This is a harvest trip. True we have time to watch the North Pass humpback whales feed. But thanks to a fifteen-knot wind that is cross grain to the incoming tide, we will bounce on close-set waves all day. We’d be elsewhere if not fishing for silver salmon. Again, Aki is safe and comfortable at home. As we did last week, the captain and I have used downriggers to sink baited herring into the pass waters. Unlike last week, there are other boats bouncing with us. No one is waving a net around preparing to boat a silver. We see someone boat a pink salmon but until the captain netted a eight-pound fish that I had hooked, we will see no silver salmon pulled from the water.
I chose this route through Downtown Juneau for its convenience, not its beauty. Aki’s other human and I have an appointment at 10 A.M. Aki lead me out the door at 8:30 this morning. We should have finished in be done in an hour. But even though rain sluices down on us, Aki insists on taking her time. Each scent mark must be smelt from different angles. No pee spot may be passed by without a full nasal inspection.
She slows down ever further when we reach the South Franklin Street tourist stores. I have to discourage her from peeing on a full-length coat on display outside of a fur shop. Otherwise she is well behaved. She trots by friendly cruise ship tourists but stops to accept pets from clerks standing like barkers outside their jewelry shops. Aki pays the most attention to homeless people sheltering from the rain in the doorways of closed shops. My frustration with the little poodle fades when I see the smiles on those she favors.
It rained all last night. This morning only a light shower dimples Crystal Lake. But soon the real drama will begin. A storm is moving over Sitka. It is scheduled to drop four inches of rain on the Troll Woods and raise the lake’s level. Tomorrow the trails may be muddy and in places flooded. But now Aki and I should have no problem exploring the woods.
I lead the little dog off the main trail and onto one of the beavers’ logging roads. We follow it to a little lake we seldom are able to visit. For the last few years the access trail has been flooded by water backed up behind the beaver dams. Now it is dry.
Less than a mile away, a string of tourist buses unloads in front of the glacier visitor center. People crowd the bear-watching platform searching for inbound sockeye salmon and the bears that feed on them. A few miles in the other direction, planes and helicopters take off and land. When the wind drops we can hear airplane and bus noise. But the wind is rising in anticipation of the storm, letting me pretend we are thirty miles deep in wilderness.
The forest is silent except for the plunking of raindrops hitting skunk cabbage leaves. No thrush sings it’s claiming song of love. No flock of chickadees chit their hunting chant. Even the normally bossy Steller’s jay is keeping its beak shut.
I picked this trail for the protection it offers from the rain. The not silence and solitude are a bonus. The trail also grants us access to the beach where there will always be an eagle. We hear its scolding screech first then spot it. The eagle sits on a small rock in the flooded tidal zone where it had been enjoying some me-time before we broke out of the woods.
Beyond the eagle’s perch, fog partially obscures our view of Admiralty Island. I look without success for the fog-like exhale flumes of humpback whales and return to the eagle. From behind Shaman Island comes the huffing sound of surfacing sea lions. While I wait for them to round the island into view, I realize that the sounds could have come from the forest, not the sea. Bear sows huff out warnings to their cubs. I’ve heard a nearby brown bear mother huff as her cub approached me on a Misty Fjord beach. But the huffs this morning, which sound like moist air being expelled through a tube, couldn’t have been made by a land mammal, no matter how large.
Aki and I emerge from a tunnel of alders to access the wetlands. Overhead a bushel basket of clouds mute the sun. Mist clings to Aki’s grey curls and soaks into my cotton sweatshirt. The clouds also mute the magenta of fireweed blooms and the normally intense yellows of dying beach grass. It’s a soft, subtle day.
Sparrows flit through the trailside grass, stopping in dead stalks of cow parsnip where they can watch our passage. Across the Mendenhall River two bald eagles break from their spruce tree roosts. One swings so low over the river that its left wing tip slips into the water. It rights itself and slams its talons beneath the surface twice but comes up empty. I wonder how many more times its will have to sink its talons before snatching away a meal.
The little dog and I push on down river to where the trail ends at the edge of a backwater slough. Just across the slough two other bald eagles perch on the root wads of driftwood logs. Rain soaks into their ruffled feathers, giving them an “I just woke up” look. But their eyes are clear and hard as jewel stones. They are ready to race for the first food revealed by the outgoing tide.
The ravens waited for Aki. Two of the large black birds strutted down the Fish Creek Bridge as if fat-rich bodies of dead dog salmon weren’t stretched out for them on a gravel bar beneath the bridge. They were sated and bored and looking to do some mischief. My little dog was a handy patsy. When they didn’t make way for us on the bridge, Aki growled and dashed forward. The ravens flited a little further down the bridge and waited for her to catch up. Just before she did, the ravens lifted themselves onto the bridge rails.
Game ended, the little poodle-mix trotted off the bridge and headed toward Fish Creek Pond. Two bald eagles eyed our approach. Incoming pink salmon splashed on the pond’s surface. One let itself be caught by a grade schooler on the opposite shore of the pond.
We’d see at least a half-a-dozen eagles on our walk to the creek’s mouth. All have been drawn here by the pink and chum salmon now filing up the creek. All around Juneau, chum salmon are spawning in their home streams. Each stream draws of collection of bald eagles, ravens, crows, and gulls waiting for the dying to begin.
Three young women walked towards us off the Basin Road trestle bridge, not together but spread out like they are trying not to draw artillery fire. Aki trots toward them, tail wagging, eyes intent. The first woman stares at me and I laugh and hope that she doesn’t notice.
I laughed, not because of her designer “cat eyes” glasses or bronze colored body suit. I laugh because she is the first person we have met that hasn’t responded to Aki’s goofy charm. We had just walked a loop up and down Perseverance Trail, passing many locals and cruise ship tourists. Every one, even the gruff guys and smart phone-toting teenagers at least smiled when we passed them.
Maybe the three young women had just fought and needed time to cool down. Perhaps they had been forced by family to take an Alaska cruise when they would rather have spent the summer at the beach. What ever brought on their grumpy mood is sure to prevent them from noticing local beauties, like the lilac covered daisies lining the old mining road trail.