While making morning coffee I am shocked to see sunshine. Without bothering Aki, who is still asleep, I slip outside. A block away, Gold Creek roars at near flood, charged with rainwater from Typhoon Lan. Yesterday the storm lost its fight with Mt. Juneau. During the battle the typhoon dropped eight inches of rain on our town and washed the streets clean. Trees that managed to retain their leaves during the storm sparkle like stream water hit by a sunbeam. Low angled light makes it easy to spot the long lines of spider silk that form thin bridges between plants and fences. Down channel, fog still covers the water but it won’t last long under this morning’s strong sun.
Like most dwellers of lands closer to the poles than the equator, people in Juneau tend to paint their homes in bright colors. Walking past a rose-colored Craftsman house on a stormy day, like this one, can lift your spirits. I’m thankful, this morning, for all those in Juneau who paint their homes or businesses in pastel colors. I am grateful to those who long ago planted the trees of fall color, like maples and birch, that seem to give off light on this gray day.
Aki and I are conducting her standard downtown patrol. As usual, she is all business. It’s been weeks since she has checked the trail of scent left on the streets by other dogs. Other than a trio of house dogs allowed out for a quick pee on their lawn, my poodle-mix will have no opportunity to sniff other dogs on this walk. We will pass a scattering of homeless in donated raingear. One, already smelling of stale smoke, will ask me for light. Others will pass head down as if to avoid getting rain in their eyes.
Aki and I are back together after a two-week absence. With the help of a human friend, the little dog her other human and I at the Juneau airport. Immediately after moving her kennel back into the house, I drove Aki out to the Rainforest Trail for a walk in heavy rain. The rain-charged trees shed fat drops onto the little dog and me. We both were a little cold and very wet when we returned to the car. Aki cuddled in my lap on the drive home.
T.S. Elliot claimed that April is the cruelest month. But he didn’t live in a rain forest. I nominate October for the title. For Southeast Alaska, October is a month of waves—one North Pacific storm surge after another passes over us. But between the storms, we often enjoy brief breaks of sun that bring out the beauty in the perpetually wet landscape. We have had Octobers full of clear, crisp days. Memories of those Octobers make today’s walk through the rain forest bittersweet.
Today’s storm raised the water levels in the forest beaver ponds to flood stage. Aki and I have to leap across rivulets of overflow. One is so wide and deep that Aki has to wade chest deep to cross it. Even through she has spent many days walking in the rain, the little dog always tries to avoid the wet or muddy portions of the trail. So she hesitated because wading into the half-a-meter wide stream of pond overflow. Then she minced across it slowly, as if testing the gravel bottom. Worried that the current would carry her away, I almost lifted her up. But she was across before I could help.
Rain hammers the car’s roof and challenges our windshield wipers. Aki still squeals and hops around the car’s interior, like her death is imminent if not released immediately. When I open the door, she leaps over me and hits the ground, nose ready to search for irresistible smells. I splash to the wooden bridge over Fish Creek, which is running high thanks to the storm. Standing waves form over pools that once sheltered spawning salmon. Now the carcasses of those salmon and pieces of the other organic debris of summer are being flushed downstream or carried to the forest floor to act as fertilizer for hundred-year-old trees.
Aki crosses the bridge, empties her bowels, and stops. She flinches each time a particularly heavy drop hits her exposed face. Her body language tells all. The little dog clearly does not want to follow me on the trail that leads to the creek delta. We walk back to the car and drive over to a rain forest trailhead.
Even in the protecting woods, Aki shows little joy. But she copes like a dog trying to find some pleasure in a bad situation. The canopy shelters her from the worst of the rain and she manages to skirt most of the flooded sections of trail. At the beach, again exposed, she looks a little pathetic. But I want to linger for a few minutes to watch two rafts of newly returned surf scoters. The storm must have blown them off the exposed waters of the outer coast where they summer.
When we break back into the woods and head toward the car, the little dog shoots ahead. I wonder again, whether I should leave her behind on stormy days. Then I remember the sad song she sings when I walk out the door without her.
The large cottonwood trees that screen the glacier have begun their slow autumnal striptease. Aki and I see evidence of their dance along the moraine trail—Valentine-shaped leaves, yellow and orange and green, plastered by rain to the gravel or floating on the many beaver ponds. But only the most patient voyeur could appreciate or even detect the trees’ languid movements.
Evidence of beaver work is everywhere. Their dams back up waters in the trailside ditches so they now flood over parts of the trail. A patient man or dog might spot ripe silver salmon moving up the swollen drains on their way to spawning grounds deeper in the moraine. But I am impatient this morning and Aki is too fixated on fresh beaver scent.
She has an attraction to beavers that would prove fatal if she ever managed to close on one. She rarely passes on an opportunity to roll in their scat, something that brings a look of pure bliss to her face. The little dog has many blissful moments this morning as we pass a trio of cottonwood logs that the beavers had floated together and then stripped bare of bark. I wonder how many it took to reduce the logs to glistening white in one night. Because they work the swing and graveyard shifts, the beavers are probably resting in their dens but I still keep a look out for them. More than once, Aki has followed a moraine beaver into the water, tail wagging, apparently hoping to play.
Aki doesn’t want to be here, neither does the eagle. Both are bothered by the rain. The eagle hunkers down on the roof of the old mine ventilation tower. From there she can scan the beach for food. There is plenty here. Just seconds ago, Aki was sniffing the relatively intact body of a plump chum salmon. In famine times, the eagle would have gorged itself on the salmon’s flesh. The bird must be stuffed with other carrion.
From its perch fifty or even sixty feet above the beach, the bald eagle could ignore the little dog and me. Neither Aki nor I do anything to disturb it. But when our path takes us too close to the man made aerie, the eagle lifts up and flies over our heads and then follows a line of broken wharf pilings toward the mining ruins. So there.