I wasn’t sure about this trip. Aki’s other human and I are to paddle a kayak for over an hour to cross Mendenhall Lake and onto the toe of the glacier. Then we will climb a short trail and onto the glacier itself. Aki, can’t ride in a car for more than ten minutes without whining. How is the little dog going to handle a long ride in a confining cockpit? The answer is, “surprising well.”
A ten-knot head wind slows our crossing of the main body of the lake. Aki sits in the forward cockpit, watching gulls hover over the kayak. She whimpers when we near a rocky point that marks the beginning of the bay that is touched by the glacier’s toe. Kittiwakes scream at us. We can pick out the young that hatched this year by their darker color.
We have to share the landing beach with a guide canoe full of customers who had paid for an adventure on the glacier. Aki dashes around them as they pull on climbing harnesses and helmets. They are receiving a safety talk when we walk up the trail. On our way back to the kayak we walk use the glacier to avoid a messy patch of muddy trail, passing the adventurers climbing onto he ice. I wonder if a ten-pound poodle’s presence on the glacier diminishes their sense of drama.
I don’t realize it is raining until Aki sniffs at something near a small pond. Light drops of precipitation dimple the water, sending water bugs scooting toward the protection of British tobacco plants. It’d be nice to write that I was engrossed in deep thoughts. But the truth is, I had slipped into observation mode, lost to everything except plants exhibiting signs of autumn.
Just a few leaves on a wild crabapple tree have turned fall-time red. The high bush cranberry brush is still summer green. But the broad and fat skunk cabbage leaves are yellowing. The same is true of the trailside ferns. Gastineau’s once green meadow is now a rolling yellow and orange carpet.
Above the meadow gray ropes of rain snake down the flanks of Sheep Mountain. Even when the sun makes a brief appearance, it can only muster a colorless rainbow.
Last night’s storm broke its back on the spine of Douglas Island and the mainland mountains. Its heavy rain has swollen Fish Creek and turned the water the color of molasses. Salmon too weak from spawning have already been swept back into Fritz Cove. Those still waiting their turn to bred are hunkered down in eddies or behind drift wood barriers.
Aki doddles behind until we reach Fish Creek where four eagles and kingfisher watch us approach from spruce tree roosts. One, an immature eagle, has cruciformed its wings so they can dry. The little dog hesitates and then moves close to me. No one dives on her as we round the pond and head out to the creek mouth.
A big ebb tide has lowered the creek’s level and exposed a wide swath of wetlands. But the dozen or so eagles that we can spot are either feeding along side the stream or watching us from spruce roosts. Aki relaxes on a part of the trail almost enclosed by tall fireweed and wild rose shafts. I stop where that stretch ends and count six eagles watching us from trailside trees. Aki doesn’t follow me out onto the exposed meadow.
I figure that the eagles must have sated themselves on dead salmon and other goodies exposed by the ebb tide. They won’t be interested in my ten-pound poodle. But Aki doesn’t share my confidence so I have to carry her until we reach a more protected stretch of trail.
While we circumnavigate a small island covered with tall spruce, I lose count of the number of eagles, mature and immature, that fly over out heads and out over the wetlands. White puffs of eagle down drift onto the trail in their wake.
This morning, for the first time in a week, the sun rose unimpeded by clouds. There was a thick rope of fog laid the length of Gastineau Channel but it was gone by 9 A.M. I listened to foghorns while drinking morning coffee and thinking about where to spend part of this sunny day.
As Aki slept curled in my lap, I decided to head North to where a trail snaked over a small rise and along the edge of Favorite Passage. The little dog always seems to enjoy that one.
Later, while taking a break on the trail, we waited on a pocket beach for Aki to rinse her new Frisbee. It was only unnatural thing on the beach. Time and tide, not human hands, had placed every pebble and rock. The tiny grass meadow at the edge of the splash zone was sown by the wind.
After finishing the walk we drove to the Shrine of St. Therese where someone with too much spare time had stacked beach rocks into cone-shaped cairns on the beach in front of the columbarium. Nearby a raven paced. When we neared the bird flew off and landed in the middle of small collection of cairns, knocking down two of them. After defecating on the ruins the raven surveyed the field of rock stacks and then turned to stare at us. I wanted to tell him about the beach not far from here where no one had tried to improve nature.
I chose this route through Downtown Juneau for its convenience, not its beauty. Aki’s other human and I have an appointment at 10 A.M. Aki lead me out the door at 8:30 this morning. We should have finished in be done in an hour. But even though rain sluices down on us, Aki insists on taking her time. Each scent mark must be smelt from different angles. No pee spot may be passed by without a full nasal inspection.
She slows down ever further when we reach the South Franklin Street tourist stores. I have to discourage her from peeing on a full-length coat on display outside of a fur shop. Otherwise she is well behaved. She trots by friendly cruise ship tourists but stops to accept pets from clerks standing like barkers outside their jewelry shops. Aki pays the most attention to homeless people sheltering from the rain in the doorways of closed shops. My frustration with the little poodle fades when I see the smiles on those she favors.
The ravens waited for Aki. Two of the large black birds strutted down the Fish Creek Bridge as if fat-rich bodies of dead dog salmon weren’t stretched out for them on a gravel bar beneath the bridge. They were sated and bored and looking to do some mischief. My little dog was a handy patsy. When they didn’t make way for us on the bridge, Aki growled and dashed forward. The ravens flited a little further down the bridge and waited for her to catch up. Just before she did, the ravens lifted themselves onto the bridge rails.
Game ended, the little poodle-mix trotted off the bridge and headed toward Fish Creek Pond. Two bald eagles eyed our approach. Incoming pink salmon splashed on the pond’s surface. One let itself be caught by a grade schooler on the opposite shore of the pond.
We’d see at least a half-a-dozen eagles on our walk to the creek’s mouth. All have been drawn here by the pink and chum salmon now filing up the creek. All around Juneau, chum salmon are spawning in their home streams. Each stream draws of collection of bald eagles, ravens, crows, and gulls waiting for the dying to begin.
The rain stopped early this morning and the wind has shaken the beach grass dry. As I slow walk down the Outer Point Beach, watching two eagles do an aerial dance with steps known only to them, I realize that I have never just sat and watched the sea from here. Without giving Aki warning, I plop down on a beach log.
A strong breeze tears through the canopy of the forest that borders the beach. But the trees prevent it from reaching the little dog or me. The wind rips leaves from the beach-side alders, carries them over our heads, then releases them to float down onto the water. Microbursts of wind slam into the surface of the bay driving tiny by intense waves out in concentric circles. Out in a Lynn Canal a boat idles, waiting for a whale to surface.
The rain starts up, falling in thick drops that form grey circles on the beach pebbles when they hit home. I am still inclined to doddle but Aki is not. She stands thirty meters away where the trail through the woods begins, showing me her “are you crazy” look. Perhaps I am, little dog, to let you bully me away from all this turbulent beauty.