Aki is quite pleased with the situation. She has her human under control. He had to hold on end of her leash while she sniffs and pees her way around the shore of Mendenhall Lake. Her human, me, would like to speed up the walk. Aki won’t let that happen.
Once I accept the situation, I can relax and look at things I would normally overlook. I can inventory the number of blossoms on ground hugging low bush blueberry plants. I see tiny white flowers that I might have stepped on if Aki hadn’t slowed me down.
Now completely soaked, I enough Aki to leave the lake shore and move onto a trail that provides access to a series of small ponds. A common golden eye, raising a brood of chicks on a reed-choked pond, doesn’t reach to our presence until I stop to admire her chicks. Then the chicks surround their mon even though they would be safer if they sheltered in the reeds.
The eagle, Aki and I—we are all wet. Aki seems the least disturbed by the rain. I feel sympathy for the eagle, which is hunched over on top of the old mine ventilation shaft with feathers ahoo. Then it bursts off its roost and glides onto the beach.
A sandy ridge blocks my view so I don’t know if the eagle secured something to eat until I climb up the small rise of beach. The big scavenger is on the beach, ripping at something with his beak. While balancing on a small rock, it screams out something to its mate, which is feeding a little further down the beach.
To make sure that she doesn’t further injure her leg muscle, I carry Aki over the loose-sand portions of the beach. When she starts to shiver, I carry her into the Treadwell Woods, which offers a little shelter from the rain and wind.
Aki hid under the bed as I gathered things for our morning walk. With a pocket full of poop bags, camera over my shoulder, and my hands full of leash, harness, and raincoat, I crouch on the bedroom carpet to determine whether the dog is too sore for a walk or is just playing hard to get. When I walk away, she pokes her nose out so she can see me open the inner door. Before I can step through it, the little dog scoots out and does a truncated version of her downward dog stretch.
Her tail is wagging when she leads me out to the street. Following the Vet’s orders, I’m keeping the walk short. We won’t even leave the neighborhood. She will be stuck reading local pee mails. We’ll walk past lilacs heavy with browning blossoms, white or magenta Alaska roses drooping over cement walls, and sweet smelling wild phlox flowers—all planted to brighten rainforest gray days.
Since her pain is masked by anti-inflammatory drugs, Aki will try to drag me down Gold Street. That is when I will hope that she understands why we can’t do our usual loop through Downtown.
It’s odd taking a walk without Aki. She suffered soft tissue damage running frantic laps around a Labrador retriever and has been ordered by the Vet to keep off her feet. Without her to move me along, I took much longer to complete the Rainforest Trail loop. She wouldn’t have begrudged me the time I took to visit with a friendly dog walker. She would have loved to sniff and greet the dog. But she wouldn’t have the patience to wait for the whale.
If Aki were here, I would not have been circled by a crow. The corvid strolled toward me until three meters separated us. Then it walking along the three meter line as I clicked away. I would have never seen the whale breach. I was standing near the beach-forest border, staring across Lynn Canal, listening to small waves hit the beach. Something large and gray blew out of the water and crashed onto the surf, sending up a “v” shaped splash of water that could be seen even with my old eyes two kilometers away.
Aki wouldn’t have let me take the time to doddle. She doesn’t care that the doodlers see all the good stuff. Because they resist the need to progress, they are often hear the swallow sing.
Our latest North Pacific storm has cloaked the mountains that line Gastineau Channel. It also weighed down the Treadwell Woods with rain. Normally quiet water courses sing, as do the forest thrush. It’s a day for the small beauties.
Rain drops on leaves and flowers always sparkle, even on gray days. It’s as if collect and hold all the spare light. Wet sleeves coat the young chocolate lily blossoms, making they shine like a pebble shines when still damp from the ocean. I know that if plucked and carried home, the beauty of the flowers will fade like that of a pebble fades as it dries. They will never be as fine as they are when soaked by a storm.
A disheveled bald eagle watches Aki and I leave the sheltering woods and walk onto Sandy Beach. It huddles on the roof of the old mine ventilation shaft, protected from over-interested humans and dogs by the high tide. The eagle turns it back on us when I focus the camera on it, apparently not wanting anyone to take a picture of it with its back feathers all ahoo.
Aki snuffles along the sandy beach, reading the recent history written in scent. If the temperature was 80 rather than 55 degrees we could be in the south of France. Today we have the same clarifying light artists record when plein air painting near Arles.
