I thought long and hard this morning about skipping my daily walk with Aki. She probably wouldn’t mind. The older poodle spent most of the time since breakfast curled up under her humans’ bed. But she finally let me dress her in a warm jacket and then wait at the door as I pulled on my boots.
We drove out to Auk Bay where the trail runs through a thick, old growth forest. That can protect us from most of the rain pounding the town. It did. But I dashed out of the forest for the beach after spotting a small clan of Dahl porpoise in Auk Bay. Normally, the guys disclose little when they feed in the bay. This morning, some of them fly out of the water and then crash back. The noise of their jumps drives a small school of salmon down the beach to a small bay. As they do whenever being chased, the salmon form a tight ball just off shore. In seconds the porpoise slam into the ball and snatch fish with their bills. Seconds later, they disappear deeper into the bay.
Two bald eagles were occupying a cottonwood tree when Aki and I reached the end of Sheep Creek Beach. I was surprised to see the pair. Breeding pairs are now taking turns protecting their nest. A week or two ago, I watched an eagle dive bomb a raven trying to snatch an egg from the eagle’s nest. Raven must have left at least one egg there when it flew off. One of the eagle parents was tucked in the nest, over its eggs a week later when I passed by again.
The nesting eagle flashed me a fierce sign. Was it warning that she would rip out my eyes if I tried to climb up her nest tree? The pair of eagles that Aki and I watched this morning were sending out their bored “you don’t deserve our attention” look. Maybe that’s why they let me walk within a few hundred feet before returning their attention to a nearby pen of young salmon that will soon be released into the sea.
The temperature of Upper Fish Creek Valley has been dropping for the past few days. Since Aki and I haven’t used the trail in months, I picked it for today’s hike. In the past, the creek has been swollen with water. Other times, the smell of dead, spawned out salmon hangs in the air. I’ve seen sparkling ice cycles lit up by the morning sun. But, until today, I’ve never seen the creak so enslaved by ice.
We can barely hear small holes in the ice mumble as the little dog and I pass a deep-water section of the creek. In minutes ice covers the water. Normally it is hard to let yourself think over the noise of the rushing creek waters. Today, for the first time that I can remember, it is profoundly quiet. We are passing through a old growth forest with trees still growing strong after hundreds of years in the little creek valley. Every other old growth creek on the island is pockmarked with downed hemlock or spruce. But here, in a forest that seems impervious to high winds or floods, time seems to have stopped.
This was supposed to be a practical, not a glorious day. We left early to reach St. Vincent DePaul’s while they were still accepting donations. Then, the other chores kicked in. We were running low on milk and bananas, bread and bean burgers so we hit the store after dropping off the donations. Two friends that appreciate good cookie baking each received a tasty dozen. After that we took the patience little poodle for a walk.
It was a sunny day, at least at first. Early in the morning, sunlight reached the tops of Mt. Juneau and Gastineau Channel. It enriched the sun-covered mountains along the Western side of Lynn Canal. We had to squint in the light when we unloaded stuff at the St. Vincent’s and then pointed the car toward the first cookie drop.
Gray clouds blocked the sun by the time we reached Amalga Harbor. There was still a small patch of blue in the Southern sky, but it faded to flat and then dark as we worked our way to the Peterson Lake salt chuck. We usual visit here in spring to fish for Dolly Varden or in July to watch salmon climb the salt chuck on their way into the salt chuck. Today, we could only enjoy the sound of the steep rocky water course dumping water into Lynn Canal and the view of a kingfisher longing for spring.
Slick ice topped with a layer of rainwater covers the trail along Fish Creek. By having metal ice grippers secured on my boots, I can move safely down the trail. Aki’s paws slip a little with each step but it doesn’t slow down her progress. Together we manage to reach a little pond that fills with spawning king salmon each summer.
The salmon all died months ago. Now no ducks cruise the pond. Most of the pond is still covered with frozen ice. After passing the pond, the little dog and I take another icy trail down to the mouth of the creek where the glacier and the surrounding mountains are reflected by the creek’s calm waters.
The weatherman promised clear skies and sunshine this morning. But grey clouds filled the skies over town as we headed for the car. I could just make out a streak of blue in the skies further up the channel. Aki didn’t complain when we headed north towards that clear horizon.
