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.
The rain is trying to wash away all signs of summer from Downtown Juneau. I wonder if it makes Aki worried. She may not finish her catalogue of dog smells before they all wash away.The little poodle-mix keeps her nose to the cement as I wait in the rain.
Most of the flowers have gone to seed. Ruby colored thimble berries have replaced their white flowers. Rain drops hang from purple monkshood and orange nasturtiums. But low clouds block any view of the mountains.
Even on such a dreary day, in a normal August, Downtown Juneau would be packed with cruiseship tourists. It’s empty this morning. There is no one posing outside the Lucky Dog Saloon. No one is queuing up for whale watching tours or helicopter rides to a glacier. Just two downtown workers walk down the cruiseship dock, carrying orders of Philippine barbeque from Bernadettte’s. Last night, someone must have stumbled out of a bar and wrote “Be Happy Again” in a space on the Before I Die sign.
We need at least another liter of blue berries to get through the winter. This late in the season they are becoming hard to find. But two days ago, I received a hot tip from someone with fingers stained blue by berry picking.
To act on the tip, Aki’s other human and I load our bicycles, picking buckets, and the little dog into the car and drive almost to the north end of the Juneau road system. The weather man promised us a dry afternoon. After assembling the bikes, we headed up the trail that cut through salmon berry brush and devil’s club already starting to yellow, just as rain began to fall.
The tipster told us to ride past 1930’s car rusting alongside the trail and the two spots were the trail almost touches the river bank. After that we should cross through a long, long stretch of devil’s club to where a fiddler’s green for berry pickers spreads out from both sides of the trail.
At the start of the berry patch we looked without success for berries. All we saw was wet berry bushes, empty of berries. In a few minutes of riding past barren bushes I spied little blue spheres hanging on a bush six meters off the trail. My cotton pants were soaked through with rain water by the times I reached the patch. Aki’s other human thought to wear her rain pants. Aki and I had to ignore water soaking through to our skin. The little dog was a good sport as long as we feed her berries. But after her two humans had gathered their liter of berries, she was ready to return to the car.
This morning Aki heard rain splattering against the bedroom window as she sulked under the bed. From her hiding place, she watched me pull on rain pants and slip into a waterproof parka. She went limp as I fastened on her best rain wrap. Then, as if she was just testing my resolve, the poodle-mix did a downward-dog stretch, yawned, and beat me to the front door.
The forest was silent, except for the sound of rain drops plunking onto devil’s club leaves. The only birds not waiting out the storm were ducks. A mallard hen and her surviving chicks swam near the trail where it ran parallel to the beaver dam. They weren’t bothered by the sound of water pouring over the beaver’s dam.
Raindrops made normally dull things, like cow parsnip blossoms, sparkle. Other than the parsnips and a scattering of flowering sorel plants, the forest plants had already gone to seed. Yellow blooms of chicken and egg plants provided the only bright spots on the beach verge when we reached it. We could make out Shaman Island in the gloam, but nothing beyond it. There must be whales a little further out, but we wouldn’t be able to spot them until the weather cleared.
The magenta blossoms of fireweed glow in the gloom of this rainy morning. Except for the eagles scattered around the gravel, Aki and I have the Sheep Creek delta to ourselves. I’m not counting the swallows perched together like judgmental gossipers on a driftwood tangle. I don’t include the crows crowding one of the eagles. I should acknowledge the greater yellowlegs sandpiper that moves across a shallow pond. That’s enough denial. This place is crowded with life.
This late in summer, the creek should be a turmoil of spawning chum salmon. Only one male powers upstream against the current. There may be others hidden in the muddy water. When the mountain rains let up, the stream will clear enough for a proper survey. I pray that the chums are just late in arriving. So do the eagles and the other animals that rely on them for food.