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.
Someone has Hoovered up the blue berries that ripened along this trail. While Aki snuffles along the trail boards, I manage to find one bush of red huckleberries highlighted by evening sun. In a few minutes, when we reach the beach, all I will be able to think about is the sun dog that circles its sun—a phenomenon made possible by Canadian wildfire smoke. But now I wonder what drives my family and I to brave bugs, bears, and rain to harvest wild fruit. Our stores are well stocked with fruits and berries. We can buy fresh Chilean blues in the middle of winter. This does not deter us from putting up a gallon or two of wild blue berries each year. Not even the maggot-like worms that float to the surface when we washed the berries in salt water diminish our berry picking drive.
This is a first, I think as a bald eagle’s scat plops onto the car’s windshield. My hat has been touched in such a way by crows and gulls, but no eagle has before decorated my person or property with its elimination. For some reason, I feel honored rather than victimized by the eagle’s act. The little dog and I are returning from another North Douglas hike. The trail was empty of people and dogs. Almost no blue berries remain to be picked, few birds offered to pose for my camera. There was a robin that trotting along in front of us, employing the old wounded bird trick to lead us away from its young. A red huckleberry bush provided the only excitement. One of its branches was loaded with marble-sized berries that proved to be very sweet. But all of its neighbors were as barren as a salmon stream in winter.
This is the first time that Aki and I have seen Montana Creek since last winter. Then I skied. She dashed around in the snow. Today we both slog along in the rain, stopping every so often for me to pick berries. We here not for the berry picking, which is marginally productive, but for the calming stream. Its rushing sound blocks that of rifles being fired at the nearby gun range. It also seems to carry away the day’s stress.
I don’t worry about bears, even though we pass smashed plots of grass where one reclined and spots where bears have dug up roots. The berry crop here is not good enough to draw them away from the downstream gravel bars where they can easily snatch a just-arrived dog salmon from the creek. Soon the salmon will be flooding this part of the creek. An immature bald eagle just flew by us on a low altitude reconnaissance mission up river. Then I’ll find another place to pick.
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.
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.
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.