After driving 15 miles, we broke out of the clouds to where we could see sunshining on a mountain ridge on the western side of Lynn Canal. Snow from a recent storm now covers the top third of the ridge. A layer of clouds obscures the rest. In a few minutes we reach Amalga Harbor from where we can hike to the mouth of Peterson Creek.
This summer dog and silver salmon had to fight their way up a line of rapids in the creek to reach Peterson Lake. After crossing the lake, they moved into the upper creek to spawn. Today, I could find no sign of salmon or even trout. But a grey heron flew across the lake to check on us before flying over to the dock at Amalga Harbor. It left behind a pair of white swans to feed at the mouth of the tiny stream.
Careful government experts, men and woman who reveal information about sun and rain, expected me to wait until three in the afternoon before going for a walk. After three in the afternoon, the sky would clear. I’d walk with Aki along the Sheep Creep delta. The skies might cloud back up for in a few hours. Then the rain would return for another week.
But today, the skies lacked patience. At nine in the morning, the clouds melted away. Crisp sun flooded Gastineau channel. The beach trails were soon bare. We expect clouds but found sections of the beach still covered with scatterings of fish bones.
We took a long, circular route around the delta, coming near to gulls nests, and ducks. Twice, a hundred gulls exploded into the air, flew in a circle around us, and returned to the delta. For a few seconds, over whelming light transformed the gulls into transformed gods.
The sun shines on this damp forest as Aki muddies her paws on the rain soaked trail. Streaks of light turn fall-yellow leaves almost transparent. We can hear the Eagle River moving at near flood stage after a long stretch of heavy rain. We can feel a light wind that sends fragile leaves twirling. After our summer of storms, there is no place I’d rather be than in this riverine forest.
I want to share my happiness with the little dog but she is not in the mood. She has assumed two roles today—-chronicler of smells, and guardian of her human. In past Septembers she has chased bears from this trail into the river or up a tree. I’ve scolded her after each action but know she would do it again if given a chance.
This morning, we won’t see a bear trundling down the trail. We will have to step around half-eaten dog salmon carcasses on a gravel bar but no bear will show itself near the salmon stream. Later we will watch a single black bear digging up chocolate lily roots in a meadow. One time, the bear will lift is head to look at me as it munches on a root. Then, it will turn its back and attack another root.
Even though it is too late in the year for flowers, we will pass a lupine covered in new blossoms. Nearby, a few yellow paint brush flowers will bend back and forth in a light breeze. I will wonder whether these are my rewards for surviving a record-wet summer.
Yesterday morning we were mugged by a bear. It’s was the pleasant, perhaps too casual bruin that we caught a few days before shaking apples out of our tree. Yesterday, it toppled over our wheelie bin and cheery-picked our garbage. Then he strolled away, swaying from side to side as he headed towards the next garbage bin.
After sampling our garbage, the bear walked right past our neighbor’s bin. Later I learned that she fills it on the morning of trash day with kitty litter. After the bear walked on, she dropped in the real garbage.
This morning the bear has moved on to a neighborhood this is having its scheduled garbage day. We are left to skirt piles of bear poo and pick up scraps that it left behind. I can’t get too mad at the culprit. Since the local berry crop failed and few salmon made it to the downtown spawning stream, they are forced to search our garbage for the sustenance they will need to hibernate through the winter.
It is hard this morning to find a parking place near the Sheep Creek delta. The tiny parking lot is full. Both sides of the road are lined with parked trucks. We find a place to put our car on the southern side of the creek. The guys who parked the trucks are fishing for silver salmon on the Gastineau Channel shore. They are only outnumbered by gulls.
The last time we visited the delta, eagles greatly outnumbered humans. Only two guys tried their luck at fishing. Dozens of eagles ripped flesh from spawned out salmon. This morning there is only one eagle perched above thousands of gulls. The birds wade in the stream or hover on the exposed gravel, all waiting for pink salmon to die.
One gull screams at a small female pink salmon as the fish rolls on the beach. After minutes of flopping, it goes still, letting the gull start its feast. Newly arrived pink salmon power their way up the stream. Some males with grotesque humps, try to shove each other off the spawning ground. The gulls keep watching. They will watch until the spawning is done and the dying begins.