When you approach from this side, you see the estuary gradually develop. A rim of trees and alder line the trail, obscuring the stream running along the base of the steep mountain side. Melting snow trickles into the waterway, giving it life. It eventually widens out, then becomes an ooze, spreading out in a fan, dampening the ground. It is a tributary of Crooked Creek, a glamorous beauty who gets all the attention.
A garden of skunk cabbage grows thick in the wettest places, displaying the only color besides green and brown in the marsh. Skunk cabbage looks prehistoric—its lemon yellow cone-shaped flower protrudes from the ground in waxy glory with lime-green leaves around its base. The plant’s secret is that its modest springtime leaves will grow and grow and grow into enormous palm-tree-sized paddles.
You can stroll downstream for a ways, but soon the land becomes sodden, then soaked, then there is standing water several feet deep. The trees are sparse, one here and one there growing up along the margins of the estuary. Electrical distribution poles jut through the clammy vegetative mat covering stagnant swamp water.
I like this unnamed estuary because it’s small, contained, defined. Alaska, in so many ways, is too big for me. It’s so big I can’t get my head around it, so big I can’t see it in one view. Too big to grasp. The estuary is comprehensible. From here, I can see its source and its conclusion. I can stand in one place and see the entire system—creek, protective treed borders, marshy wetlands. I can tally the plants and watch each patch develop from spring greenery to bouquets of summer blossoms. I can count the birds that inhabit this dime-sized habitat: a pair of robins, one singing melodiously in the top of a cottonwood, a silhouette against the bright sky; a song sparrow hopping in and out of the brush on the ground, pecking at seeds; a chirping warbler; a knocking woodpecker.