Last Sunday evening, while Aki napped inside our house, a yearling black bear munched fallen apples in our yard. He moved with a calm that only the wild and innocent should have. As Aki’s other human and I watched, the little bear lifted its front paws until it was standing on its rear legs. It looked like a small man in an oversized black coat. The little guy looked up into our Golden Delicious tree, shrugged as if it would be too much of a bother to climb after the few remaining apples, and dropped on all fours and left to forage in a neighbor’s yard.
This morning I think about that young bear and the other wild animals that thrive among us human interlopers. Aki and I are cruising through the Treadwell ruins, which is quickly filling up with families of Juneauites drawn outdoors by the sunny weather. On the ruins’ fringe we hear a chicken yard in uproar and I wonder if they are under attack from minks. Probably not. Those little weasels are night workers. An eagle then?
On the beach, the resident pair of ravens salvage dropped dog treats. One hops onto a rock to watch Aki. Above the pair of kingfishers we often visit fly a wide, fast arc around us. We have nothing to offer the swift birds but admiration.
I am tired—a bit worn from trying to bust through to this beach on a little remembered, underused trail through thick brush. Aki is fine. She was small enough to slip along her own trail under the wet bushes. For me, the view we now share was worth the effort.
We are on the backside of Douglas Island, just south of Outer Point. The tail end of the latest storm surge fights with rising high pressure and appears to be losing. Blue holes grow in the grey marine layer and we can see the mountain ridge on Admiralty Island. Aki watches a brace of juvenile sea lions swim just offshore. Since they move in a direct line northward, I assume they are chasing late arriving silver salmon. Later I will watch a male killer whale hunt silvers in Fritz Cove. But, now I’m happy to watch the clownish sea lions pulse up and drop down on their swim up channel.
A wide beam of sunlight moves across the channel and onto the beach near where we stand and then dies out. Before it did, the light beam sparkled the ruffled sea and brought out the oranges in the exposed seaweed. I feel my tiredness and frustration fade like the sunlight, am content with the return of gray.
Aki follows me on a trail that passes under a line of occupied eagle roosts. A large swath of the Mendenhall River bank is exposed by low tide, which has set the table for the big birds. The bald eagles are jumpy, made more so by a trio of ravens that worry them, acting like police in a homeless camp. One eagle looks down at Aki, screams out as if the presence of my little dog is the last straw, and throws itself into the air. Perhaps it is more accurate to write that the big bird threw itself down into the air, kicking away from its perch with talons and tensioning its wings until each tip curls look like witches’ hands.
On the southern end of Gastineau Channel, our local harbor seals treat low tide as leisure time. They are hauled out on a temporary bar formed by the receding tide. The seals will get back to work on the flood tide, which will carry a new pulse of silver salmon toward their home hatchery. They will rest again on the bar when it reappears with the next low tide.
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.
Jumpy, opinionated, grouchy are all labels you could lay on the belted kingfisher. Visiting the ones that live above Treadwell’s collapsed glory hole is one of the highlights the old mining ruins. They usually bounce through the air above the glory hole, chittering at each other and the little dog and me. This morning there is only one bird and it is stationed just off shore on one of the fractured wharf piling. It huddles there in pouring rain, ignoring us. Has it lost it’s mate or is it just having some quiet time?
Aki keeps a respectful distance from the fawn’s corpse. She sniffs and pulls back, then leans forward to sniff again. Still beautiful, even charming in death, the little deer died along the road after being struck by a car. I think about marks made in beach gravel by a deer that must have been panicked by our approach. The caution it showed might cause it be more careful when crossing highways.
Discordant bird chatter distracted me from the deer tracks. Two belted kingfishers were in the midst of an aerial dogfight. Maybe “ballet” is a better word to describe the way the two birds weaved in and out of each other’s flight path, sometimes almost touching salt water. So much life.