He would be up early, drinking rich expresso at the cabin window as a strengthening sunshine sparkled the frosted meadow grass and the usual hometown deer worked his latest attempt at kale.
He would turn on the radio and listen to morning’s new complaints about followed politics and the latest baseball scores. He would be bored but he would be free to putter and push for change.
He’s up but there is no bear to search for, no sun melting a satisfied frost, no desire to do anything than monitor the fire, the smoke that thickens and soaks the morning air like a sarcastic joke as it has for the last week.
The kale still grows as if it cannot feel the gray heat. He passed it while carrying survival things to his car, an older Toyota almost filled with stuff he can’t abandon or burn, like fresh ground coffee. He now drinks instant.
Will the fancy cut street houses catch first, or will the abandon old growth forests burn? A northerly gust rips across the meadow, driving away smoke, turning the air crisp and clear, letting the sun pierce and reveal.
The survival road clears. He starts to return his coffee maker from the car, plans on re-furnishing the cabin with needed gear. Then the thick smoke returns, a nearby forest fire renders the air almost impossible to breath so he repacks the car and waits.
The magenta blossoms of fireweed glow in the gloom of this rainy morning. Except for the eagles scattered around the gravel, Aki and I have the Sheep Creek delta to ourselves. I’m not counting the swallows perched together like judgmental gossipers on a driftwood tangle. I don’t include the crows crowding one of the eagles. I should acknowledge the greater yellowlegs sandpiper that moves across a shallow pond. That’s enough denial. This place is crowded with life.
This late in summer, the creek should be a turmoil of spawning chum salmon. Only one male powers upstream against the current. There may be others hidden in the muddy water. When the mountain rains let up, the stream will clear enough for a proper survey. I pray that the chums are just late in arriving. So do the eagles and the other animals that rely on them for food.
This is an experiment. Rather than restrict Aki to a short neighborhood walk. I’ve driven her to the False Outer Point trailhead. We will walk the trail while keeping Aki on her leash. This will keep her from running. It will also keep me pinned down each of the many times she will stop to pee or sniff.
Yesterday she paced about the house, letting me know that she needed more exercise than what she received during the short neighborhood walk. It takes twice as long as normal for us to reach the beaver pond. The resident mallard hen stands exposed on a tiny island. The remains of this year’s chick brood hides near her in the grass. A bald eagle circles over the scene. Last summer she lost most of her chicks to an eagle and a great blue heron. I hope she has better luck this year.
We wander past the hen and move as slow as a geriatric drill team to the beach. Just offshore a belted kingfisher hovers fifteen meters in the air. Then, it drops like a dive bomber into the water. In another second it bursts skyward with a captured fish in its beak.
Today, winter white has replaced rain forest gray in the skies above Douglas Island. It’s the kind of sky that dominated winter days in the Western Alaskan towns where I once lived. The sky littles contrast to the snow-covered ground.
When the little dog and I enter an old growth forest, we seem to move from winter to fall. The forest canopy captured most of the snow that fell here during yesterday’s squalls. Today, it blocks our view of the white skies.
Paper-thin triangles of ice form a puzzle on the surface of the beaver pond. Since beavers keep hidden during the day there is no reason not to follow Aki down the trail to the beach. There, a small raft of golden eye ducks ride the swells. No sunshine reaches the beach or the offshore waters. But on the other side of Lynn Canal, the Chilkats look like they are posing for a Sydney Lawrence painting.
On the drive home we stop at a roadside waterfall where spray has coated the branches of every tree and bush with a half-inch of ice It’s 25 degrees F., cold enough for freezing spray but too warm to stop the flow of the waterfall. The ice is more gray than white and would turn translucent if sunshine could reach it. I almost expect to find ferries peeking out from between the icy spruce limbs, or at least a cautious jay.
No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon – No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel in any member – No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! – November!
I am trying not to let Thomas Hood’s “November” set the tone for this walk through the old growth. It’s hard. I can check off each item on Hood’s whining list. “No sun,” check. “No moon,” we haven’t seen it for months. I am tempted to continue when I spot Aki. The little dog is trotting toward me, tail a metronome, ears flapping, tongue wagging. Something she just smelled has set her afire.
Aki isn’t mad at the beavers, even through it is their earthworks that are flooding the trail. Thanks to them she has to waddle waste deep across inundated sections of the path. She loves the scents that they spread near their half-submerged homes.
