I hear the eagle’s scream the moment we start down the Treadwell Ruins trail. Aki is too pre-occupied with her scent survey to bother with eagles. With her front legs spread wider than usual, the little dog shuffles down the trail keeping her nose just millimeters about the ground. We can make little progress until she finds the mother lode of the scent she follows. I am worried that we will miss seeing the eagle. Aki does one of her signature handstands, raising her entire rear end into the air as she rains pee down on top of another dog’s scent trail, then drops into a quick-step trot. The eagle screams again.
It had been raining but that has stopped. A low layer of clouds hangs over the channel when we reach Sandy Beach. Little can be seen of the mountains across Gastineau Channel. In the foreground, the old mine tunnel ventilation shaft pokes up through the waters of the channel. A mature bald eagle occupies each corner of the ventilation shaft’s roof. I try to read their body language to determine whether they are friend, foe, or sufferers in a dysfunctional marriage. I’m guessing it’s the latter.
Each eagle has its back turned to the other. The one facing me looks like it just tasted a sour lemon. If either attempted to expand the distance between them, it would fall into the channel. I’ve heard that eagles mate for life. These two look like they could use couples counseling.
Aki wouldn’t like this. It’s seven in the morning. The temperature drops a degree each mile I ride my bike out Glacier Highway. Now it hovers at 27 degrees F. The temperature didn’t stop the Hermit Thrush from singing its spring song when I mounted my bicycle at the Shrine of St. Theresa. The cold might have silenced the eagles because I can’t hear their territorial scream as I head out the road. But the Stellar’s jays are warm enough to scold me as I ride over the Peterson Creek Bridge.
The sun lights up Shelter Island and the snow-white Chilkat Mountains that line the other side of Lynn Canal. But I ride in pre-dawn grey until Eagle River where the sun shines on the gang of Canada geese in a mid-stream gravel bar. The birds cackle away as if plotting mischief.
I push on another half-mile and then drop into the picnic area where a smaller group of geese hunt and peck near the picnic tables. If my presence bothers them, they don’t show it. Pleased for not being their cat among the pigeons, I ride to a trailhead where a man on a mountain bike greets me. After we exchange hellos, he rides down the trail toward the plotting Canada geese. In seconds they explode off the meadow and fly low over my head, flushed by a cat on a cycle.
Aki and the Gastineau ravens are ignoring each other. The little dog had the runs last night but seems over it now. Still, she seems a little grumpy. Maybe the ravens are cutting her some slack. A block to the south, where alders partially obscure the cement walls of the old ore crushing plant, more ravens circle in the blue sky. A bald eagle screams out a complaint but doesn’t show itself. The north wind blows the little dog and I past the birds and down onto South Franklin Street.
Here, the tourist shops, bars, Filipino Hall, and the homeless shelter block the wind. Aki follows a pee trail that leads her past the Red Dog Saloon, the Lucky Lady Bar, and the ancient Alaska Hotel. Early day drinkers are no doubt sheltering in each of these establishments. Now facing into the wind, Aki powers past a distillery, tattoo shop, and the Franklin Street Barbers. She shows impatience with I stop to photograph a bronze brown bear statute. In minutes, thanks to her insistence, we are home.
To avoid heavy dog traffic on our normal Fish Creek trail, I lead Aki down one I haven’t explored for at least 20 years. It passes through a second growth forest. A generation ago, someone had cut every old growth spruce or hemlock on this streamside land. Today only spruce with 5 or 6 inch thick trunks grow jammed together so tight that their combined canopy blocks out sunlight. No understory plants can survive the resulting darkness.
After sliding along an icy trail through the second growth, the little dog and I drop onto the wetlands in time to watch a bald eagle flush fifty mallards from a stream eddy. If the eagle’s goal was to nail one of the plump ducks for dinner, he failed. With empty talons it lands next to another eagle that might be it’s mate. At any rate he doesn’t receive a warm welcome.
The disturbed ducks circle over Fritz Cove and then return to their protected stream eddy. A little further onto the wetlands we find ourselves surrounded by a gang of robin red breasts. (American Robins). Most hunt the grasslands for food but a few hop around in a showy fashion between stints of freezing into statutes like children do when playing Simon Says.
Wondering why the eagles don’t hunt the robins rather then skittery ducks, I climb onto a earthen dike that surrounds a small pond. Spruce have colonized the top of the dyke. The ground beneath one is covered with eagle down and white splats of the big predator’s poop. Just down wind is a scattering of mallard feathers.
Aki and I are hunkering into a sharp wind. It arrived with the snowstorm last night. Now the wind blows the snow sideways, perpendicular to the frozen surface of Fish Creek Pond. Neither the little dog nor I have much interest in this adventure. The storm hides the beauty that we normally find here.
With a reluctant Aki, I climb a little rise and follow an icy trail that usually offers views of the Chilkat Mountains, the glacier, and Fritz Cove. We can just make out the cove through the screen of falling snow but it is low tide so most of the birds are too far away to see. I can just make out two bald eagles skulk on a muddy bar a kilometer away.
When Aki starts to whine, I give up my search for beauty and return to the car. The just ended string of sunny days raised my expectations. Today’s obscuring snowstorm has brought me back to earth.
Last night a north wind blew down Lynn Canal, exceeding 70 knots an hour over Portland Island. It is still blowing. Aki and I are trying to dodge the wind in an old growth forest just five miles from the island. The wind hammers the forest canopy, breaking off small branches and spruce cones scattered on the icy trail.
It’s just past high tide when we leave the forest for the beach. Wind driven waves slam onto the beach, tearing into the barrier band of beach grass. I have to take care not to step on broken root wads of grass. Sand and shredded strands of seaweed discolor the snow covered trail, thrown there by the waves that hit the beach at high tide.
I’ve never seen waves this big on this beach. In the 20 years I have visited it, the beach has never suffered the kind of damage done to by these waves. I worry that the sound of pounding waves will scare Aki but she acts like she would on a calm, summer day.
A cloud of gulls forms just offshore after the birds burst off the water. I think I can see an eagle flying in and out of the cloud. In minutes they settle back on the back, riding the swells with ease.
When you write about nature, you can’t avoid mentioning the weather. It opens and closes doors of opportunity in the rain forest. Since she has no access to the Internet (that I know of) and cannot read, Aki has no weather expectations while she waits at the door for me to pull on my boots. I know that the temperature is a little below freezing and the sun is alone in the blue sky. I know because I spent hours yesterday moving it with a shovel, that at least of six inches of new snow covers the ground. My little dog will be pleased.
We head out to the faint trail that rounds False Outer Point and continues along the beach to the trail we took yesterday. The tide is out when we reach the trailhead, which means we should have no trouble completing the circuit. Aki jumps out the car and immediately plants her head into a snow bank. All I can see of her face when she emerges are her two dark eyes. A bald eagle cruises over the trailhead and then soars out over Fritz Cove.
The trail is in shadow but the sun lights up the snow covered spruce trees across the cove. A small raft of fish ducks float up and over a series of two-foot high swells about to slam onto the beach. The last high tide washed the lower half of the beach clean of snow, leaving up a choice of walking on sand or snow. I choose sand but Aki lingers on the snow for a few rolls before she joins me on the easier trail.
Sun shine washes the beach on the other side of the point. It also softens the snow, frustrating Aki’s efforts to keep up with me. I can tell where this will go so I lead the little poodle-mix into the woods where we find a forest trail leading back to the car.