What a difference a few days can make. It was hot during our last visit to this rain forest. Forest fire smoke had turned the sky gray. The sky is grey today but colored so by clouds, not smoke. It is cool enough to need a sweatshirt to keep warm. Last week the trail was jammed with kids and their parents—all heading toward the tidal flats or Shaman Island. This morning the trailhead lot was empty until I parked there.
Without crowds, heat, or sun, the rain forest is a calming place. The quiet helps too. Only birdsong breaks the silence. It’s a once again a place to heal.
The little dog and I fall into our familiar patterns. She sniffs and I click my camera or look at reflections in the beaver pond. She sniffs and I pop a few sweet blueberries into my mouth.
A flurry of bird action takes us both surprised when we reach the edge of a little muskeg meadow. Chestnut-backed chickadees land on branches just above our heads. Thrush and their cousins the robin trot across the boggy meadow ground. Just ahead a red breasted sapsucker prospects the trunk of a slow growing pine tree for sap. After eyeballing us briefly it returns to his work.
I just can’t help attributing human attributes to wild things. In the stare of a thrush I see defiance. A slouching marmot telegraphs nonchalance. This morning, on the way to the Rainforest trailhead, I tried to read the emotions of an adult bald eagle.
The big bird was perched in the top of a short spruce tree. I stopped the car just twenty feet away. The eagle looked to be contemplating the view up Lynn Canal or maybe just enjoying the feel of sunshine drying out his rain-dampened feathers. An audio version of Nina George’s “The Little Paris Book Store” was playing on the car stereo. As one of the actors described the meeting of the protagonist and his lover, the eagle turned and looked at us with its eyebrow raised, as if questioning my taste in books.
It’s early morning so there is only one car in the trailhead parking lot when we arrive. In an hour or two the eco tour vans will disgorge cruise ship passengers more interested in wild things than jewelry shopping on South Franklin Street. They are my favorite kind of visitors but I’m pleased not to have to share the trail with them today.
The leaves of understory plants in the forest are still weighed down with rain from a recent shower. They sparkle when struck by sun shafts. Above the trail a gray thrush mom tries to induce one of its chicks to fledge. In a nearby hemlock, a red-breasted sapsucker stops hammering the tree’s bark to give the little dog the stink eye.
Eagles are flying over our heads, forced off the wetlands by an incoming tide. I ask Aki, “Little dog, where are the ducks? The poodle-mix looks at me like a person might look at someone searching for the nearest ice cream store in a burning city. Maybe she wonders why I care about dull ducks when the tidal meadow is magenta with shooting stars. She knows that they are my favorite flower, something I inherited from my dad.
My interest in waterfowl is more intellectual than esthetic. All winter the Fish Creek delta was infested with mallards. American widgeons and teals joined them in the spring. Fish ducks like golden eyes, buffleheads, and harlequins paddled offshore. Today it’s all gulls, eagles, and crows.
Our first eagle of the day was an immature bird that roosted near the opening of Fish Creek Pond until forced off by one if its elders. We see the young eagle a half and hour later being driven off an ocean side roost by an adult bird. The three other adult birds in the neighborhood scream what sounds like curses as the immature eagle flies off across Fritz Cove.
All the eagle action pushed duck thoughts out of my mind. So did our sighting of a red-breasted sapsucker that we inadvertently flushed from the path as we rounded the pond. But soon I thinking about ducks.
There is a place on the trail back to the car where a guy can sneak through a screen of spruce and spy on a little pond. A few weeks ago the pond was lousy with ducks. Today I found two mallards when I eased out of the trees—a hen and drake. They stood as close as lovers on a mound of bare dirt, a nesting pair. Mystery solved.
Let’s get this out of the way. It’s raining. It’s raining for the first time in a week Drops cling to emerging leaves and blueberry blossoms. They soak into Aki’s grey fur. The rain doesn’t slow down the little rain forest dog. She muscles ahead over a low ridge and then leads me down to the beach.
I was hoping we would see whales or at least Steller sea lions after we leave the woods. But no cetaceans break the surface of Favorite Channel. We normally walk down the beach before returning to the trail. But someone is camping out in a tent. While taking a lesser-used trail to return to the forest, we are surprised by a pair of bickering, red-breasted sapsuckers. So intent on their territorial battle, they don’t notice us until we are only ten feet away.
When we return to the place the sapsuckers battled, we will have seen iridescent sea anemones jammed together in a tiny tide pool, several sea lions, and our first humpback whale of the year.
While planning where to hike this morning, I look out at the garden where heavy raindrops make the tough kale leaves bounce. No wind blows them off course. Already the storm is soaking the old growth canopy. But the little dog and I still head to the Outer Point Trailhead.
I am not surprised to find the parking lot empty and pleased that nothing falls from the sky. Ironically, inside the forest that usually protects us from the worst of storms, it is raining. Fat drops drip from the canopy of spruce and hemlock. Storm light, more pearl than gray in color, reaches into the forest and turns the surface of a beaver pond into a fairy tale mirror. It might tell Aki that she is the fairest dog in the forest. That wouldn’t be a lie since the place is empty except for local residents like the red-breasted sapsucker hammering into a 100 year old hemlock. The overdressed bird grips an imperfection in the bark with one foot, which in my mind, makes it look desperate, as it pounds yet another hole into the hemlock. Hell for the hungover must be full of such unrelenting woodpeckers.
Today is a sunny as yesterday was rainy. I wanted an early start for our walk but we didn’t make it to the Rainforest Trailhead until mid-day. But the lack of early-morning bird frenzy is made up for by the sunshine that will only reach the forest understory for another hour or so. The bright light clarifies the greens of newly emerging leaves. It also makes the head of a red-breasted sapsucker shine like the queen’s jewels.
The sapsucker is nervous. It flits from tree to tree, staying for seconds in one spot. The little dog and I aren’t responsible for it’s behavior. Each movement of the bird brings it closer. When it does come to rest, it’s on a tree ten feet away, which happens to be flooded in light.