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Something Draws Us In

After the Second World War, most brave Japanese Americans left the army. Their family members had just been freed from unjust prison camps. They worked their way back into American society. They told no one the history of their poor treatment with their new neighbors or their own children. In 1970 I first discovered the history of the Japanese American internment camp at college museum. Later I discovered that my Japanese American friends were learning the sad story at the same time. 

            I remembered this history yesterday while visiting a bonsai garden in Tacoma. All of the plants had been started after World War II. Some stood in front of photographs of Japanese Americans entering guarded internment camps, where bonsai artists would teach the interned how to create new bonsai trees. Only one tree had recently been plucked from a mountainside. Nearby, a thousand year old bristle pine looked like it was still growing on the slope of a 13 thousand foot Californian peak.

            People often visit this bonsai garden. Few are Asian. All are drawn to the trees’ beauty. They collect little stories of how Japanese Americans protected that beauty from racism, transformed common American trees into symbols of an ancient culture adapting to cultural change.    

Waiting Out The Fire


He would be up early, drinking rich expresso
at the cabin window as a strengthening sunshine
sparkled the frosted meadow grass and the usual
hometown deer worked his latest attempt at kale.

He would turn on the radio and listen to morning’s
new complaints about followed politics and the
latest baseball scores. He would be bored but
he would be free to putter and push for change.

He’s up but there is no bear to search for, no sun melting
a satisfied frost, no desire to do anything than monitor
the fire, the smoke that thickens and soaks the morning
air like a sarcastic joke as it has for the last week.

The kale still grows as if it cannot feel the gray
heat. He passed it while carrying survival things to his car,
an older Toyota almost filled with stuff he can’t abandon
or burn, like fresh ground coffee. He now drinks instant.

Will the fancy cut street houses catch first, or will
the abandon old growth forests burn? A northerly gust rips
across the meadow, driving away smoke, turning the air
crisp and clear, letting the sun pierce and reveal.

The survival road clears. He starts to return his coffee maker
from the car, plans on re-furnishing the cabin with needed gear.
Then the thick smoke returns, a nearby forest fire renders the air
almost impossible to breath so he repacks the car and waits.

Bum or Brave?

The day will offer spectacular views of eagles, some with the glacier as a backdrop. But two ravens, perched together near the opening into Fish Creek Pond, are the first to peek my interest. They do it with their voices, not their appearance. Looking into each other’s eyes, they speak in language with more clicks than the African bush people. It sounds sped up. Aki, could we understand them if we made a recording of it and then played it are a slower speed?

            My question gets no response from the little dog but spooks the ravens into flight.  We move on, leaving the pond for the spit trail, now almost closed in by wild roses and fireweed stalks aging into their fall colors. My pant legs are soaked by the time we pass through the gauntlet. Near the end, a sparrow observes us while perched on the side of a dried cow parsnip stalk. It is one of a large flock of sparrows harvesting the spit for seeds. 

            The outgoing tide has exposed wide swaths of wetlands. Eagles that usually roost in nearby spruce trees stand near the water’s edge. Some eat the flesh of spawned out salmon. Others just chill. A murder of crows takes to the air, bickering and banging into each other as they make their way to the little spruce island at the end of the spit.

            I spot something out of my eye just as we are about to round the island’s tip. One meter away, an adult bald eagle clutches a spruce limb with both talons. It is soaked but otherwise appears unharmed. We lock eyes and then I look away. It is still watching me when I aim my camera at it. I’ve never been this close to an eagle unless it was clutching something to eat. Even then, the raptor would not hold its ground with a stare as this bird is doing. 

            On the walk back to the car I called the raptor rescue center and with hesitation left a message about my close encounter. All the other eagles flew off when the trail took us within fifty meters of them. This one clutched its spruce limb tighter and drove me off with a hard look. Hopefully the eagle experts can determine if the bird is bum or brave. Hours later, I got a call from someone at the raptor center. From looking at my photos of the eagle, she learned that the eagle had a broken tail and had been on the ground for sometime. They would take it into protective custody so it can safely heal.

Filling the Air with Down

Once or twice a year I bring a fishing pole along when Aki and I visit the Troll Woods. It’s best done in the fall, when trout and char follow silver salmon  up one of the moraine streams. But given the pour returns of the other types of salmon to their spawning waters, I don’t think we can count on the silvers showing up next month. 

            The little dog and I take different approaches fishing. It’s serious business for Aki. She stands by my side as I cast, watching the lure or fly hit the water. For me the fishing pole becomes something to distract the practical part of my brain so my imagination can escape. After a few fruitful casts, Aki gives a little moan, which cancels my imagination’s leave of absence.

            We move from place to place, stopping at breaks in the shoreside woods to fling out line. Once this morning, I felt a light tug. Another effort hooked a 10-inch cutthroat trout, beautiful in it crimson and gold blush.  It would make a tasty lunch but it is 4 inches short of a keeper. Aki does not act pleased when I let it slip off the hook.

            We stop at the hatchery on the way home to check out the scrap-hunting eagles that can be found there every low tide, sulking about the low salmon returns. Today, an immature eagle with a clump of down still stuck to the top of its beak puffs out its feathers and gives them a hard shake. The air fills with down.

I think of Tlingit dancers, who fill headdresses made with sea lion whiskers with eagle down. Body stiff with dignity, elbows extending their button-blanket cloaks to mimic eagle wings, they dance towards the audience and bow until the air is full of down. 

Scappy Little Dudes

Weather has taken most of the promise out of this late summer day. Aki and I are wandering through the Treadwell Woods, where thick growth hides most of the mining ruins. Wild nettles are going to flower along the trail, letting the passersby know that it too late to harvest them for greens. A handful of touch-me-not flowers rock on their delicate stems each time they are hit by rain drops. 

            If there are birds in the woods, we cannot see or hear them. Out on Sandy Beach an eagle sulks on its usual perch on the restored ventilator shaft. A scattering of gulls flit about undeterred by the storm. The rain doesn’t bother Aki either. She charges around the beach, hunting smells and snacks dropped by other dog owners. 

            After crossing a long stretch of empty beach, we reach the small, but deep bay formed by a mine tunnel collapse. Two belted kingfishers battled over the aquamarine water. The scrappy little dudes can always be counted on for excitement. 

The Herons Were a Surprise

The light seems richer in places like this, where an old growth forest touches a beach. Even on a flat, gray day, shafts of sea light muscle through the tangled canopy to light up wet leaves. Some of the light reaches red-colored elderberries, making them almost painfully bright.

            When the forest trail ends, we drop down onto the beach. An eagle flies overhead, swings towards Aki, and then swings away when I closed the distance between myself and the little dog. It’s the first wild thing we have seen on the walk. Even the gulls are elsewhere.

            Leaving the empty beach, we take a trail through thimble berry bushes to the Old Glacier Highway. After passing the old totem pole we drop back into the woods, sneak by a youth group eating pizza, and head for the car.

I find myself taking pictures of small beauties to have something to illustrate this post. Then the herons appear. Two land on the beach. One steps into the shallow water of the bay, freezing like a statute while tiny swells pass beneath its stomach. 

Just One Duck

Aki and I are heading toward Crystal Lake on an overgrown trail. It ends at the beaver’s village. Just as we can view green-tinged light through the lakeside alders, something makes a loud splash. Keeping my stumbling to a minimum, I lead Aki to the shore, expecting to see the head of a beaver or otter and spot a common goldeneye hen swimming away from us, lake water beading up on her feathers.

Benefits of Slowing Down

            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. 

Everyone’s Wet

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. 

Keeping it Short

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.