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.
It’s the last day of writer’s school. Rain started last night and has washed clean the bike path. It must have also discouraged other users as I only pass homeless people on my ride to Russian Jack Park. One man sleeps on a trailside bench as rain drenches his thick, black hair and beads up on his tourist-grade rain gear. Another stands just off the trail as if waiting for a bus that will never come.
There will no animal drama on this ride. No moose or bear will break across the path. No bird song will rise above the white noise of commuter traffic. I will hear the too-sad minor song of an Alaska Railroad engine warning of its approach. I’ll watch water dimple Goose Lake and speed up the demise of purple and blue iris flowers that brightened the trail during my last ride in the sun. I’ve enjoyed being part of writer’s school, a village that forms each summer near the confluence of Campbell and Chester Creeks. But, it will be good to be back home in Juneau—a town that knows how to look its best in the rain.
We Americans expect sunshine, warm temperatures, and lots of red, white, and blue bunting on the Fourth of July. In Juneau, we accept that rain often replaces sunshine., dives down the temperature and soaks our patriotic bunting. This morning, while Aki recovered from firework produced stress, I watched the annual birthday parade. People cheered the visiting Northwest Canadian Mounted Police, Shriners (big men in toy cars), rainbow flags, Veterans for Peace, and trucks full of Tlingit veterans wearing clear raingear over their wool blanket regalia. Kids scrambled for candy thrown from fire trucks and floats. Rain splattered on the handcrafted amor of men fighting with swords and maces.
I enjoyed the parade but was more than happy to take Aki out to North Douglas for a walk through the rain-soaked woods. Empty of other people or dogs but full of bird song, the forest is a peaceful place. Almost ripe blueberries rise above clusters of leaves. I know I should wait for a week before sampling them but pluck a few into my mouth, find them almost summer sweet with a sharp aftertaste. Soon the sun will return to ramp up their sugar content and turn them into soft sacks of juice.
This eagle tells you everything you need to know about today’s weather. He squats in the top of a hemlock tree, rain-soaked wings spread out to dry. He will hold that pose for the ten minutes that Aki and I explore the false outer point beach. I poke at a spray of purple beach pea flowers, snap a photograph of them, pet the dog, and look up at the eagle. He holds the same pose. I talk with Aki’s human sister, watch her skim stones on the calm water, pet Aki, and look up at the eagle. I smile at a brown junco with the nerve to land on a drift wood log a few feet away and stare at us. I squint out toward Shaman Island at the head of a curious seal, apparently wondering why we linger on the beach. The eagle still hasn’t moved. That’s how hard it rained today.
The weather service issued a heavy-rain advisory for this morning. Mendenhall Lake could rise two feet and Montana Creek is likely to flood. In my mind I measure how high the arctic tern nesting colony is above the normal lake level. The colony just might survive a two-foot rise but not much more. If birds can experience fear and grief the terns, who migrated here from Patagonia to nest and feed, must have heavy hearts.
Knowing that there is nothing we can do for the tern colony, I decided to drive Aki out to the Eagle River. From under a bed the little dog watched me assemble camera and rain gear, showing no interest in joining the expedition. She listened to rain tattooing our roof as I pulled on rain pants and jacket. Just when I was about to walk out the door without the little dog, she stretched and trotted up, tail wagging. Maybe the rainy weather made her sleepy.
The rain stopped by the time we reached Eagle River. But the sky stayed gray. Aki jumped out of the car and headed up the trail. I followed behind. We entered the forest where green understory plants were already taller than me. The time of flowers has passed and that of colorful berries is weeks away. The forest only offered varying shades of green. But envelopment in such a green world calms like a day spa can never do. I must have slowed my pace in response because Aki stopped often to stare back at me with what looked like concern.
Later we crossed a riverside meadow rich in flowers. Blue lupine, magenta shooting stars and nagoon berry flowers, yellow buttercups, red columbines, and wild strawberries thrived. I remembered summers passed, when we watched chum salmon swim up the tiny watercourses that drain the meadow. At high flood tides, the salmon would swim across the meadow and die where the retreating waters left them. That part of their bodies not carried away by carrion birds, stayed to fertilize the meadow flowers and berry brush.
While planning where to hike this morning, I look out at the garden where heavy raindrops make the tough kale leaves bounce. No wind blows them off course. Already the storm is soaking the old growth canopy. But the little dog and I still head to the Outer Point Trailhead.
I am not surprised to find the parking lot empty and pleased that nothing falls from the sky. Ironically, inside the forest that usually protects us from the worst of storms, it is raining. Fat drops drip from the canopy of spruce and hemlock. Storm light, more pearl than gray in color, reaches into the forest and turns the surface of a beaver pond into a fairy tale mirror. It might tell Aki that she is the fairest dog in the forest. That wouldn’t be a lie since the place is empty except for local residents like the red-breasted sapsucker hammering into a 100 year old hemlock. The overdressed bird grips an imperfection in the bark with one foot, which in my mind, makes it look desperate, as it pounds yet another hole into the hemlock. Hell for the hungover must be full of such unrelenting woodpeckers.
Rain or boredom seems to have depressed the Treadwell eagles this morning. Even though it is low tide and therefore the best time to find food or carrion, two mature bald eagles are glued to the tops of splintered pilings. Two more hunker on the beach near the water. The inclement weather doesn’t seem to have bothered the ravens. They fly back and forth over the glory hole, harassing first the piling plunked eagles and then returning to the beach occupied by those squatting on the sand.
Aki finds a cache of dog kibble that has been sprinkled on the top of a foot-high piling. Someone, perhaps the sprinkler, placed a flat stone over the kibble but Aki manages to tongue out a morsels before I convince her to stop. Two ravens land on nearby pilings to watch. I have little doubt that they will have the stone off and the kibble down their beaks before we make it back to the car.