No rain falls on Aki as we leave the house. It will pound on her when we return. But we will stay dry while on the Sheep Creek Delta.
Less than a month ago the place was crazy loud. Eagles, ravens, crows, and gulls fought over the bodies of spawned out silver salmon. Newly arrived silvers splashed in the stream, digging spawning depressions in the gravel and muscling competitors out of the way. Aki would have liked all the commotion.
Things have calmed to winter quiet. I don’t see any eagles, but Aki still shelters near rocks while waiting for me. A mixed raft of mallards and green winged teals chase bait fish in a small tidal lake. Gulls rest next to the creek. Down channel, clouds mottled with darks and light let shafts of light escape to turn the water silver. These signs of instability give me hope for clearing weather until I turn towards Juneau, where clouds thick with rain have descended on the town.
Before leaving the creek. I walk a little upstream. The water is turbulent with run off from the recent storm. In an eddy, a water ouzel dives into the stream and emerges, not with a tiny fish, but with some weeds torn from the stream bottom.
A map on my weather app shows a pixilated mass of dark greens and grays about to envelop Juneau. The sun has just cleared the shoulder of Mt. Roberts. One our neighborhood ravens perched on top a neighbor’s roof sings up the sun. When the new sunlight hits the raven it joins its mate circling in the gray sky.
I grab Aki and head out to the car. Clouds already obscure the sun but sunset tones color Gastineau Channel. Even though it will mean getting caught by the oncoming wall of rain, I stop on the way to the trailhead. The little dog and I walk onto the Douglas Island Bridge, which offers an unobstructed view of the channel. At the far end, where the Gastineau opens onto Taku Inlet, yellow and peach colored light paints the clouds. In minutes the scene is reduced to gray.
We drive to the nearby Dan Moller Trail and walk through wet evergreens to open muskeg. The meadows have gone to rest for the winter. There are still splotches of sunset colors around the bases of mountain hemlock trees, where low bush blueberry bushes and sorrel plants shelter. The promised rain arrives to soak the little dog and make the sorrel leaves shine.
Aki would probably rather be home. She’d be warm and dry there and not soaking wet as she is now. We have just started down the Rainforest Trail. She has already done her business. She stops each time I look back, ready to return to the car. But she still follows me down the trail toward a wind-hammered beach.
I am wondering why we need to complete this one-mile loop through the woods. I too could home and dry, listening to Hawaiian music and drinking tea. But I know that both the little dog and I would feel incomplete if we shortened our walk.
The accumulation of twelve hours of the heavy rain that has fallen on saturated ground is pouring down the hillside and onto the trail. It shoots out from beneath trees to forms lakes on some portions of the path and fast moving streams on others. Already the beaver dams have been breached even though those guys probably worked all night to save them. After the storm exhausts itself against the Douglas Mountain Ridge, they will repair the damage. The little dog and I will be back to measure their progress.
The storm caught us halfway through the walk. Delivered by an atmospheric stream from the South Pacific, it announced its arrival with a gusty wind. Heavy rain followed to confirm its presence. Aki, who was uncertain about the trip to begin with, turned back toward the car each time I looked in her direction.
There was little reason to continue. It was low tide and all the sea birds were 500 meters away. There was an eagle guarding the Fish Creek Pond. But it and the mallards flew off as soon as the first shotgun blast. Far on the other side of the wetlands, someone was hunting ducks.
We passed wild rose bushes still rich with fall color. But the rain dampened even their beauty. Dead fireweed stalks were pulled toward earth by their water soaked seed down. Only the winter wrens showed any joy. They bounced around the interior of an elderberry bush, singing in the rain.
As rain soaks into Aki’s fur, a belted kingfisher pluck a baitfish from the water and then lands on a rock in the tidal zone. It flips, chomps, and swallows the fish and settles in atop the rock. Plumped up and with its feathers slick and wet, the kingfisher reminds me of the banker icon from Monopoly, With my rain smeared glasses I can’t see whether the bird is sporting a monocle.
The little poodle-mix and I are the only one using the Rainforest trail this morning. Aki is a good sport about the rain, as usual. But she appears to be in a hurry to get back under the old growth canopy.
I’d follow her off the beach now if not for the line of harlequin ducks cruising through the trough line of a swell. When they are not hidden by a wave, I can see that the little party-colored ducks swim with heads buried in the water. Closer in, gulls appear to be standing on the ocean’s surface. The incoming tide will soon force them off their already submerged perches. But for now, they are quite content to rest on their rocks.
Should dogs have spirit animals? If Aki had one, it would be the belted kingfisher. We spot the feisty little birds on many of our rain forest walks. This morning, one burst out of a spruce tree chattering abuse, flew over a moraine lake that I was photographing, did a barrel roll and disappeared into a balsam popular tree in fall color. If you had wings little dog, that would be you.
Aki, who had once chased a black bear up a tree close to the kingfisher’s roost with only her bark and attitude, gave me her “Don’t be Stupid” look.
It had been raining where we started this walk through the glacier moraine but now it has stopped. No drops strike the lake to ruin the reflection of the poplars in high color. I’d expect ducks or even transiting swans to be resting on the lake. But only the kingfisher makes an appearance.
This morning, Aki’s red coat might be the most colorful thing in the rain forest. Without the sun to charge their colors, the yellowing devil’s club leaves look as dull as the dying blueberry leaves that surround them. There is not much more to stimulate our retinas on the beach.
The tide is out, exposing the Shaman Island causeway. But soon that distraction will be covered by the soft gray sea. The skeleton stalks of last summer’s cow parsnip flowers have a permanent stoop, as if they are supplicants that prayed all their lives to the island. It’s one of those testing days that help newcomers decide if they can winter over in Alaska.
Aki is enjoying herself sniffing and peeing. When the rain load in her fur gets too heavy, she just shakes it all away.