Aki and I are walking up Main Street when a raven flies over our heads and lands in the middle of the snow covered street. It digs at something the color of strawberry licorice until a car approaches. It flies away just before the car squashes it flat. The raven returns seconds later, joined by several more of its brothers. Soon the surrounding trees fill up with a dozen more ravens.
Seeing the ravens feeding on something the color of human blood reminds me that in addition to being clowns and tricksters, the big birds are voracious, sometimes scary scavengers. Days later, across from Perseverance Theatre, I stumble on another gang of ravens. Hours before city ploughs had cleared away snow that cheated theatre goers of needed parking spaces. They must have stirred up something tasty.
It is still cold and windy in downtown Juneau. I should have started this walk an hour ago, before wind started to funnel down from Mt. Juneau. Aki is too blissed out over the plethora of scents to notice. As we climb Gastineau Avenue, a shadow crosses over us. I look up in time to see the eagle that made it.
The eagle is part of an airshow of ravens and pigeons that ride the wind currents over South Franklin Street. I suspect the pigeons to be prey for the larger birds. Most of the pigeons settle on a balcony of a house with a view of the channel. One of the ravens lands on the snow in front of the house. Another settles on a railing where it seems to be measuring the little dog and I. One of its eyes is cloudy, the other clear. I wonder if it can see out of the one with a cataract.
We walk to the end of Gastineau Avenue and drop down stairs to South Franklin. The metal stair grates are cold so I carry Aki. After I set her down on the sidewalk at the foot of the stairs, she walks with one paw suspended over the air. The protected one must have stepped on an ice melting crystal. Similar crystals have been scattered on most of the downtown sidewalks. I will carry Aki most of the way home,
Aki ignores the raven squawking on roof of the old Norwegian Consulate. The little dog also ignores the quarter-sized snowflakes settling into her grey curls. She is deciphering an important pee mail message. When raven dived bombs the poodle-mix. She charges after it until reaching the end of her leash. By then the raven is safely sitting on another roof.
We drop off Chicken Ridge. I am careful not to slip on the slushy snow. I wish that the snow could survive another day to give us a white Christmas. Our neighborhood totem pole still wears a crown of snow. But the Russian church cupola is already bare.
A raven flies into the frame as a I try to photograph the church. Two other ravens land nearby, affecting interest in an overflowing recycle bin. We climb up Gastineau Avenue and find at the crest, a flock of pigeons arranged like musical notes on utility lines. Below them a raven, looking very like one that divebombed the poodle, sits on a fence rail. It holds it ground even after Aki growls and I move close enough to a decent photograph.
We take the stairs down to South Franklin Street and walk over to the old Alaska Steamship Dock. A raven awaits us there, roosting on a deck railing. This one also holds it ground. I think this guy will follow us all the way home.
Raven could have roosted on a fence rail, cottonwood tree, or even the Saviko Park totem pole. He could be squatting on the cab roof of the beater pick-up truck with flat tires. Instead he has perched himself on top of a “permit parking only” sign near the small boat harbor. As the little dog and I approach, another raven lands on a fence rail and looks upat the permit parking only raven. Both fly off when Aki and I close to within ten meters.
I wish I could speak the local raven dialect, understand what the birds mean to saw when they mimic the sound of a Subaru’s electronic lock. By the way one raven looks at another that just croaked, clucked, or cawed, I know they communicate with each other. When the duplicate the sound of my car locking, are they trying to communicate with me?
Winter teased us with a few days of snow and cold. Now, like the fickle lover, it has left the rain forest for America’s East Coast. It’s mid-November and we are facing a week’s worth of wet storms. Aki and I suit up and head out to the Sheep Creek Delta.
Just a month ago we had to dodge eagles, step over salmon carcasses, but could tiptoe up to herons. The birds were there to feast on the wealth of wild food brought by the salmon spawn. Now all that has been washed into Gastineau Channel by rain and big autumn tides. This morning, only mallards and gulls remain.
The incoming tide shrinks the beach, creating isolated islands of gravel where the birds rest. The gulls squeal and the mallards cackle but otherwise they seem very comfortable in each other’s presence. It’s like they have formed a seasonal family for company until the salmon return.
This walk is Aki’s choice. The past two mornings, the little dog had hung back when it was time to get into the car. Yesterday I promised her that today we would start from the house. Aki trots with purpose down and our street and straight through the intersection where we would have to turn left to the take the Perseverance Trail. She wants to go urban. No waterfalls or noisy creek today.
Sunshine slants across Downtown Juneau, backlighting the leaves of maple trees imported to remind transplanted Juneauites of crisp fall days back home. The sun, a rare visitor this time of the year, has drawn people out of their studio apartments. They sit on steps and sidewalks smoking cigarettes made with tobacco or the now legal marijuana.
Ravens patrol overhead, sending down condemning croaks when not happy with they see. One homeless guy croaks back, engaging a raven in a harsh duet. When an immature bald eagle flies near, the raven brakes off to chase the much bigger bird away.
An immature eagle lands on a midstream gravel bar and eyes a chunk of something pink and fleshy. In seconds a raven joins him. The eagle takes possession of the goody with a talon and starts ripping off a bite sized piece. Raven uses a bowing little dance to get the eagle to share. When that doesn’t work, it squawks out a coarse protest song. The song goes on and on until the raven lifts off toward another source of food.
Aki was back in the car before the eagle landed. We are both soaked with rain that just stopped pounding the Sheep Creek Delta. The clouds now drift up against the flanks of Sheep Mountain to be shredded by tall spruce. I brought the dog here so I could search for heron. We found none. Aki tried to keep me from crossing exposed sections of the beach. She prefers to sniff along the grassy dune that separates the beach from the old ore house. There she can hide from eagles.
We walked to dune’s end where gold miners park their sluice boxes. The sluices sit in boats made of salvaged wrecks, foam blocks, and scrap wood. Soft delta sand is shoveled into the sluice box, which extracts the gold. The miners are driven to stand in cold water in the rain for hours by dreams of wealth or perhaps the simple desire to get something for nothing, like the eagle-bothering raven.
Like the miners, the eagles and other delta birds are always on the make. When not searching the riverbank and beach for carcass scraps, they make half-hearted passes over rafts of ducks, driving most into flight. Even the tiny swallows are always working an angle. This morning one gave me the stink eye for distracting it from harvesting beach grass seeds.