Secrets of the Alaskan Forest
By Emily, Expedition Guide
From a boat sailing along the waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage, a view of the forest shoreline can be much the same from inlet to inlet. It’s not until you step foot on the rocky, muddy shores with your own boots and begin to explore, does the land reveal her secrets. The Tlingit saying is “when the tide is out, the table is set.” You really start to understand this as you bend down and examine the underside of a rock or pick your way across a field of barnacles and blue mussels. Munching on beach asparagus or goose lounge, it is easy to imagine subsisting off this land.
Leaving the intertidal, the sedge grasses abound with game trails and bear day beds appear where animals moved through the grasses leaving behind a tell-tale trail of bent vegetation. Moving your way through the waist-high grasses, you see other signs of critters. Crab carapaces, empty and picked clean, lay next to butter clam shells pried open with agile claws. A brown flower comes into view and you smile as you sniff the pungent barnyard odor of the Chocolate Lily. But you dig up the stalk and munch on the rice-like root ball, also a tasty snack for bears.
As you crawl under the young alder branches, you enter the realm of the woods and scramble under downed hemlock trees. A log is covered in layers of moss and is soft and cushy to the touch. Sitka spruce saplings sprout from the log, taking advantage of the lack of competition otherwise found on the forest floor. Bear bread sticks out like little shelves from the trunks of trees and an eagle cries overhead.
You follow along a game trail, which just so happens to avoid most of the large swathes of Devil’s Club. Scat appears in little piles alongside the trail, letting you know the real utilizers of this forest. It’s mostly moose droppings, but you also notice a larger pile of old scat from a bear with pieces of sedge grasses that are hard to digest.
The sound of a trickling stream leads you into a massive patch of verdant skunk cabbage. This time of year the plants have nearly doubled in size and some leaves are as much as three feet in length! You can imagine how great these leaves would have been for the Tlingit in wrapping food and also themselves during heavy rainstorms.
False Lilly of the Valley line the sides of the trail and Clasping Twisted Stalk is just starting to bloom. Dwarf Dogwood flowers are nearly done and soon it will be berry time and the forest will be even more full of beauty and food sources!