Aki and I are getting a late start on this walk down Bad Dog Trail. That’s our family name for it because one of our dog walker friends had too many run ins with bad dogs on it. Some of the trail users do let their dogs run wild, which puts a lot of stress on the birds. Maybe we should rename it the “Bad Dog Owner Trail.”
Fifty meters down the trail a male tree sparrow on a nesting box munches down a large dragon then looks up to glare at the little dog and I like a sentry. The swallow refuses to yield ground, even though the trail takes us to within two meters of its position.
A boat moving up river with the tide flushes a hundred noisy Canada geese to flight. They relocate just offshore from a grassy island and return to their feeding. If there are ducks in the river, I can’ spot them. Other than the geese, the only birds we see are small, like the tree swallow.
We stop to listen to a pine siskin sing that gives me a hard stare. Another bird refusing to give ground. Song sparrows flits away any time we come near them. Two bounce down in a mixed clump of chocolate lilies, buttercups, shooting stars and lupine. I envy their ability to look up through a canopy of blossoms shinning in the morning sun. The swallow sentry is waiting for us when we approach the car, ready to give us a “move along” look.
It’s only eight in the morning but already the sun has defused the glacier’s beauty. I still race out to the mouth of Fish Creek, hurrying past a brace of mergansers on the pond and a heron feeding at the edge of a meadow. There is still a chance that I will catch the reflection of the glacier and surrounding peaks in the still waters of Fritz Cove before the wind starts working against the tide.
Aki tries to slow me down. She hangs back to investigate every smell. When I can no longer see her, I stop and wait, investigating the small things that I would otherwise rush past: backlit lupine, the head of a crow moving above the blades of newly green grass, a mosquito perched on a still-intact globe of dandelion seeds.
Crows announce my progress to the mouth with harsh calls. Across the creek, one of the resident bald eagles calls back. A slight breeze tosses about Aki’s fur when we reach the creek mouth. The little dog wades into the brackish water and sips. Behind her, a rising wind turns the glacier’s reflection into an Impressionist painting.
Aki is frustrated. She and I have spent the last hour driving from one trailhead parking lot to another, looking for one that is not jammed with cars. She can’t understand why we have to avoid crowded trails. The Fish Creek parking lot has a half-a-dozen cars but it services three trails. We take the one least traveled. That will make all the difference. We will only have to pass three guys, and that at place to will allow us to keep three meters of distance.
Our chosen trail takes us up the creek, past an amazing number of huge spruce trees. Many might have sucked water from the creek during the English Civil War. Most stood before white people arrived in North America.
Few fish swim in the creek. It’s too early for adult salmon. Until they arrive, there will be no trout or dolly vardens. By now, most of the salmon smolt have made it to salt water. If we see a flash of silver in the stream, it will be a spawning steelhead trout.
We can hear bird song when the trail takes us away from the noisy creek. Two male sap suckers pound spruce bark, trying to attract a mate. Nearby, a trio of pine siskens lands on a wind fallen spruce to tear thin strips from the bark for nests.
The understory plants in the rain forest are showing their age. Gone are the clean green days of early summer when berry bush had unblemished, sharp-edged leaves. Insects and disease have scarred many of the leaves and killed others.
Plants growing on the beach verge also look battered. While some lupines still display a few blossoms, seedpods have replaced most of their flowers. I find a beauty in the destruction. I find sadness in fireweed flowers because when they finish blooming it will be fall. I want to start a philosophical discussion about these ironies with Aki, but the little dog has moved down the trail to a spot where another dog has recently peed.
We both miss spotting an immature bald eagle feeding on the beach not ten feet away. The big bird pulls into the air and flies along a line of beach grass until it reaches the safety of the water. With its mottled feathers and neck stretched out in flight, it looks as ragged as the plants.
Aki turns back, giving me her “aren’t you coming” look. Her other human and a friend walk along side the little dog. Through my camera’s lens I see the trio moving between a grass-covered dune and a line of small surf slapping Boy Scout Beach. Beyond them lays a choppy Lynn Canal, Admiralty Island, and the white-capped peaks of the Chilkat Range. If Aki could fly, she’d be over Glacier Bay in a half-an-hour.
