier does a flyby at a safe distance and settles onto a spruce branch of the island to watch the show, which now has shifted from a dogfight into a loosely scripted ballet. Ravens, with their cleaver efforts to harvest man’s excesses, I understand. But eagles, I just don’t get.

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