After yesterday’s pond walk, I decided to camp the night nearby. After driving home, I assembled the usual pile of camping gear near the front door: tent, sleeping bags and pads, gas stove and kettle for morning coffee, food for Aki and I, and warm clothes. An hour later the tent was up and the little dog and I were taking an evening walk. A beaver swam near us on the reedy pond. Pale, almost imitation sunset colors showed through clouds above the pond. Tomorrow, little dog, we may have sunshine.
Aki started the curled up in her own little sleeping pad inside the tent. When the temperatures dropped to September cold, she crawled into my sleeping bag. We slept well, even though the nearby Mendenhall roared like a jet engine all night.
The sun broke over a mountain ridge in early morning, flooding the campground with light. I made a coffee and carried it to the shore of Mendenhall Lake just in time to see and a beaver swim right at me. I tried to imitate one of the lake-side alders as the beaver continued its approach. I must have twitched when it was right in front of me because it slapped the water with its tail and dived.
The beaver popped up seconds later and continued its patrol along the shore. After it disappeared around a nearby little point, I went back to the campsite to build the morning fire. Fog had been thickening on the lake’s surface while I watched the beaver. After the fire took hold, I returned to see whether the fog had survived the strengthening sunshine. Instead of fog, I saw the beaver doing one last patrol along the lake shore before tucking into its den for the day.
Today’s plan called for the little dog and I to walk along the shore of Mendenhall Lake. But, thanks to glacier flooding, there is no exposed lake shore. Instead we must explore the nearby forest grounds.
Aki is fine with the detour. For some reason, she doesn’t enjoy our lakeside walks. While she sniffs and pees on some trailside brush, I notice that rose-shaped growths have formed on the ends of some of the willow wands. Most are green. One is managing a reddish blush. Somewhere deep inside these willow roses burrows an insect. Like sand in an oyster, the little critter irritates the willow into folding its leaves until they mimic a flower. Aki has no interest in this small wonder so we move onto a trail that circles a small pond.
We can hear a mallard quacking that is hiding in a jungle of reeds. Current from small watercourses entering the pond has formed narrow paths through the reeds. What fun Water Rat, from Wind in the Willows, would have paddling his little boat along these reedy paths. I wish that I could find a human sized path through giant reeds. There is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
I knew, before we arrived at the beach, that the tide was out. But the expansiveness of exposed beach surprised me. We can walk all the way to Shaman Island by crossing a land bridge underwater during a normal low tide.
Because of eagles, Aki fears the land bridge. The big birds lurk in the trees on Shaman Island or rip chunks of flesh away from spawned out salmon when we cross during a normal summer. But no salmon carcasses litter the tidelands. No live salmon schooled up at the mouth of Peterson Creek.
A handful of gulls watch the little dog and I reach Shaman Island. They don’t need the salmon, being able to survive on the scraps of food exposed by the ebb. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot three harlequin ducks start off the from beach. Most of their brethren are fishing outside waters this time of year. I hope all is well the trio, who won’t have to worry about hunting eagles on this flat-gray day.
We are deep in the Troll Woods when Aki alerts, stiffening as she points her noise in the direction of recent motion. Then she barks. I stop berry picking and look where she is looking. Expecting a bear, I spot a gang of thrush, maybe ten of them, dive bombing blueberry bushes. The bushes bounce up and down as each bird flies away. They bounce again each time another thrush flies into them.
After thinning out the fruit on their targeted bush, thee birds fly over our heads and attack another one. I had suspected bears or people had plucked most of the bushes clean. But the bear poop we passed to get here was grass green, not berry blue. It must be the work of the tenacious thrush.
Because I can’t find any blueberries, I snatch a huckleberry and pop it into my mouth. While expecting the usual insipid flavor, I am surprised by its rich, fruity taste. A blue jay screams abuse at us as I consider grabbing another berry. But Aki is ready to move on, so we do.
We head down to the beach, through an old growth forest soaking with recent rain. Few, if any of the berry bushes we pass have fruit. In any other summer, I’d except that the berries are having an off year. But the pandemic has forced more folks into the woods, where they can avoid contact with those with Covid. This might be the explanation. When I spot berries, they are growing too high above the ground for a person to reach.
A short waterfall connects Peterson Lake with salt water. That makes the lake a salt chuck. This morning Aki and I watched dog salmon power their way up the waterfall’s cascades and into the chuck. Two eagles and a handful of crows watched as well. One of the eagles had just feasted on a salmon not quite up to the climb.
