Rain Makes The Flowers Shine

“Why are we out here, little dude?” She can barely hear me over the sound of rain pounding into the surrounding trees. Then it stops. The wet product of the storm still weighs down each flower. But it also makes them sparkle. Aki and I continue along Fish Creek. Low clouds give us a very limited view of the ocean and mountains. But it gives the flowers sparkling rain drops.  

Ignoring the Rain

I didn’t want to leave the house this rainy morning. The heavy, pounding rain discouraged me but not the poodle dog. To please her, we headed out to the end of the North Douglas Road for a short walk to the ocean.

            The rain had almost stopped when we reached the start of the trail. A few hundred yards in, we came to the Peterson Creek bridge. Pounding rain had flooded the Creek and made reaching the beach trail tricky. The bridge itself looked okay. But creek water had flooded over ten feet of meadow trail touching the western edge of it. The two thick planks that normally provide a safe bridge to the trail were floating on the creek’s flood waters.

            Feeling like a tight rope walker, I struggled to keep my balance as I used the boards to reach safe ground. Aki trotted calmly behind me.

            Low clouds and rain softened the view of Admiralty Island and the channel between us and it. But I could still see an immature bald eagle standing unprotected from the storm. Later, we saw three female deer hammering tall grass at the edge of a different meadow. Like the eagle, they ignored me, like they tried to ignore the rain.

It’s About Time

“The rain must be keeping hikers at home this morning,” I told Aki while backing our little car out of the driveway. On warm, dry summer mornings, I can watch tourists and locals stroll past the house, dressed for a walk up the Perseverance Trail. Today, none passed while I drank my morning coffee.

            We drove to North Douglas, where I parked the car in the almost empty Outer Point trail parking lot. The folks that came in the other parked car had probably taken the dry trail to the beach. Not worried about soaking my boots, I lead Aki down the other trail—the one partially flooded by beavers.

            The rain ramped up as we neared the beaver pond, slamming onto the trail. Drops from the shower created circular patterns where they struck the pond water. Aki and I walked down a twenty foot stretch of flooded trail and onto to a dry stretch that ran parallel to a huge beaver dam. I’ve used this trail, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter for over 20 years and never seen a beaver. That changed this morning. A large adult swam slowly along the dam, ignoring the trail. I took a few photos and then, like a greedy idiot, climbed onto the dam so I could get a better view of the animal that helped to maintain it.

            When I moved a little closer, the beaver turned its head and gave me a hard look. Then it slapped the pond water with its tail and dived under the pond water. After giving it a few minutes to reappear, I followed Aki down the trail and onto a very bare beach. We crossed it and walked on a rarely exposed pathway to a Shaman Island. In an hour or so, when the incoming tide is in flood, the path would disappear.

            Usually, this time of year, ducks or even geese would be floating on either sides of the island bridge. But we only saw a single seal, six gulls and, which is cool, a pair of oyster catchers. On this rainy morning, it would hard to spot such dark feathered birds on the exposed tidal flats if not for their orange beaks. They provided the only bright color on the otherwise bland ocean scrap.  

Focused Hunters

Rain starting pounding on the house as I got ready for this morning’s hike. Even though she couldn’t see the rain while still inside the house, Aki, the dog, looked discouraged, like a dog who would be happiest staying warm and dry at home. But she still waited at the door was I pulled on boots. Happily, the rain had just stopped so we didn’t get soaked while walking the car. It started back up as we backed out of the driveway.

            The tide was completely out when we reached the Fish Creek Delta. It was a minus three foot tide, one of the lowest of the year. A dozen bald eagles had assembled close together in a shallow water section of the Mendenhall River. Every once in a while they would burst into the air and then drop back to the river shallows.

            Rather than search for food exposed on the wetlands by the retreating tide, three adult heron were feeding up river, very near our trail. They must be hunting productive water because they didn’t notice us until were thirty feet away. Then, one panicked into flight and landed at the edge of a small stream fifty feet away. The other herons soon joined her. They spread out until each was a dozen feet from the other two. Then, they returned their attention to the hunt.

Sharing

The Eagle River picnic area was empty this afternoon, until we reached some covered tables. Fifty or sixty people—-kids through adults—were chatting there. One of them told me they were having a U.S. Coast Guard party. The woman also said that she just saw a cinnamon bear eating grass in the nearby field.

            Sometimes running into a big gang of folks blocking the river trail makes me grumpy. But the coasties and their families sounded so happy. They also stayed near a table loaded down with food. We could slip by them and onto the otherwise empty river trail in seconds. But I had to see if I could find the bear.

            Aki’s other human placed her on a leash and were started across the bear’s field. Hearing the coastie kids laughing and the voices of their parents as they chatted, made me realize that the bear could no longer be near. But that it did not make me grumpy or frustrated. Children’s joy on a fresh Spring day will do that for you.  

Postponed Workshop

In past years, before the spread of Covid, this morning I’d be packing for my annual trip to Skagway for the North Words Conference. In the day after packing, I’d ride an Alaska State Ferry from Juneau north to the old gold rush town. If rain pounded the ferry deck, I’d hunker down in the ship cafeteria and sip coffee. Many times, I’d share a table there with a friend or two, or work on some writing. Since she hated boat rides, Aki the dog would be home in Juneau.

