There is only one eagle on top of the mine tunnel ventilator shaft this morning. Its mate must be off feeding. Even though no wind stirs the air, white feathers stick out from the back of its head like untamed cowlicks. It stares down channel, maybe at the flock of gulls that just landed on the beach, or perhaps at the top of Sheep Mountain rimmed with light from the rising sun.
The eagle’s mate plops down on the shaft roof. Rather than exchanging the usual screeching welcomes, the two eagles face in opposite directions. A minute later only the original eagle remains on the shaft roof. The other flies toward the rising sun, flushing the gulls and a raft of scoters to flight.
I find myself slowing down as we near the end of the beach. Even though it is still blocked by the Sheep Mountain knob, the sun has already managed to paint a golden strip of light on the waters of Gastineau Channel. A tiny raft of mallards lingers in it, as it provides them warmth. Aki is already at the edge of the Treadwell woods, giving me her “time to go” look. As if to confirm her wisdom, the sun immediately slips behind heavy cloud cover the minute it clears the mountain. The golden light vanishes, leaving the ducks, dog and I in a world of gray.
Fog is easier to see on a beach but you can discern its presence inside a thick forest. Aki and I have no problem detecting the way it thickens the air in the Treadwell forest. She pays it little attention. Fog doesn’t diminish the rich smells she searches for in the forest.
The little dog is slow to follow me from the forest down a grassy trail to Sandy Beach. As I wait for her to catch up I spot the resident pair of eagles on top of the old mine ventilation shaft. They appear to be gossiping, although with their profiles softened by fog it is hard to tell. More than one person has noticed how eagle pairs interact like long-suffering human couples who keep together for the sake of the kids. One is almost always scolding the other. The one receiving the dressing down will bow and shrink like a penitent. This pair looks like a couple of drinkers leaning toward each other over their Alaskan beers.
Aki finally pushes through the splash-zone grass to join me on the beach and spots a canine friend waiting for her. Even though they are both over ten human years old, they chase each other over the sand like puppies. Now the eagles have something to gossip about.
It’s mid-August and most of the trees in the Treadwell ruins retain their leaves. But the beautiful collapse of fall is not far off. Aki’s tiny paws slip on the wet, fallen foliage of cottonwood trees. Once lush leaves of cow parsnips droop as their green color drains down into their plant’ roots. Late summer monkey flowers and white ones of the thistles provide a little color for the forest.
Aki and I leave the forest for Sandy Beach where the usual two mature bald eagles roost on the ridge cap of a mine ventilator shaft. The tide is out so we can walk right up to the brick tower. Aki waits near the edge of the grass. When the eagles turn to stare I stop, take a few photos, and turn back toward the little dog. I don’t want to force the eagles off their perch.
An immature eagle flies over the two senior birds and then lands down the beach. One of the mature birds flies towards it, perhaps to bully the younger bird away from what ever treat enticed it to ground. In seconds both birds are in the air, flying in different directions.
Sometime during the past century a country and western singer made a lot of money by singing “The girls get prettier at closing time.” Lack of experience prevents me from evaluating the truth of this statement. But I find myself singing the song to Aki as we walk through the Treadwell Ruins.
A fast moving storm slammed into Juneau last night, blowing away the patch of high pressure that had provided us with four warm and sunny days. So we are taking advantage of the shelter from wind and rain offered by the cottonwood forest that has grown up over the ruined town. The Treadweel cottonwoods, alders and willows leafed out during the warm spell. They preshow the beautiful colors the trees will display next fall. Each leaf is unmarred by insect, disease; undarkened by exposure to the elements. For the only time in the year, the cottonwoods fill the air with the smell of balsam.
Ground plants and shrubs won’t ever look as pretty as they do now as they unfurl their tiny leaves. Fiddlehead ferns uncurl their tightly wrapped stems. Even the shaggy cow parsnips look pretty this time of year.
Aki isn’t bothered by the east wind that chills my skin but I am. We have just left the wooded Treadwell Ruins where over a foot of wet snow covers the ground. The trail was sloppy and partially flooded. But it was almost Spring-warm. A junco sang what sounded like a love song.
We couldn’t leave the woods for the beach because the tide was flooding over all the portions not covered by deep snow. Perhaps for this reason, the golden eye ducks we saw swam close to the shore.
It was cloudy when we entered the woods but the sun burned through to light up the south sides of the ruins’ alders. As the sun melted the remaining clouds, the east wind rose. In the rain forest, like in Mary Poppins’ London, the east wind precedes changes in the weather. This one is suppose to bring low temperatures and high winds. Aki doesn’t know that so she can ignore the rising wind.
Aki shows more enthusiasm for this adventure than I feel as we leave the trailhead. Snow is turning to rain as the little dog and I head into the Treadwell woods. Aki minces down the trail, each step pushing through soaked snow to a thin layer of water beneath. Glad I am wearing waterproof boots, I slosh along behind her.
The poodle-mix dashes toward a urine-yellow Rorschach design in the snow left by the dog of an early morning walker. Similar splotches mark the way to the beach. We slog past roofless ruins and twisted rails of the mining car tracks, all made almost beautiful by mantles of fresh snow. White on rust makes a pleasing combination.
From its perch atop the old ventilation tower, our resident eagle watches us leave the woods and move onto the snow-covered beach. His puffed up chest feathers make me think of Buck Mulligan descending Joyce’s Dublin tower. Aki cares little for literary references so I don’t mention it to her.
When a golden lab approaches, Aki waits in silence rather than barking her usual welcome. You are learning some caution little dog. The meeting goes well and she acts more like her old self when we meet a black-husky-mix. Maybe you are learning to discern rather than to trust that all dogs are potential friends.
After the husky-mix follows its people into the woods, Aki and I have the beach to ourselves. The two ravens that usually greet us have flown. No belted kingfisher chits at us from an overhanging branch. No wind hurries away the loose pans of ice that float around the ruined wharf pilings. If I turn around I could see trucks being loaded at the barge dock across Gastineau Channel and the blocky shapes of the Juneau skyline. But ahead to the south there is only the white-covered beach dotted with broken pilings, Gastineau Channel, and glaciated mountains partially obscured by mist. We move south until we run out of beach.
Aki flies down the snowy trail blown along by a stiff wind. The same wind is chilling the back of my legs like it did my front when we walked into the Treadwell ruins. My nose and right cheek stiffen, heading towards frostbite. We will be back in the car before my skin on those exposed parts turns from pink to white.
This morning a high-pressure zone keeps storm clouds away but also delivers the strong winds. They started blowing when the rising sun lit up the glacial ice sheet. In response cold air roared down the mountain valleys and up Gastineau Channel when they whipped up waters in front of Sandy Beach.
The little dog and I keep to the shelter of the woods. But each time I slip down onto the beach for a photograph, we feel the bite of the wind.