There’s always something

finding little treasures on and off the trails

One day, as we walked along, a friend remarked: “You know, on every hike there’s always something spectacular or interesting or beautiful—some good memory to take home, in addition to enjoying some exercise and sociability.”

Although of course not everyone agrees on what is worth noting and remembering, on three hikes in late October and early November, I think there was consensus regarding the “take-homes.” All of these were flat, easy hikes, but all yielded some good thoughts.

Cowee Creek bridge to Echo Cove: Through the woods and meadow and along the beach, we noted little of special biological interest: not much sign of bears, no recent fish carcasses, very few birds. But it was spectacular—the sun was shining (!), and there was a fierce north wind screaming down Lynn Canal, stirring up huge waves and whipping veils of spray off the wave crests. In the background, the Chilkats gleamed with fresh snow.

Crow Point trail along Eagle River: We found lots of small things of interest. Many critters had left signs of their passing. There were scats of goose, bear, probable coyote and marten, and tracks of otter in the sand. A big crowd of crows was hanging out at a distant edge of the tide flats, occasionally flying up and dropping small items (?mussels?). We guessed that there must be a few rocks out there, if the crows were thinking to crack open some shells. Bears had been digging roots of wild parsnip and riceroot. Chum salmon skeletons had been spread around by high tides; they already had a coating of green algae.

There were small mysteries too. The B-B-size seed capsules of starflower were covered with a white ‘bloom’ and the contents looked like dirt. Could they be afflicted by a fungus? We saw squirrels extracting seeds from spruce cones and a flock of crossbills checking out the cones that remained on the trees. But all the cones we inspected had almost no seeds left. The red squirrel may be able to detect full cones by smell or heft, but how do crossbills know if a cone is well loaded with seeds? Trial and error?

The sun peeked out briefly, in time for our little picnic lunch. We were attended by a raven, who wouldn’t come down for treats, perhaps because we had a (well-behaved) dog with us. After we left, and turned back along the beach, the raven circled us with one of the treats in its bill, almost as if it was saying ‘Look, I got it!’ I don’t really imagine it was saying thank you. It’s more likely it was hoping for another ! Naturally, I provided.

Dredge Lake area: this was a mild day with very hazy sun and a few inches of fresh, wet snow on the ground. Our several attempts at some off-trail bushwhacking were thwarted by high water levels. But the soft snow recorded tracks of squirrels, hares, beavers, mink, an eagle, and perhaps an otter. As we ambled up the beach of Mendenhall Lake, the mists that hid the mountains gradually parted and, one by one, McGinnis, then Bullard, then Thunder showed themselves. The vista toward the glacier was indeed a beauty—if, as a friend commented, one has learned to love shades of gray and silver!

Even cruising down Egan Drive had some good moments, such as a flock of swans winging south. There was a family of swans near the Vanderbilt junction: two adults and three big, gray cygnets. A rare treat for me!

The next time we get one of those dismal, gloomy stretches, with slatting rain during the few hours of what passes for daylight, I’ll remember the good days and all the little treasures thereof.