I thought long and hard this morning about skipping my daily walk with Aki. She probably wouldn’t mind. The older poodle spent most of the time since breakfast curled up under her humans’ bed. But she finally let me dress her in a warm jacket and then wait at the door as I pulled on my boots.
We drove out to Auk Bay where the trail runs through a thick, old growth forest. That can protect us from most of the rain pounding the town. It did. But I dashed out of the forest for the beach after spotting a small clan of Dahl porpoise in Auk Bay. Normally, the guys disclose little when they feed in the bay. This morning, some of them fly out of the water and then crash back. The noise of their jumps drives a small school of salmon down the beach to a small bay. As they do whenever being chased, the salmon form a tight ball just off shore. In seconds the porpoise slam into the ball and snatch fish with their bills. Seconds later, they disappear deeper into the bay.
Something dark flashes on the bay’s surface and disappears. As I wonder whether it wasn’t an illusion, the thing reappears. Just as I identify it as a Dahl porpoise, it is gone. Aki and I are hiding from the rain under a picnic shelter. She’s had a good morning, meeting dogs and reading the pee mail. Me, not so much. Up until now, I’ve had to be content with sightings of three golden eye ducks and a handful of mallards.
Aki starts whining, making it clear that she is not onboard with my plan to wait for the porpoise to resurface. I ignore her for a minute and then give in. We will never see the porpoise again. The walk back to the car makes up for the porpoise disappointment. No snow covers the trail, except where there are breaks in the thick old growth canopy above it. These patches stand out in otherwise dusk-like forest, like strips of dayglo paint. An eagle screams interrupts the song of an unseen sparrow.
On the drive home we stop to watch a great blue heron fish near a raft of mallards. All the birds are working a smallish tidal lake near the ferry terminal. The heron looks grumpy. It hunches it shoulders and keeps it back turned to me. I wait for some action, maybe one of its lightning-fast attempts to spear a fish with its wicked beak. But he holds his “I can’t see you” pose until Aki begins to whine.
I’m in Skagway, a town eighty miles up the Lynn Canal fjord from Juneau. Having no need of writer’s school, Aki is back home. During a break between classes I am riding my bicycle on the road to the old gold rush town of Dyea. On my right a red-breasted sapsucker hammers a tin mail box, repeatedly striking the words, “U.S. Male” with its beak. I wonder about the bird’s politics.
It’s a relief to escape class and the town of Skagway, now filled with 13,000 cruise ship visitors. Later on the ride I will pass a group of cruise ship workers playing cricket on a baseball field. They are short one bat so they have to make due with a section of alder. I think of the cricket game I once watched never Devon, England on a perfect pitch where the batters wore pads and the bowlers a wooden ball. The rubber one used by the cruise ship crickets didn’t yield that satisfying “crack” when hit that a wooden ball produces. But today’s game brought the guys joy.
Aki needs some beach time so we head to the old Auk Village site. It is still snowing when we arrive. We are at the tail end of the storm that left a foot of white stuff on the old growth forest floor. The little dog and I move down a well-packed trail as wet snow and melt water drip from the trailside spruce. We are soaked by the time we drop down onto the snow-free beach.
As Aki chases after her Frisbee, I scan the crescent-shaped bay for life. In addition to the usual confab of gulls, harlequin ducks, and crows, I spot a small pod of Dahl porpoise hunting just offshore. They, well porpoise: briefly break the bay’s surface then dip back beneath the water. It happens fast, too fast to see anything but backs and dorsal fins. Unlike their larger cousins, the whales, the porpoise don’t form a noticeable plume when they exhale. But their rolling through water shinning silver with storm light still gives me a thrill.