The little dog isn’t saddened when we sight the corpse of one a massive spruce tree. The death of the old giant doesn’t bother me either. It’s trunk is shot through with rot. It was time for it to fall. By next summer it will serve as a nursery for the sprouting seeds of hemlocks and spruce. It won’t collapse into earth until a new generation of trees have gotten a fair start at forest life.
This is the first walk for the little dog and I since I returned from a solo adventure. Not a time for drama, intrigue, or distraction. To allow us both a quiet time to sync, I drove Aki out to the Troll Woods with a plan to wander around the beaver’s trail system.
It’s a bluebird day. The temperature may reach 70 degrees F. At first a little breeze riffled the lake surfaces. When it stopped the cottonwoods among Moose Lake could used the lake’s surface to appreciate their beautiful spring coats. My little dog wades out into the lake, making a hole in a scum of spruce pollen. The electric green pollen covers everything from cars to Aki’s little paws. The poodle-mix sneezes. I hope she isn’t developing an allergy to the omnipresent stuff.
We leave the lake for a path lined by northern marsh violets, one of the first wildflowers of the summer. Dragonflies, another harbinger of real summer, flit around us like mosquitoes. One lands close enough for me to photograph but takes off when Aki trots over to investigate him. The payable price of companionship.
I wonder if Thomas Wood worked out the words to his poem “November” while walking his dog on around this Lake? Aki, who lets all literary references slide off her like snowflakes off her little coat, ignores me. She moves down the trail with a puppy-like friskiness. This is, after all, her first snow of the year. Expecting the snow to turn to rain tomorrow. I am start to catalogue the reasons for why November is my least favorite month.
Using Hood’s poem as a checklist, I note the absence of sun and moon, dawn and noon. I am cold and see no butterflies, bees, fruits, flowers, feel no ease. Some saggy yellow leaves still hang from understory plants so we are slightly better off than Hood was when he wrote “November.” But I am still thinking no, no, no, no, November, when we cross a small stream and spot a pale flash of forget-me-not blue. It’s the Alaska’s state flower shivering in the November wind.
by Thomas Hood
No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
Aki, you’d think I’ve been too spoiled by natural beauty to be wowed by a borrow pit.The little dog gives me one of her “don’t stop gushing again” looks.
The poodle-mix and I are walking on top of a dike pushed up by men miring for gravel. The “U” shaped dike has captured a small pond by connecting to a length of gently sloping meadow. A beaver family has already colonized the pond. The big rodents’ earthworks killed a small copse of spruce trees on the opposite shore of the pond. It’s the reflection of these skeletons on the pond’s surface that’s gob smacked me.
Alder trees, gilded by backlighting morning light add to the show as does the dissipating globs of mist that hover just above the pond’s surface. When I walk without taking my eyes off the scene, I slip and fall where river otters have installed one of their “U” shaped slides. It’s pretty clear that nature and its wild children have claimed ownership of the old barrow pit. Tough skinned spruce roots snake over the top of the dike. Cow parsnip, fireweed, and the other aggressive forest plants color the dike with whites, yellows and reds.
Little dog, let’s hope that nature never loses the power to repair our messes.
Three young women walked towards us off the Basin Road trestle bridge, not together but spread out like they are trying not to draw artillery fire. Aki trots toward them, tail wagging, eyes intent. The first woman stares at me and I laugh and hope that she doesn’t notice.
I laughed, not because of her designer “cat eyes” glasses or bronze colored body suit. I laugh because she is the first person we have met that hasn’t responded to Aki’s goofy charm. We had just walked a loop up and down Perseverance Trail, passing many locals and cruise ship tourists. Every one, even the gruff guys and smart phone-toting teenagers at least smiled when we passed them.
Maybe the three young women had just fought and needed time to cool down. Perhaps they had been forced by family to take an Alaska cruise when they would rather have spent the summer at the beach. What ever brought on their grumpy mood is sure to prevent them from noticing local beauties, like the lilac covered daisies lining the old mining road trail.
Deep in the old growth forest the little dog and I find shy maidens stooping over the forest moss. To whom they direct their submissions? I’d ask Aki but she is already down the trail investigating the pee spot of a dog or wolf. So I sit alone with the maiden flowers even though they have turned their backs to me.
The sound of a boat wake slapping the beach reaches us in the trees. The maidens ignore it, like they must ignore the explosive exhales of humpback whales and the other happenings on Stephens’ Passage that they will never see.
Shortly after they flung out their waxy blossoms, the maidens must have memorized the moss patterns at their feet. They will never feel their pedals drying in the morning sun like the wild iris. They can’t produce sweet berries to feed the bear. What keeps them here in this gray place where they can never dance with the wind?