Rain is falling, dimpling Auk Lake and melting the remains of last week’s snowfall. Mt. McGinnis stands above the lake against a featureless sky. These rain doesn’t bother Aki or I. The little dog is excited to be out of the car and free to sniff and pee. While I’d prefer sunshine on snow, the soft grayness of the scene offers a calm alternative to the noisy world of man.
Just before leaving the lake, I spot a common merganser paddling away from the little dog and I. He moves fast enough to raise a wake. Calm on top, frenzy underneath. We drive out the road and take the Breadline Bluffs trail. The path crosses a small stream with snow-covered banks and then rises to a small muskeg meadow. In minutes we follow it into an old growth spruce forest.
The noise of airplanes and road noise ceases. After an eagle calls out to its mate from a nearby tree, the only sound we will hear will be that made by a small surf collapsing into the base of the bluffs.
The sun was fighting a winning battle against the marine layer when we left home on this expedition to collect seaweed for the garden.The temperature dropped last night. It’s still above freezing but feels like an Alaskan Autumn day.
Aki would rather go on a regular walk than keep me company while I collect severed rockweed. Staying close, she acts as lookout while, bent over, I grabbed rock weed with gloved hands and dump it into a five gallon bucket. I have to shake from the seaweed crab shells, eagle feathers, and pieces of a deer’s backbone. When she was a puppy, Aki might have snatched some of this wild trash and carried it down the beach.
Taking a break from collecting, I let the little dog lead me off the beach and around False Outer Point. It’s good to see that the resident raft of golden eye ducks have returned to the crescent-shaped bay. Something spooks a gang of scoters as we round the point and they dot our view of Upper Lynn Canal with their dark silhouettes.
Just before climbing over a low headland to return to work, Aki stiffens and holds her nose in the direction of a screen of alders. We circle around the screen and peek behind it. Instead of the expected deer or bear, I spot the remains of an abandoned homeless camp. At the change of seasons, the occupant must have moved closer to the downtown homeless shelter.
It’s peaceful in the rain forest this morning. No sun threatens the clouds. No wind challenges the calm. It is so different from yesterday’s whale watching tour. Aki would have loved the attention she would have received from the other passengers when they were not photographing orcas. When they were distracted by whales, the little dog would have hunted around lower deck for dropped food. But I think Aki enjoys these mild days with me, alone on a trail, more than a party.
It takes little to shatter a calm, even one as profound as this one. Like a drop of accumulated rain falling from tree branch onto the beaver pond, a small thing can send out disruptive ripples.
As we pass the pond on the way to the beach, a tour guide walks up. He speaks in the quiet tone of a person who prefers silence. I am waiting for my crew to arrive. Thinking a crew of soft-spoken people would almost go unnoticed, I wish him well. The little poodle-mix and I walk on, reaching the beach as the tide starts to cover the Shaman Island causeway. The usual eagle guards the causeway from his usual rock. Two gulls bicker than settle into silence. Even the waves seem careful to hit the beach with a whisper. Then a child cries out like a tattletale gull as the guide leads a group of cruise ship tourists onto the beach.
It rained all last night. This morning only a light shower dimples Crystal Lake. But soon the real drama will begin. A storm is moving over Sitka. It is scheduled to drop four inches of rain on the Troll Woods and raise the lake’s level. Tomorrow the trails may be muddy and in places flooded. But now Aki and I should have no problem exploring the woods.
I lead the little dog off the main trail and onto one of the beavers’ logging roads. We follow it to a little lake we seldom are able to visit. For the last few years the access trail has been flooded by water backed up behind the beaver dams. Now it is dry.
Less than a mile away, a string of tourist buses unloads in front of the glacier visitor center. People crowd the bear-watching platform searching for inbound sockeye salmon and the bears that feed on them. A few miles in the other direction, planes and helicopters take off and land. When the wind drops we can hear airplane and bus noise. But the wind is rising in anticipation of the storm, letting me pretend we are thirty miles deep in wilderness.
Aki and I emerge from a tunnel of alders to access the wetlands. Overhead a bushel basket of clouds mute the sun. Mist clings to Aki’s grey curls and soaks into my cotton sweatshirt. The clouds also mute the magenta of fireweed blooms and the normally intense yellows of dying beach grass. It’s a soft, subtle day.
Sparrows flit through the trailside grass, stopping in dead stalks of cow parsnip where they can watch our passage. Across the Mendenhall River two bald eagles break from their spruce tree roosts. One swings so low over the river that its left wing tip slips into the water. It rights itself and slams its talons beneath the surface twice but comes up empty. I wonder how many more times its will have to sink its talons before snatching away a meal.
The little dog and I push on down river to where the trail ends at the edge of a backwater slough. Just across the slough two other bald eagles perch on the root wads of driftwood logs. Rain soaks into their ruffled feathers, giving them an “I just woke up” look. But their eyes are clear and hard as jewel stones. They are ready to race for the first food revealed by the outgoing tide.
Since this is the first overcast morning we have had in a week, I shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of hikers on Perseverance Trail. But it seems weird to have the trail to ourselves. Thanks to her powerful nose, Aki can never experience true solitude. Her world is always full of scent messages. She can never know and would probably hate the sense of being alone in the rain forest.
Today’s flat light robs much of the beauty from the mountains but there is plenty of interest at my feet: heart-shaped cotton woods leaves stressed into displays of fall colors, canary yellow monkey flowers (aka touch-me-nots) framed by their own green leaves, and a judgmental little poodle-mix urging me to get a move on.
I was drawn here by the meadow’s promise of a little solitude. Cars clogged the parking areas for the trails I would have preferred on this Father’s Day. But this meadow has few summer visitors.
With silence broken only by robin song, Aki and I fall into our usually routine. She sniffs and pees, updating her message system with a plain-faced concentration. I stroll past the low growing wild flowers, stopping occasionally to enjoy the way water droplets cling to colorful blossoms.
Each flower displays the complexity and beauty of great paintings. But I am the only human in attendance at this outdoor art museum. There are art critics here, insects that show their appreciation for a flower’s form or color by landing on it. The flowers getting the best reviews will soon reproduce.