Aki goes on alert—head up, front feet planted in the sand, tail straight as a mast—and stares at the fluttering wing of a bull kelp strand that had been snagged on a splintered piling. I could tell her that the long strip of stranded seaweed poses no threat. But until she has made her brave charge at the perceived enemy, she won’t believe me.
Up Sandy Beach, a raven cocks its head in wonder or dismay as it watches my little poodle mix act out a scene from Don Quixote. A bitter sounding bald eagle, perched in a beachside spruce might be offering its own commentary on Aki’s actions.
After the raven flies from beach sand to the top of its own piling, we push on toward the small but deep bay formed when one of the Treadwell mines collapsed. A recent high tide has stripped away the sand covering the body of an old pickup truck. It could have been abandoned after the tunnel collapse in 1916. It might have been buried and then revealed by tidal action many, many times. But I’ve never seen it before. The bed box of the pickup contains a rusted tool and shards of a heavy ceramic bowl that might have held oatmeal eaten by one of the miners on the morning of the tunnel collapse. I could slip one of the shards out of the box and into my pocket. Would that be a relic rescue or interference with nature’s efforts to cleanse?
Aki turns back, giving me her “aren’t you coming” look. Her other human and a friend walk along side the little dog. Through my camera’s lens I see the trio moving between a grass-covered dune and a line of small surf slapping Boy Scout Beach. Beyond them lays a choppy Lynn Canal, Admiralty Island, and the white-capped peaks of the Chilkat Range. If Aki could fly, she’d be over Glacier Bay in a half-an-hour.
It’s too early for the wild flags (iris) to be in full bloom, but on the way to the beach we stumbled on two of them in flower. Magenta patches on the tidal meadow mark where the shooting stars thrive. Everywhere there are the blue or purple flowers of lupines and beach peas. If not for the cooling wind, we’d be in high summer.
I love the walk to this beach for the wild flowers and the frequent sightings of Canada geese it offers. Just before the beach, you can turn, look up the Eagle River, and spot a turquoise wedge of the Herbert Glacier dividing snowy peaks.
I hurry to join Aki and her humans just in time to watch a trio of crows force a raven to land near the surf line. The raven works on something with its beak as we approach and then flies over the water and back to where it must have found the treat. We push on to a spot with a little wind break where we eat a picnic and watch a trio of Canada geese fly by followed in minutes by an immature bald eagle.
Later we will see a score of geese fly low overhead in a formation that could be a from measure of sheet music from Ode to Joy. Probably not. If the sound made by the geese is any indication, the notes would be from the Three Stooges theme song.
Last night Aki and her other human waited for me to deplane at the Juneau Airport. When a puppy, she would have squealed and squirmed when I walked out of the TSA waiting area. Now she just lets me lift her into my arms. This morning we walk through a rain forest that would be quiet if not for the songs of thrush and wren. Hard, green berries hang from the blue berry brush and the white buds of crabapple flowers swell with rainwater. It’s good to be home.
As Aki puzzles over newly deposited scent, I sneak onto a beach that borders the forest. In close there is only a robin trying to lead us away from its nest with moves designed to give a predator false hope of an easy meal. From a spruce tree behind us an eagle screams. Otherwise the skies are as empty as the little bay. Far off shore a kayaker has come to rest on the flat-calm water. I wish we could trade places with him. Sun shines on a valley on Admiralty Island, giving me reason to hope for at least a partial suspension of the rain.
We are about to break back into the woods when three eagles drop from perches on Shaman Island and dive toward the same spot in Lynn Canal. When one looks ready to snatch some food from the water, the other two eagles dive on it. In seconds all three birds are flying at each other like fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. The eagle that we heard earlier does a flyby at a safe distance and settles onto a spruce branch of the island to watch the show, which now has shifted from a dogfight into a loosely scripted ballet. Ravens, with their cleaver efforts to harvest man’s excesses, I understand. But eagles, I just don’t get.
