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.
Some swirling in the lake waters during my last visit encouraged me to take along a fishing rod on this visit to the Troll Woods. We are close to the glacier, walking on moraine recently colonized by fast growing poplars, willows, and alders. It must ten degree colder here than at home in Downtown Juneau. The little dog and I are underdressed.
Gray mist crawls over the lake surface, which is yet to feel the morning light. I make a few half-hearted casts but stop when I notice that Aki is shivering. I can see the promise of warmth in the sunlight that brings out the fall color in the shoreline cottonwoods and makes Mt. McGinnis stand out against the blue morning sky.
Silver salmon splash and roll in the smallest lake on the moraine. They are waiting for the next storm to raise the water level of their spawning stream so they can get on with their deadly mating rituals. At least one salmon has paid a stiff price for waiting. We found it’s severed head on the trail. Last night a bear ate the fish’s body.
Fortunately for the salmon, rain is forecasted for next Thursday. We will miss the sun but are willing to walk in the rain—a small price for living in a rain forest drained by salmon streams.
It’s almost October, when sunny skies normally bring crisp nights that leave the Dredge Lakes skimmed with ice. When Aki and I headed out to the lakes this morning, I dressed for a sunny but cool day. Now I’m sweating. Aki could have gone without the wrap she wears. I almost envy a yellow lab that runs past us and crashes into Mendenhall River.
No ice skim covers the lakes. There is nothing to prevent migratory waterfowl from landing on the water except the sound of shotguns that comes from Norton Lake. It is only spot on the glacial moraine far enough away from a road to allow legal hunting. Was it last fall or the one before when a flock of tundra swans rested on Moose Lake for several days? Today the only waterfowl we will see were a mile from Downtown, crowded on one of the Twin Lakes where they were safe from hunters.
Aki and I push through an alder thicket to gain a better view of one of the lakes. Thick mist softens the reflection of mountains, yellowing trees, and the glacier on the lake’ surface. As the sunshine grows in intensity, the mist rises above the tops of shoreline trees and melts. None of this interests the little dog or a magpie that lands nearby on a grassy island. The little corvus, with it’s crisp art deco design, flits off the minute it spots us.
We are going to pay for this sometime. That’s what I’d tell Aki if she wasn’t charging after her Frisbee. Normally the Rain Forest monsoon season starts in September and continues until the first winter high-pressure system settles over the ice field. But we have only had a few drops of rain since August. Aki doesn’t complain. She lives in the moment and right now the moment is providing her with sunshine.
The little dog, her other human and I are walking along the southwest shore of Mendenhall Lake. The lake is flat calm, its surface broken only by incoming silver salmon. The sun enhances the yellow of cottonwood leaves and lightens the British racing green color of the surrounding spruce trees.
For the first time since last spring, Aki slips on ice. Shaded puddles are cover with a thick skim of it. When the sun first touches the beach pebbles, they sparkle with new-formed ice. But in minutes they dull to normal.
Looks like the party is over little dog. Aki and I just crossed Fish Creek , which now appears to be empty of salmon. No eagles roost in creek side trees. We can’t even spot the pair of squabbling ravens that usually patrol the creek’s gravel bars.
The kingfisher that guards the pond is still here. When it spots us, the little bird flies off to give the alarm. It is time, I think, for the land to go to rest for winter. Then two silver salmon, sides spawning-red, leap about the surface of the pond. An eagle screams. The party is still on.
The eagle doesn’t bother Aki. She stares at the water as if willing the salmon to jump again. When they don’t she trots around the pond to where the trail climbs onto a low dike. There, a great blue heron surprises both of us by flying out of a nearby tree and settling onto the limb of a spruce just twenty feet away.
Aki seems glued to the spot on the trail where she first spotted the heron. When I call her she looks in the big bird’s direction as if to say, are you crazy, that thing is ten times my size. I could tell her that the heron hunts small fish, not small dogs. But from past experience I know that she won’t move. I’ll have to carry her to the perceived safety of the woods.
Aki has dragged two humans along with her on this walk to Nugget Falls. It’s too early in the day for the sun to illuminate the falls. Random shafts of light do reach the glacier and the top of Mt. McGinnis. A trickle of retreating tourists pass us as we near the falls. They all smile. Some are happy to see an animated stuffed animal trot up to them. Others are excited by have been so close to the falls. Many are thrilled to have seen a mountain goat.
We spot the goat in seconds. It is relaxing on a rocky bench on the other side of the falls. Like Aki does when she wants to rest while on watch, the goat keeps its head up, hams and chest on the rock, and its front legs stretched out toward us. It seems a very ungoat-like pose. While I watch the goat watch me, Aki bullets across a large sand bar to check out three cruise ship tourists who stand near the water’s edge. She then visits everyone else on the sand bar before returning to her humans.
Aki wasn’t pouting yesterday when her humans returned from a whale watch trip. She expressed excitement, not consternation as we opened the front door. As promised, I took her on a proper walk through the troll woods. Wind rattled the yellowing cottonwood leaves, ripping a few from their home tree. But no breeze rippled the waters of Moraine Lake to spoil the reflection of Mt. McGinnis.
This afternoon we head out to the end of the road as a small craft advisory kept fishing boats off the water. The little dog has three humans today to herd. She gets us safely across a muskeg meadow and then down onto a breach. It’s high tide. Water almost covers the beach gravel. Aki trots along the bordering beach grass, avoiding surf surging over the gravel. After her humans sit on the beach, Aki settles by my side, enjoying the way the sun warms her tight, gray curls.