At first, the beach seems empty of people, which is unexpected given that it is midday. Then we stumble upon a small family that appear stunned by the sun. They lay on the sand, protected by a driftwood windbreak. The children sport floppy sun hats and play clothes that might have been bought at a Hanna Andersen store.
After we pass the first family of sun worshipers, each spot on the beach that offers protection from the cooling breeze is occupied by a different family grouping. Taking advantage of the broad beach, we keep twenty-five meters between them and us. Small waved roll onto the beach but no ducks work the surf line for bait fish. A raven flies over but we will neither see nor hear eagles or gulls. More proof that we have been transported to le côte d’Azur?
Eleven days ago, Aki trotted in my tracks as I skied along this shore of Mendenhall Lake. Today I’m walking. Ice still covers the lake but it will soon rot away. Winter won’t return for at least six months. The robin that just flew off confirms that.
As we walk the edge of an ice-free bay that reflects Mt. McGinnis, I’m struck at how move vivid the reflection is than the mountain. No longer burdened with occluding ice, the lake water sharpens the lines of the mountain and even those of the gray clouds that threaten to swallow it.
My observations don’t interest the little poodle-mix or the mallard drake preening on an off shore rock. The duck takes no notice of our passage to the Mendenhall River where swallows bob and weave for mosquitos. Four tense merganser ducks watch us from shallow water on the opposite side of the river. Later, as we round a pond, we will see a bufflehead drake try to drive off another while the hens huddle in a nearby patch of open water. Clearly spring, with all the sexual tension it brings, has arrived on the glacial moraine.
There are no other humans or dogs in the forest but we are not alone. Like a lost explorer about to be snake bit in a equatorial jungle, I am almost deafened by the racket made by unseen birds. Varied thrush whistle, three-toed woodpeckers tap, Stellar’s jays and kingfishers scold. I search for a glimpse of a bird but have to settle for a spider web weighed down with rain.
Aki leads me around the now ice-free beaver pond. Was it just last week that we walked on ice across it to the beavers’ lodge? Rotting ice still covers parts of the pond but it will be gone soon. The green cones of skunk cabbage places poke up from the waters of a nearby stream. New blossoms hang like Japanese lanterns from blue berry plants. Spring has finally arrived in the woods.
I have better bird watching when we reach the beach. Mallards feed, heads plunged under the water, near the mouth of Peterson Creek. A raft of frisky golden eye ducks work water further off shore. I almost missed the American robin searching for food among dried stalks of beach grass. Aki never spotted the robin even though the bird and I stared at each other for more than a minute. I’m the first to look away.
A storm moved in last night, bringing high winds and wet snow. We can feel the wind shaking the house and see snow flakes slam into our north facing windows. They melt on contact, creating little streams of waters that combine then course down the glass. Aki does not want to leave home this morning.
Always the family’s optimist, I dress the little dog for bad weather and carry her to the car. This spares her a trot through deep, wet snow. She huddles on the passenger seat as I brush slush from all the car windows. We drive through a downtown emptied by social distancing orders and out the old Auk Village site.
Surprising both of us, the weather clears just before we reach the trail head. We walk on a bare trail. No rain or snow soaks Aki’s curls. Only the storm’s wind remains, raising half-meter surf. Just off shore, a small raft of golden eye ducks keep themselves pointed into the wind. They ride up and down on the waves, diving on tiny fish helpless in the turbulent water.
Aki trots ahead of me on an expansive meadow. Her tiny tracks in the snow could have been left by something wild. Spring is finally winning its annual battle with winter. To be fair, the sun is the main agent of change. Its rays warm the trunks of the meadow’s pines, which radiate heat to melt the surrounding snow, forming concave-shaped pots for each tree.
Aki’s path parallels that of a deer now hiding in clump of trees. It must be cheering on the sun. I’m cheering on an eagle that glides above the meadow. It sings as it circles. I’ve never heard the song before. It’s their time for mating. Maybe this guy is looking for some action.
This would be a perfect place to watch eagles mate. Nothing would block our view of them locking talons and tumbling towards the meadow as they do their business. They almost always break their embrace before hitting the ground. My eagle stops singing, adjusts its meter-long wings, and glides east. Without even one wing flap it holds its angle of descent as if attached to a flying fox (zip line). I feel a warm flutter of infatuation. Aki, am I crushing on an eagle? The little dog acts like my ridiculous question is not worthy of a response.
Just before we leave the meadow, I pick bog cranberries from a snowless patch of muskeg. Like the deer and the eagle, the berries survived a very snowy winter. Wondering if they will be sweeter for it, I pop them into my mouth. But winter’s bitterness has replaced their autumn sweetness.