Aki doesn’t want to be here, neither does the eagle. Both are bothered by the rain. The eagle hunkers down on the roof of the old mine ventilation tower. From there she can scan the beach for food. There is plenty here. Just seconds ago, Aki was sniffing the relatively intact body of a plump chum salmon. In famine times, the eagle would have gorged itself on the salmon’s flesh. The bird must be stuffed with other carrion.
From its perch fifty or even sixty feet above the beach, the bald eagle could ignore the little dog and me. Neither Aki nor I do anything to disturb it. But when our path takes us too close to the man made aerie, the eagle lifts up and flies over our heads and then follows a line of broken wharf pilings toward the mining ruins. So there.
Last night the remnants of a Pacific typhoon dumped rain on our Alaska panhandle. Aki and are trying to sneak in a forest/beach visit during a lull in the storm. The little dog dashes up and down the trail, apparently inspired by fresh pee mail. I’m relieved not to have to keep the bill of my ball cap down, happy to be able to point my camera up toward the canopy without having it smeared with rain drops.
Everything is fresh washed and glistening by moisture delivered by the typhoon. Drops of runoff have collected along the base of bear-bread fungus, making it look like an alligator’s jaw. Others make the reddening blue berry leaves sparkle in the gray light. While somewhere in the Lower 48 States, people wearing cartoon dark glasses watch the moon extinguishing the sun, I stare up at the underside of broad devil’s club leaves that collect storm light.
We find a fern, delicate as Queen Anne’s lace, shiver in a tiny breeze. Giving up on summer, the fern and its clan are already ghosting to white. Soon they will dry to dark-brown and then be crumbled by the first hard frost. In minutes we are back at the car. I have to coax Aki into it. We didn’t see anyone during the walk. Is she disappointed by the lack of dog company, or does the wise little thing know how to read fern sign?
Aki and I are back at the mountain meadow accompanied by her other two humans. Everyone but Aki has a berry-picking bucket. It’s not raining but the sky is an almost uniform shade of grade and cloud fragments race long an eastern mountain ridge.
When one of us to throws her Frisbee, Aki tears off after it, growling as if it is a robber. If the Frisbee lands in a field of tall grass, the little poodle-mix porpoises after it, returning soaked to the skin.
After picking more than a gallon of blueberries, the three humans follow Aki back to the trailhead. Minutes from the car, an adult bald eagle flies to within twenty feet of Aki, circles, and flies low over her again. I wonder what would have happened if the little dog hadn’t been standing right next to me during the eagle’s second pass. I doubt that the big predator was after our buckets of blueberries.
Even though they are well past prime, I pluck a handful of cloudberries from the meadow’s surface. Their insipid flavor can only remind me of berries gathered from the tundra of Western Alaska or Swedish Hjortron berries. We are walking this rainy day on a mountain meadow near Juneau, far away from Sweden or the Alaskan tundra. Aki, a rain forest dog, doesn’t share my memories. She doesn’t care about berries or their ability to turn wilderness into food. She wants to hang with other dogs.
The rain starts as Aki and I round a cashew-shaped moraine lake, threatening the lake’s mirrored image of cottonwoods transforming into their fall colors. At first the falling drops just soften the reflected image so it mimics an impressionist painting. But then the shower’s violence increases; rendering the lake incapable of any reflection. The storm compensates for the loss of visual beauty with the percussive music of raindrop on leaf. Willow leafs fill the treble rain while the larger cottonwood and devil’s club foliage provide notes in the lower register.
On this walk over the moraine Aki and I have already seen evidence of the wild world’s give and take: mushrooms ripping their way through the trailside moss, bones and berries in bear scat, cottonwood trees fallen by beavers, and moss slowing reducing trees in the troll woods to soil
It doesn’t take knowledge of raven language to know what these juvenile birds are screeching out. Momma, Momma, bring us food. We are hungry. Aki I have wandered into a corvid day care. The adults are off gathering food for their kin. But that doesn’t stop the children from filling the forest with their pleas.
The forest is really just a collection of old growth spruce occupying the end of Point Louisa. Gulls and two eagles patrol the surrounding beaches. One eagle or a gull gang could make a meal out of a baby raven but they don’t seem too concerned. One, which had wandered from the protection of the trees climbs to the top of a small rock to get a better view of Aki and me. Watch out little guy, curiosity can kill a corvid.
My pant legs are as wet as Aki’s fur. I’ve spent the last half hour pushing through rain soaked meadow grass. Aki followed close behind. When I could, I used a bear path. The bear’s wide body crushed a nice swatch through the meadow grass. The bear and we were heading to the Peterson Salt Chuck—a flooded staircase of rock that homecoming salmon used to climb from salt to fresh water.
At the edge of the meadow the bear trail lead us over a forested headland, past a river otter den, and down to the salt chuck. Careful not to step on any of the partially eaten salmon littering the ground, I walk toward splashes on one of the salt chuck pools. Several bald eagles, a coven of ravens, and some watchful gulls stirred during our approach. Three or four chum salmon squirm in the pool. They had had to clear several waterfalls to reach the pool. Now they wait to jump the falls feeding the shallow basin where they stage.
Wanting to photograph one of the salmon in mid-leap, I stand and wait for action. Aki rests on of her rear paws on my soaked boot. She looks behind us, covering my back. When a Stellar’s jay scolds us from a nearby rock, I turn away from the pool. Seconds later, the dorsal fin of one of the salmon cuts the water above the waterfall. I missed it. Resolved to photograph the next attempt, I ignore the efforts of a belted kingfisher to get my attention and the didgeridoo sound of a raven flying just above my head. An eight-pound chum salmon throws himself onto the waterfall, thrashing with his tail, and slumps back into the pool. That will have to do little dog, we don’t want to keep the bears from their lunch. Aki and I climb over an exposed headland and drop onto the beach occupied by a landed raft of mergansers and their three-gull escort. Between the ducks and the woods are fresh tracks of a black bear. Aki follows the tracks into the forest and disappears. But when I catch up she isn’t growling, just smelling the scent left behind by the bear.