Back on Home Ground

        Last night Aki was waiting for me when I walked off the MV Le Conte. She begged for attention while I lifted my bags off the ferry’s luggage cart and carried them to the car.  With the luggage secured, I lifted up the little poodle-mix and promised that tomorrow we would go on one of usual adventures. 

        Aki didn’t need any encouragement this morning to follow me to the car. We drove out the North Douglas Highway to Outer Point Trail. A deer hunter’s truck was parked near the trailhead but we wouldn’t see him or anyone else on the trail. I could have postponed the walk until the sun burned through the marine layer. But I wanted to use the trail at first light even if that light was gray.

        The Stellar’s jays were quiet when we walked through the forest. But we could hear the gulls way before we reached the beach. An eagle has just flushed them to flight. Another eagle waddled along the mouth of Peterson Creek, waiting for the day’s first pink salmon to ride the tide toward their spawning ground. A large school of pinks jumped and splashed near the creek mouth.

          During the night the tide had ebbed to expose the causeway to Shaman Island. Gulls covered the path, breaking off in twos and threes when the little dog and I invaded their comfort zone. Fog filtered our view of the glacier but not the Chilkat Mountains. They were tall enough to catch the first rays of bright light after the sun climbed above the clouds. 

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Leaving Tenakee

In an hour or so the MV LeConte will stop at Tenakee Springs. A line of all terrain vehicles, most driven by people with gray hair, will form at the dock. As soon as the ferry lowers its boarding ramp, the ATV drivers will motor onto the ferry’s car deck and start loading boxes onto the luggage cart. Passengers who rode the LeConte from Juneau will struggle to carry their belongings up the ramp against the flow of in bound traffic. The LeConte crew won’t try to bring order to the chaos. One or two will stand by the stairs and elevator. No one will be allowed past them until purchasing a ticket for the ride to Juneau.

I’ll wheel my ice chest down the boarding ramp after the initial rush. It will be heavy with frozen silver salmon that my friend and I caught during the stay. It will take eight hours for the ferry to return to Juneau after first stopping in the village of Hoonah. That will give me plenty of time to reflect and read.

Disneyland, But Without the Crowds

A friend and I are enjoying another morning cruising Tenakee Inlet. Rich, almost Mediterranean light ramps up the beauty level of simple things. A spit covered with living and dead spruce trees looks like the work of a Tuscan master. Silver salmon in transit from the Pacific Ocean to their spawning streams swim though schools of herring, making the smaller fish leap into the air. Gulls swim over the herring schools and try to pluck the flying fish from the air.

We temporarily leave Tenakee Inlet for Fresh Water Bay, rounding a point guarded by two bald eagles.

A brace of swans is swimming along the edge of Pavlov Bay when we enter it. Passengers from a high end cruise ship in a bright orange kayak flush the swans to flight. The birds fly over our boat and then circle the bay, apparently looking for a place to land away from tourists and us. My friend slowly drives his boat out of Pavlov and heads back to Tenakee Inlet, where the other night we saw whales.

Tenakee

This morning Aki watched me board the MV LeConte for Tenakee Hot Springs. I thought about taking her but she would have howled during the entire voyage. It was hot and sunny as so many of our mornings have been this summer. Many of the other passengers were Tlingits returning home to Angoon. This was the first ferry to reach their village since the ferry strike ended. Many of the villagers were loaded down with things purchased in Juneau. Two large panel trucks full of inventory for the village store were parked on the LeConte’s car deck.

They had placed more boxes full of food, supplies and toilet paper on the luggage cart that is driven off and on the LeConte at each stop. Toward the end of the strike the Tenakee was out of beer and toilet paper as well as other staples. Angoon was probably in the same boat.

Waiting

The dying has begun at Fish Creek. Ravens and eagles are cheering the process along. Five ravens bickered with each other for salmon scraps on the pedestrian bridge. One is trying to munch down on a salmon cheek while the other hurl abuse at it. I expect Aki to drag her feet but she trots right over the bridge. Maybe the presence of one of her other humans has given her courage. 

           Dog and pink salmon battle for spawning space beneath the bridge. Earlier arrivals float onto gravel bars to become food for the scavenger birds. 

       We walk down stream the pond where half-a-dozen eagles watch the fins of newly arrived pink salmon ripple the pond’s surface. I’ve seen eagles lift small salmon from the water but these guys seem content to wait until the pinks die and wash to shore. 

         On the way to the stream mouth, we walk between 7-foot tall fireweed stalks. Some have already stopped flowering. They release seedcases as fluffy as down that ride on this morning’s light breeze across the stream. 

        Three great blue herons have parked themselves on a gravel bar at the stream mouth. They aren’t fishing or even looking for fish to catch. They just squint into the sun, apparently waiting for Godot. 

Aki’s Library

       From a distance, the meadow seems as moist as ever. But it is easy to find evidence of drought.  A rim of straw colored grass rings some of the meadow ponds, as if it were already autumn.  The normally sweet blueberries taste bitter. Worse, at least one lily pad ponds now has a wide beach of mud. Last summer a foot of water covered the stuff.

        Aki is too short sighted to care about the shrinking ponds or drying muskeg meadows. For a day I would like to sense the world as the little dog does. She can find as much depth in a urine stained blade of grass as I can in a Tolstoy novel. The poodle-mix’s library is scatter along her trails.

Is Attitude More Important Than Size?

As Aki and I took the switchback trail that drops into the Treadwell Woods, something brushed by me and leaped in Aki’s direction. The little poodle-mix knew what was coming. She wasn’t surprised when a large bird dog puppy, all legs and grin, dropped into a crouch in front of her. The two yipped and circled each other until the bird dog, easily four times Aki’s weight, got a little too exuberant. Aki snapped out a reproach and the puppy dropped her head down in submission.  It amazes me how Aki gets away with bossing around bigger dogs.  

       After the puppy’s owner dragged his dog away on a lead, we wandered among the ruins of old Treadwell and dropped onto Sandy Beach. I was not surprised to see two bald eagles roosting on the roof of the old ventilation tower. The waters of Gastineau channel had cut the tower off from the beach. From their island tower the eagles watched a murder of crows that had taken up station of the tops of old wharf pilings or beach rocks. After Aki and I entered the scene two of the crows descended on a fresh salmon carcass to feed. 

           The eagles just watched the crows tearing into in fish they probably desired. Did the feisty, but much smaller birds intimidate them like my 10-pound poodle-mix intimated the puppy? Or were the eagles just worried about the man who was pointing a suspiciously gun-like object at them? 

       Shouldering my camera, I moved down the beach to let the crows and eagles work things out for themselves. After a gap of fifty meters had opened up I watched all the crows take to the air. Only one eagle roosted on the roof of the ventilation shaft.