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Raven Vandels

A mess awaited me when I step outside this morning. Ripped paper packaging covered the front porch. A trail of it led to a box that contained a coffee pot that I had ordered. Through holes in the box I could see that the coffee pot was still intact. This was the work of a raven. Only one of their powerful beaks could make such holes. 

            Our neighborhood ravens mess with more delivered packages than a heroin addict. If I don’t grab a package off the porch as soon as the mailman places it there, it is likely to end up with raven beak holes. Last year I chased two ravens away from a package just delivered to our neighbor. It contained homemade fudge. I was too late to save another box containing Sees Candy. When I arrived nothing remained of the chocolates but the little brown paper wrappers they originally sat in. While trying figure out why a raven would attack a package that didn’t contain any food, just my coffee pot package, I took Aki on a walk to the Juneau waterfront. We passed a raven strolling down the sidewalk like it owned it. 

First Snow

I am in Anchorage, on the hillside above town, watching the first snow of the year whiten the ground. Aki is in a Juneau, in the rain. I wish I were on skis or even wearing boots, getting ready to explore one of the hillside trails. But I’m inside, drinking coffee and listening to the words of fellow writers. As the snow falls, the ideas build one upon another.  

Ultramarine Surprise

Aki and I are walking the Treadwell Woods, a place with forest and mine ruins that offered the only chance for beauty on this wet, gray day. That’s why I was surprised when I glimpsed the Gastineau Channel through a screen of alders. Rather than the expected slate gray, the channel was an almost Mediterranean shade of green.

            Aki didn’t mind leaving the woods for Sandy Beach where she is more likely to meet dogs. In seconds she finds a friendly pair of huskies. While they played chase, I spotted a kingfisher resting on the top of a busted wharf piling. Several gulls picked over the sand beneath the piling. The translucent bodies of flattened jelly fish sparkle on the sand. 

Sniffing the Avenue

Gastineau Avenue cuts a gash across the side of Mt. Roberts. It once provided access to the A.J. Mine tunnels. Feral cats moved into the tunnels after the mine closed in 1944, living on scraps from the fish plant on the docks. The cats are long dead from Parvo Virus and the fish plant has been replaced by cruise ship facilities.  

Even though it offers good views of downtown and the channel. Gastineau has a run down, skid road feel. There are some well-kept craftsmen-style houses and other nice buildings along the avenue. But the empty lots and a burned-out building invite people to camp out on the street in tired cars. None of this matters to Aki. The little dog loves it. She doubles the time needed to walk its length by stopping every few feet to sniff.

When Taku Smokeries is closed for the season and the cruise ships are down in the tropics for the winter, ravens like to patrol the avenue. Aki and I heard one croaking as we climbed past the Baranof Hotel parking lot this morning. We found the bird in a narrow alley, hanging out with two homeless guys and a dozen pigeons. The men had tucked themselves under a sheltering overhang to keep out of the rain. Raven, its feathers confused and wet, stood singing to them in the rain.                 

Cross the Rainbow

It rained hard last night, a real soaker that energized Gold Creek to a dangerous level. Aki and I waited all morning for the storm to stop or at least slow down. When it began to tail back, we headed out to Fish Creek and found it overflowing it banks and carving out new channels through the old growth forest. But the rain had stopped.

            Three eagles circled above the creek but I could not figure out what they were hunting. Until we reached the creek mouth, the only other evidence of life would be a three-toed woodpecker prospecting for bugs in the bark of an alder. 

            Just last week the creek and the estuary that it floods into were empty of bird life. This morning giant rafts of mallards search for food there. The boys are back for the winter. I hope that most of them will survive hunting season. An eagle makes a low pass over the raft, flushing a dozen ducks to flight, then returns with empty talons to the top of a spruce tree. 

            A hundred-bird murder of crows occupy the beach. They rise as a thin, black cloud and fly toward another eagle, harassing it until to takes shelter in a tall cottonwood tree. Then the crows fly across the face of Mendenhall Glacier just as the sun arcs a rainbow across their path. Remember your Bible, little dog. God filled the sky above Noah’s grounded ark as a sign that he would never again flood the world with rain. The rainbow fades just then, and the first drops of another storm start soaking into the poodle-mix’s fur.   

Wash Out

Aki looks upset. It could be the rain that pounds down on the little dog. She might be uncomfortable in the extra clothes I pulled over her head to keep her warm on this cool fall day. Perhaps she is having an existential crisis, wondering whether there is a point to her daily walks in the rain.The 12-year-old could quickly relieve herself in the side yard and be back in the house before the rain could darkened her curls. 

            I move on down the Outer Point Trail, one of her favorites. Aki stalls and then shuffles slowing towards me, head down. She spends little time checking the pee mail. Maybe the rain has managed to wash even the persistent dog urine away. I can feel water working its way down my collar and seep through my jacket fabric to soak into the sleeves of my pull over. Now of one mind with the poodle-mix, I speed up the pace, looking to be back at the car before rain washes the trail and us away.

            We stall for a few minutes where the trail touches the beach. A half-a-dozen eagles sulk in the trees or along the shore of Peterson Creek. They show no interest in us. Nor do a mixed flock of dark-eyed juncos and swallows. An abundance of rain does that even to those that earn their living in the wild. 

            On our return through the forest we learn that our concern over wash outs is justified. Water backed up by a beaver dam has closed over sections of the boardwalk trail. Aki and I splash through, emerging with wet feet. A top-notched Steller’s jay watches while perched on a partially submerged skunk cabbage leaf. Normally a jumpy bird, the jay looks more puzzled than alarmed at our presence.   

Weather BreakWeather Break

On the drive from town we saw the Chilkat Mountains for the first time in a week. We meant to walk around the Troll Woods but the northern break in the clouds encouraged me to change plans and head to Auk Bay.  I wanted to get a better view of the mountains from Point Louisa. 

           Aki was happy with the change of plans. The Auk trail is a dog rich environment. She would see and smell more than six dogs on the trail. Only one would growl at her. From the trail I would search a crescent-shaped bay for the raft of harlequin ducks that usually winter there. I’d strain to see the black triangle dorsal fins of the little Dall porpoise that are often see there this time of year, chasing late returning salmon. There’d be no porpoise sign but a raft of harlequins would appear on the bay’s surface in quick succession of plops and the return to the water in a snappy group dive. We would stop often to check on the transition of the fireweed and dogwood plants from summer green to autumn reds.