We are heading into the brown time that falls between fall color and snow. Aki, we have watched most of the leaves in this forest mature from spring buds to limp, drained things. The little dog, acting as if she didn’t hear me, slinks off to sniff a tree trunk. Poodle, I know it is ridiculous to mourn the leaves. She flashes me her “duh’ look.
Maybe because this has been such a good year for fall color, I am saddened by single leaves, now faded from red to pink, hanging from otherwise empty trees. If the time of snow and hard freezes holds off for a week or two more, we will have more color in the forest. Some of the low growing sorrels are still green while the leaves of their neighbors are mottled red and orange. But the wind has torn the yellow leaves off most of the cottonwoods and the alders are fading to brown.
Soon we will be reduced to earth tones except for the party colors of the harlequin ducks.
As rain soaks into Aki’s fur, a belted kingfisher pluck a baitfish from the water and then lands on a rock in the tidal zone. It flips, chomps, and swallows the fish and settles in atop the rock. Plumped up and with its feathers slick and wet, the kingfisher reminds me of the banker icon from Monopoly, With my rain smeared glasses I can’t see whether the bird is sporting a monocle.
The little poodle-mix and I are the only one using the Rainforest trail this morning. Aki is a good sport about the rain, as usual. But she appears to be in a hurry to get back under the old growth canopy.
I’d follow her off the beach now if not for the line of harlequin ducks cruising through the trough line of a swell. When they are not hidden by a wave, I can see that the little party-colored ducks swim with heads buried in the water. Closer in, gulls appear to be standing on the ocean’s surface. The incoming tide will soon force them off their already submerged perches. But for now, they are quite content to rest on their rocks.
The birds are back little dog. Looking up from a scent spot that has occupied her attention for the last minute, Aki gives me a “Dah” look. She might think I am referring to the adult bald eagle that had been feeding a few feet away when we reached the Shaman Island beach. The big bird flew off to a glacier erratic on the other side of Peterson Creek and landed. From that vantage point and safe from poodles, it waits for us to leave so it can return to its feast.
No Aki, I am not referring to that eagle or the other one roosting nearby. Look there. I point toward the island where a small raft of harlequin ducks are performing the synchronized swimming routine their kind performs when feeding. All summer the harlequins have been hanging out on the outer coast with red-breasted mergansers and the other fish ducks. The little bay has been lonely in their absence. It’s good to have them back. Closer to the beach, a smaller raft of widgeons have their heads in the water feeding. These guys must be heading south.
We passed other signs of fall along the forest trail that we used to get to this beach. The leaves of wild crabapple trees and blueberry bushes were in high autumn colors. Some of the devil’s club and skunk cabbage were yellowing. And the downy woodpeckers that seem to only appear at the change of seasons, were hammering away at old growth spruce and hemlock trees.
Sunshine enriches this visit to an old growth forest. It backlights the translucent flesh of plant leaves and throws strong shadows off hunting dragonflies.
But I wonder if Aki cares. Sunlight reflecting off the beaver pond forces her to squint and, I think, sometimes to sneeze. As long as her little nose works, she doesn’t care if the sun shines.
The little dog and I walk along through the forest to a small bay. Soon the bay will fill up with waterfowl making their annual trip south. They will be joined by harlequin docks fat with baitfish from the stormy outer coast. Local mallards will share the bay with them and a few resident eagles. Today a few crows croak from a rocky island in the bay. Gulls, full from feeding during the ebb tide, putter around the same island or rest on the Shaman Island spit. I hear but do not see an eagle. Its high-pitched scream sounds like a piglet’s squeal.
Three harlequin ducks shared a near shore rock, each bending over as if to preach to the rest of their raft as they floated in the water. No bird attended to the sermon of a crow standing alone on another rock. Then, as if conducting an ordered evacuation, the three ducks dove one after the other into the water. Without the little dog or I knowing it, two bald eagles had been watching the harlequin performance from high in the spruce tree behind us.
After screeching out a critique, the eagles flew over our heads and glided over the ducks. If the eagles were planning on diving on the ducks, they soon gave up on the idea. Instead they started what appeared to be a game of tag. One eagle closed on the other. When a collision seemed imminent, the two birds sailed apart. They continued the dance over the ducks for a minute and then flew off in different directions.
The raft of harlequins, which had moved close to the rocky shore, spread out and returned to their fishing.