For the past few weeks robins have been a regular feature of our walks. Before today, they just trotted along in front of us as if to lead the little dog and I away from their young. But they didn’t sing. The robins infesting the forest near Fish Creek Pond this morning have switched into nesting mode—singing territorial songs and escaping into a surrounding tree when we approach. Black-capped chickadees harmonize with the robins as they move nervously through the forest canopy.
Aki ignores the noisy birds. One of her other humans has brought along a Frisbee for the little dog to chase. While she is busy with her toy, I sneak off the trail to look at ducks gathered on a swampy meadow. At least one hundred mallards crowd on a series of tiny lakes. A northern pintail and several American widgeons wander among the mallards. Every minute two or three more ducks join the crowd.
The wind, which has being growing in strength since we left the car, can’t reach the ducks in their inland preserve. Nothing blocks it from whipping down the glacier, across Gastineau Channel, and over the Fish Creek Delta. Only crows use this open space. They toss themselves into the air, pop around like kites, and drop back onto the beach.
The sun exited today, leaving behind a place better suited for black and white photography than color. I pull Aki’s most colorful sweater over her muzzle and settle it over her back and shoulders. Then we head out to Gastineau Meadows.
A week of cold temperatures has kept the meadow snow too soft for walking without snowshoes. I didn’t bring a pair. Aki is a shade better off. A thin crust mainly supports her. But the little poodle-mix breaks through every four or five steps. We’d be forced to turn around if three others with snowshoes had not set a trail for us.
Aki loves to chase her Frisbee over snowy meadows, especially this one. Today she growls after the toy when it lands in the broken trail. When it lands elsewhere, she minces toward it, sometimes chest deep in loose snow.
There is still an hour before the tide crests at 18.7 feet. Already it has turned the Fish Creek delta into a lake. Whether to escape the shrinking beaches where they had been hunting for food, or because they just feel like it, a large murder of crows retreats to the forested island that we are attempting to circumnavigate. Aki ignores the verbal battle that erupts between the crows and a handful of eagles that already occupying the island’s canopy.
On the other side of the temporary lake, a bald eagle swoops over a raft of mallard ducks, flushing them to flight. Failing to snatch one for a meal, the eagle returns to its roost in an old growth spruce tree. One of the crows flies over to flush the eagle from its roost. I wonder if the crow’s squawking speech would translate, “How does that feel tough guy.” The eagle holds to its perch, sending up its own verbal abuse.
None of this ruckus disturbs a local song sparrow. The diminutive singer moves along side of us as we try to reach higher ground before the tide floods out the path back to the trailhead. Even though it could fit comfortably in my breast pocket, the sparrow shows no fear. It lands on an old piling just a few feet and stares us down like a sheriff about to tell two trouble makers to move along.
This is a low-cruise-ship day so Aki and family head out to the glacier. No buses idle in the parking lot when we arrive. No line snakes out of the bathroom. Without the crowds, the visitors that did make the trip out from town look relaxed and happy. They don’t even seem to mind the rain.
Aki carries her Frisbee in her mouth. The emergency-services-green disk flops back of forth as she trots along. We try to talk a back path to Nugget Falls but find it flooded. But that doesn’t matter much today since the crowds are small and happy.
Two newly calved icebergs have come to rest in the lake. I stop to enjoy them. In a few years the glacier will have retreated away from the lake too far for launching bergs. At this point no amount of wishful thinking or even good environmental practices can stop the retreat.
Glacial melt and recent rains have swollen Nugget Falls so it is really pounding into the lake. The crashing water forces water spouts and sprites to rise twenty feet into the air, obscuring our view of the glacier. Ignoring the noise and fury, Aki begs her other human to throw the Frisbee. When it is tossed into the direction of falls, she charges after it as if on a sunny beach on a quiet day.
This is a sad day for Aki, not because we failed to find many berries to pick but because her beloved Frisbee floated away. She has lost five other Frisbees in the same manner. Today, while we walked from the berry patch toward the trailhead, the little dog shot off the trail and down a steep path to Montana Creek. Not realizing the danger, she dropped her Frisbee into the water for cleaning. In seconds it floated away down stream. Her other human slid down the trail in hopes of retrieving the toy. But it was already out of reach.
Aki refused to accept her loss. She urged her other human to go get the saucer-shaped toy. She had to be carried halfway up the stream bank before she agreed to join me on the trail. Even after we started back to the car, she would look with expectation at the little shoulder pouch that once housed her special, plastic friend.
Even though she was born in Missouri of mix parentage, Aki looks like a French Poodle. I am tempted to wish her “Happy Bastille Day.” But we are out on the glacial moraine under gray, rain-filled clouds. She demands, not a parade, but for her humans to send her Frisbee spinning down the trail. While chasing the flying disk she growls like a wolf chasing down prey. She is no one’s poodle.
While the little dog is content with chasing her Frisbee, I am looking to pick enough blue berries for next Saturday’s pancakes. We recently used up last summer’s berries. Domestic blue berries for the store don’t work. They are overpowered by the sourdough pancake batter.
Water from the Mendenhall River is all but covering the trail and we have to press up against a hedge of alders in order to skirt a flooded out section. Aki dashes through the detour and waits for her two humans, Frisbee in her mouth. Later she will wait for us to pick a pint of blues and then walk back to the car in the rain.
Aki looked concerned, even desperate. It got worse after she watched me carry my fishing gear to the front door. If she could have understood, I would have reminded her how much she hates bouncing up and down the back side of Admiralty Island in a 24 foot Sea Dory. While walking out the door, I reminded myself that in a short time the little dog will be chasing her Frisbee down a North Douglas Island beach. After I left, her other human took her on an outing after I left for the boat.
After leaving the harbor the captain and I bounce up Favorite Passage on chop formed by wind blowing in the opposite direction of the ebbing tide. It’s worse when we round the top end of Shelter Island and enter North Pass. I can barely see a pod of humpback whales bubble feeding near Hand Troller’s Cove. Ten whales splash and release bubbles to trap krill and herrings in a net of bubbles. Then they burst up through the resulting ball of bait with open mouths.