Category Archives: Kwethluk

Nature

Pachelbel Canon with Rain Assist

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Aki and I were just blown off a little headland that sticks into Favorite Channel. The squall caught us as Aki sniffed for pee mail and I scanned the water for migratory waterfowl. Neither of us were having any luck before the wind rose, quickly followed by slanting rain.

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Torturing myself with memories of the ducks, whales, seals, sea lions, bears, and eagles we had watched in the past from the headland, I barely notice the subtle beauty of turning leaves along the trail home. I do sample the fire-engine-red huckleberries hanging from yellowing foliage. But, like most of the wild fruit we harvested during this wet summer, the berries are more sour than sweet.

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The rain followed is into the forest making the devil’s club broad leaves perform a percussion symphony with assists by the smaller alder and high-bush cranberry leaves. Breaking one of cardinal hiking rules. I dig out my cell phone and have it play the Pachelbel Canon. The rain’s percussive enriches his repetitive tune. I can no longer hear blue jay, thrust, or squirrel complaints or even a hawk’s unsettling cry, but figure, for today, it is a fair trade.

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Staid Eagle

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Low Energy Fall

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It feels like a rain forest fall, just warm enough not to need gloves. The smell of dead salmon reaches on a wind that shivers changing leaves along the Outer Point trail. But what fall color we have is dull, more brown than red. I blame the wet summer that just ended. Last year we were enjoying the last of an exceptionally warm, dry season. As if squandering their windfall wealth, the leaves of willows, cottonwoods, and high bush cranberry plants painted the forests with rich reds and yellows. After this year’s wet summer, the forest trees and bushes have barely enough energy to fade to a yellow-brown.

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Lost Moose?

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So quiet, I tell Aki. We are walking around an empty campground that offers occasional views of the glacier. Aki looks up at me with her, “Are you crazy?” stare. She is sampling the rich smells left by a summer’s worth of camping families. While I see empty space, she smells the ghosts of those who used the place before.

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I wonder if the little dog can single out the smell of the moose that we are tracking. The big animals are rare on this side of the Juneau Icefield. One must have wandered down from the Antler River, drawn by the juicy willows that grown on the glacial moraine. This is an odd time of year for a moose to do a solo walk about. He or she should be sticking around other moose trying to mate. Are you a young male, driven off by the mature bulls or an oldster?

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We follow the tracks to the river where the moose must have entered the water and crossed over to the moraine. I search the opposite shore but see only a thick wall of moose food.

On the Fringes

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Last Sunday evening, while Aki napped inside our house, a yearling black bear munched fallen apples in our yard. He moved with a calm that only the wild and innocent should have. As Aki’s other human and I watched, the little bear lifted its front paws until it was standing on its rear legs. It looked like a small man in an oversized black coat. The little guy looked up into our Golden Delicious tree, shrugged as if it would be too much of a bother to climb after the few remaining apples, and dropped on all fours and left to forage in a neighbor’s yard.

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This morning I think about that young bear and the other wild animals that thrive among us human interlopers. Aki and I are cruising through the Treadwell ruins, which is quickly filling up with families of Juneauites drawn outdoors by the sunny weather. On the ruins’ fringe we hear a chicken yard in uproar and I wonder if they are under attack from minks. Probably not. Those little weasels are night workers. An eagle then?

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On the beach, the resident pair of ravens salvage dropped dog treats. One hops onto a rock to watch Aki. Above the pair of kingfishers we often visit fly a wide, fast arc around us. We have nothing to offer the swift birds but admiration.

 

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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