Aki and I made it to the Fish Creek Delta early enough to catch the clarifying effect of early light. But this morning broke hazy. The air it offers is obscured by forest fire smoke or pollution carried here by the jet stream. It feels like end times rather than a fresh summer morning.
Robin, sparrow, and the other songbirds work hard to lift the mood. It could be worse. We could have to suffer the complaints of the nesting crows. Near the pond an eagle roosts in the top of a spruce, it’s head turned away from the sun.
The little dog and I press on, my spirited lifted by the strong display of wildflowers on the spit that separates the creek from Fritz Cove. Purple lupine stalks dominate but must still compete with older swatches of magenta shooting stars and yellow buttercups. A single chocolate lily opens In the middle of the established flowers.
A single kayaker slides into Fish Creek just as we reach the creek’s mouth. Normally, I would grumble to Aki that the man’s presence has driven away shorebirds and ducks. He couldn’t have this morning. We haven’t seen any waterfowl. Besides, the present of another human is proof that the apocalypse didn’t arrive while we were rounding Fish Creek Pond.
The way Aki is panting, you’d think we were crossing the Gobi Desert in high summer. The little dog and I are on a mountain meadow warmed by the sun to 67 degrees (f.)—what we call Tee Shirt weather. Aki can’t strip off her coat of fur so is overheating.
I turn to mutter something to her about the abundant of bog rosemary flowers on the meadow and find that the little dog has moved to a shady verge. She looks content, like she could stay there until nightfall.
A loyal little thing, the poodle-mix follows me across the open meadow, past pocket ponds dry due to lack of rain. I lead her off the meadow toward the lush corridor of trees and brush drained by upper Fish Creek. Just before we reach it, Aki slips into a mud-bottomed stream and lets herself sink in to her chest. She emerges with her lower half coated in a chocolate-colored mask. Once dried, the muck will be almost impossible to remove. Aki trots toward the creek, acting as happy with herself as someone just treated to a spa day.
We find a spot along the creek where I can wash Aki without concern that the current will carry her away. She doesn’t squirm when I lower her into an eddy of the chilling water. She looks a little disappointed when I lift her back to solid ground. But she won’t bolt into the shade or seek out another mud bath when we walk back to the car.
Aki had to wait in the car while I dropped someone off at the hospital. There is not enough time this morning for a proper walk so I drive to the parking lot for our local radio station with plans to walk on the wetlands drained by Salmon Creek.
The roar of in bound traffic on Juneau’s only expressway masks the creek sounds. But the song of a persistent yellow warbler cuts through the urban noise. In a month, maybe two, there will be a dozen eagles on the wetlands, competing with gulls for scrapes of dying salmon. Fish ducks will waddle or float down the creek. People with heavy fishing rods will work the creek mouth for incoming salmon. But today, only the warbler and a scattering of board-acting crows show themselves.
The little dog and I move on to the fish hatchery beach where in June men and women will line the beach, tossing weighted hooks into the channel waters to snag chum salmon. The Salmon Creek gulls followed us to the beach, taking up temporary roosts on the top of traffic signs and hand rails. We see our first bald eagle of the morning sitting on top of a metal piling that secures a large fishing platform. The bird holds it ground as the little dog and I approach. The eagle, having watched throngs of fishermen crowd each summer, seems to know it has little to fear from one man and his 10-pound poodle.
In the water near the salmon holding pens a half-a-dozen harbor seals raise their heads so that their eyes clear the surface. Another seal floats on its back, apparently asleep. Those awake watch a hatchery worker toss handfuls of fish food into the salmon smolt holding pens. Do they expect the next handful to be tossed in their direction?
Following our recent pattern, Aki and I arrive at the Rain Forest Trailhead while most Juneauites are finishing their first cup of morning coffee. We will see no humans or dogs and little wild animal action. We will have to skirt a confusion of thrush feathers scattered over the trail by a hungry predator. Even this evidence of violence won’t shake the calm I always feel when blessed with an hour of solitude.
Toward the end of the hike two pairs of Stellar’s jays will scold us. After putting us in our place, the blue on blue birds will seek shelter in trailside alders from there they will eye our passage with us caution.
The flight back from California involved brief stops in Seattle and Ketchikan. Winds buffeted our plane while it landed in both airports. I barely noticed the bumps as we approached Seattle. But, as the pilot warned on our approach to Ketchikan, high winds streaking down that Alaska town’s runway were going to make the landing “a little rough.”
The pilot’s warning didn’t discourage me. I was more than ready to be home with Aki. It didn’t matter that Aki’s other human and I had we just left a sunny coastal town where each morning I could ride a bicycle every morning past breaking waves and sleeping seals. I missed the little dog and the rest of our rain forest family. I was also tired of the crowds drawn by sunshine and beauty to the California coast.
As I do during after the pilot begins the “gradual descent” of the plane to an Southeast Alaska airport, on the approach to Ketchikan I remind myself that I was more likely to be killed in my California rental car than in this airplane. Closing my eyes, I thought of Gastineau Channel on a calm day where the oversized dorsal fin of a male killer whale or the flukes of a diving humpback whale might be seen. The jerking motion of the plane shook those thoughts from my mind. As the plane bounced down out of the clouds and over standing waves on Tongass Narrows, I closed my eyes and waited for the plane’s wheels to slam onto the tarmac. It did and then shimmed down the runway until the brakes finally slowed momentum. Even after the plane stopped and a flight attendance welcomed us to beautiful Ketchikan, high winds rocked the plane like a cradle.
Wolves make Aki nervous. If here with me on California’s central coast, the little dog might have refused to join me on this hike across Point Lobos. I won’t see any wolves while exploring the point. But there will be seals and sea otters.
After walking through spare woods, I reach an area of coves and islands. Generations of cormorants have whitened bare cliffs above a sea otter bay. They seem to watch a family of otters ride up and down on the swells. Around the corner a couple of Canada geese have positioned themselves near a bench where hikers like to lunch. What ever happened to the once wild birds?
I ignore the honking geese and move on to where I can look into a protected cove where an adult otter is teaching its young one to swim. The baby, looking like a big puppy, tries to cling to mom. Each time the mom pushes her baby away. Finally they face each other, tails straight down. The mother breaks off the embrace, forcing the baby to work out how to swim on its own.