Category Archives: Alaska Salmon

Eagles and Corvids

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Corvids and eagles, mallards and gulls, that’s what dominate the skies above the Fish Creek Delta. For corvids, Aki and I spot the grumpy ones—those without the raven or crow’s sense of humor: Stellar jays and magpies.

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Near the pond, four jays rip up chunks of the wet ground and flip them in the air. They make it seem like work, not fun although I can’t imagine what the blue and black birds get out of it. A mature bald eagle perches on a creekside driftwood log, its eyes unfocused. The wind ruffles it rain-damp feathers. Weeks ago salmon thrashed the waters in front of the eagle. Today only rain runoff animates the stream.

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Another eagle turns away from us as we approach the spruce tree in which it rests. Two long tailed magpies, black and white, land on the trail ahead of it. Seeing Aki, they fly onto alder branches six feet above the trail. One is shy, but the other magpie lets me approach close enough to recognize the cruelty of its beak.

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Big Trees 

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Aki and I are together again after I had to travel to the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada for a funeral. Following the service, Aki’s other human and I walked through a grove of Giant Sequoias. It had snowed there two days before but only a little of the white stuff colored the ground when we walked around the redwood forest. Sunlight reached through the forest canopy. As it warmed the redwoods, steam rose off their thick bark.

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One redwood tree stood, dead black and bark-less, in the center of a small clearing. One hundred and sixty years ago a developer had stripped all the bark off the then living giant for use as a tourist attraction. The tree still held this ground against wild fires, winds, and snows. It survived tourist invasions and continues to use its ugliness to educate the humans it dwarfs.

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Men have logged giant spruce and hemlock trees along side the rain forest trail Aki and I use this morning. But in our time, more of the big trees have tumbled to windstorms than chainsaws. While all the forest trees dwarf the little dog and me, none lecture us. They leave that to the eagles now scanning an exposed beach for salmon.

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Bears and Birds

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The salmon are returning to the Eagle River. I have to take care not to step on their desiccating bodies as we cross a riverside meadow. There are no bears or their scat just see a cranky pair of ravens, so I decide to continue our walk along the river. Just in case, I place the little dog on her leash.

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The dead salmon smell blends with the others of fall—the sweet and sour smell of ripe cranberries, leaf mold, and the sharp tang of grass. I wonder if the strong bouquet threatens to overwhelm Aki’s sensitive nose. But the poodle-mix shows her usual keen interest in, for me, unremarkable spots along the trail.

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We pass a family with small children picnicking along the river. One of their members operates a drone, which gives off an annoying hum. I’m thinking about letting Aki loose when she gives out a little growl. Two people just up the trail point to a bear munching away on a salmon it had carried up from a nearby stream.

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I’m holding Aki now. We watch the bear saunter over to an alder tree and bury her nose in tree moss. Then it moves into the forest. I carry Aki a little further and then let her walk. She stays on the lead. We pass gravel bars covered with gulls, crows, and ravens and, just seconds before I can focus the camera on it, a fishing bear.

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On the drive home, near a different salmon stream, I have to stop the car to let a black bear waddle across the road. Just after Aki gives another low growl, the bear turns, for the first time, to look in our direction. Who knew that bears had such sensitive hearing?

Worth The Effort

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I am tired—a bit worn from trying to bust through to this beach on a little remembered, underused trail through thick brush. Aki is fine. She was small enough to slip along her own trail under the wet bushes. For me, the view we now share was worth the effort.

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We are on the backside of Douglas Island, just south of Outer Point. The tail end of the latest storm surge fights with rising high pressure and appears to be losing. Blue holes grow in the grey marine layer and we can see the mountain ridge on Admiralty Island. Aki watches a brace of juvenile sea lions swim just offshore. Since they move in a direct line northward, I assume they are chasing late arriving silver salmon. Later I will watch a male killer whale hunt silvers in Fritz Cove. But, now I’m happy to watch the clownish sea lions pulse up and drop down on their swim up channel.

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A wide beam of sunlight moves across the channel and onto the beach near where we stand and then dies out. Before it did, the light beam sparkled the ruffled sea and brought out the oranges in the exposed seaweed. I feel my tiredness and frustration fade like the sunlight, am content with the return of gray.

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Low Tide

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Aki follows me on a trail that passes under a line of occupied eagle roosts. A large swath of the Mendenhall River bank is exposed by low tide, which has set the table for the big birds. The bald eagles are jumpy, made more so by a trio of ravens that worry them, acting like police in a homeless camp. One eagle looks down at Aki, screams out as if the presence of my little dog is the last straw, and throws itself into the air. Perhaps it is more accurate to write that the big bird threw itself down into the air, kicking away from its perch with talons and tensioning its wings until each tip curls look like witches’ hands.

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On the southern end of Gastineau Channel, our local harbor seals treat low tide as leisure time. They are hauled out on a temporary bar formed by the receding tide. The seals will get back to work on the flood tide, which will carry a new pulse of silver salmon toward their home hatchery. They will rest again on the bar when it reappears with the next low tide.

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Mixed Feelings

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Rain hammers the car’s roof and challenges our windshield wipers. Aki still squeals and hops around the car’s interior, like her death is imminent if not released immediately. When I open the door, she leaps over me and hits the ground, nose ready to search for irresistible smells. I splash to the wooden bridge over Fish Creek, which is running high thanks to the storm. Standing waves form over pools that once sheltered spawning salmon. Now the carcasses of those salmon and pieces of the other organic debris of summer are being flushed downstream or carried to the forest floor to act as fertilizer for hundred-year-old trees.

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Aki crosses the bridge, empties her bowels, and stops. She flinches each time a particularly heavy drop hits her exposed face. Her body language tells all. The little dog clearly does not want to follow me on the trail that leads to the creek delta. We walk back to the car and drive over to a rain forest trailhead.

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Even in the protecting woods, Aki shows little joy. But she copes like a dog trying to find some pleasure in a bad situation. The canopy shelters her from the worst of the rain and she manages to skirt most of the flooded sections of trail. At the beach, again exposed, she looks a little pathetic. But I want to linger for a few minutes to watch two rafts of newly returned surf scoters. The storm must have blown them off the exposed waters of the outer coast where they summer.

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When we break back into the woods and head toward the car, the little dog shoots ahead. I wonder again, whether I should leave her behind on stormy days. Then I remember the sad song she sings when I walk out the door without her.

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Return to the Moraine

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The large cottonwood trees that screen the glacier have begun their slow autumnal striptease. Aki and I see evidence of their dance along the moraine trail—Valentine-shaped leaves, yellow and orange and green, plastered by rain to the gravel or floating on the many beaver ponds. But only the most patient voyeur could appreciate or even detect the trees’ languid movements.

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Evidence of beaver work is everywhere. Their dams back up waters in the trailside ditches so they now flood over parts of the trail. A patient man or dog might spot ripe silver salmon moving up the swollen drains on their way to spawning grounds deeper in the moraine. But I am impatient this morning and Aki is too fixated on fresh beaver scent.

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She has an attraction to beavers that would prove fatal if she ever managed to close on one. She rarely passes on an opportunity to roll in their scat, something that brings a look of pure bliss to her face. The little dog has many blissful moments this morning as we pass a trio of cottonwood logs that the beavers had floated together and then stripped bare of bark. I wonder how many it took to reduce the logs to glistening white in one night. Because they work the swing and graveyard shifts, the beavers are probably resting in their dens but I still keep a look out for them. More than once, Aki has followed a moraine beaver into the water, tail wagging, apparently hoping to play.

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