The snow is gone from the rain forest, washed away by rain and spring-like temperatures. It left behind bare ground covered with dead hemlock leaves and dissolving piles of dog poop. I tend not to look down this time of year unless necessary to avoid smearing my boots. For the nose-driven dog, the opposite is true.
While Aki sniffs and pees, I scan the woods surrounding the Outer Point Trail, looking and listening for signs of spring. No thrush or robin or chickadee sings or even flits away at our approach. Only my boot taps on the trail boards breaks the silence. Buds on the red-limbed blue berry bushes are swelling. In a week or two, if the weather holds, pink or white blossoms, each a tiny Japanese lantern, will dangle from each branch. They will draw rufus hummingbirds when they arrived from the south. In a swampy area near the beach, skunk cabbage shoots, battered by their efforts to break through softening pond ice, provide the strongest evidence of spring.
Aki has to squint her eyes when we leave the woods. A newly arrived sunlight brings a spring-like clarity to the scene. Alders still wet from this morning rain glimmer, naked drift wood logs look as white as desert bones.
Because the skiing is still good here, the little dog and I have returned to Mendenhall Lake. Last night a half-a-foot of snow fell. But thanks to the ski club groomers, we have a well-packed trail. Otherwise Aki’d be wallowing in soft snow.
A flat light dominates the lake and the mountains that surround it. I miss the sunshine and blue skies that we enjoyed during our last visit. But the new snow that clings to spruce trees and bare-branched alders provides its own bright beauty.
The rain forest sees more cloudy days than sunny ones. When a day breaks clear after a storm, the scenes enjoyed during the sunny hours that follow can seem as rich as a North Douglas Chocolate Cake. We ignore the shapes and sights that moved us on soft, gray days. This afternoon, I’m relieved that the recently sunny spell didn’t rob me of the rain forest knack of recognizing beauty in the simplest things.
When Aki barks. I look up and see two large dogs muzzle to muzzle. They growl at each and soon might fight. My little dog wants to investigate. With tail wagging, she approaches the two combatants. We are in the Treadwell Ruins near a side trail I have been wanting to take. I do now and ask Aki to follow. To my relief, she does. The trail leads to a 100-year-old junkyard.
When the waters of Gastineau Channel flooded the Treadwell mine tunnels in 1917, all mining on Douglas Island stopped with the exception of that carried out in the Ready Bullion Mine. That too closed in 1922. We are heading toward a small train of ore cars that were abandoned here when the mining stopped.
Most of the cars have already rusted into components. Aki sniffs at the one intact car. It looks fit enough to haul ore. The sight of the car triggers conflicting feelings about the ruins. Without human intervention the forest will eventually reclaim the land. In a few generations, old growth spruce and hemlock trees could replace the cottonwoods and alders that are now repairing the ground. But I find a beauty in the steel rails that lay rusting on the forest floor, the giant iron gears disappearing under moss, and this one intact ore car.
We are heading into the brown time that falls between fall color and snow. Aki, we have watched most of the leaves in this forest mature from spring buds to limp, drained things. The little dog, acting as if she didn’t hear me, slinks off to sniff a tree trunk. Poodle, I know it is ridiculous to mourn the leaves. She flashes me her “duh’ look.
Maybe because this has been such a good year for fall color, I am saddened by single leaves, now faded from red to pink, hanging from otherwise empty trees. If the time of snow and hard freezes holds off for a week or two more, we will have more color in the forest. Some of the low growing sorrels are still green while the leaves of their neighbors are mottled red and orange. But the wind has torn the yellow leaves off most of the cottonwoods and the alders are fading to brown.
Soon we will be reduced to earth tones except for the party colors of the harlequin ducks.
What are you doing here? I ask this of a lone, white daisy. One of the flower’s petals is folded over it’s yellow-green center, like it fell asleep at the end-of-summer party and missed the last bus.
The daisy is the only sign of summer along this mountainside trail. Months ago the its lupine neighbors dropped their purple flowers. Now their armored seed pods sling to dead stalks. Grass leaves have turned to straw. Willows, poplars, and even the lowly alders show fall color.
The rain forest animals are also in autumn mode. Red squirrels carry giant chunks of mushrooms up trees and into their winter stashes. Tundra swans have already refueled on our lakes and beaches and continued south. Just now Aki and I watched a black bear root in a riverside meadow for roots. With summer berries and the salmon spawn now just memories, the wild bear’s menu is severely limited.
Some swirling in the lake waters during my last visit encouraged me to take along a fishing rod on this visit to the Troll Woods. We are close to the glacier, walking on moraine recently colonized by fast growing poplars, willows, and alders. It must ten degree colder here than at home in Downtown Juneau. The little dog and I are underdressed.
Gray mist crawls over the lake surface, which is yet to feel the morning light. I make a few half-hearted casts but stop when I notice that Aki is shivering. I can see the promise of warmth in the sunlight that brings out the fall color in the shoreline cottonwoods and makes Mt. McGinnis stand out against the blue morning sky.
Silver salmon splash and roll in the smallest lake on the moraine. They are waiting for the next storm to raise the water level of their spawning stream so they can get on with their deadly mating rituals. At least one salmon has paid a stiff price for waiting. We found it’s severed head on the trail. Last night a bear ate the fish’s body.
Fortunately for the salmon, rain is forecasted for next Thursday. We will miss the sun but are willing to walk in the rain—a small price for living in a rain forest drained by salmon streams.
The rain stopped early this morning and the wind has shaken the beach grass dry. As I slow walk down the Outer Point Beach, watching two eagles do an aerial dance with steps known only to them, I realize that I have never just sat and watched the sea from here. Without giving Aki warning, I plop down on a beach log.
A strong breeze tears through the canopy of the forest that borders the beach. But the trees prevent it from reaching the little dog or me. The wind rips leaves from the beach-side alders, carries them over our heads, then releases them to float down onto the water. Microbursts of wind slam into the surface of the bay driving tiny by intense waves out in concentric circles. Out in a Lynn Canal a boat idles, waiting for a whale to surface.
The rain starts up, falling in thick drops that form grey circles on the beach pebbles when they hit home. I am still inclined to doddle but Aki is not. She stands thirty meters away where the trail through the woods begins, showing me her “are you crazy” look. Perhaps I am, little dog, to let you bully me away from all this turbulent beauty.