Category Archives: Alaska Salmon

Red Sky At Morning

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Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. Look at that sunrise, little dog. Know any sailors we should warn? Aki gives me her “don’t mess with me” stare and curls back up into a comfortable sleeping position. Down channel the water glows with an angry glare. I sip coffee and watch the fierce light fade to grey as clouds descend to block the sun.

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Hours later and we are walking the beach in front of the old Auk village. Even through it is just past noon, the sky is already yellowing like it does at sunset. A long strip of light reaches across Favorite Channel from the Chilkat Mountains to our feet. A rising wind raises small waves that slap the beach. As if the light could provide them heat, a small raft of harlequin ducks paddles into the thin strip of sunlight.

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We walk out to Pt. Louisa, the site of at least one killing shipwreck and watch a fishing boat move without difficulty towards the Auk Bay harbor. So much for the “red sky at morning” warning.

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I wonder if the boat carries home red king crab. Harvest of the once abundant crustaceans has been banned until this winter due to a population drop. But Fish and Game just opened up a season for them. Now fishermen who pulled their boats at the end of September’s silver salmon season are rethinking that decision. They ask around in bars or the vegetable section at Foodland if anyone has a boat they can use to go after crab on days when the sun doesn’t color the morning clouds red and the Taku winds don’t send water sprits dancing across Gastineau Channel.

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Blue Skies or Gray

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Aki and I are walking on a trail just a few miles from yesterday’s snowy paradise. This place received rain while the moraine was blessed with more snow. But it has beauty and even a little drama to offer. There’s the sound of eagle complaints from raptors perched on riverside spruce. Three other eagles fly in tight circles over the river. I suspect some late arriving silver salmon are drawing the crowd. It could be a deer carcass. We followed the recent tracks of one to the confluence of Montana Creek and the river.

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All the eagle activity makes Aki nervous. She stands, almost touching my leg, and squints down river. She calms down when we return to the forest where snowmelt drops rain on both of us. Aki is as excited today, as she would be on a sunny summer Sunday. The little dog uses her nose to discover smells buried under the snow. I have to wait often for her to catalogue the best ones. Gray skies or blue, pee smells the same to her.

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First Ski

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We are squandering petro this morning driving out the road. But it’s blowing 40 in Downtown and the forest drained by the Eagle River has 8 inches of skiable snow. If she could speak, Aki would tell me to ignore the expense and punch it. The little dog loves to run on snow. Since the road is icy I ignore Aki’s excited stance and drive slow.

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It’s hard to hold anyone’s attention with a description of cross-country skiing. But that is what makes it so great for the skier. You slide the right ski forward and bring it back while shooting forward the left. That’s it. But, when the conditions are good, like this morning, you’re heart beat sets the rhythm, dropping you into a meditative state. For the first half hour the little dog dashes ahead of me and charges back. Out and back she goes until I find her trotting behind me. I suspect that in these quiet times she mediates on her next meal.

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When the trail takes us along the river, now swollen by a 16-foot high tide, I look for the heads of seals taking advantage of the flood to hunt for late arriving salmon. But we won’t see seals, ducks, or even gulls during the ski.

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Later, while I listening to a podcast of Everton fans arguing about who should be the next team coach, I drive up to a Sitka black tail deer running alongside the road. I stop. The deer leaps the guardrail and crosses the road in front of the car. Without thinking to turn off the podcast, I lower the window. The deer stops and turns to stare at us. I half expect her to utter “Don’t let them hire Allardyce.”

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Before the Mirror Shatters

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After enjoying our first sunrise for what seems like months, I drive with Aki out to the one place without morning sun: the Mendenhall Glacier. The sun will have to rise above the shoulders of Thunder Mountain before it can warm the trail we walk on or make Nugget Falls sparkle. That won’t be much before eleven, when we will be back on Chicken Ridge.

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Why then, Aki might ask, are we out here shivering in the twilight? If she did, I’d remind her that she is not shivering and there is light striking the glacier and the Mendenhall Towers that rise above it into blue sky. But we are both too distracted by eagles for conversation.

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Attracted here by spawning sockeye salmon, five eagles bicker near the waters of Steep Creek. One with better luck or eyes tears away strips of flesh from a dead salmon. Behind the feeding bird, the calm waters of the lake reflect the glacier and Mt. McGinnis.

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When the sun clears Thunder Mountain to bath everything in strong light, it will also bring a wind to riffle the ice-free portion of the lake, shattering the glacier’s mirror.

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Eagles and Corvids

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Corvids and eagles, mallards and gulls, that’s what dominate the skies above the Fish Creek Delta. For corvids, Aki and I spot the grumpy ones—those without the raven or crow’s sense of humor: Stellar jays and magpies.

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Near the pond, four jays rip up chunks of the wet ground and flip them in the air. They make it seem like work, not fun although I can’t imagine what the blue and black birds get out of it. A mature bald eagle perches on a creekside driftwood log, its eyes unfocused. The wind ruffles it rain-damp feathers. Weeks ago salmon thrashed the waters in front of the eagle. Today only rain runoff animates the stream.

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Another eagle turns away from us as we approach the spruce tree in which it rests. Two long tailed magpies, black and white, land on the trail ahead of it. Seeing Aki, they fly onto alder branches six feet above the trail. One is shy, but the other magpie lets me approach close enough to recognize the cruelty of its beak.

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Big Trees 

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Aki and I are together again after I had to travel to the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada for a funeral. Following the service, Aki’s other human and I walked through a grove of Giant Sequoias. It had snowed there two days before but only a little of the white stuff colored the ground when we walked around the redwood forest. Sunlight reached through the forest canopy. As it warmed the redwoods, steam rose off their thick bark.

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One redwood tree stood, dead black and bark-less, in the center of a small clearing. One hundred and sixty years ago a developer had stripped all the bark off the then living giant for use as a tourist attraction. The tree still held this ground against wild fires, winds, and snows. It survived tourist invasions and continues to use its ugliness to educate the humans it dwarfs.

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Men have logged giant spruce and hemlock trees along side the rain forest trail Aki and I use this morning. But in our time, more of the big trees have tumbled to windstorms than chainsaws. While all the forest trees dwarf the little dog and me, none lecture us. They leave that to the eagles now scanning an exposed beach for salmon.

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Bears and Birds

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The salmon are returning to the Eagle River. I have to take care not to step on their desiccating bodies as we cross a riverside meadow. There are no bears or their scat just see a cranky pair of ravens, so I decide to continue our walk along the river. Just in case, I place the little dog on her leash.

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The dead salmon smell blends with the others of fall—the sweet and sour smell of ripe cranberries, leaf mold, and the sharp tang of grass. I wonder if the strong bouquet threatens to overwhelm Aki’s sensitive nose. But the poodle-mix shows her usual keen interest in, for me, unremarkable spots along the trail.

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We pass a family with small children picnicking along the river. One of their members operates a drone, which gives off an annoying hum. I’m thinking about letting Aki loose when she gives out a little growl. Two people just up the trail point to a bear munching away on a salmon it had carried up from a nearby stream.

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I’m holding Aki now. We watch the bear saunter over to an alder tree and bury her nose in tree moss. Then it moves into the forest. I carry Aki a little further and then let her walk. She stays on the lead. We pass gravel bars covered with gulls, crows, and ravens and, just seconds before I can focus the camera on it, a fishing bear.

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On the drive home, near a different salmon stream, I have to stop the car to let a black bear waddle across the road. Just after Aki gives another low growl, the bear turns, for the first time, to look in our direction. Who knew that bears had such sensitive hearing?