Aki is sharing the trail with a sled dog mix from a nearby village. They don’t interact much unless one of their humans offers a dog treat. We are walking down a crescent-shaped gravel beach on a dry if gray day. Gulls watch the dogs pass with “I couldn’t care less expressions. This is a typical gull reaction to Aki. But I am surprised to see that the rambunctious bigger dog merits the same casual treatment.
A large raft of goldeneye ducks turns their backs to the dogs and slowly works their way offshore. Nothing panics them to flight until an eagle flies over them. The big bird is a half a kilometer up where nothing can blocks the mountain wind. With quick wing adjustments it hovers over the goldeneyes for thirty seconds and then moves up the bay.
Just off of Point Louisa, a shrimp boat chugs up Lynn Canal. When it returns to port, its captain will sell his catch from the boat’s deck. He does a good business. People in this rainforest town are comfortable with buying seafood from the captain that caught it. They don’t need to have their shrimp wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic wrap.
Following the dogs, we humans walk through an old growth forest to Point Louisa. Near the point, a bald eagle glides from a nearby spruce roost, brakes in mid-air by throwing back its wings, and drifts toward the water. It snatches a small fish with its talons and lifts skyward. A jealous gull chases the eagle back to its roost.
I almost turned around in the trailhead parking lot when I saw the a four-wheel drive pickup—the preferred rig of duck hunters. Just one gunshot from the truck’s owner could panic Aki into hiding. But the tide had already flooded over the wetlands, flushing ducks and geese out onto the salt water. Even if the truck driver were hunting, he’d have nothing to shoot at. I coxed the little dog out of the car and headed toward the Fish Creek Pond.
A diminutive bufflehead hen paddled near the edge of the pond, watched by a roosting bald eagle. More frightened of the little dog and I, the duck moved to the pond’s center. The dog yard sound of panicked Canada geese drew my attention away from the eagle and its prey.
We found the geese, a contingent of thirty, formed up on Fritz Cove. A large raft of mallards floated near the geese. I doubt if the geese even saw the poodle-mix or I. We were at least a half-a-kilometer away when something, an eagle or seal, stirred them to flight. The geese flew low over the cove water in a long line. They soon passed the airborne raft of mallards, that had gotten a head start on the geese.
The last we saw of the fleeing birds they were passing behind the island at the mouth of Fish Creek. I thought we might sight them when we reached the mouth. But when we arrived there, nothing stirred the waters of the creek or Gastineau Channel into which the creek flowed. We couldn’t search long for birds. The little dog and I had to hurry to make it around the tip of the island before the rising tide flooded over the trail.
Aki and I are driving North, chasing the sun. That’s not quite right. We are looking for an end run around fog. When we left downtown, it blocked any view across Gastineau Channel. It seemed like the mountains had all been taken away for cleaning. Maybe we could find some relief out the road.
Twenty miles from home the fog grew worse. I had to slow down due to reduced visibility. When we passed the Shrine of St. Therese and parted for a moment, revealing the white peak of Lion Mountain. We drove on to the Eagle River flats, which normally offer views of the Chilkat Mountains and Admiralty Island. A wall of white rose up out of Lynn Canal so we couldn’t even see the edge of the flats.
The sun eventually burned through the clouds, not enough to reveal itself or any blue sky, but enough to brighten the canal water. Aki and walked along the flats, spying on a resting eagle and some nonplussed mallard ducks. One hundred meters out, a hundred gulls gathered together on barely exposed sand bar. The eagle, which had been ignoring the ducks, flew low over the gulls’ resort, flushing them into the air. Minutes later, the gulls resettled on the bar.
The fog closed over the sun so we headed home. I stopped when it reappeared above a muskeg meadow and lit up the feathers of a raven. The raven croaked, as if bothered by the sudden spotlight, and flew into some nearby woods.
Winter is holding its beachhead on the moraine. Aki and I are walking on a snow-covered glacial trail when an eagle lifts off the ground and lands in a nearby cottonwood tree. I search the ground for what drew the eagle. All I find is fresh blood on the snow.
A low layer of clouds hid the mountains when we first arrived. Now the sun is trying to burn it off. I can just barely make out the shoulder of Mt. McGinnis rising above the Troll Woods. Then the peak appears underlined with a thin strip of grey cloud. The air brightens when patches of blue appear in the eastern sky. It is reflected in a small beaver pond that almost touches the tree where the eagle waits for us to leave.
We move on to visit the beaver village. There thin ice barely covers the pond. Aki holds back at the edge of village. I wonder why. She normally loves to explore near beaver dens and always smiles when she rolls in their scat. I turn around after reaching the hole the beavers use to slip in and out of the pond. There is Aki, giving me her “Are You Crazy!!!” look. We seen no tracks of bears or wolves so I have no idea what has the little dog on edge.
I’m again walking into the breeze on Sandy Beach. The wind tosses rain into my face and onto my parka. I want to ask Aki why I always make this mistake. But the little dog is thirty meters away, trotting along the forest’s edge where the wind can’t reach her.
Next time, I promise myself, I will walk through the Treadwell Woods to Glory Hole Bay and then home with the wind at my back. I wipe rain from my glasses so I can see down Gastineau Channel. Just past Glory Hole Bay, two bald eagles ride upward in the wind. Flexing their wings, the eagles then drop like stones. One dives on something in the channel. The other eagle turns its wings into a parachute and drifts onto the top of an old wharf piling. They are masters of their six-foot wings.
A bald eagle flies over our car as I steer it into our driveway. Look at that, little dog, we spent hours walking over semi-wild lands and saw nothing but pine siskins. If we had stayed home, we could have seen that eagle being covered with snowflakes as it sulked on our neighbor’s roof. Aki, hoping to find some abandoned food morsel on the kitchen floor, urges me to stop second guessing myself and let her into the house.
We have just returned from a visit to the glacial moraine. An inch of squeaky snow covered our trail. Quarter-sized flakes drifted down as we walked out to Nugget Falls. We could just make out the glacier and Mt. McGinnis through the falling snow.
I usually look forward to deciphering tracks made by animals in snow. But those left light night were already buried with newly fallen stuff. Near the lakeshore, we found fresh tracks that could have been left by a small black bear. Maybe someone is late to hibernate.
Aki and I enjoyed our first snowy walk of the year. Even during a storm, the white stuff brightens the day. But the appearance of the sun could have added a crispness to the scene. This morning, while preparing to drive out to the moraine, the sun did muscle out from behind snow clouds to light up the waters of Gastineau Channel. It happened as an ocean tug pulled the weekly freight barge from Seattle toward its moorings. I wondered what dreamed for goodies rode on the barge.
The heavy rain that is flooding this moraine trail and soaking my pants doesn’t seem to be slowing down the pine siskins. Thirty of the small birds just settled onto an alder. They bounced when they landed on the alder branches then begin attacking something with their small but powerful beaks. They must be after the alder’s tightly wrapped leaf buds.
A bald eagle, its feathers rumpled by the rain, watches the siskins from its perch in a nearby cottonwood tree. Then it turns back toward the river. A few branches away, a long-tailed magpie watches the watcher. Maybe the magpie is hoping that the eagle will lead it to a deer carcass or some other source of food.
The little dog and I walk on. I want to circle Moose Lake and be back in the car before Aki starts to shiver. A few weeks ago some swans rested on the lake before continuing their southern migration. This morning I can only three bufflehead ducks. The black and white head of the male duck makes it the easiest to spot.
We spook two mallards to flight just before leaving the lake. The two drakes had been sheltering from the rain in a tangle of shore side alders. When they took off they filled the air with drops of the rain that had accumulated on their feathers.