Category Archives: Nature

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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Digging Out Small Beauties

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With its gray, nondescript sky that drizzles down rain, today is one for small beauties. Evidence of such is not hard to find on this mountain meadow. On both sides of the trail muskeg meadowland spreads toward the mountains. Reddening moss and blueberry plants form patterns with yellowing deer cabbage plant on the muskeg—a Persian carpet that would be stunning on a sunny day. But today it looks like a carpet ruined by flood.

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Aki follows me off the trail and through thickets of blueberry brush weighed down with accumulated rain. She stops for a minute and gives me a hard look before moving in behind me. Little dog, sometimes you just have to explore new ground when the sky is gray and the land is already going to rest for the year. She knows that her fur will soon be as soaked as my pant legs but still joins this pointless expedition through the wet.

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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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More Tracks

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For the second day in a row, I am puzzled by the presence of moose tracks in Juneau mud. Aki and I are walking along the eastern shore of Mendenhall Lake. At the north end of the lake, the glacier snakes down between two mountains to touch the water. Just ahead Nugget Falls roars away. Beneath my feet are moose tracks. Later I will follow them to the edge of beach in front of the falls. I will learn that a bull moose hung out near the falls yesterday while we followed its tracks across the moraine. It swam across the lake and hasn’t been seen since. The powerful waterfall is a world-class tourist attraction. Maybe our wayward moose is just another foreign tourist, albeit a Canadian one.

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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.

Invisible Men

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Under a flat-gray sky Aki and I walk a familiar trail through Downtown Juneau. The little dog trots out at the end of her leash, stopping suddenly from time to time to pee or sniff. I am jealous of her ability to get so much stimulation from odors. While she checks the pee mail, I let my mind wander.

By the time we reach the Franklin Street tourist zone, it is filling up with cruise ship passengers. I am grateful to them for exhibiting even a little joy on this low contrast day. Crewmen from the ships stand in line at food carts run by local Pilipino families. Those already served sit on stone benches eating rice and barbeque meat from Styrofoam containers. Behind them the panamax cruise ships they serve send blue smoke into the already dark sky. Nearby, under the Marine Park shelter, a dark skinned homeless man shivers through a cigarette while clutching a paper cup of coffee. Aki drags me toward the food carts in hope of snatching dropped food from the feet of customers.

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The cruise ship tourists, many this morning from big cities in China, look up at Mt. Juneau or out over Gastineau Channel where great rafts of gulls float as they wait for low tide. Some of the tourists smile when they see a local and his little dog. But few seem to notice the crewmen or the homeless man.

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Climbing up Main Street we pass a sign drawn with some skill with chalk onto the side of a business office building. It quotes from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five: “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt.” I shake my head. When the sun sparkles on fresh snow, a honest man might write that everything he sees in Juneau is beautiful, even the pink cheeks of locals huffing up our steep streets. But somewhere there will still be pain.