Sunshine tempted the little dog and out the door early this morning. No wind stirred the neighborhood spruce trees so we headed over to Sheep Creek. I hoped to enjoy reflections of the Douglas Island ridge in the still waters of Gastineau Channel.
Thanks to the near presence of the Juneau Icefield, sunny days are often windy days. Not this morning. The resident mallard drakes can admire their reflection in the tidal ponds scattered around the Sheep Creek delta. Aki can walk without wind flattening her fur. I can enjoy the reflections.
Just offshore gulls crowd onto a shrinking gravel bar. I measure the progress of the tidal flood by the number of gulls forced to flight. The remaining gulls lift off in a group, moaning and complaining about the thoughtless tide, forgetting that soon they will feast and fight over food that it will leave behind.
A cloud of fussing gulls flies over two seals that splash and swim around each other. One of the seals appears to climb up on the back of the other. Is this a frolic or something more serious? Are the voyeuristic gulls invading the privacy of the seals while they try to mate? It’s way too early in the year for seal sex in normal times. But we rarely, if ever, have 60 degree F. temperatures on a mid-March day. Is climate change changing everything?
The wolves around Juneau are usually black, not white or grey. As Aki and I approach the Eagle River, I see what looks like a black wolf scampering up and over a snow bank. It disappears before I can turn on the camera. Following in its tracks, we reach the edge of a meadow. Thinking that I saw a dog, I expect to see the big canine trotting down the river along with its owner. But only pans of broken river ice dot the grass. Later I will find an isolated line of tracks crossing into the woods.
A harbor seal swims past in the river current. It stares at the little dog and then disappears under the water. Then a raven flies over our heads and lands on a snow bank. It takes what I can only describe as a snow bath: digging out chunks of snow with its beak and tossing them onto its back, then rolling over and over on the snow. It then tumbles down the snow bank like a child rolling down a grassy slope.
I feel an urge to rate our interactions with the three citizens of nature. Wolf sighting are valuable because they are rare, so rare that I can’t believe that I saw one today. The deep sadness of the seal’s stare haunts me. But the goofy antics of the raven made my day.
Today Aki will make an odyssey along a crescent shaped beach where she will see many strange things.
She will walk on an empty beach, passing a stream mouth full of bathing gulls. Other gulls will fly far over water to join them. A pair of mallard ducks will be tempted by the commotion but will paddle away when they discover there is no food.
The same pair of mallards will dance in a tight circle until the drake rides like a fuzzy chick on the hen’s back. Aki will wonder if they are mating as all but the head of the hen disappears under the weight of her dude.
Seas normally fractured in winter will remain calm, its surface like satin.
Western grebes will pass in threes, harlequins in groups of five. A harbor seal will creep with feet of two harlequins and then swim past them. He will pursue a raft of golden eye ducks until they reach water too shallow for a seal to swim.
The little dog will reach the car dry even though she passed through a light rain to get there.
I wonder if seals are the ravens of the ocean. Aki, who has never interacted with seals but has a grudging respect for ravens, is uncomfortable responding to my musing. It might be different if we were talking beavers or river otters. She has been lured out onto thin ice twice by their kind. Two otters called for her to join them on thin ice over this very Fish Creek Pond. She broke through pond ice twice near the glacier while answering the call of a young beaver.
My little dog may be wondering why I bring up harbor seals where we are walking along a fresh water stream. But then she cannot see one of them twirling and diving in Fish Creek. It must have followed the high tide surge up the creek seeking something to eat or just to alleviate boredom. More than once while kayaking I have turned in my seat to see a harbor seal a few feet from my rudder, looking at me with the saddest eyes in the world.
On the way to the Treadwell Ruins trailhead, Aki and I stopped on the Juneau waterfront and watched sunlight break through the clouds. As if shinning through a lattice window, the sun formed sunrise colored squares onto Gastineau Channel. Near the navigational tower, a single seal swam through squares of yellow/red light. I told the little dog that that was more beauty than we are to expect on this early December day. But I was wrong.
On the sandy beach that borders the Treadwell Ruins, I try to correct my earlier statement. Aki, I think each kind of weather produces its own beauty. As she usually does when I try to share a profound idea, the little dog throws me her “are you kidding” look.
No, really. Take this scene, one with frost but no snow. Even without sun to sparkle the frost, this beach and the trees that crouch towards it are quite lovely.
Knowing this I am not convincing the little dog, I turn and look toward Juneau. Sunlight has managed to again pierce the clouds to swath the town and the mountain with the same name.
We move south until reaching the collapsed glory hole that marks the end of Sandy Beach. Frost feathers have turned the offshore rocks an icy grey. A raft of mallards slides from behind the rocks to provide just the right punch of color.
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.
As if to pin a lie on weatherman, nature brought us clear, cool skies this morning rather than the promised rain. At first light Aki and I head out to the Mendenhall Wetlands. I’m hoping that it still retains the two inches of snow that fell on it yesterday. But this is early days for winter. The temperature is already above freezing when reach the wetlands. We take the trail along the river even though it is already slick with thawing mud. Aki finds cleaner footing on the grassy fringe.
At first light the still-surfaced river captures crisp reflections of the glacier underlined by trees flocked with snow. But the rising sun frees a breeze that riffles the water. The slight wind doesn’t wake a huge raft of Canada geese that doze, heads tucked into their back feathers, near the opposite side of the river. Among the sleeping flock, four white-fronted geese slip quietly toward shore. These arctic birds will soon resume their southerly migration.
When the heads of two harbor seals appear near the Canadians, the geese move casually towards the beach. I don’t see the seals make a move, but they or maybe a passing eagle flush the geese into flight.
Other than checking frequently to make sure she is near, I haven’t paid much attention to Aki. The little dog, who loves snow, doesn’t seem to mind until I head back toward the muddy trail. Then she gives me one of her “what an idiot” looks, hesitates, and then fast-trots towards her foolish master.