Author Archives: Dan Branch

Picking and Tossing

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Seconds ago, Aki dropped her orange Frisbee at my feet. Now she barks—her way of asking me to send the toy flying so she can chase it. I want to ignore her and continue picking blueberries. It’s past mid-summer and this is the first time I’ve had to put up berries for the winter.2

When I pick up the Frisbee, Aki charges down the trail in the direction I have already thrown the thing five times. I wait until she is well on her way before tossing it another direction. Now I’ll have some time to pick while she searches for her precious.3

Bears have already gone over this patch of bushes—cubs judging from the size of their scat. They high-graded: tromping over the lower lying fruit to tongue fat, sweet berries from the topmost branches. It would be very bad to startle the mother of the hungry cubs that wreaked all the damage. Thanks to Aki’s barking, there is no chance of that.

Blues and Grays

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One of the big Princess cruise ships moves up Gastineau Channel while we drive over the bridge that connects Juneau to the island of Douglas. A gentle rain falls on the boat and those passengers who ventured on deck to watch the docking. Down channel, only a small oval of blue skies survives a complex of gray clouds that is delivering rain. Are the passengers excited by the challenging weather or crushed? Will they hike up Juneau’s European-narrow streets to the Basin Road trail system or sulk in the Franklin Street tee shirt shops? Aki and I won’t see any of them wandering the Treadwell mining ruins.2

It stops raining before we have passed through the forested ruins and stepped onto a beach made of crushed mine tailing. A resident pair of ravens watch Aki and I from atop jagged-topped wharf pilings. The one with a white spot on its wing bows toward my little dog when she trots up to its piling. After Aki follows me over to the collapsed glory hole for a visit with the belted kingfisher, the two ravens fly off down the beach, turning their backs on a battle taking place near the southern tip of Douglas Island between blue sky and rain-charged clouds.3

Carrion Birds

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Aki is off lead on this riverside forest trail. I am not too worried. Dog salmon splash in the river but I’ve not heard the fwaap of a bear paw sending a fish and part of the river onto a gravel bar. I see bushes stripped of salmon berries but can’t detect the death stink of a bruin.1

Near the edge of a tidal meadow jays, crows, ravens and eagles chit, caw, squawk, or scream. They sound cranky, like hungry people in a town with no restaurants. Aki and I skirt a fresh pile of bear scat and walk to Eagle River now filling with chum salmon that ride the incoming tide to their spawning streams.4

Many of the salmon will take a sharp left turn in a tiny creek a quarter-a-mile upstream where early arrivals already mill. The lucky ones will end their one-way trip squirting out eggs or fertilizing milt into the waters of their home waters. Others will swim up dead end streams and die without procreating. The carrion birds now making such a racket along the river don’t care if the salmon die frustrated or satisfied. The just want the dying to begin.2

Silvers, Humpbacks, and Orcas

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The silver salmon are returning to their home rivers around Juneau. Time to put up some silvers for winter even though it is raining. This is bad news for Aki. But she doesn’t sulk when I leave the house burdened down with lunch, a thermos of tea, and heavyweight Scandinavian rain gear.

3We leave Tee Harbor under heavy rain. The captain bounces the C Dory through the south Shelter Island tiderips toward the Point Retreat lighthouse. From there we cruise along the shore of Admiralty Island to grounds that usually offer good fishing. A humpback whale surfaces while we gear up our trolling leaders with herring. The whale, like the salmon, targets herring. Diving on them, the whale tosses its flukes skyward and disappears.2

We boat a pink salmon, a rockfish, and a potbellied silver salmon. Because they don’t freeze well, we release the other pink salmon we hook. Between strikes a trio of orcas appears, seeking the same thing we do—salmon.

Back in the Rainforest

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Aki looked happy when we met yesterday at the Juneau Airport. I was. Today, on a morning that promises sunlight, we might be the first of the day to walk the Rainforest Trail. Just minutes ago, a brindle-coated marmot dashed across the road, making me wonder whether the act was a sign of good or bad luck. Aki gave no opinion. Now, while she surveys the grounded smells, I notice how far summer has progressed since I left for writer’s school.1

All the remaining blueberries are either ripe or close to that goal. Insects have sculptured the leaves of the other understory plants. Those stressed or damaged are already fading from summer green to fall yellow. On the beach, purple beach pea blossoms dominate now that the lupines are setting seeds. Tall cow parsnip plants, having already flowered, are drying into brown skeletons. Sparrows burst in and out of the wild parsnips, collecting food for fall.3

Last Day of School

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It’s the last day of writer’s school. Rain started last night and has washed clean the bike path. It must have also discouraged other users as I only pass homeless people on my ride to Russian Jack Park. One man sleeps on a trailside bench as rain drenches his thick, black hair and beads up on his tourist-grade rain gear. Another stands just off the trail as if waiting for a bus that will never come.1

There will no animal drama on this ride. No moose or bear will break across the path. No bird song will rise above the white noise of commuter traffic. I will hear the too-sad minor song of an Alaska Railroad engine warning of its approach. I’ll watch water dimple Goose Lake and speed up the demise of purple and blue iris flowers that brightened the trail during my last ride in the sun. I’ve enjoyed being part of writer’s school, a village that forms each summer near the confluence of Campbell and Chester Creeks. But, it will be good to be back home in Juneau—a town that knows how to look its best in the rain.2

Jaded Beaver

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It rained last night, darkening the bike path pavement to black. In a solemn mood, I turn onto the Campbell Creek trail and find my way once again blocked by Canada geese. Remembering the ride a few days ago when waiting for geese made me miss a moose sighting, I slowly proceed, making the geese part for me. Minutes later, I have to slalom through a line of very fresh moose poop. But there is no moose for me to watch.

2In addition to the moose scat line, the trail is marked every mile or so with odd assemblages. A bag of Sun brand corn chips reclines against a plastic container of corn flakes. I wonder if both were left as offerings to the maize god. Farther on I find a waterproof jacket, ball cap, high quality lace up boots, teeth flossing tool, and ice grippers. They lay splayed out as if their owner was raptured skyward while cleaning his teeth.

3All these things mean nothing to the beaver that swims without hurry along a trailside lake. Having learned to dodge fishing lures and lunging Labrador retrievers, he is not going to be put off by strange signs or a poetry student on a folding bicycle.