Aki starts whining when we approach a trailhead in the car. This is how she acted just before one of our first ski of the season.
I walking without Aki to get coffee down a back street. It is near 60 degrees and the light cloud layer that dampened the sunrise has burned off. Limbs off hardwoods form tunnel over the sidewalk. I imagine for a minute living in one of the brick row houses, looking out from a bay window at the turning leaves. It wouldn’t be a bad life.
Aki is back home in Alaska where the town is getting another dump of snow. Her humans are on the other side of the country, walking through a Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery. (Veneer and the Masters of Genre Painting). The exhibit labels direct our attention to the men and women depicted in each painting. But I find myself looking at the little dogs placed like a grace note in the corner.
Before arriving at the Gallery, we made out annual pilgrimage to the Bill Reid sculpture at the Canadian Embassy—his black canoe. Reid depicts the Haida totem animals paddling a big bronze canoe. Even though the wolf is comping down on the raven’s wing, and the raven is biting the bear, all the animals are pulling hard to move the canoe forward. I find it a hopeful metaphor for the human race—even though we fight, when it counts, all humans will pull for our common earth.
It’s 13 degrees. The cold is messing up my camera. I am skiing alone, asking other cross-country skiers if they have seen a toy poodle in a knit sweater. Where has that little dog gone? We were together just minutes ago at the base of a small hill. She was inclined to take our usual trail, the one that loops around the hill. But, I have grown used to winning such battles so I started up the slope, figuring that she would pout a minute and trot after me. At the top I was alone.
We had already been skiing for more than an hour. Most of that time was spent on a back- country-style trail. Aki stopped often to roll or dig into the fine-grained snow. I worked out a way to take pictures without removing my mittens. Unlike yesterday, where the tracks of snowshoe hares, squirrels, and a fox crisscrossed our trail, we don’t spot any evidence that dog or wild animal had passed this way.
At the end of the back-country portion of our ski we crossed Glacier Highway and slipped onto a groomed, tracked trail that winds through a dormant campground. Aki stopped often to roll in the snow, check scent or chase about with another dog. Then, while I was on the hill, she disappeared.
A bit dehydrated. I can barely manage the whistle I use to call her home. She must have heard, because she sprints toward me from the opposite side of the hill, looking putout. At the same time we silently ask the same question: “Where have you been?”
Aki and I are deep in the Troll Woods. All four of her legs are encased in snow. She stops every minute or so to shake her head to dislodge the snowballs attached to her muzzle and forehead. She wouldn’t have snowballs on her face if she didn’t plunge it into the fresh snow. But loves to plunge.
Yesterday’s storm dumped a foot of new snow in the woods. The resulting white blanket undulates over the forest floor. It collects in a thick layer over snags. Some of the busted trees now look like dragons or eels. The snow also obscures the beaver logging trails we usually follow through the woods. So, we are lost in the sense that I can only speculate on the direct route to Chrystal Lake and the main trail back to the car. But we have the tracks my skis made at the start of this adventure. When I start to turn around, Aki dashes around me and heads back down the trail my skis made on the way to getting lost.
Aki turns 11 today. That’s the equivalent to 77 in big dog years. Thankfully, little guys like Aki have a smaller multiplier. So, she is more middle-aged than elderly. This morning, while I shoveled 5 inches of new snow off the driveway, the poodle-mix was inside, chowing down on her birthday surprise—a can of high-end steak-flavored dog food. Rather than charge her up, the heavy meal seemed to have made her sluggish. Two blocks into our walk she stops in the middle of the street.
Aki doesn’t follow when I continue on up Basin Road. She throws on the break and digs her paws into the new snow. It’s like she is saying dude, its my birthday and I get to do whatever I want. On a normal snowy day, a walk up the Perseverance Trail would be exactly what Aki would want. She probably plans to head home in case another can of tasty food has been plopped into her dish. It’s hard to believe that a 10-pound dog could make a god of her stomach, but it’s the most likely explanation for her behavior.
We walk back down to house, passing a crab apple trees with red fruit covered in new snow. At our driveway, Aki starts to turn toward our door and looks up at me. When I take another step down the street she drops her head and leads me toward Cope Park. It is a favorite with dogs and their walkers so it is a mother lode of rich smells. At the park, we take as long as Aki needs to read the extensive pee mail. When done, she spots two big dogs running free in the snow. After the birthday girl is properly introduced I unclip her lead. Aki yips and entices the other dogs to chase her. Just before they catch her, she throws on the breaks and watches her pursuers slide past. Then she chases them. Happy birthday little dog. It looks like you are going to enjoy many more.
This morning Aki and I stay in the neighborhood, walking the icy streets of Downtown Juneau. The little dog leads the way. She chooses routes with the best smells rather than safe footing. Her toenails give her fine purchase on the ice. Since my boot don’t offer the same, I am constantly rejecting her navigational choices. Soon we are both grumpy. The sunlight doesn’t help.
On this last clear morning before a five-day snowstorm, the sun shines with a harsh intensity on the town. It’s the kind of light that can make beautiful woman look plain. But it sets off the colors of Gastineau Avenue Craftsman homes and gives Aki a monster’s shadow. It also makes the little dog squint, which doesn’t help improve her mood.
Our battle over direction increases when we turn back toward home. I want to walk on the docks from where we can get a better view of the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy. But she wants to glean the vacant lot on which food vendors park their shacks during tourist season. Rather than carry her, I give in and let her chase after the ghost smells of dropped fish tacos, barbeque, and pork adobo.