Category Archives: swans

Sleeping in the Rain

After 17 dry days the rain has returned to Southeast Alaska. You can almost hear the forest sigh with relief. I am doing the same. The rain has washed away a thin layer of glacier silt that covered the downtown streets and sidewalks. The rain may have discouraged other hikers from using the Dredge Lakes trail system. Alone, Aki and I move up a trail that parallels the Mendenhall River. On a clear day the trail offer views of the glacier and surrounding mountains. This morning only a sliver of the river of ice appears above the river. 

            Thanks to the recent stint of dry weather, a tributary normally too deep for us to cross has been reduced to a trickle. I take advantage and lead the little dog up a side slough to a section of the river we can rarely reach. Today it’s a hang out for mallards and merganser ducks. As we approach they fly off the beach in twos or threes and land a short ways off in the river. Soon the whole raft follows them. 

            After circling a large beaver den, we cut back through the woods to Moose Lake. While Aki rolls and rubs her face in a soft patch of trail snow I hear a bird with a powerful voice call “ko-hoh.” We move on, after an unsuccessful attempt to locate the caller,and reach the lake. Ice still covers most it. Two trumpeter swans float in a small patch of open water, their long necks stained brown by the muskeg water in which they recently fed. Now they sleep with their black beaks tucked into their back feathers. 

            One of the swans wakes up when my foot slips on some gravel. It looks at the little dog and me, then resumes its nap. I assume that they have just finished a leg of their northward migration. Now they must rest and feed before resuming their flight to the summer breeding grounds. 

            Aki and I meet two humans and their three dogs on our walk back to the car. When I mention the swans, they tell me that two swans were feeding on the lake last week. I wonder if our swans are the same birds, still recovering from the long flight or a newly arrived pair.

Weighing the Risks

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I am walking along the shore of Mendenhall Lake. It just stopped hailing. Now a gentle rain dimples the open sections of water between pans of rotting ice. Aki has disappeared into the woods. For the first time in awhile, I am worried about the little dog. Last week on a nearby trail, another dog walker watched his pup take a one-way trip into the woods. The wolf that killed his dog emerged carrying part of a freshly dead deer. Fish and game investigators reported that the wolf was only protecting its food and would not otherwise have harmed the dog.

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When the little poodle-mix fails to answer my whistle call, I start wishing that I had kept her on a lead. Turning my back on the glacier, I head into the woods and find her casually walking toward me.

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While spending most of my adult life in semi-wild areas of Alaska, I’ve had to weigh the ups and downs of living in place where bears and wolves might walk past your house in the dark. A recent trip to the Low Countries, where we cycled past swans and a great blue heron flew over the train taking up to the Brussels Airport, reminded me of how well wild animals are able to find their niche in human communities. I hope this is always the case, even it means increasing the risk of a walk in the local woods.

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