Aki should be bored. She has little to distract her while I gather seaweed into five gallon buckets. The last high tide rolled severed rockweed into a thick line that extends the length of the beach. I tell Aki that the buckets will soon be filled thanks to this bounty. She ignores me, like she ignores the five ravens that glide and croak over the beach. They must be waiting for us to leave so they can continue picking at a nest of nearby deer bones.
This beach won’t enjoy direct sunlight until next spring. The Douglas Island Ridge sees to that. But this morning’s sun throws cloud shadows on the wooded hills on the far side of Fritz Cove. Between the sunny hills and this dusky beach a seal hunts the cove waters.
Standing at our living room window, I spent some time this morning cataloguing the Alaska words for the action of rain. It can drizzle, fall, shower, obscure, soak, pour, spit, depress, rinse, wash away, flood, and sluice. That’s the word for this morning’s stormy offering—sluice. Even though the rain was sluicing down on Chicken Ridge, I wrapped Aki and myself in rain gear and drove out to North Douglas Island. The microclimate there often offers drier days.
Rain obscured our view of the road. But it did not discourage several bald eagles from circling a roadside beach. A hunter must have dumped a deer carcass there. This has become a thanksgiving tradition for scavengers like eagles, crows and ravens.
I drove on to the trailhead but planned on looking for the deer carcass on the way home. While a strong wind played through the forest canopy, Aki and I walked to the beach. We had the Rainforest Trail to ourselves. It seems emptier than usual. We didn’t even hear the sound of gull bickering as we left the forest. Only a small raft of fish ducks worked the offshore waters.
On the way home I stopped where we had earlier spotted the eagles. While Aki waited in the car, I found the expected deer carcass surrounded by eagles and ravens. Most of the birds flew off. One raven and an eagle stood their ground. They faced each other over the carcass and then took to the air. As I started back to the car, the birds settled back on the beach to continue their battle over the deer remains.
The little dog and I are crossing the meadow where we met a bear on our last visit. The season’s first dusting of snow brightens the surrounding peaks. Six geese, each whiter than the new snow, swing off from Lynn Canal and drift onto the grass. Most of their fellow snow geese passed through here last month on their trip south. These birds should already be with them in the Lower 48 States.
I think about the tiny rufus hummingbird that hovered near our living room window a few days ago, long after the last wild flower went to seed. Elders tell their grandkids that hummingbirds fly south tucked into the feathers of snow geese. I wonder if there is still time for our hummingbird to hitch a ride with these tardy geese.
We have just finished walking the beach that separates the meadow from Lynn Canal. At least I walked. Aki preferred to run out and back, like she did when she was a puppy. There is something about the sand that energizes her. Perhaps it’s the way her paws sink in or the thrill of sending grains fly with every step. At least one raven watched the little dog run.
Distracted by a U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopter flying down Gastineau Channel, I didn’t notice the raven arrive. When Aki finally looks at the big bird atop the root wad of a driftwood log, she shows little interest. I wonder if the raven is hurt or happy about the slight.
The raven tolerates my efforts to photograph for a minute and then turns it’s beak in my direction. It’s body language communicates a clear message—that’s enough photographs, please. Lacking a paparazzo’s boldness, I turn to look down channel where a Coast Guard rescues boat chases the helicopter toward Admiralty Island.
The low clouds that had been obscuring our view of Taku Inlet move up channel. We watch the rescue vehicles disappear into a wall of white. Minutes later it returns. Was the pilot forced to abandon his mission by weather or is the helicopter no longer needed. Hoping it is the later and that the missing folks have been located safe on a beach, I following Aki into the Treadwell forest.
A map on my weather app shows a pixilated mass of dark greens and grays about to envelop Juneau. The sun has just cleared the shoulder of Mt. Roberts. One our neighborhood ravens perched on top a neighbor’s roof sings up the sun. When the new sunlight hits the raven it joins its mate circling in the gray sky.
I grab Aki and head out to the car. Clouds already obscure the sun but sunset tones color Gastineau Channel. Even though it will mean getting caught by the oncoming wall of rain, I stop on the way to the trailhead. The little dog and I walk onto the Douglas Island Bridge, which offers an unobstructed view of the channel. At the far end, where the Gastineau opens onto Taku Inlet, yellow and peach colored light paints the clouds. In minutes the scene is reduced to gray.
We drive to the nearby Dan Moller Trail and walk through wet evergreens to open muskeg. The meadows have gone to rest for the winter. There are still splotches of sunset colors around the bases of mountain hemlock trees, where low bush blueberry bushes and sorrel plants shelter. The promised rain arrives to soak the little dog and make the sorrel leaves shine.
Looks like the party is over little dog. Aki and I just crossed Fish Creek , which now appears to be empty of salmon. No eagles roost in creek side trees. We can’t even spot the pair of squabbling ravens that usually patrol the creek’s gravel bars.
The kingfisher that guards the pond is still here. When it spots us, the little bird flies off to give the alarm. It is time, I think, for the land to go to rest for winter. Then two silver salmon, sides spawning-red, leap about the surface of the pond. An eagle screams. The party is still on.
The eagle doesn’t bother Aki. She stares at the water as if willing the salmon to jump again. When they don’t she trots around the pond to where the trail climbs onto a low dike. There, a great blue heron surprises both of us by flying out of a nearby tree and settling onto the limb of a spruce just twenty feet away.
Aki seems glued to the spot on the trail where she first spotted the heron. When I call her she looks in the big bird’s direction as if to say, are you crazy, that thing is ten times my size. I could tell her that the heron hunts small fish, not small dogs. But from past experience I know that she won’t move. I’ll have to carry her to the perceived safety of the woods.
It could be the ruins of an Italian villa if not for the wild Alaska plants that encroach on its portico. Devil’s club leaves in fall color fills in for the Mediterranean sun. Drooping limbs of an elderberry take the slot that grapes would in an Italian garden. But there is no wine manufactured here in these remains of the Treadwell steam plant.
Aki wants to stay in the woods that have grown up around the ruins. I would rather check out the beach. We compromise and hang about in the woods for a bit longer before slipping through a barrier strip of beach grass and drop onto Sandy Beach.
One of the resident bald eagles, it’s feathers all ahoo, sulks on top of the old ventilator shaft. Two local ravens snatch up dog treats on the beach. With round nuggets in their beaks, they strut across the sand as if posing for a “Raven Brings Light To The World” sculpture. Once the first raven tricked a shaman into releasing the sun from a bentwood box so it could illuminate the land. These two ravens have much lower expectations. They just intend to enjoy a free meal in the light won by their ancestor.