Rain hammers the car’s roof and challenges our windshield wipers. Aki still squeals and hops around the car’s interior, like her death is imminent if not released immediately. When I open the door, she leaps over me and hits the ground, nose ready to search for irresistible smells. I splash to the wooden bridge over Fish Creek, which is running high thanks to the storm. Standing waves form over pools that once sheltered spawning salmon. Now the carcasses of those salmon and pieces of the other organic debris of summer are being flushed downstream or carried to the forest floor to act as fertilizer for hundred-year-old trees.
Aki crosses the bridge, empties her bowels, and stops. She flinches each time a particularly heavy drop hits her exposed face. Her body language tells all. The little dog clearly does not want to follow me on the trail that leads to the creek delta. We walk back to the car and drive over to a rain forest trailhead.
Even in the protecting woods, Aki shows little joy. But she copes like a dog trying to find some pleasure in a bad situation. The canopy shelters her from the worst of the rain and she manages to skirt most of the flooded sections of trail. At the beach, again exposed, she looks a little pathetic. But I want to linger for a few minutes to watch two rafts of newly returned surf scoters. The storm must have blown them off the exposed waters of the outer coast where they summer.
When we break back into the woods and head toward the car, the little dog shoots ahead. I wonder again, whether I should leave her behind on stormy days. Then I remember the sad song she sings when I walk out the door without her.
The large cottonwood trees that screen the glacier have begun their slow autumnal striptease. Aki and I see evidence of their dance along the moraine trail—Valentine-shaped leaves, yellow and orange and green, plastered by rain to the gravel or floating on the many beaver ponds. But only the most patient voyeur could appreciate or even detect the trees’ languid movements.
Evidence of beaver work is everywhere. Their dams back up waters in the trailside ditches so they now flood over parts of the trail. A patient man or dog might spot ripe silver salmon moving up the swollen drains on their way to spawning grounds deeper in the moraine. But I am impatient this morning and Aki is too fixated on fresh beaver scent.
She has an attraction to beavers that would prove fatal if she ever managed to close on one. She rarely passes on an opportunity to roll in their scat, something that brings a look of pure bliss to her face. The little dog has many blissful moments this morning as we pass a trio of cottonwood logs that the beavers had floated together and then stripped bare of bark. I wonder how many it took to reduce the logs to glistening white in one night. Because they work the swing and graveyard shifts, the beavers are probably resting in their dens but I still keep a look out for them. More than once, Aki has followed a moraine beaver into the water, tail wagging, apparently hoping to play.
Aki doesn’t want to be here, neither does the eagle. Both are bothered by the rain. The eagle hunkers down on the roof of the old mine ventilation tower. From there she can scan the beach for food. There is plenty here. Just seconds ago, Aki was sniffing the relatively intact body of a plump chum salmon. In famine times, the eagle would have gorged itself on the salmon’s flesh. The bird must be stuffed with other carrion.
From its perch fifty or even sixty feet above the beach, the bald eagle could ignore the little dog and me. Neither Aki nor I do anything to disturb it. But when our path takes us too close to the man made aerie, the eagle lifts up and flies over our heads and then follows a line of broken wharf pilings toward the mining ruins. So there.
Last night the remnants of a Pacific typhoon dumped rain on our Alaska panhandle. Aki and are trying to sneak in a forest/beach visit during a lull in the storm. The little dog dashes up and down the trail, apparently inspired by fresh pee mail. I’m relieved not to have to keep the bill of my ball cap down, happy to be able to point my camera up toward the canopy without having it smeared with rain drops.
Everything is fresh washed and glistening by moisture delivered by the typhoon. Drops of runoff have collected along the base of bear-bread fungus, making it look like an alligator’s jaw. Others make the reddening blue berry leaves sparkle in the gray light. While somewhere in the Lower 48 States, people wearing cartoon dark glasses watch the moon extinguishing the sun, I stare up at the underside of broad devil’s club leaves that collect storm light.
We find a fern, delicate as Queen Anne’s lace, shiver in a tiny breeze. Giving up on summer, the fern and its clan are already ghosting to white. Soon they will dry to dark-brown and then be crumbled by the first hard frost. In minutes we are back at the car. I have to coax Aki into it. We didn’t see anyone during the walk. Is she disappointed by the lack of dog company, or does the wise little thing know how to read fern sign?
The rain starts as Aki and I round a cashew-shaped moraine lake, threatening the lake’s mirrored image of cottonwoods transforming into their fall colors. At first the falling drops just soften the reflected image so it mimics an impressionist painting. But then the shower’s violence increases; rendering the lake incapable of any reflection. The storm compensates for the loss of visual beauty with the percussive music of raindrop on leaf. Willow leafs fill the treble rain while the larger cottonwood and devil’s club foliage provide notes in the lower register.
On this walk over the moraine Aki and I have already seen evidence of the wild world’s give and take: mushrooms ripping their way through the trailside moss, bones and berries in bear scat, cottonwood trees fallen by beavers, and moss slowing reducing trees in the troll woods to soil
We rain forest dwellers have many words to describe rain. There’s snain (mixed rain and snow), drizzle, mist, downpour, monsoon (long periods of washout rain), and showers. According to the weather service, Aki and I are experiencing a shower. I can’t argue. Rain streams from the sky like water from a showerhead. Even though we walk under the big cottonwood trees of the Treadwell ruins, drops hammer my parka and soak Aki’s fur, turning both dark gray.
As she tends to do when displeased, Aki uses mind control tactics to turn me back to the car. She plants herself and stares at my back as I move further into the woods. Only when I stretch to the emotional breaking point the invisible rubber band that connects us does she start to trot after me. Near the beach, the little dog relaxes and starts to check the pee mail. It provides her with more distractions than I can find on the beach.
Across Gastineau Channel, a salmon seiner moves toward Taku Inlet. Near the collapsed glory hole two gulls complain about the weather. They don’t even bother with three plump dog salmon that washed up during last night’s flood tide. I can’t even enjoy the drama of heavy raindrops slamming into the channel because the shower has become a drizzle. We return to the forested ruins and amidst its monopoly of summer green and decay-brown a recent wound on an alder tree mimics the golden orange of autumn maple leaves.
The recent heavy rain has swollen Gold Creek. It charges under the Christopher Trail Bridge. Aki trots on the bridge behind me, seemly oblivious to the rushing stream. She had refused to cross it every other time we used the trail, even when the stream was silenced by ice. I want to search her soaked face for an explanation but she slips by me when we reach solid ground. She trots on, probably drawn forward by an interesting smell. She is a smart little dog, smart enough to let me lead on the overgrown sections of the trail so my pants, not her fur, soaks up the water that clung to the trailside plants.