After spending so much time recently at the glacier, today I opt for a more homey trip. Aki trots behind the tails of my skis as I move easily down a moraine trail. It’s raining, which makes the packed trail snow almost friction-free. Maybe that is why we get so close to the northern harrier before it flies off with a beak full of rabbit entrails. The grey bird loses most of them by the time it reaches a nearby tree roost.
I as pleased that Aki doesn’t bark or bother the big bird. The harrier isn’t pleased that I stop to take a few pictures. When it flies off, we head down the trail, passing over sections of the moraine that will soon be flooded by water backed up behind one of the beavers’ many dams. We probably won’t reach this deep into the troll woods until next winter.
The harrier is back when we returned, standing over a mostly-eaten hare. He is only a few feet from the trail. If not for the deep snow and heavy brush surrounding us, I’d lead Aki in a wide arc around the hunter and his prey. But there is nothing for it so I lead the little dog slowly toward the harrier. It flies off to a nearby tree, ready to finish his feast after we are gone.
“We usually don’t see waves,” I shout over the onshore wind and wave crashes. The couple are petting Aki so I don’t know if they heard me. It is hard to tell where they are from. He wears a ball cap made from high-tec fabric and they both have good quality raincoats. His is a British Commonwealth accent, not Canadian but not London Brit. Neither seems afraid even through they will be alone on the North Douglas trail when Aki and I turn into the woods—alone with the wind and the rain clouds it is blowing towards them. Halfway back to the car, I am tempted to turn back and find the couple and give them enough information to stay out of trouble. But they managed to find the Outer Point Trail on their own. Hopefully, even with the trail system’s lack of directions signs, they will find their way home.
Standing in full sun on the side of a Douglas Island mountain, I realize how cleverly we rain forest dwellers can honor days of gray. During the recent wet spell, I took comfort in a day’s lack of gale force winds or, when that didn’t apply, that the rain was warm, not the chilly cold of November. Yesterday, it was enough that the pavement was dry when I woke up. Today, we have sun, warmth, and little wind. In other words, it’s summer.
Aki has four humans to herd up the trail. When we break into pairs and space ourselves out on the trail, the little dog runs back and forth between her groupings like a border collie herding sheep. Maybe, given the la-la feeling produced by the weather, we need herding.
It’s good to see the mountains’ white silhouette against today’s blue sky. The sun doesn’t reach us on the moraine where we walk on barely-frozen ground. Across the ice-covered lake, it slams into the snowy peaks and dull-white glacial ice. Aki cares only for her beloved orange Frisbee. She chases it again and again down the beach. At a stream draining a big beaver dam the little dog drops her sand-covered toy into the water. For a moment she watches it float downstream where it might disappear under the lake ice. She has lost other Frisbees this way. But today she snatches it and carries it to my feet with a silent demand to renew the game of catch and release.
I’ll be in Anchorage at writing school the next couple of weeks so this is my last trek with Aki for a bit. We walk along lower Fish Creek to the pond circled by a thin line of fisherman. Using large treble hooks, they try to snag king salmon now going to rot in the pond. The men ignore us, concentrate instead on the bass notes made by 20 pound salmon as they crash into the surface of the pond.
Fishermen and fish are both driven here by DNA. For the men, a deep need to hunt and harvest, feed their families, drove them from their beds. The fish seek only to reproduce but can’t make it up the shallow creek to their spawning beds until it is swollen by August rains. Genetics might also be behind Aki and my moves this morning. She seeks promising scents, I satisfy my inter-caveman with a camera rather than gun.
The tide is out so the place smells of death and new life—-the stink of spent salmon and exposed tidal mud is almost overpowered by the sweetness of just opened wild rose buds.
Eagles and crows hunt carrion on the tide flats. I look for a way to capture the gold-yellow beauty of a seaweed carpet exposed before the glacier by the ebb tide. Four foot hight stalks of fireweed stand before me and the tidelands, the bottom rungs of their ladders of magenta blooms already in full flower. The layers will blossom one after the other until all the flowers transform into seed down that will float away at the end of summer.
Boats on the water in Southeast Alaska can bring joy and frustration, sometimes on the same day. With unlimited sun and warm temperatures, we have joy today but Aki expresses frustration at the time it is taking us to get to the picnic spot. She whines quietly and paces back and forth across the three foot width of the canoe as her paddlers fight a stiff headwind blowing off the Mendenhall Glacier. We land safely on an exfoliated granite point which reminds us of Sweden.
On this Memorial Day weekend we remember the beauty of Swedish archipelagos and our friends there. I remember family and friends who have passed, some in service to their country but most after just living good, useful lives. My now dead father would have love this place like he would have loved Aki and his never-met granddaughter. He would have laughed at me and and my fishing buddy when yesterday we yelled at a seal lion after it snatched away a 20 pound king salmon that my friend had hooked fairly.
We should remember our war dead this weekend but save time and energy for the deceased, like my father, who taught us to love.
(sea lions raft in front of Mt. Edgecumbe)
Sitka’s natural harbor has drawn sea going men for centuries. Huge and dotted with spruce covered islands, it provides safe anchorage for shipping along a dangerous coastline. On one edge, the Mr. Edgecumbe volcano mimics Japan’s Mt. Fuji. During Japan’s period of isolation, British explorer James Cook of the British navy named the volcano for a hill overlooking the port of Plymouth.
(humpback whale flukes up before shallow dive)
Drinking morning coffee on the sound’s edge, with Aki a 100 miles away in Juneau, I watch a humpback whale flip its tail flukes skyward before resuming its hunt for spawning herring and then turn my attention to the snowcapped volcano. The few clouds in the blue sky cast crisp shadows on the mountain’s snowy sides. Below the shadows, sunlight caught in the dormant lava channels shines brighter than that angling off the waters rippled by the diving whale. James Cook could not have named Edgecumbe on a sunny spring day.
(bald eagles above herring seiners)
Herring provide today’s drama. A great flood of pregnant herring approach their spawning beaches and act as a magnet for eagles, gulls, commercial fishermen, humpback whales, sea lions (California and stellar), and those of us who believe that the best of an Alaska spring is found in a bowl of herring eggs, lightly blanched and seasoned with soy sauce. I saw all of it today except the bowl of eggs. The fish have yet to spawn.