I didn’t really want to leave the house today. I wasn’t looking forward to splashing under heavy, wind-driven rain falling out of clouds that cover the mountains along Gastineau Channel. It’s a day of grays, not blues. It’s the time for catching up on a good book. But a poodle like Aki is owed a small adventure a day so we slide into the car and head out to north end of Douglas Island, where the heavy forests can protect us from the worst of the rain.
When just a few miles from the trailhead, I spot gangs of sea lions hammering herring just off shore. Two whales do the same out in the middle of Fritz Cove. I park the car and step out. Ignoring heavy rain bouncing off my parka, I take photos of the hungry and aggressive sea lions.
In a few minutes I switch and watch the two whales conducting a similar hunt out in the cove. I think they are humpback whales, who sometimes winter over in the rain forest waters. A little gang of sea lions run just in front of the whales. The sea lions must be snatching at the herring being chased by the humpback.
I get back into the car before rain soaks through my parka. We drive to the end of the road and walk to the beach, now flooded by the high tide. Just off shore surf scoters have tightly tucked themselves into a tight raft. Are they stumbling over each other to harvest food or just enjoying a tight hug? In a few minutes they disburse as Aki and I head back to the car and then home.
Last week more than five inches of rain fell here. We probably received another five inches in the last three days. Aki and I dressed in our best rain dear and headed out to Auk Rec Bay. I hope the forest will protect us from the rain.
We don’t need any protection when we arrive at the trailhead. The grey skies aren’t dropping any rain. It almost makes me shout joy. I don’t. I might be tempting the rain to return.
The beach is almost empty of pups and their people. Maybe this is why tight knots of surf scoters and Barrow golden eyes work the surf line. In seconds, one of the groups disappears by diving into the water. Seconds later the ducks pop back up, tiny fish already settling into their stomachs. They the heavy rain returns.
Rain but no wind driving it. Hoping that the wind isn’t about to rise, Aki and I head over to Sandy Beach. The forest we must pass through to reach the beach should protect us from being washed away by the rain.
We work our way through the woods. I’m grateful that the rain has washed the trail clean of ice or snow. The rain has also powered up the normally puny streams and filled a half-filled pond. The last time we were here, ice covered it.
We see no birds or animals in the woods. But a soaking-wet bald eagle is eating something on to roof of an old mining vent. It turns around to get a good look at the dog and I. Is it expecting me to deliver some tasty dessert?
Last night one of those five-inch-rains deals started. This morning it is still a storm, not a rain shower. Strong wind shivers the car as we drive out to North Douglas. It turned out to be a bad choice.
A few thousand feet into the forest, we hit the first problem—ten feet of flooded trail. Aki started to cross it first, slowly planting each step. He seems to think that if he slipped he’d be carried downstream by the little flood. This slowed me down, allowing more water to slip into my boots.
We had to pass through many similar puddles, each one soaking Aki’s fur and my boots. The rain soaked my parka and Aki’s head and back. It drove away most of the ducks and gulls. But we did spot the little trio of harlequin ducks nestled near a pile of rocks on the beach.
Snow has started falling. It was only raining when Aki and I finished the Outer Point Trail. But the weather folks warn hikers to expect colder temperatures and a trail accumulation of snow before midnight.
The trail’s forest protected us from wind on our way the beach. But there, nothing blocked the heavy gusts. Thirty knot winds had turned the bay’s normally placid waters into lines of hungry surf. The local mallard ducks were huddled on the beach when we broke out of the woods. Our presence forced them into the ocean. Usually the ducks would automatically move into the deeper water of the little bay. Today, the wind and waves forced them to swim close along the beach
This morning Aki is outside peeing in the rain when I start preparing for our walk. After doing her business she comes back inside the house. I should dry her off and let her find a comfortable place to sleep through the storm. But that would mean skipping our usual little stroll.
