I wonder if the little dog knows about what is about to happen. We are transiting the glacier moraine, rounding a still unfrozen lake. Water from melting snow drips from shoreline trees onto the lake’s surface. Wet snow was falling when we started this walk. It has been replaced by light rain, which speeds up the snowmelt. The early November assertion of winter is about to end. Fall is not finished with us.
Aki tries to rub her face on the trail snow but finds it is still too thin. Undeterred, she trots on to a place where fresh beaver tracks cross the trail. They seem to soften as we look at them.
The snow disappears from the trail when we enter the troll woods. Aki has to skirt the muddy stretches. I am thankful for the volunteers that have bridges the worst parts with assemblages of scrap lumber.
On the drive back home, I want to tell Aki to look up at Mt. Juneau where snow, rain falls on the mountains flanks. But she has curled herself on the car seat, dozing as her curls begin to dry.
The sun was fighting a winning battle against the marine layer when we left home on this expedition to collect seaweed for the garden.The temperature dropped last night. It’s still above freezing but feels like an Alaskan Autumn day.
Aki would rather go on a regular walk than keep me company while I collect severed rockweed. Staying close, she acts as lookout while, bent over, I grabbed rock weed with gloved hands and dump it into a five gallon bucket. I have to shake from the seaweed crab shells, eagle feathers, and pieces of a deer’s backbone. When she was a puppy, Aki might have snatched some of this wild trash and carried it down the beach.
Taking a break from collecting, I let the little dog lead me off the beach and around False Outer Point. It’s good to see that the resident raft of golden eye ducks have returned to the crescent-shaped bay. Something spooks a gang of scoters as we round the point and they dot our view of Upper Lynn Canal with their dark silhouettes.
Just before climbing over a low headland to return to work, Aki stiffens and holds her nose in the direction of a screen of alders. We circle around the screen and peek behind it. Instead of the expected deer or bear, I spot the remains of an abandoned homeless camp. At the change of seasons, the occupant must have moved closer to the downtown homeless shelter.
Taking this route was Aki’s idea. I wanted to walk down to the channel, which was sparkling with silver light when we left the house. As we reached the street that offers access to the Perseverance Trail, Aki just broke left. Letting her think it was my plan all along, I followed her.
The little dog trotted past the colorful Craftsmen houses on Basin Road and over the old trestle bridge. The stream, still swollen with rain runoff, ran high and loud beneath us. Only a scattering of yellow leaves clung to their trees. The meadow that slants down the lower flank of Mt. Juneau looked like a faded carpet. I found myself photographing the bare balsam poplar trees that rose above the flume trail on the Mt. Juneau side of Gold Creek. I enjoyed some limp thimbleberry leaves, the yellow color of their leaves enriched by a blink of sunlight. But soon they too will fade and we will have reached the season for admiring shapes and textures instead of color.
Aki and I have reached the edge of Gastineau Channel near the mouth of Sheep Creek. Crows and gulls, scattered over the creek delta like salt and pepper, pay no attention to the little dog and I. Even the normally jumpy mallards ignore us. A small raft of ducks land on the channel waters and paddle our way. What are we little dog, invisible?
I recognize a male golden eye in the newly arrived raft. But I can’t make out the rest of the gang. My best guess is that they are female common golden eyes. Whatever they are, the birds swim towards us as if I held a bucket of grain for them to devour.
I lead the little dog away from the golden eyes to the edge of a small tidal lake where mallards, gulls, and crows feed. The lake reflects the faded fall colors on Sheep Mountain. On a sunny day, the images would be crisper than those of the reflected trees. But in today’s flat light, they are as abstract as Monet ‘s water lilies.
Aki won’t leave the car. For the first time ever at a trailhead, she doesn’t leap out the door the minute I open it. A light rain is falling but in the past even heavy downpours haven’t deterred her. As if trained in etiquette by an Irishman, she waits for me to ask her three timed before dropping onto the ground.
The little dog stays right on my heals as we cross the Fish Creek Bridge and head toward the pond. She looks back often, even when squatting to defecate. She has smelled a wild animal that might harm us. I know it is not a bear because, unwisely, she has no fear of them. I remember the wolf that hunted here during the salmon spawn. Maybe it is back. Aki calms down after we round the pond.
Even through the tide has covered over the wetlands, which would normally force all the eagles to roost in shoreline spruce trees, none of the big birds announces our approach with screams. We won’t see any eagles, ravens, or crows during the visit. The resident mallards are also gone. A pair of western grebes fish just offshore in Fritz Cove. Behind them a line of harlequin and golden eye ducks fly feet off of the water. Across the horizon, hundreds of migratory birds head south, too far away for me to identify them.
Aki perks up when we turn to head back to car, but stops often to make sure that I am not lagging behind. I feel like a child being escorted down a dangerous city street. We drive home through a downpour, which discourages me from exiting the car when we reach the house. Aki waits for me on the front porch even though the door is already open. She will wait there until I gather everything from the car and walk into the safety of our home.
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.
We are on the moraine between storm pulses. The last one ripped away most of the fall color from the tall poplars. Their living skeletons line Moose Lake. The more protected willows still provide a yellow contrast to the dull color scheme created by last night’s high winds.
Newly born cascades of rainwater carve out channels in the Thunder Mountain avalanche chutes. Fog mist rises from evergreen forests like campfire smoke. Heavy rain has raised lake and river levels. Aki and I have to detour around large sections of flooded trails to get to the heart of the moraine. As a result we have the place to ourselves except for a bald eagle roosting in the bare branches of a poplar tree.
With all the watercourses running high, silver salmon can now reach their spawning grounds. From its vantage point the eagle can spot potential meals as they struggle to complete their long swim.