Monthly Archives: August 2014

Aki’s There, Sun or Rain

P1020235Aki loves sunshine. If a shaft of summer sun warms a spot of floor, the little dog curls up on it. She seeks shelter from the rain but does not hesitate to follow me onto this rain soaked mountain meadow. In fact, it was her idea.

P1020202This morning, with the storm playing a monotonous song on our tin-roofed house, I tried to settle in for a good read. Aki used her powers to push me into the rain. Standing four square on the living room floor, the little dog stared at me until I put down the book and grabbed my hiking boots. I wanted to diminish her enthusiasm by lifting her up where she could see rain water cascade down the streets of Chicken Ridge. I thought about shoving her out into the back yard where she would be exposed to the deluge. Then, I remembered that bad weather always looks worse when you stand inside a warm, dry house in your stocking feet. On went the rain gear and out we went through the door.P1020209

Top to bottom waterproof but breathable clothing keeps me dry. Her thick gray fur drips water after a few minutes on the muskeg. I could wring streams of water from her fleece wrap after she wears it for half an hour.

P1020232The rain that coats browning meadow grass and fading leaves concentrates faint light into reflecting jewels. I photograph the dead and dying, ignore the plump blueberries about to drop onto the soaked ground. Above, the uniform, pale gray marine cloud layer offer no way to predict the afternoon’s weather. I’d be worried if we traveled by kayak on Lynn Canal but this meadow will not turn treacherous in a rising wind and even a heavy rain won’t wipe out the trail home.

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P1140476With autumn grayness dampening its visual beauty, I use taste to deepen my connection with this mountain meadow. Unlike the bear, wolf, and deer, who need to pack on pounds before winter drives their food underground, I can spend time and energy looking for berries on bushes past their prime that may only yield up a handful of fruit. Aki would rather stay on the trail with its promise of other dog encounters but follows me onto the wet muskeg.

P1140478Even though it takes a half an hour to gather twenty blue berries, I pop handfuls of them into my mouth; taste a tart confusion of flavors—a muddy mix of tannic and sour with a lingering sweetness. Another half hour of pick and wander refills my hand. I eat these berries one at a time after feeding a soft one to Aki. She doesn’t ask for another. Some have the sourness of died-back grass. Others produce an explosion of the tannic moisture that gives “muskeg” its name. One berry tastes like sugar in a bowl and I wonder if it grew next to the sweet smelling bog candle orchid that still manages to flash a little beauty on this sea of fading beauty.

The Dog Salmon Party is Over

P1020180Yesterday I fished for salmon but caught only frustration trolling across the grain of the waves in North Pass. Rain, wind, cold featured prominently, as did a pair of feeding humpback whales. The experience helped me understand the songs sung today by clouds of eagles and gulls, ravens and crows in this riverside forest. They fight over putrefying scraps of dog salmon dropped on the trail by picky bears. I, like the birds and bears, wait for the next pulse of silver salmon, still ocean bright, to turn toward their home streams.

P1020169 The place smells like death. That’s too broad to communicate the complexities of scent on offer. Deep in the forest quiet, decay flavors air spiced by ripe high bush cranberries. The riverbank smells like week-old road kill. Spots where Aki hangs behind me displease like an untended pit toilet, an odor that could mask skunk spray. Here waits a bear. Carrion eaters, bears are what they eat, smell like condensed decay..P1020195I see bear sign everywhere—berry speckled poop, rough trails through the trail side brush, the odd head severed by sharp jaws from a dog salmon body.  Time to leave,

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Almost Fall

P1020158Back to the familiar with Aki—the trails on North Douglas Island. Unlike the lush summer conditions I experienced on my Vancouver Island bike tour, Juneau is tasting fall. You can see it in the berries, ripe, soft, almost sweet.You can feel it in the cool moist air still carrying a trace of last night’s rain storm. Already understory plants yellow and leaves fall. Soon the gray, wet, despair producing monsoons will come and stay until we pray for snow. Aki, although not a big fan of heavy rain, is more accepting than I of fall time in the rain forest. October I dream of desert dry; November I search the web for cheap flights south. But today, I pick a cup of full of perfectly red, round huckleberries that will enrich my lunch. Aki contents herself by chasing squirrels.P1020163

Vancouver Island Traverse

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFifty-five years ago I rode up Canada’s Highway 1 in the back seat of a Studebaker Champ. This was way before Aki but a standard poodle leaned over me, his drool falling on my sweatshirt sleeve, as we looked out the window at lower Vancouver Island. We probably would not have noticed two gray-haired bicyclists riding up island so I won’t bother to fantasize about time travel. I thought about that car and that old poodle this month, when a friend and I rode the 500 kilometer length of Vancouver Island. When you have wide road shoulders to ride in, you can let your mind wander into lives, your own and those of the people you pedal past.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocal regulators and developers have tamed the island from Victoria to Campbell River—forced a balance of strip malls and ocean views, green space and clapboard sided houses. They whipped the lower island but gave up on the mountainous stretch northwest of Campbell River. Whether they feared dragons or the timber industry, developers never crossed the salmon-filled Campbell. My riding partner and I only feared the climbs we would have to face after we left civilization and the ample opportunities it offered for Indian food, draft beer, and soft beds.

Knowing we must camp each night after Campbell River, I loaded the panniers of my 30 year old touring bicycle with warm clothes, stove, boil-in-a-bag food, and camp gear. Like camels on caravan, we moved past Walmarts, Costcos, and huge grocery stores in 90 degree heat. We met a trickle of southbound cyclists on the hilly north island. They told of RV mirrors slicing overhead as they clung to the edge of shoulder-less roads. None mentioned cougars, the one North American predator I had not seen. This was their prime range and my partner and I both wanted to see a wild one, maybe as it looked at us from across an uncrossable river.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne night we shared the rest area at Eve River with a couple from the lower island. They encouraged us to spend the next night at a lake 80 kilometers to the north. “You can bathe there,” the woman said. “Your bikes should be able to handle the gravel road down to the campsite, ehey,” the man added. My bike couldn’t. It’s rear wheel exploded the next afternoon as we reached the bottom of the drop to the lake. The explosion ripped off 10 inches of the rear rim. I had no way to get back to the highway or reach the ferry terminal at Port Hardy where we were scheduled to catch a boat to Prince Rupert in three days. Those problems were solved when a fishermen offered to haul our bikes and gear to the Port McNeil bike shop the next morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ate boil-in-a-bag Indian rice and watched the late evening light turn the lakeside clear cuts into a chunk of Southern France. After dinner, I spotted a cougar 30 feet away from our tent. Thin, with hip bones bulging under a burnt-brown coat, it walked past the Pit Toilet I intended to use and sat with the erect posture of a Canadian finishing school graduate. When it moved again, it slinked like a Hollywood starlet, swished its long tail so that the curl at the end brushed the dust from the ground. We watched it drop down to the lake for a drink. Then it disappeared. I wanted to follow it, get near enough for a good photograph but you don’t make wild things feel hunted.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI knew the big cat was a predator and that were we meat. I’d learn later that one had killed a cyclist on the island that summer by taking him down from behind. But I felt awe and honored, not fearful. In the morning the fisherman said that no one had seen a cougar at the campground that year and that they seldom show themselves. Thanks to the kindness of the cougar and the fisherman, we made it to Port Hardy after a competent mechanic in Port McNeil rebuilt my bike’s rear wheel. We saw much beauty but nothing spectacular, nothing like the Mendenhall Glacier, 12 miles from our house, when it reflects back early morning light.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA