Today’s heavy rain must have dampened people’s desire to hike. The little dog and I have the Outer Point Trail to us. It leads us through a silent forest. No birds or squirrels break the quiet. Storm clouds have grounded the airplanes that usually fly over our heads on their way to one of the Admiralty Island villages. The quiet is a reprieve from the noise of airports with their multi-lingual amplified announcements and over-loud conversations that hammered me during the return home from Sweden.
Rainwater swells the forest ponds and streams, which threaten to flood low lying sections of the trail. Fat raindrops turn the broad skunk cabbage leaves into a percussive orchestra. The rain forest drought is broken.
Aki hurries me toward the beach, now partially flooded by a high tide. Half a kilometer away, at the mouth of Peterson Creek, two bald eagles hunch to avoid aerial attacks from a gang of gulls. The eagles screech out protests and then launch a counter attack, abandoning the salmon carcasses they had been scavenging.
Late arriving pink salmon fly out of the water, making a noisy splash on their reentry. The heads of two seals and a sea lion appear and disappear above the surface of the water. One of the seals swims close to the shore and lifts its head up and out of the water for a better view of the little dog and I.
I think of the seals that I saw performing a Lofoton aquarium; how they had their eyes squeezed shut in every photo I took of them. I know that when I look at the pictures I took of the Outer Point seal, its eyes will be wide open.
It was sunny yesterday morning but now it feels like it has been raining for weeks. Aki and I just have to get used to it again. A storm that started on the Russian Steppe traveled across the Gulf of Alaska to end our recent drought. We have been praying for rain. Now are prayers have been answered. There will many more rainstorms before the snow arrives.
The little dog drags me down Gold Street, past the Episcopal Church, and up Gastineau Avenue. We pass sunflowers with yellow petals drooping with rain. Copies of a missing cat poster decorate light poles along Gastineau Avenue. I wonder whether one of the neighborhood eagles carried the poor feline away.
An older homeless man walks in the middle of the avenue, shouldering a boom box that blares out a John Lee Hooker tune. The man shouts out the lyrics with the assurance of one who has earned the right to sing the blues. When he reaches the refrain, he smiles and says “hi” to Aki. The little poodle-mix wags her tail and gives the man a doggy smile. She never shies away from our city’s homeless.
When she was a puppy, Aki would travel at least twice the distance as I on our daily walks. I would stick to the trail. She would wander back and forth across it, usually at a run. The little dog, now the age of a granddame and I have switched roles.
This morning Aki sticks to the trail across this mountain meadow as I wander its margins looking for cloudberries. She doesn’t follow me until the distance between us exceeds her comfort level. Nearing that point, I turn around and see her, four paws planted firmly on the proper trail, giving me a look of incongruity. She doesn’t flinch even though heavy rain is soaking into her fur. Seconds later she trots up to me just as a gang of six large dogs run head on into a family with their own dog.
Through the rain I watch the confused, very loud meeting. There is yelling, barking, more yelling, and then apologies. When things calm down, I realize that Aki has kept her eyes on me the whole time. Was she worried that I would join the fray?
Usually, when Aki and I take this trail into the Treadwell Woods a gaggle of domestic geese give an alarm. This morning they are quiet. A pathetic looking eagle might be the cause for their silence. It sulks in a spruce tree above the geese yard. I wonder if it has designs on a plump gander. It’s tough to raise poultry in this town unless you protect your birds with an electrified enclosure. Last week our neighborhood bear chomped down on a free-range chicken.
Low clouds hide most of the Gastineau Channel and the mountains that line it when we drop onto the beach. The rainstorm that soaked the woods last night continues to drop much needed rain. My pants and Aki’s fur were soaked when we passed through a grassy verge to reach Sandy Beach.
A waterlogged eagle grooms itself while perched on top of the old ventilation tower. With its fierce gaze and feathers all ahoo, it looks like an awakening dragon. But a puff of down sticking to its beak shatters its tough guy image.
It’s low tide. Down the beach three ravens search the recently exposed sand for snacks. One flies to the top of an gnarled wharf piling and pretends to dig a feast out of the top of it. Then it balances on one leg and kicks the other one up like a can can dancer.
