Little of today’s soft rain can reach Aki and I in this old growth forest. A stronger downpour, like we get in autumn, would drive off the peace by pounding on broad-leafed devil’s club bushes and ramp up the musical volume of the forest streams. But today the forest is a quiet place, its peace broken only a scolding squirrel.
Aki, who likes excitement and chance encounters with other dogs, might think the quiet forest desolate. But her ignorance of human language shields her from the rattle and squeak of radio news shows. She can find peace anytime in her kennel.
We break out of the woods and find the beach empty except for a desolation of crows. Even the rain-rattled water between outer point and Shaman Island is vacant except for a pair of mergansers wandering near the point. On the north side of the island, other crows fly over surf scoters and a mated pair of harlequins. They photo bomb my shots of the ducks and the cloud-shrouded mainland.
It’s raining in Downtown Juneau, raining on Aki and I. It’s raining on cotton clothing and sleeping bags abandoned by Juneau’s homeless population and on a brace of ravens that are either scavenging or guarding the carefully folded gear. Soon thousands of visitors will stream down cruise ship gangways and walk by the scene in the rain.
This morning, I drove Aki out to the glacial moraine in hopes of seeing some transient tundra swans. Nothing, not even a merganser breaks the mirror surface of Dredge Lake. But it’s early enough that we have the place to ourselves. Moving through a cloud of bird song we walk a circuit of the other moraine lakes.
Beaver leavings—dams, fallen trees stripped of bark, wood chips, scattered sticks marred by tooth marks—litter the trailside ground. Many of their diminutives logging roads cross the trail. On the eastern shore of Moose Lake I say, It’s funny little dog. We rarely see those responsible for all this mess. Just then, a beaver slips into the lake and paddles toward the glacier.
Minutes later, another beaver scrabbles out from underneath a bridge we are crossing and plops into the lake. Aki paces up and down the bank while I measure the progress of its underwater swim by the trail of breath bubbles. Four meters from the shore, the beaver surfaces, see us, and crashes back under the water with a tremendous splash.
We continued on our search for swans but find only a sole Canada goose. I give up the search after two birders tell me that the swans had left two days ago. Released, I can enjoy the morning light infusing new cottonwood growth and the personality of a yellow-rumped kinglet that shows itself to us.
It’s Seven A.M. Strong sunlight hammers through the waters of Fish Creek Pond, turning its normally opaque surface transparent. Aki appears to squint. I do every time I look at the pond. A shy pair of mergansers hug the shadowed, far bank. Otherwise it appears as empty as the overhead blue sky. Then the crows possession of the place.
We climb the small dike that separates the pond from the creek delta and spot a clutch of bristle-thighed curlews feeding among the rockweed. There are tundra birds, just passing through. The crows seem intent on making a meal of them or at least moving them on.
In the mouth of fish creek a harbor seal shatters the morning quiet with a series of unexpected crashes. Curlews, taking it personal, flee the scene.
On the return loop, Aki and I watch an adult bald eagle launch from its spruce roost and fly with purpose over Fritz Cove. When it is a kilometer out, it kicks out its talons and crashes them into the water. But they are empty when the eagle regains the air. I am disappointed for the bird and amazed that it could target prey so far away. When we approach the eagle’s roost, it raises its beak and looks into the empty sky rather than down at the witnesses of its failure.
Today is a sunny as yesterday was rainy. I wanted an early start for our walk but we didn’t make it to the Rainforest Trailhead until mid-day. But the lack of early-morning bird frenzy is made up for by the sunshine that will only reach the forest understory for another hour or so. The bright light clarifies the greens of newly emerging leaves. It also makes the head of a red-breasted sapsucker shine like the queen’s jewels.
The sapsucker is nervous. It flits from tree to tree, staying for seconds in one spot. The little dog and I aren’t responsible for it’s behavior. Each movement of the bird brings it closer. When it does come to rest, it’s on a tree ten feet away, which happens to be flooded in light.
Back in Juneau, back in the rain. Aki, her other human and I splash down the Nugget Falls Trail. Ahead, a mountain goat focuses on the emerging alder and cottonwood growth. Beneath him, the falls charge into Mendenhall Lake. Later, when I upload photographs of the day onto the computer, I’ll find one in which the goat is staring at the little dog and her family. He could be looking at the glacier or one of the many icebergs it calved since spring. He could be distracted by the hoards of dark-eyed juncos bouncing around the trailside brush. I’d understand it if he noticed the brilliant yellow-green of the leaves he had been eating. Why look at Aki?
The photo that I uploaded next shows the goat head searching for food, turned so that his rear faces our fronts. Back to business. Don’t take it personal, little dog.
Aki and I climb a gravel road that passes above Sitka’s Fortress of the Bears. I hold up the little dog so she can see into the topless tanks that once contained caustic chemicals for breaking down wood into paper. Large brown bears splash in a pond that covers the middle portion of one of the tanks. Memorize that smell, Aki, and let me know if you ever smell it during one of our walks.
Earlier, the little dog had stayed in the car while her other human and I stood on a gantry above the tanks and watched four brown bears that would have been killed if not taken in by the fortress’s owner. Eagles and ravens roost in surrounding trees, waiting to pick up scraps left by the big carnivores. As much as I try, I cannot belittle the experience. While denied the hundred-mile range enjoyed by a wild brown bear, they don’t lay about with the nervous or dull look of a zoo animal. In minutes I relaxed, for the first time, in the presence of bears.