Later we move to where a stream enters the lake. Soon the salmon we watched in the waterfall will swim across the lake and up the stream to their spawning grounds. It will be a one way trip. There will be more eagles and corvids there, as well as wading black bears. We take a casual trail that leads down the stream and hopefully away from the bears.
We drop down onto a tidal meadow covered with six-foot-high grass. Neither Aki nor I can see over the grass but are able to follow a faint path that ends at a bear’s sleeping area. I would have taken another path if I had known where it would lead. The bears have crushed flat a section of meadow grass large enough for a small office. An eagle feather lays on one edge of the bear bed.
I should be worried that the bears will come back or that we may startled one of them when we walk further into the meadow. But Aki doesn’t act like she does when she smells bears. A half-a-dozen electric-blue dragon flies, called “darning needles” fly around the bear bed. Wouldn’t it be cool, little dog, if one of the darning needles landed on the eagle feather? As Aki gives me her, “you have got to be kidding stare” a darning needle alights on the feather just long enough for me to take its picture.
Aki is banned from the house. She isn’t being punished for a sin. All she did was lower herself into a muskeg mudhole on a very warm morning. She and I were hot, exposed on an open berry picking meadow. Our bodies had been generating heat by helping us bounce over the soggy surface of the meadow.
Before she sought relief in the mud, I tried to cool Aki off by feeding her cloudberries. I chose the overripe ones because they dissolved easily on her tongue.
Juneau is enjoying our annual mid-summer sun spell. The clouds broke early in the week, after dumping near-record levels of rain on us. The weather folks are threatening a return of rain tonight. I’d have welcomed a brief rain shower when the little dog and I were picking cloudberries. Aki’s glad that we still have clear skies. After trying to sneak into the house, she curled herself on a patch of sun-warmed bricks and fell asleep.
Yesterday Aki’s other human and I stumbled upon a moose and her two calves. We were walking along a trail near Anchorage. I was thankful that Aki was back in Juneau, getting the royal treatment from our friends. A momma moose once killed a man in Anchorage for coming too close to her calf. After we took a wide swing around the moose family, they returned to their wild, grassy feast.
I am thinking about our near-moose experience while picking berries near Juneau. We are harvesting this patch because it has not been visited by bears this summer. The berries are plump and plentiful, just as a hungry bear might prefer. The place is remote. The bear could expect privacy while he ate.
I sit on the moss-covered floor to pick, bringing my berry bucket into Aki’s range. The little dog take advantage by stealing berries or a few seconds. She only does it once, even though I did nothing to discourage her. A half-an-hour later I learn the reason for her reticence. A small army of tiny worms crawls out of the berries on which they recently fed. When we get home, we will wash the berries in salt water, which will drive out the remaining worms.
The rain stopped this morning but the forest is still soaked. The leaves of blue berry bushes glisten. They darken the fabric of my rain pants when I brush against them. We take a meandering forest trail to reach the berry patch.
These are not Aki’s favorite kind of adventures. She has to get her exercise on the walks in and out of the forest. For more than an hour she is reduced to guard duty, ready to chase away ravens, squirrels or bears. Every few minutes I let her nuzzle a few berries from my palm.
The bushes bordering the patch are weighed down with fruit. But those further in have been stripped clean. Recently, a bear dropped a huge, blue pile of scat. I turn around and head for another patch.
Wind and rain rattled the car on the drive out to the Brotherhood Bridge trailhead. It will do the same on the way home. But for this brief moment, Aki can feel the sun warm her fur. She and I are enjoying being in the eye of a mini-hurricane. While she half-squints her eyes against the sudden brightness, I snap pictures of a field of blooming fireweed.
Mendenhall Glacier peaks over the line of cottonwood trees that border the field. We take a trail that winds through the field, passing signs asking hikers to “be kind and wear masks.” Most of the people we pass are so kind. I move away from the one mask-less man.
A half-a-kilometer up the trail Aki throws on the breaks as the sun disappears behind a thick blanket of clouds. She stands tough until I turn back toward the car. Fat rain drops are striking us as we reach it. Maybe the poodle-mix has a future as a weather forecaster.
Not wanting to rush home. I stop the car at the fish hatchery and watch a bald eagle struggle to hold onto to its spruce top roost. Other eagles watch the show from the top of the Juneau Empire Building. While Aki waits, dry inside the car, I stroll around, head up in spite of the rain, watching eagles hover in place above the beach. Most rely only on their wing and tail feathers for control. One has to drop down his talons like a jet on final approach, just to hold his own in the wind.