After giving her a quick rub down, I secure her in rain gear. Together we walk out the backyard and onto the street that will take us to Downtown Juneau. Thirty seconds later Aki throws on her breaks. She refuses to move until I turn back for home. Then she pulls me up to our house’s front door. I can hear the sound of a strong wind blowing rain against our windows as I follow my little dog into the house.
Okay. The trail is flooded. Every leaf is weighed down by rain. Aki doesn’t mind. She dashes up and down one of the few still-open trails, filling her memory with fading scents. She doesn’t notice that the surface of every little pond is shattered by rain drops.
I wasn’t expecting anyone else on the trail. Then an old man and his young husky dog appear. As soon as I spot them, I move twenty feet off the trail. The hiker leads his husky twenty-five feet in the opposite direction. Aki dashes it to meet and greet the big dog. In response, the husky pup’ owner shouts out that he parked his bicycle a quarter-mile up the trail.
Later, after finding our common trails flooded out, I tell Aki that we will head home. The hiker, now riding his bike, suddenly moves past us. In a few seconds he and his big dog reach the flooded trail. After chanting his desire for a floatation device, he dismounts and pushes his bike into the flooded trail. Aki and I use one of the few remaining paths to return to the car.
Yesterday afternoon, our plane could barely land on the Juneau Airstrip. Clouds from a heavy fall storm almost force us to fly on to Anchorage. But we bounced and slowed on the runway and were soon deplaning at the airport. Forty-five minutes later we left the airport while calming down the nerves in our nostrils after being tested for Covid. Then we started a mandatory quarantine.
This morning, while the town was enjoying a brief brake between heavy rain storms, Aki and I took the car out to a remote trail where we could walk without risking any contact with other humans. As it turned out, we would have lots of contact with wild birds. The dog and I fell into the old ways—watching out for each other.
Most of the action took place along a little creek, where it crossed it’s tidal meadow. More than a dozen bald eagles huddled together along the creek bank, eating salmon scraps. Ducks and gulls hung about them, ready to grab anything that floated away from the eagles.
Suddenly, a pair of belted kingfishers dashed over the eagle’s hangout, chanting intimidations before diving for food in the creek. A raven drove off one of eagles. Two merganser ducks sulked off. The other eagles fled. When the kingfishers flew to another section of the stream, Aki and spotted a black-billed magpie, acting like it had just driven off the other pesky birds.
We are enjoying the end of a high energy storm. Just an hour ago it was hammering the Treadwell Woods with rain. Some of it hangs on the leaves of cottonwood trees or drips onto the trail. When Aki and I leave the woods, the wind flings scattered drops of it into our faces.
A merlin, one of our tiniest birds of prey, clings to the roof of the old mine shaft ventilator. As I try to wipe rain drops off my camera lens, the merlin flees down the beach and lands on the top of a ruined wharf piling.
When I raise my camera to photograph the merlin, a plastic poop bag flies out of my pocket and flutters down the beach. If I take my picture of the bird, the bag may fly out into the channel. If the seconds that it takes to grab the bag, the bird moves. I search without success for the merlin and then take pictures of other ruined pilings on the off chance that the bird is perched on top of one.
Sunshine breaks through the clouds hanging over the east end of Gastineau Channel. I give up my search for the merlin and walk towards the drama. When we get home and I check through the photos, I find one of the merlin staring at me from atop a piling.
Offshore, a bald eagle stands with his lowered, as if in prayer. I know this is done in response to a heavy shower that soaking the eagle, Aki and I. But seeing it makes me wonder whether animals have a spiritual component in their lives.
Eagles are too practical for religion. They are always looking for their next meal. But Aki, who never has to worry about food, has the time to reflect on the meaning of life.
Further down the beach, a belted king fisher lands on a rounded rock. Feisty little dudes like him could benefit from a broader perspective. They could be mother nature’s cops. The rain seems to have taken the starch out of this kingfisher. Rather than buzz off the competition, it lowers its head and watches a clutch of gulls snatch baitfish from nearby water.