This morning, for the first time in a week, the sun rose unimpeded by clouds. There was a thick rope of fog laid the length of Gastineau Channel but it was gone by 9 A.M. I listened to foghorns while drinking morning coffee and thinking about where to spend part of this sunny day.
As Aki slept curled in my lap, I decided to head North to where a trail snaked over a small rise and along the edge of Favorite Passage. The little dog always seems to enjoy that one.
Later, while taking a break on the trail, we waited on a pocket beach for Aki to rinse her new Frisbee. It was only unnatural thing on the beach. Time and tide, not human hands, had placed every pebble and rock. The tiny grass meadow at the edge of the splash zone was sown by the wind.
After finishing the walk we drove to the Shrine of St. Therese where someone with too much spare time had stacked beach rocks into cone-shaped cairns on the beach in front of the columbarium. Nearby a raven paced. When we neared the bird flew off and landed in the middle of small collection of cairns, knocking down two of them. After defecating on the ruins the raven surveyed the field of rock stacks and then turned to stare at us. I wanted to tell him about the beach not far from here where no one had tried to improve nature.
The ravens waited for Aki. Two of the large black birds strutted down the Fish Creek Bridge as if fat-rich bodies of dead dog salmon weren’t stretched out for them on a gravel bar beneath the bridge. They were sated and bored and looking to do some mischief. My little dog was a handy patsy. When they didn’t make way for us on the bridge, Aki growled and dashed forward. The ravens flited a little further down the bridge and waited for her to catch up. Just before she did, the ravens lifted themselves onto the bridge rails.
Game ended, the little poodle-mix trotted off the bridge and headed toward Fish Creek Pond. Two bald eagles eyed our approach. Incoming pink salmon splashed on the pond’s surface. One let itself be caught by a grade schooler on the opposite shore of the pond.
We’d see at least a half-a-dozen eagles on our walk to the creek’s mouth. All have been drawn here by the pink and chum salmon now filing up the creek. All around Juneau, chum salmon are spawning in their home streams. Each stream draws of collection of bald eagles, ravens, crows, and gulls waiting for the dying to begin.
The heavy rain that started Saturday continues to rinse Juneau’s streets clean. Aki and I are seeking shelter from it in the Treadwell Ruins’ forest. Wrapped as I am in waterproof clothing, I can enjoy the rain as long as it isn’t accompanied by wind to whip drops into my face. Aki has only her curly fur and a water resistant wrap. Rain darkens her fur and soaks her wrap but she doesn’t seem to mind.
Out on the beach, the usual posse of eagles and ravens monitor for suspicious activity. The ravens do this with style, strutting about as if they ordered the weather.
One of the eagles clutches the metal ridgeline of the old ventilator shaft. It looks like is about to say, “What’s all this then?” The other roosts on the top of a rusting anchor. Both watch Aki run circle around a Bernese mountain dog that has just galumphed over for a visit.
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.