Potter Marsh

It's quiet here. Well, as quiet as it can be when you're this close to the highway. The noise of the road is easily tuned out, though. There are more important things to admire.

Redpolls are chattering in the alders. This is my first conscious encounter with these birds. I've been to Alaska before, and I'm sure I shared a stand of trees with this species at some point. This time, though, I know who I'm dealing with. I know, too, that those are mew gulls wheeling in the distance, those are green-winged teals on that mud bar, and that is a belted kingfisher diving in search of dinner. Few things have enriched my experiences with the natural world more than a growing knowledge of birds. They are all around us, almost all the time, and yet we often pay them no heed. At the end of a hike, we lament the absence of "wildlife," a term which in this instance really means "large mammals." Yet on that same hike there were twelve species of birds that flew through our field of view and another nine whose songs and calls rang out through the forest. In many respects, to know the birds is to know the place. The birds of Potter Marsh are giving us an orientation.

Boardwalks lead us along the sloughs and wetlands here at the edge of Turnagain Arm. The sun is lazily making its way down towards the western horizon. Mount Redoubt is a faded silhouette looming above the neighboring peaks across the water. The cloudy skies that have prevailed for most of the day are clearing in the bright, warm light of 10:00 pm. It won't be a midnight sun tonight, but it will be very close.

Near one end of the boardwalk, we see a downy pile to the right: goslings are bedding down for the night with their parents. One is the lookout, one is the pillow. The lookout eyes us warily, but these Canada geese know well that the tall, bipedal organisms that frequent this area are confined to that unnatural, elevated walkway. Even here, at a range of perhaps just ten feet, they perceive no threat from us. They just carry on with their bedtime routine, the young jostling for prime position while their parents guard and nurture in silence.

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We hadn't intended to linger here long, but now there's a rustling in the vegetation that extends our stay. Two moose, a cow and a calf, are having an evening meal, one on either side of the boardwalk. Kathryn's never seen a moose before. We have moose in Oregon, but they are few in number and far away from where we spend most of our days. These largest members of the deer family are and perhaps always will be novel to us. The white-tailed deer we grew up with in Tennessee are small when compared to the elk that roam the Deschutes National Forest, but even elk must stand in the shadow of the moose. Hopefully, this encounter in the long light of a summer evening bodes well for the rest of our Alaskan travels. Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come, of fine weather and plentiful wildlife to observe and learn from. No need to look ahead, though. Right now, we can just look on in serene silence while the moose make tracks in the mud.

Chaney

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Naturalist, Photographer, Cartographer