I wasn’t sure about this trip. Aki’s other human and I are to paddle a kayak for over an hour to cross Mendenhall Lake and onto the toe of the glacier. Then we will climb a short trail and onto the glacier itself. Aki, can’t ride in a car for more than ten minutes without whining. How is the little dog going to handle a long ride in a confining cockpit? The answer is, “surprising well.”
A ten-knot head wind slows our crossing of the main body of the lake. Aki sits in the forward cockpit, watching gulls hover over the kayak. She whimpers when we near a rocky point that marks the beginning of the bay that is touched by the glacier’s toe. Kittiwakes scream at us. We can pick out the young that hatched this year by their darker color.
We have to share the landing beach with a guide canoe full of customers who had paid for an adventure on the glacier. Aki dashes around them as they pull on climbing harnesses and helmets. They are receiving a safety talk when we walk up the trail. On our way back to the kayak we walk use the glacier to avoid a messy patch of muddy trail, passing the adventurers climbing onto he ice. I wonder if a ten-pound poodle’s presence on the glacier diminishes their sense of drama.
I don’t realize it is raining until Aki sniffs at something near a small pond. Light drops of precipitation dimple the water, sending water bugs scooting toward the protection of British tobacco plants. It’d be nice to write that I was engrossed in deep thoughts. But the truth is, I had slipped into observation mode, lost to everything except plants exhibiting signs of autumn.
Just a few leaves on a wild crabapple tree have turned fall-time red. The high bush cranberry brush is still summer green. But the broad and fat skunk cabbage leaves are yellowing. The same is true of the trailside ferns. Gastineau’s once green meadow is now a rolling yellow and orange carpet.
Above the meadow gray ropes of rain snake down the flanks of Sheep Mountain. Even when the sun makes a brief appearance, it can only muster a colorless rainbow.
After yesterday’s eagle drama, I drive Aki to a quieter place where narrow trails connect a series of small lakes. Even though we pass many piles of bear scat on the trail, it seems almost cozy and definitely peaceful. The scat is died indigo by the depositing bear’s blueberry diet.
It’s a time for collecting mushrooms and enjoying mottled skies reflected on the surface of calm lakes.
The chance for filling a bucket with berries has past. Already some of the berry foliage darkens to autumn red. Squirrels carry large chunks of fungus up the sides of spruce trees. But most of the trees still cling to their summer-green leaves.
Last night’s storm broke its back on the spine of Douglas Island and the mainland mountains. Its heavy rain has swollen Fish Creek and turned the water the color of molasses. Salmon too weak from spawning have already been swept back into Fritz Cove. Those still waiting their turn to bred are hunkered down in eddies or behind drift wood barriers.
Aki doddles behind until we reach Fish Creek where four eagles and kingfisher watch us approach from spruce tree roosts. One, an immature eagle, has cruciformed its wings so they can dry. The little dog hesitates and then moves close to me. No one dives on her as we round the pond and head out to the creek mouth.
A big ebb tide has lowered the creek’s level and exposed a wide swath of wetlands. But the dozen or so eagles that we can spot are either feeding along side the stream or watching us from spruce roosts. Aki relaxes on a part of the trail almost enclosed by tall fireweed and wild rose shafts. I stop where that stretch ends and count six eagles watching us from trailside trees. Aki doesn’t follow me out onto the exposed meadow.
I figure that the eagles must have sated themselves on dead salmon and other goodies exposed by the ebb tide. They won’t be interested in my ten-pound poodle. But Aki doesn’t share my confidence so I have to carry her until we reach a more protected stretch of trail.
While we circumnavigate a small island covered with tall spruce, I lose count of the number of eagles, mature and immature, that fly over out heads and out over the wetlands. White puffs of eagle down drift onto the trail in their wake.
It’s mid-August and most of the trees in the Treadwell ruins retain their leaves. But the beautiful collapse of fall is not far off. Aki’s tiny paws slip on the wet, fallen foliage of cottonwood trees. Once lush leaves of cow parsnips droop as their green color drains down into their plant’ roots. Late summer monkey flowers and white ones of the thistles provide a little color for the forest.
Aki and I leave the forest for Sandy Beach where the usual two mature bald eagles roost on the ridge cap of a mine ventilator shaft. The tide is out so we can walk right up to the brick tower. Aki waits near the edge of the grass. When the eagles turn to stare I stop, take a few photos, and turn back toward the little dog. I don’t want to force the eagles off their perch.
An immature eagle flies over the two senior birds and then lands down the beach. One of the mature birds flies towards it, perhaps to bully the younger bird away from what ever treat enticed it to ground. In seconds both birds are in the air, flying in different directions.
I am out in the North Pass, competing with Stellar Sea Lions for silver salmon. Aki is out berry picking with her other human. Three hundred meters away, a humpback whale throws its tail up in the air and dives.
We will only boat on silver today. The sea lions will be much more successful. One surfaces with a silver trapped in its mouth. The sea lion snaps its head back and forth as a small flock of gulls dive on it in an attempt to snatch away bites of the fish. They know the sea lion is a messy eater.
This morning, for the first time in a week, the sun rose unimpeded by clouds. There was a thick rope of fog laid the length of Gastineau Channel but it was gone by 9 A.M. I listened to foghorns while drinking morning coffee and thinking about where to spend part of this sunny day.
As Aki slept curled in my lap, I decided to head North to where a trail snaked over a small rise and along the edge of Favorite Passage. The little dog always seems to enjoy that one.
Later, while taking a break on the trail, we waited on a pocket beach for Aki to rinse her new Frisbee. It was only unnatural thing on the beach. Time and tide, not human hands, had placed every pebble and rock. The tiny grass meadow at the edge of the splash zone was sown by the wind.
After finishing the walk we drove to the Shrine of St. Therese where someone with too much spare time had stacked beach rocks into cone-shaped cairns on the beach in front of the columbarium. Nearby a raven paced. When we neared the bird flew off and landed in the middle of small collection of cairns, knocking down two of them. After defecating on the ruins the raven surveyed the field of rock stacks and then turned to stare at us. I wanted to tell him about the beach not far from here where no one had tried to improve nature.