It’s Aki’s bath day. She doesn’t know this yet, which may be why she dashes around the wetlands without a care. Because of its muddy track, this is one of the little dog’s bath day trails. The smart little dog may tumble to this pattern some day. But today is not that day.
The morning fog has already lifted from the surface of the Mendenhall River and will soon burn away to open up some nice glacier views. Sunlight, finding holes in the dissipating marine layer spotlights parts of the wetlands but leaves others in shadow. The effect of on the flat plane of grass cut by the sparkling river is strong and beautiful. I’m reminded of a June sunrise over the wheat country of Montana.
Two eagles fly off as we move down river, but one holds its ground. It keeps to its roost on the highest section of a driftwood root wad. It will stay there, barely showing any interest in us as we walk past it. Aki returns the compliment. The eagle is still there when we make the return trip.
The staid bird triggers a memory of another eagle on the same root wad that behaved in same way. It too turned its head to the glacier, rather than watch us pass. Then, as now, I couldn’t decide if I should be honored by the apparent show of trust or diminished by the big bird’s distain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We start on the university campus and walk around Auk Lake. Aki jumps when a salmon splashes near the shore. But she soon settles into the walk. I didn’t see the jumping salmon and spot only indirect evidence of fish presence in the lake. Once the wake of an unseen object, a subtle “v” shaped wave, moved along the trail’s floating walkway. Other times we would hear splashes.
Even though we have a sun its light can’t penetrate through the lake’s surface. No wind ripples the lake so the souls of glacial mountains appear trapped in its waters. Other than some eagles’ screeching complaints and blue jay scolding, we hear no bird song. I take my cue from Aki and ignore the portents, enjoy the smells of a forest well into autumn.
Aki and I are soaked from brushing up against understory plants. Maybe we shouldn’t have taken this seldom-used path that cuts across headlands to a pocket beach. But it’s the end of summer when the little dog and I make a pilgrimage to the beach for its view of Favorite Passage. We usually spot an eagle or two, maybe a whale, seal, or sea lion. A bald eagle does flush from a spruce when we break through to the beach. But only one guillemot dots the passage.
We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s been a challenging summer with little sunshine and lots of rain. The rain plumped the harvestable berries but ripening without the benefit of sunny days, they are either insipid or sour. This has made me pessimistic so I am not surprised by the lack of wildlife. I give little attention to an oval of blue forming above Shelter Island. Dark storm clouds will soon cover it.
While climbing over a low coastal hill, we pass a patch of blue berry brush that sports a handful of ripe fruit. The one berry I can reach is as sweet as farm grown. Next to it is a bush already darkening to fall reds and browns. But the optimistic plant also has new flowers that now glow in an unexpected shaft of sunlight.
This morning I am a little overwhelmed by forest greens. Aki and I are walking through a protected old growth forest that is not surrendering to fall. All life has already drained from the line of cow parsnips that buffer the forest from the sea. Atop their dead-brown stalks, the plants’ large flowers have been replaced with circles of seeds. But under the forest canopy blue berry bushes still display fruit on their summer-green branches.
In a few weeks, scoters and ducks will work the waters just offshore from the beach. But now the sea is empty and only a brace of gulls walk the beach. Aki keeps her nose down, hunting for sign. But we only meet one dog on the walk.
Around False Outer Point and across Gastineau Channel a remnant of Lemon Glacier hangs above Costco and the state jail. On most days it looks no more remarkable than a snowfield. But there is something about today’s light that turns its ice a pastel blue. In the Alps or even the Canadian Rockies, there would be a good trail leading to the hanging glacier. But here, its just another sign of the warming earth.
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.