Yesterday I rode an Alaskan ferry home from Skagway. Aki greeted me at the door. She looked a little sad, like she spent the whole of my absence in an unlit cell. Even though I knew she had enjoyed herself when I was away, I gave her cuddle and promised that after we both slept we would go on an adventure. This morning we are heading for the Troll Woods.
Bird song brightens what otherwise would be a gray day. It helps me to ignore the rain that dimples Moose Lake and slowly soaks into my sweatshirt hood. The rain softens the air but not Aki’s interest in a patch of nagoon berry plants. In August, when ripe fruit weighs down the plants, a berry picker will approach the patch with a combination of greed and fear that a bear or other berry picker will chase them off the patch. He or she won’t know what Aki does—that at least one dog had marked the patch with its pee.
On the path to Crystal Lake, in one of the more remote sections of the woods, we pass shy maiden flowers. Gently I lift one of the white, star-shaped blooms for a proper look. The flower offers less beauty than a shoot star, not as much drama as a lupine stalk, but has no reason to hide its face.
Last night Aki capped the last of a string of sunny days mooching for food around a campfire. A bank of clouds climbed over the Chilkat Mountains and onto Lynn Canal while the little dog’s human family roasted hot dogs over an open fire while The clouds robbed us of a sunset and brought today’s rain.
This morning Aki and I explore the Sheep Creek delta. The sun worshipers who gathered on the delta last evening are gone. Only those with serious purpose are here. Two men clothed in thick gauged raingear mess about with a little gold dredge. Soon their machine will begin sifting through beach sand for gold washed down by the creek.
Closer to the stream, two great blue herons hunt the shallows for food. A crow dives on an adult bald eagle, trying to dislodge it from its spruce roost. The eagle, its beak pointed up at its tormentor, screams defiance.
We have to cross squishy ground to get a decent view of the herons. By the time I figure out that one is a juvenile, Aki has moved to a drier part of the beach from where she tries to plant the idea in my mind that “It is time to get out of the rain.”
I ignore the message and watch the juvenile heron fish. While the adult bird freezes in place to wait for opportunity, the young bird plunges it beak again and again into the water. Once it managed to lift of a stand of seaweed out of the water. The rest of the time it speared nothing. To make matters worse, it had to struggle to free its right leg from a tangle of rock weed.
One of Aki’s other humans and I paddle toward the glacier into a rain bearing head wind. Kittiwakes from the nearby rookery watch us from a small iceberg. They don’t stir as we pass. Members of their clan mew and keen before diving on sockeye salmon smolt in the lake waters. I worry that we will face worse conditions when we round a point of a rocky hill that has been partially blocking the wind. I am glad that Aki is home snug and warm.
It may be the lovely month of May but today is a wicked-wet day. It’s the only day I have to sneak in a kayak trip to the glacier. Soon an eco tourist company will be hauling cruise ship tourists across Mendenhall Lake in faux Chippewa canoes and lead them into the shrinking ice cave. I want to enjoy it when empty.
Pulling past the point we get an unblocked view of the glacier descending out of rain clouds. A rocky hill rises to our left, colored by low growing plants fertilized by kittiwake guano. It seems to take hours to paddle the mile to the glacier in the now unrestrained wind. An empty tourist canoe sits on the beach where we haul out the kayak. Who, I wonder, would pay big money to ride here in an open canoe today? Must be a group of hardy Australians.
Listening for ANZAC accents, we walkover a landscape as barren as the moon’s surface. At first appearance, the trail seems to be well graveled. But I find myself slipping on portions that are really hard glacial ice covered with a thin layer of mud or pebbles. We pass torn chunks of trees just released from hundreds of years of icy imprisonment by the glacier’s retreat. The only bird sound we hear is from the keening kittiwakes. No songbirds could earn a living in such a sterile place.
The glacier seems to be collapsing into itself like an overripe pumpkin. Mocha brown water rushes from beneath the ice. I worry that the mystic blue ice that formed the glacial cave will now be fragile, and opaque. But in spite of our recent heat wave and the subsequent days of rain, the cave retains its basic shape and color. Rainwater streams from cracks in the overhead ice and some of the old entrances have collapsed. It is still a suitable venue for a religious ceremony or at least a brief prayer for our challenged world.