Aki and I usually keep moving on our walks. The little dogs starts whining if I take took long examining something. But today on a trail that leads to where the Mendenhall River empties into Fritz Cove, she is quite content to lay relaxed in the sun.
She normally spends the entire visit to this trail on alert. The eagles that often perch just above us in beachside spruce make her nervous. Since she is just light enough for them to carry her away, I share her concern. But today she rests at the feet of another human friend, an older man that she watches over when he joins us on our walks.
There is good reason to be happy. We sit on sun-warmed rocks out of the wind. Over Fritz Cove a cloud of shorebirds flashes dark and light as they suddenly change directions. Ducks and scoters stream up and down the river, made nervous by the eagles that scream from their spruce perches. Nearby a murder of ravens cackles and clucks. Other eagles fly toward us from the exposed wetlands on the other side of the river. One, still covered in the brown feathers of an immature eagle,carries a fish in its talons. Just after it lands two mature birds land next to it. In seconds, the immature bird flies out and over the river without its fish.
Snow covers the parked cars on Gastineau Street. Some are so hemmed in by snow berms that they won’t be freed without some shovel work. I have a lot of time to study the snowed-in cars as Aki inspects every yellow spot in the snow.
We are between snowstorms. Yesterday’s left the cottonwoods and alders branches with white highlights. Already the temperature is well above freezing and the snow on trees will soon soften and fall to ground.
Aki throws on the brakes after we drop down to South Franklin Street. In an effort to keep the sidewalks free of ice and snow, the merchants have spread rock salt on them. At first my little dog ignores the crystals but then stops. She gives me that “what have you gotten me into” look. I end up carrying her in my arms through the salted zone. Unfortunately, it is lunch hour for the downtown office workers, several of whom make teasing comments about my unique style of dog walking.
At first Aki didn’t seem bothered by our late start. Much snow from a new storm had to be cleared before we could leave the yard. She announced her presence on the street with the usual bark and then got down to checking the pee mail. Since the roads were still a mess, I decided to take Aki on the usual tour of downtown Juneau. But rather than climbing the gentle Gastineau Avenue grade, which would have meant a visit with the resident ravens perched above the channel, she insisted that we swing over the Lower Franklin Street.
We passed small knots of homeless folks sheltering from the tail end of the storm and later the Glory Hole homeless shelter. Two right turns and one left, all at her direction, brought us to a snowed-in Marine Park. Three ravens bickered in the bare branches of shade trees. A single pigeon perched on a rail and looked out at the channel. Perhaps the ravens were trying to decide which one could grab the city bird.
Aki had no interest in any of the birds. She led me up Seward Street and then stopped in front of the state’s social worker office. When I urged her to continue on toward home she gave me a hard look and pointed her noise at the door. They only protect abused children, not disappointed canines, little dog. After a little more urging, Aki trotted on up the hill after her unsuccessful attempt to drop a dime on her humans.
Two days ago, a strip of ice made it possible for Aki and I to safely reach the face of Mendenhall Glacier. It formed a bridged for us over a mire of overflow. The next morning, our local radio station broadcasted a warning against crossing the lake to the glacier in the present conditions. This morning, the little dog and I walk down another ribbon of ice. This one wanders through an old growth forest to the beach. It’d be dangerous for anyone not using ice cleats.
Perhaps because of the icy trail, we are alone in the woods. There’s a small-scale blizzard blowing outside but no wind and little snow make it through the forest canopy. No wonder deer shelter from storms among the big trees. It’s cozy-quiet—a good place for a deer to graze and rest.
The beach, when we reach it, would be quiet if not for a family of ravens bickering above us in a spruce tree. Just offshore a raft of surf scoters practice their drill team maneuvers—expanding from a compact raft to form the letter “C.” A small group leaves formation to huddle over a ball of baitfish. Several of the birds sound their “three stooges” goofy call. Soon, all of the scoters are going after the fish.