One of the big Princess cruise ships moves up Gastineau Channel while we drive over the bridge that connects Juneau to the island of Douglas. A gentle rain falls on the boat and those passengers who ventured on deck to watch the docking. Down channel, only a small oval of blue skies survives a complex of gray clouds that is delivering rain. Are the passengers excited by the challenging weather or crushed? Will they hike up Juneau’s European-narrow streets to the Basin Road trail system or sulk in the Franklin Street tee shirt shops? Aki and I won’t see any of them wandering the Treadwell mining ruins.
It stops raining before we have passed through the forested ruins and stepped onto a beach made of crushed mine tailing. A resident pair of ravens watch Aki and I from atop jagged-topped wharf pilings. The one with a white spot on its wing bows toward my little dog when she trots up to its piling. After Aki follows me over to the collapsed glory hole for a visit with the belted kingfisher, the two ravens fly off down the beach, turning their backs on a battle taking place near the southern tip of Douglas Island between blue sky and rain-charged clouds.
Aki is off lead on this riverside forest trail. I am not too worried. Dog salmon splash in the river but I’ve not heard the fwaap of a bear paw sending a fish and part of the river onto a gravel bar. I see bushes stripped of salmon berries but can’t detect the death stink of a bruin.
Near the edge of a tidal meadow jays, crows, ravens and eagles chit, caw, squawk, or scream. They sound cranky, like hungry people in a town with no restaurants. Aki and I skirt a fresh pile of bear scat and walk to Eagle River now filling with chum salmon that ride the incoming tide to their spawning streams.
Many of the salmon will take a sharp left turn in a tiny creek a quarter-a-mile upstream where early arrivals already mill. The lucky ones will end their one-way trip squirting out eggs or fertilizing milt into the waters of their home waters. Others will swim up dead end streams and die without procreating. The carrion birds now making such a racket along the river don’t care if the salmon die frustrated or satisfied. The just want the dying to begin.
The silver salmon are returning to their home rivers around Juneau. Time to put up some silvers for winter even though it is raining. This is bad news for Aki. But she doesn’t sulk when I leave the house burdened down with lunch, a thermos of tea, and heavyweight Scandinavian rain gear.
We leave Tee Harbor under heavy rain. The captain bounces the C Dory through the south Shelter Island tiderips toward the Point Retreat lighthouse. From there we cruise along the shore of Admiralty Island to grounds that usually offer good fishing. A humpback whale surfaces while we gear up our trolling leaders with herring. The whale, like the salmon, targets herring. Diving on them, the whale tosses its flukes skyward and disappears.
We boat a pink salmon, a rockfish, and a potbellied silver salmon. Because they don’t freeze well, we release the other pink salmon we hook. Between strikes a trio of orcas appears, seeking the same thing we do—salmon.
Aki looked happy when we met yesterday at the Juneau Airport. I was. Today, on a morning that promises sunlight, we might be the first of the day to walk the Rainforest Trail. Just minutes ago, a brindle-coated marmot dashed across the road, making me wonder whether the act was a sign of good or bad luck. Aki gave no opinion. Now, while she surveys the grounded smells, I notice how far summer has progressed since I left for writer’s school.
All the remaining blueberries are either ripe or close to that goal. Insects have sculptured the leaves of the other understory plants. Those stressed or damaged are already fading from summer green to fall yellow. On the beach, purple beach pea blossoms dominate now that the lupines are setting seeds. Tall cow parsnip plants, having already flowered, are drying into brown skeletons. Sparrows burst in and out of the wild parsnips, collecting food for fall.
This has to be a lucky day—-the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventeenth year. We count ourselves lucky to be alone on the Mendenhall Peninsula trail on this dry, if gray morning. Bald eagles complain while we plunge down though old growth forest to the Mendenhall River. More eagles sulk in the riverside spruce trees.
Diminished by the low tide, the river is empty of waterfowl. Only a seal head breaks the surface. Even though they should be out foraging on the exposed tidal flats, a mob of bald eagles sulk in the riverside spruce, some two to a tree. Even though it hasn’t rained for a couple of days, an immature eagle stretches out its mix-brown wings to dry. He must have crashed into the river trying to pull free a salmon. He was lucky to find one.
This time of year, the river should be filling up with pink and chum salmon but we see no fins, no impatient leaps of salmon returning to their spawning grounds. I pray that they are just late in arriving. With the king salmon return being so small, bears and eagles are going to need lots of chums and pinks to get through the winter.
While I start to feel sorry for the birds and bears and myself, three eagles whoosh over my head, so close that the wind sound of their wings startles me. One veers off while the other two fly toward each other with talons in attack position. But they are not serious about doing battle. Were they serious about snatching away Aki? Apparently unaware of any danger, the little dog stood relaxed at my side during the event. I guess seven must be your lucky number poodle-mix.
Sunlight finally broke through the marine layer yesterday. This afternoon Aki and I are seeking shelter in the thick woods drained by a mountain fork of Fish Creek. I had planned on taking the little dog to a nearby meadow and only stopped here so she could drink from the cold-water stream. Aki had other ideas and lead me into the woods. Hers was a good choice.
The informal trail leads through thickets of devil’s club, occasionally touching the stream. The devil’s leaves glow where struck by the strong afternoon sun. Aki acts like she has forgotten yesterday morning’s fog and the wet, grey days that made up the previous week. Soak it up little dog. The rain returns Saturday
Fog formed early this morning in the Gastineau Chanel. Now Aki and I climb toward the Gastineau Meadows in hopes of reaching clear skies and sunshine. Overhead, an Alaska Airlines jet pulls out of the fog and then turns south, taking Aki’s human sister toward Seattle.
We never escape the fog, which doesn’t bother the nose-centered poodle mix. Sunshine makes her squint. I’m frustrated until I find the spider webs. We would have walked past them on a sunny day. This foggy morning, with their crisp, geometric lines, the webs provide the only clarity.