Let’s get this out of the way. It’s raining. It’s raining for the first time in a week Drops cling to emerging leaves and blueberry blossoms. They soak into Aki’s grey fur. The rain doesn’t slow down the little rain forest dog. She muscles ahead over a low ridge and then leads me down to the beach.
I was hoping we would see whales or at least Steller sea lions after we leave the woods. But no cetaceans break the surface of Favorite Channel. We normally walk down the beach before returning to the trail. But someone is camping out in a tent. While taking a lesser-used trail to return to the forest, we are surprised by a pair of bickering, red-breasted sapsuckers. So intent on their territorial battle, they don’t notice us until we are only ten feet away.
When we return to the place the sapsuckers battled, we will have seen iridescent sea anemones jammed together in a tiny tide pool, several sea lions, and our first humpback whale of the year.
It’s 55 degrees F. The recent series of dry, sunny days has dried out the meadow muskeg so Aki and I are taking a trail that would be impassible during the monsoon season. I mention the moderate temperature because Aki grabs some shade each time she rests.
In spite of the summer-like conditions, the meadow grass is still brown. Magenta-colored wild rhododendron buds are just starting to form. But there are no other signs of summer except bird song. If the muskeg were a little drier, I’d lie down next to Aki and enjoy the light breeze.
The little dog and I drop off the edge of the meadow and take a trail down to the Fish Creek bridge. The trail is lined with yellow skunk cabbage blooms and blue berry brush heavy with white blossoms. A Steller’s jay flies over our heads and lands on a spruce branch and scolds us for having the nerve to walk through its forest.
The ducks and geese are gone, leaving the tidal meadow looking deceptively empty. But Aki and I flush warblers and sparrows with each step we take along an earthen dike that borders it. In the pond formed by the dike a young beaver swims back and forth, stopping only to slap its tail on the water. I tell it not to worry, that neither the dog nor I have any intention of taking up residence on the pond.
Minutes before, two Sitka black tail deer had walked across the North Douglas Highway as we slowed to turn into the trailhead parking lot. One, a young male with nascent antler buds took the lead. The female deer followed, more interested in eating new growth grass than our car. The male took up station at the tree line and stared at me. I knew he would break into the woods if I left the car so I didn’t move.
After circling the beaver pond, the little dog and I push on and round the tip of a peninsula where we have seen so many mallards in winter. Eagle cries and crow cackles come from inside the old growth spruce forest on the peninsula but I can’t see one of the noisemakers. On the backside of the peninsula a mature bald eagle stands behind a flat-topped rock that is covered with barnacles. Bright sunlight makes its head painfully white. Even though there is food to find on the surrounding wetlands, the eagle stands still behind the rock, as if it were a pastor practicing for the Sabbath homily. As we approach the eagle, a whale surfaces and exhales.
Another bald eagle flies, with talon’s extended, toward the preacher, which screams at the late arriver. I expect a fight but am treated to an apparent offer and acceptance of forgiveness. The newcomer bows its head low and approaches. In seconds it’s lowered beak is almost touching the preacher’s talons. After the other eagle lightly touches the supplicant they separate.
If I were in a more skeptical mood, I might have described the scene as the reunion of an unfaithful husband and longsuffering wife. I could have portrayed a hungry eagle scolding its mate for not delivering some food. But it is early summer and we are enjoying the fourth day of warm sunshine after a long, wet spell. The meadow grass will never shine as green. Purple lupine flowers show near the tree line and the columbines can’t be too far behind. I shouldn’t be surprised that I saw love and forgiveness in an eagle’s actions.
The Sheep Creek delta seems empty this morning. No gulls or ducks or even crows wade in the creek waters. No heron stalks small fry in the shallows. A clutch of gulls float in Gastineau Channel under the eye of the adult bald eagle perched in the superstructure of navigation aid no. 2. If it weren’t for a large raft of scoters on the channel waters it would be stone quiet.
I imagine that our other local waterfowl are feeding on their summer grounds on the outside coast. Later, when the creek fills up with spawning pink salmon, clouds of screaming gulls will make it difficult for Aki to hear my summing whistle. But today, she has no such excuse. I’m in the no man’s land between the splash zone grass and the channel. The little dog stands in the grass, using her mental powers to call me back. She wants us to walk down the beach at the edge of a grass-covered dune, which is rich in dog smells.
This drama repeats itself on every visit to the creek so I keep walking, knowing that she will eventually trot out to me. When she does, we walk toward the nav aid to check out the eagle. It ignores us, only leaving its perch to sweep out over the channel to fish.
Aki’s been a good sport about what she considers a silly detour so after a few minutes we walk over the grassy dune where she can scent and pee to her heart’s content. At the end of the dune the nav aid eagle is now perched in an alder tree. Maybe, for the big raptor, we are the morning’s entertainment.
Aki and I are heading up Basin Road on this soft and sunny morning. As we left home, Rufus hummingbirds worked our neighbor’s feeder. Other neighborhood birds—dark eyed juncos, robins, warblers, and the rest of the songbird gang—ate and sang. It’s a morning that can make you believe that the sun will always shine, birds never stop mating and singing, and the cottonwood leaves will never lose their translucent luster.
A realist, the little dog knows what is coming for us from across the Pacific Ocean. Another rainstorm will be here in a few days, washing away interesting scents and mudding the trail. While I am content to dawdle, Aki carefully catalogues message left her by other dogs.
On the southern slope of Mt. Juneau, mountain goats are making the most of the weather, chomping down succulent new growth of the tough trees and scrubs clinging to the steep hillside. Like migrant workers following the harvest, the goats will move higher and higher up the mountain until spring reaches the summit.
First light is breaking after the storm as Aki and I enter an old growth forest. We won’t see another man or dog on the walk to the beach. The light reaches deep into the forest and makes translucent the green skunk cabbage leaves as they muscle up through the waters of the beaver pond.
Reaching the beach we discover that the minus three-foot ebb has exposed the causeway to Shaman Island. Eagles feed on land normally covered with ten to twenty feet of water. I usually have to coax Aki onto the causeway. But today she follows at my heals.
It’s a tough morning for ravens and eagles. The crows that roost on the island harass them. As we leave the causeway, a raven flies over us, crows pulling at its tail feathers. Other crows do the same to a deserting eagle. To the north storm clouds lift to reveal the glacier and Mendenhall Towers.
Aki and I have come too soon to the troll woods. It looks and feels like winter has just left. Many of the lakeside alders and cottonwoods stand with naked limbs against a dull-grey sky. But there is hope for spring in for the form of pussy willows and bursting alder buds. Even though little or no snow remains on Thunder Mountain, it is cold enough for me to hood up.
By straining I am able to spot one mallard on Crystal Lake. The shrill whistles of the vared thrush and once, a hawk’s complaint supply the only other evidence of animated life. Pushing deeper into the moraine, despite a government sign warning of recent bear activity, I lead the little dog to the edge of a beaver-flooded trail.
Aki, apparently knowing I will have to soon reverse course, the poodle-mix watches me doing a clumsy tightrope-walking maneuver along the trail’s edge. When I reach a patch of dry ground, my eye is pulled down to the flooded trail by the panicked movements of water bugs. They are heading toward islands of grass where the waves generated by raindrops can’t break the tension that keeps them afloat.