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.
Downtown Juneau in summer often has more visitors than locals. This morning Aki and I meet two couples. One man and woman are from the British Isles, the other couple from Atlanta. As she usually does, Aki acts as an icebreaker. She reminds the woman from Atlanta of the little poodle-mix that waits for the woman to return home. Her voice breaks describing that dog. The Brits are more reserved but melt as we watch two bald eagles resting on an abandoned wharf. It takes so little to bridge social gaps. Sometimes, you need a little dog. Sometimes it just takes a couple of eagles on an aging wharf.
Aki can be a stubborn little dog. This comes through each time we try to walk the flume trail. She’s fine until we reach the spot where the Christopher Trail drops down towards Gold Creek. Here she acts like death or at least dismemberment will surely come to both of us if we continue down the flume.
Today Aki’s human sister has a plan. I’m to continue on down the Flume Trail in hopes that Aki will eventually give in and trot after. This actually works at the Christopher Trail junction. But, not the second time she throws on the brakes near a nondescript rock. She looks up at me with a “”It’s okay, I’ll just eat cereal” martyr look. It changes into a “if you really won’t go back to the Christopher Trail, I’ll just make a home here next to this rock even through it won’t protect me from wind, rain, snow, or bears. After an embarrassingly short time, I gather the little brat into my arms and carry her down the trail.
Aki doesn’t want to be here. She lags behind as I try to lead her deeper into the Treadwell ruins. Each time I turn around she freezes and tries to stop me with a stare. Only when the invisible band that attaches us stretches too far does she slowly shorten the distance.
Maybe it’s the rain, which marks the end of a long, sunny stretch. It could be ghosts of those that lived and worked the mines before a cave in one hundred years ago shut everything down. If she is like me, she is displeased by the recent efforts with chainsaws to push the forest back from ruins that would otherwise crumble into earth.
The screech of a predator makes Aki jerk toward the noise. When two shotgun blasts follow, she looks to me for reassurance. We are on a wetlands trail near the airport. In minutes a morning flight to Seattle will fly over our heads. I want to tell Aki that the screech and bangs were meant to clear migratory birds from the runway.
The noisy show doesn’t stir a raft of American widgeons feeding on the nearby Mendenhall River. These migratory ducks are another sign of spring as is the daily shrinkage of night. Frost whitens the still dead stalks of grass that cover the wetlands. But tough shoots of green grass have already started their climb into summer.
Four minutes late, the southbound Alaska Airlines flight climbs off the runway and over our heads. Inside, one of Aki’s other humans looks down on familiar landmarks from an unfamiliar angle but we are too close to the flight path to be seen by any of the passengers.
In the forest canopy, a brace of eagles bicker like a music hall married couple. One of Aki’s other humans places her in the crotch of a destroyed spruce tree. The forces of decay have reduced it to a hulk of soft ochre-colored wood. Most of the forest is dusk dark but a shaft of morning light animates the spruce remnant and makes my little dog glow like a crowned saint.
The tree that forms Aki’s throne took hundreds of years to join the forest canopy and thicken to maturity. It bent to the fierce westerly winds and lived to offer roosting limbs to generations of eagles. Then one fall night, a wind with just the right strength and direction shattered the tree, reducing it to the stump that Aki now uses for a better view of the surrounding woods. She dislodges several chunks of softened tree flesh with her paws when she leaps to the ground.
Ah Aki, look what I’ve found for you. Until now the little dog has been a reluctant companion on this walk across the thawing Gastineau Meadows. She formed a statute of distain at the edge of the meadow when I first left the trail. Letting a strong wind whip about her ears and tail, she turned her face in the direction she clearly intended us to go. I wanted to tell her that that path will be open to us all summer. I wonder why she can’t sense that already the meadow moss softens in the spring heat. Soon each step we take will damage emerging plants and mosses.
Only when I move out of her sight line does the little dog trot after me. I needed snowshoes the last time we crossed the meadow. Today we pass almost without effort until reaching this spot where snow still covers the winter trail. Aki sounds a happy growl and charges up the trail, her paws digging deep into the corn snow. For a magic moment she circles up and back, often leaping, always running, sometimes barking. Then, apparently spent, having regained her dignity, she waits in silence at the top of the small hill.