            Hoping that most of the flames from the Covid pandemic will be out by then, the North Words folks have postponed this year’s conference until Labor Day Weekend. I’ll probably go if I can. A good friend and I need to drink a toast in front of the Onion Bar for another friend and North Words writer who died last Winter.

            To spur thoughts of other things, I take down to the Sheep Creek Delta, now almost totally exposed at low tide. After parking, we skirt a small gang of dog walkers happily chatting with each other near the trailhead. I am always a little jealous of hikers so willing to turn their backs on the natural beauty surrounding them to enjoy each other’s company. Aki starts to head over to the group then turns to follow me onto the exposed beach.

            Normally the place is full of ducks and eagles. But this is early summer when many waterfowl move out to the coast to nest and get fat harvesting food. I only spot crows and ravens on the beach. Just offshore, a bald eagle is perched on a navigation warning light. It doesn’t fly off as I walk to the edge of the exposed beach, close enough to photograph him with the mountain crest of Douglas Island in the background.

Postponed Workshop

In past years, before the spread of Covid, this morning I’d be packing for my annual trip to Skagway for the North Words Conference. In the day after packing, I’d ride an Alaska State Ferry from Juneau north to the old gold rush town. If rain pounded the ferry deck, I’d hunker down in the ship cafeteria and sip coffee. Many times, I’d share a table there with a friend or two, or work on some writing. Since she hated boat rides, Aki the dog would be home in Juneau.

            Hoping that most of the flames from the Covid pandemic will be out by then, the North Words folks have postponed this year’s conference until Labor Day Weekend. I’ll probably go if I can. A good friend and I need to drink a toast in front of the Onion Bar for another friend and North Words writer who died last Winter.

            To spur thoughts of other things, I take down to the Sheep Creek Delta, now almost totally exposed at low tide. After parking, we skirt a small gang of dog walkers happily chatting with each other near the trailhead. I am always a little jealous of hikers so willing to turn their backs on the natural beauty surrounding them to enjoy each other’s company. Aki starts to head over to the group then turns to follow me onto the exposed beach.

            Normally the place is full of ducks and eagles. But this is early summer when many waterfowl move out to the coast to nest and get fat harvesting food. I only spot crows and ravens on the beach. Just offshore, a bald eagle is perched on a navigation warning light. It doesn’t fly off as I walk to the edge of the exposed beach, close enough to photograph him with the mountain crest of Douglas Island in the background.

Over Wintered Cranberries

Sunshine warmed our car when we left home for the mountains. The air conditioning unit kicked in for the first time this year. Both of Aki’s people were in the car. We planned on climbing the ski hill to an upper meadows that might still hold snow. Aki the dog loves to roll in the unexpected stuff. When we arrived, we found the ski area still buried with thick, heavy snow, enough to allow people to ski. Wishing to avoid a heavy slog up the snow-buried mountains, we turned around.

            On the way back we parked next to a connection of lower mountain meadows. We started to cross a snowfree one. The sun that had been lighting up the meadow disappeared behind a wall of clouds, making the temperature drop a bit. The colors of meadow and pine trees dropped as well. Wanting to salvage something from the visit, her other human and I lead Aki in a hunt for cranberries. In a few seconds we found a small scattering of them on a circle of red moss.

            Early last Summer, tiny cranberry plants set flowers on the moist surface of the meadow. Tiny insects fertilized the flowers so the plants could produce dark, red berries. Birds ate some that fall. But most just laid on the muskeg meadow until covered with snow. This week, melting snow exposed the tart little berries, which we picked until we had enough to take home for a powerful little dessert.  

Soaked Eagle

Aki and I had to drive through a rain storm to reach the Fish Creek Delta. It was early morning. I had to wake the little dog when I was ready to leave the house. If we waited too late, the trail would be flooded by the incoming tide.

            Hidden bald eagles chattered at us when we moved down the creek. But we didn’t see one until we reached the north end of a little spruce island where you can see Mendenhall Glacier. There, a very wet bald eagle was hunched on an off shore rock, holding its wings stretched out to dry.  Later we spotted a different eagle with dry, rather than wet wings. We also saw two heron that didn’t drip water as they snatched tiny fish while standing on the creek edge.

So, the first eagle must have miss-timed its attempt to snatch something with its extended talons and crashed into the ocean. Maybe it clamped onto the back of a king salmon that just arrived to spawn in the Fish Creek Pond. We have seen at least one king pull an eagle into the water. If that happened to this soaked guy, he might now wish that he had let his targeted king salmon swim by.

Quiet, but Rainy

The heavy rain clouds were still an hour away when Aki and I started down a trail into the woods. We had to maneuver around people returning with their dogs to the trail head parking lot. Rain clouds started filling the sky with mist as we escaped the crowd. We saw no birds, and heard no eagles as we worked our way to Sandy Beach. But the now falling rain made the leafed out cottonwood trees sparkle rather than pout. 

            I was hoping to spot a small pod of killer whales swim past the beach, like they often do on rainy May mornings. But on this one, all we see on Gastineau Channel is a commercial troller from Seattle chugging toward one of the downtown fishing docks.