It’s too early for the wild flags (iris) to be in full bloom, but on the way to the beach we stumbled on two of them in flower. Magenta patches on the tidal meadow mark where the shooting stars thrive. Everywhere there are the blue or purple flowers of lupines and beach peas. If not for the cooling wind, we’d be in high summer.
I love the walk to this beach for the wild flowers and the frequent sightings of Canada geese it offers. Just before the beach, you can turn, look up the Eagle River, and spot a turquoise wedge of the Herbert Glacier dividing snowy peaks.
I hurry to join Aki and her humans just in time to watch a trio of crows force a raven to land near the surf line. The raven works on something with its beak as we approach and then flies over the water and back to where it must have found the treat. We push on to a spot with a little wind break where we eat a picnic and watch a trio of Canada geese fly by followed in minutes by an immature bald eagle.
Later we will see a score of geese fly low overhead in a formation that could be a from measure of sheet music from Ode to Joy. Probably not. If the sound made by the geese is any indication, the notes would be from the Three Stooges theme song.
It’s raining in town but not at the old Auk Village site. The trail runs inside the edge of a spruce forest, past cooking shelters and outhouses fashioned out of logs. Thick moss covers the buildings’ roof. Small hemlock trees are thriving after having sunk their roots into the outhouse roof.
Through breaks in the trees we can see a crescent-shaped bay. Diminutive, but powerful Dahl porpoise fish the bay. One or two of the black-sided porpoise fling themselves out of the water like breaching whales. Most just roll along, keeping their snouts and eyes in the watch to monitor the flight of their prey.
The wind picks up as we make toward Point Louisa. Aki pushes into the wind even though it pins back her ears. She stops still to watch a crow as it drinks from a puddle in the trail. With tail and head up, she watches the crow watch her for a few seconds. She holds her alert pose as the crow flies away.
Just minutes from the car, Aki and I are already soaked. Without interference from the wind, steady rain falls straight onto the glacial moraine. The Irish guide that once drove me around the Dingle Peninsula would call this a soft day, as if sunshine cuts like a knife. The description was accurate in one way: that day’s wet grayness softened away the visual contrasts that could have given the Irish farmland pop.
Today’s rains falls from clouds low enough to hide surrounding mountains and the glacier. Later we will see a slice of mountains and ice as the clouds lift. But, when we pass it on our way onto the moraine, the Mendenhall River appears to come out of a cloud. Raindrops bead up on blueberry and poplar leaves as well as in the border of segments of horsetail shoots. But the robins still sing, the kingfisher scolds, beavers tail slap lake water, and the little dog manages to enjoy herself.
The eagles play a waiting game on the Fish Creek Delta. They wait perched on spruce limbs where they could spot the arrival of food or a rival. They wait for the tide to recede. They long for the day king salmon enter the creek. The delta crows also wait for low tide and the salmon. But I can hear their young calling out for their mid-morning feed. The adults must long for the day their hatchlings fledge.
The impatient Aki rushes down a trail lined with blooming wild roses and cow parsnips. She has many scents to sample and cover with pee. The little dog doesn’t notice a formation of barn swallows dive on out matched mosquitoes. I feel like Aki and I are heavy bombers being escorted over enemy territory.
Perhaps because it landed so near a nest or because the crow is tired of the waiting game, it flies into an immature bald eagle to force it off it perch. The larger bird screeches out a warning but doesn’t move. In seconds the crow takes up station just above the eagle and lets out a string of sounds that could be curses. The eagle looks up at the diminutive crow, cocks its head, confused, rather than angry. Below, the swallows, their waiting game over, hunt prey.
Aki never enters the burn. She always waits with a worried expression for me to finish my search for recovery. Until today, I found little to report. Today, the flashy blue of lupine blossoms draw more attention than the skeletons of burn trees. Young poplar trees rise in a scattered pattern between ruined spruce. In a decade shade from the fast growing poplar will force the lupine to the sunny margin that lines the trail. In 100 years the spruce will have pushed out the poplar. But today, the lupine thrive in ancestor ashes.