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Matt Dickerson: Bald eagles on Trout Lake? Been there, done that

“You can always tell tourists apart from Alaskans,” Brad said. Brad is my nephew, and a Middlebury College alumnus. Just about the time he started as a freshman at Middlebury, his parents moved to Anchorage. When he graduated four and a half years ago, he stuck around New England for a while looking for work, but eventually joined his parents back in Anchorage.
Since then, he has being doing his best to take advantage of what Alaska has to offer. Though he doesn’t have a pilot’s license or own his own floatplane, he has certainly been engaging in what I think of as quintessential outdoor Alaskan activities. In addition to sea kayaking, rock climbing, ice climbing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, sport fishing and dip-netting for salmon, this past summer he spent several months working long hours on a commercial fishing boat netting salmon off Kodiak Island. Later this fall, he plans a fly-in caribou hunt on Adak Island.
Earlier in October, I had a chance to visit Brad’s family for a few days. He and my brother Ted and I took a two-night wilderness backpacking trip on the Kenai Peninsula. My brother rented a National Forest Service cabin on Trout Lake, just off the 38-mile long Resurrection Pass hiking trail that cuts through the mountains from Cooper Landing to the town of Hope. The hike in to the cabin took us first up and along a ridge above the Kenai River with views of the snow-covered and glacier-filled mountain range running the length of the Kenai Peninsula. Then the trail turned north and proceeded along the rim of the Juneau Creek Gorge past Juneau Falls, and into a higher river valley of the upper Juneau Creek, before turning up a side trail for the final half mile to the Trout Lake.
We spent most of the next day exploring the mile-and-a-quarter-long lake from end to end in the rowboat (that came with the cabin), casting or trolling for rainbow trout as we went (and catching a few at various places along the shore). When the fishing for rainbows in the lake slowed down, Ted and I grabbed our can of bear spray and went back down to Juneau Creek and tromped through the woods along the shoreline to try our luck with the Dolly Varden trout in the running water. (Our luck was not as good there.)
A small pond near the intersection of the Seward Highway and the Sterling Highway on the Kenai Peninsula is a resting place for traveling trumpeter swans. Photo by Matt Dickerson
And everywhere we went, the views were breathtakingly stunning — on the hike, from the porch of the cabin, from the rowboat on the lake, even on the drive along the Sterling Highway from Anchorage to Cooper Landing. The whole time I was there, I just kept stepping off the cabin porch, or setting my fly rod down on the boat, or rolling down the car window, and then pulling out my camera and taking more pictures.
Which is what elicited the comment from my nephew Brad. For at one point, one of the (many) bald eagles we saw swooped down off the steep hillside above us, cruised along the lake past us and a few hundred yards beyond, and pulled up to perch in a tree on the shoreline ahead. Of course I took out my camera again, and as we rowed under the old tree where the eagle sat watching us, I just kept clicking away.
And Brad, who hadn’t bothered to set his own fly rod down, laughed at me. “Tourists still get excited about bald eagles,” he said.
I knew what my nephew was talking about. I’ve seen fishing boats coming into Alaska harbors, cleaning their fish as they came, and I’ve counted as many as 50 bald eagles circling above them diving for fish scraps. I’ve been told that one of the best places to see bald eagles in Anchorage is at a garbage dump, though I’ve never actually gone there looking for them. So I can see why Alaskans can take for granted and perhaps get a little bored even with a majestic bird like a bald eagle. They can be as common in certain parts of Alaska as seagulls at Branbury State Park.
So I lowered my camera.
But only a little bit, so that my tourist behavior wasn’t quite as conspicuous. (Not that it mattered since my brother and nephew were the only humans within several miles.) Then I took several more pictures of the eagle. And of the mountains behind the eagle. And of the reflection of the mountains in the lake. And then a couple more of the eagle just for good measure. The hillsides of Vermont in October have never grown old for me. I hope Alaska never does either. Though I do plan on avoiding the garbage dumps.

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