I’ve gotten spoiled by the forest’s rich beauty. If visiting from the Lower 48, I would be overwhelmed by the colors, textures and shapes of the trees we pass between to reach a North Douglas Island beach.
This morning, I become a tourist and gave the old growth trees a stronger view. Each trunk grew out of a stump or downed tree. Some had to bend their large bodies around boulders or another tree. They hold on to these bends for years or maybe centuries after the pushy tree lived, died, and rotted away.
It was O Dark 30, on a grey, dry morning. Aki and I had just dropped off her other human at the airport. Then we drove over to the parking lot for a trail that skirts the north end of the runway. I didn’t bother to bring my camera. Sunrise was still minutes away. It will take much longer for the sun to brighten the sky. For at least another hour, a heavy layer of clouds will hide it.
The parking lot was completely empty when we started down the trail. It also appeared empty except for a small gang of scavenging crows. Then, thirty feet away, some migratory birds stirred and started slowly moving away from the trail. At first, I couldn’t identify the birds. Then they reached a spot nearer the river that seemed to catching more morning light. I realized that they were Greater White-fronted Geese. They were the only birds Aki or I would see on the trail. The flock was gone before we returned to the car. I wished them well. They still had to complete a long flight to Southwest Alaska before they can feed and breed.
It seems like only yesterday that ice covered the tiny moraine lakes and snow made it had to walk on these trails. Bears were probably still sleeping on nearby hillsides, and deer struggled, as they had all winter, to find eatable twigs. Well today almost every place on the moraine is bare and empty of color. It’s that time between winter and real spring, when the forest seems to pout.
Some willows are trying to branch out leaves. But most are bare. I came this morning to spot some swans but found only thawed out lakes and fresh bear tracks. Well, that’s an unfair understatement. We also saw robins and junkos carrying web improving roots and grasses to their building sites and a pair of freshly arrived ring-neck ducks.
We picked Auk Nu Beach for this mornings’ walk. The huge, old growth spruce crowding the trail keeps most raindrops off our parkas. It would have been a great idea if we had the place to ourselves. New leaves were exploding open on ever alder tree. But it was hard to enjoy it because of the long line of little grade schoolers chuckling on the beach.
I wouldn’t leave the woods for the beach on any other wet day. But after the parade of beach kids passed us, I walked with Aki across the beach gravel toward a gang of golden eye ducks and scoters feeding just offshore. Mergansers and mallards would have drifted into deeper water as we approached. But the scots and golden eyes ducks just ignored us. They were too busy harvesting the shallows.
I am drinking Barry’s Irish Breakfast Tea with a little milk. Aki is taking one of her post hike naps. I am trying to build up a tale to share from this morning’s beach walk. But I can’t stop thinking about the tea.
Rather than use an insulated stainless steel mug for the brewing, I dropped the tea bag into an old steel pot given to us years ago by an Irish family. The resulting tea tastes much more complex than the brew I drink most mornings. Makes me wonder how many cups of hot tea from the old pot we’ve drunk over the past forty years..
Before the tea party, Aki and I had walked along Sandy Beach. The wind hadn’t risen yet so Gastineau Channel still reflected the mountains and avalanches. We saw the usual mallard gangs, and a Savannah sparrow. We heard gulls whine, robins sing, and after we left the beach, a very grumpy eagle screech out complaints.
As we approached the complainer, another adult bald eagle dived toward a well-used eagles nest, which sits thirty feet off the ground in an old cottonwood tree. A gull, trying to snatch an egg or two, squawked and flew away. The eagle landed on a nearby limb. All night, rain and snow mix had soaked the eagle’s feathers. Now, after the rain stopped, it was spreading out its wings to dry. Another bald eagle poked its head above the nest’s edge to give her partner a disgusted stare.
Rain, snow, and cold skies are returning to our little fjord bound town. “Wait,” I want to shout. “Wait until at least six months before bringing back the ice and cold.” This morning the temperature is already in the 50’s. Aki is running between our her human and I, making sure that we are both keeping pace as we ski along Montana Creek.
According to the weather experts, wet clouds will hide the sun over Juneau tonight. Rain and snow will hit the next day. There is no hope for the sun’s return for at least a week.
I stop often as we ski along the creek. Sometimes I halt to take pictures of sparkling creek water rushing under and around snow covered boulders. Other times, I just stop on a sunny patch of softening snow to listening to the rushing water while strong sun warms my face and raises Aki’s attitude.
(The first four swans we’ve seen this year, feeding along the shore of Auk Lake.)
The first person we met on a North Douglas Island trail was an old man. He moved slowly toward me, weighed down by a heavy back pack. Twenty steps behind him, a woman of the similar age carried a similar burden. Shafts of morning light threw long shadows from every tree and bush they past. Aki and stood ten feet off the trail so they could safely pass.
We ran into more campers on a trail that rarely has any. They stayed all night even though the temperature dropped to around freezing. Many were still snugged in their tents. Two men sat in folding chairs where they could catch warmth from the morning sun. They looked fragile, like men do when feeling the morning sun after a night of cold. A bottle of whiskey sat just beyond their reach.
It’s 60 degrees F. We are walking along a small lake covered by a cloud-free sky. A very thin blanket of ice still covers the southeast portion of the lake where Aki and I stand.
Many of the waterfowl birds are taking advantage of the sunny day to sleep on the grassy beach along the northern lake shore. Having winter ice on the lake’s south side but not on the north makes me wonder if the little dog and I wandered into the Southern Hemisphere.
It’s a rich day for bird viewing even if you ignore the ducks. Two geese flew past us on the beach as did a heron. Just before returning to the car I walked to the auto bridge and spotted two other Canada geese standing together on the creek shore. One looked fine. The other had an odd looking tail. Was it damaged or just catching the light in an odd way.
The weather report I read before going to bed last night promised cooler weather and overcast skies. That seemed fair. We have had a nice series of warm, sunny days during which all of our crocuses bloomed and the snow in our yard disappeared. The sky is graying up right now, but was charged with sun when Aki and I walked along Sandy Beach.
It was a morning for watching gulls, but not eagles or even ducks. That didn’t really matter to me. My eyes were draw across Gastineau Channel where sunlight splashed sections of the mountains. Weak clouds lost control of sunlight shafts. Some lit up miles of beach and then disappeared. Others threw patterns of shadow and light on the snow covered mountain sides.
Our car claims that the air is currently 61 degrees F. But we still have to use a lot of caution to work our way down the ice-slick trail along Fish Creek.
There’s lot of reasons to believe that it is spring. Gangs of robins bounce about the meadows. I Even spotted my first varied thrush of the year. It’s low tide so there is a long of ground exposed between our trail and the ocean water. We watched two eagles leave their spruce tree roosts and glide out to sea. One just misses a mallard. The other eagle snatched a fish from the water and carried it to the beach to eat.