In southeast Alaska we don't have four seasons, we have two: summer and winter. Summer arrived this week like the battle of the bands in my neighborhood where the Chilkat River meets the sea. At low tide, choirs of gulls and terns on the mud flats sang so loudly I had to come in from the garden to hear a caller on the phone.
Last night the sea lions were rocking out on Pyramid Island, and the low clouds threw their growls into my open bedroom window. I awoke thinking, in a kind of sleepy way, that it must be my son playing his electric guitar. But before I could place the music, the puppy sleeping on the floor heard it too and woke up in a fright, lunging onto the bed and landing mostly on my head.
Saco is a five-month-old black lab. She is as sweet as Jell-O and about as floppy. So when I screamed, she fell back on the terrier at the foot of the bed, who then yelped as if her leg had been torn off. Saco then crashed off the other side of the bed and landed between the window and the wall. She woofed and the terrier yapped until I got untangled from the covers and calmed them down.
By the time the crows arrived on the metal porch roof and began their rap-and-tap routine at the 4 a.m. sunrise, Saco was snoring with her head on my husband's pillow, and the cranky terrier had burrowed into a new nest at my feet.
My husband isn't home, or the dogs would never have been in our room. Well, they might have been, but he would have pretended they weren't, and Saco definitely would not have been drooling on his side of the bed. Chip is fishing for steelhead across the mountains in Yakutat. When he left, he looked the way Saco does when I say, "Want to go for a walk?"
Our walking route has changed now that a couple from the Midwest is building a vacation home next door. They brought in a backhoe to pull up the 25-year-old spruces blocking their view and transplant them between our yard and theirs. "What do you think?" my new neighbor asked, pointing to the new woods.
"It's amazing" I shouted over the grind of the machine. "Will they live?"
He nodded yes with all the authority of a brand-new Alaskan. "They do it all the time, with 90 percent success." This was news to me. I hope the trees thrive. I even offered to water them until their well is in.
When the backhoe was shut off and the couple had left for the evening, my other neighbor, whose family has been in Alaska for 100 years, walked over to inspect the changes. We both knew the meadow would never be the same, and we both knew it was bound to happen. We want to be good sports, so we didn't mention it.
Instead, she looked at the trees and my coil of garden hoses and said, "Did you know that a mature Sitka spruce needs 200 gallons of water a day?" It was more of a statement than a question. Then she smiled and asked "How deep is your well?" Fortunately, it rained the next three days.
There is an old Irish story in which a druid asks a famous warrior what the most beautiful music is: waves on the shore, birds singing, or the breeze in spring flowers? The hero says it is none of those things. He declares that the most beautiful music in the world is "the music of what happens."
I was weeding the strawberries when I heard what he meant. The percussion of hammers, the drone of the generator, and the carpenter's cowboy tunes next door mixed with the cries of shore birds and the grunts of exhaling sea lions. A small plane took off down at the airport. The tide flowed. Somewhere in the mountains a distant avalanche rumbled. Near an open window my daughter practiced the piano, and on the beach my son and his friend threw a baseball, smacking it hard from mitt to mitt while Saco raced back and forth between them barking out the rhythm of a brand-new summer day.