It’s been a while since Aki and I walked on this trail. The government makes it illegal to walk with dog on it until the bears leave to hibernate. That has happened. The trail takes you through a forest of young spruce trees. Not too many decades ago, the land was too compressed by the shrinking glacier for the spruce.
Soon we drop down a short trail to Mendenhall Lake where a well packed trail heads toward the beginning of Mendenhall River. We see few people but lots of wild animal tracks. A coyote left many of them. I wonder that the little hunter was be attacking. Then we spotted the tracks made by a snowshoe hare running for its life.
Winter came early to this capital town. Snow covered our yard weeks ago and hasn’t been washed away by rain. The weather service predicts five new inches of new snow this afternoon. Aki and I try to sneak in a cruise of Downtown before the storm hits. We work our way up Gastineau Avenue. It’s already snowing now. White flakes collect on the top edges of gray alder limbs, making them look bright against the storm-grey clouds.
Ravens are waiting for us after we leave Gastineau and work our way over to the cruise ship docks. By now the new snow has formed big lumps on my boots. It makes me walk like a raven, rocking from side to side and I try to move forward without falling over.
One of the ravens flies over so Aki will chase it. Aki growls but won’t chase, even after the raven takes flight. It lands a few away and looks a little put out. A half dozen other ravens sulk while we pass. One, who might not have seen us approach, flutters its feathers, making snowflakes fly.
For the past few weeks, Aki and I have spotted a pair of Sitka blacktail deer does walking near a road that leads to Sheep Creek. We drove out there this morning to walk around a delta exposed by the low tide. We didn’t see any deer along the road or even any had eagles.
It had snowed while the tide retreated early this morning. Today’s incoming tide will melt the fallen snow. But now, with the tide at its lowest, a thin blanket of white still coveres the exposed beach. The snow enriches the view by emphasizing the curves and dips of the tidal ridges. I can’t remember seeing this before.
We walked out to the edge of the now exposed wetlands and then to the beach’s end, where amateur gold miners have parked their makeshift dredges. One was made from the body of a tired looking pickup truck.
A collection of eagles and ravens had gathered along the road side. We drive past them on our way back to town. I stop the car and head toward the collection of hungry bird. They let me get within twenty feet before flying to roosts across the road. Then I spotted one of our Sitka black tailed deers lying dead on roadside snow now tramped by the thorny feet of the hungry birds.
Aki doesn’t act like this is her 14th birthday. She is planted on a very slippery ice, waiting for me to drop a bag of her poop into a bearproof garbage can. After I return, she and my wife walk off the ice and onto a snow free Basin Road.
In less than a block ice and slick snow again covers the road. It will be this way as we travel up the road up to Gold Creek crossing and then walk onto the newly reopened Flume Trail. It’s been shut down for the last two years for repairs. The last time we walked it in winter, twenty-footlong icicles hung from the bottom of parts of the flume. We see none today because they finally patched the leaks.
The flume carries water from the Gold Creek Valley to a tiny hydro plant near the Indian Village. The plant can continue to deliver electricity to Juneau town if landslides stop the main power lines.
Aki walks along the flume trail until we reach a patch with ice, rather than snow. Then, she throws on the breaks. My wife and I try to talk her into continuing. But she won’t move. Frustrated, I look above her and see forty knot winds pushing cloud of snow off the sides of Mt. Roberts. If the wind shifts, Aki and her people might get the big chill. The little dog is picked up and carried down the now slippery trail. Think of this as an early present little dog.
Accepting the promise for sunshine by the weatherman, I headed out to the Rain Forest Trail with Aki in Tow. After crossing the Douglas Island Bridge, we drove north on the Douglas Highway. There were few cars on the highway but a lot of wildlife close to its border.
Eagles and ravens flew over the car during the first nine miles of the drive. Oddly we didn’t see any eagles after we reached the North Douglas boat ramp. From there until we almost reached the trailhead, we had an unrestricted view of Fritz Cove and Stephens Passage. The water was dotted with gulls and ducks. A tight congregation of sea lions harvested small fish just off the shore.
We drove to the Rain Forest trailhead and made our way down the icy trail. It led up to an open patch of ocean which was being used by a humpback whale to feed. The whale moved past a large black mass shaped like a very large ball. The incoming tide carried it up channel at about the same speed as the whale. I wondered whether it once was another whale, maybe an orca, now floating dead weight on the tide.
Aki and her other owner just crossed the shrinking dry path that will allow them to avoid being soaked by the incoming tide. A judgmental crow keeps me from immediately following them. It lands two meters away on a piece of ground about to be covered by tidal waters. Having crossed the disappearing spot without getting my boots wet, I stop to watch the bratty bird.
The crow holds it ground, seemingly ignoring me and the incoming tide. Seconds before he is inundated with ocean water, he flies away. I take a few seconds to photograph his rescue, then look down to spot flooding tide waters about to soak my boots. He is not the first crow that tried to trick me. More than one has succeeded.
The friends of the surley crow have been drawn to Sheep Creek, where four bald eagles were fighting over a scrap of meat. As is usual, one of the eagles is pulling chunks of feed off the carcass while the other eagles watch. So do a gang of crows. One or two of the crows try to sneak up on the munching eagle but can’t snatch away any food. Maybe that is why the other eagles keep nearby where they can chase off any crow willing to cross the line.
Even though wet snow was falling and Aki was cuddled up under her owner’s bed, I wanted to go with her on a walk. In a few minutes, we’d be getting into a friend’s car for a drive out to a beach trail. Aki eventually crawled out from under the bed and let me dress her in outdoor gear. But when we walked out the front door she looked board and even tried to circle back into the house. Then our friend drove up.
Aki, who thinks him her best friend, dashed to his car. She was already set up on his front seat by the time I sat in one of his second row passenger seats. Aki was the only one not wearing a covid mask.
Sunshine broke through the clouds by the time we reached the beach trail. It lit up the storm fragments formed over Stephens Passage. A streak of thick sunshine hit the ocean water and lit a thick line across the bay and onto the snow-covered beach. Then clouds returned, eating up the sunlight in the process. But we had seen and enjoyed the sunny moments provided by the shifting clouds.
Because no ice or snow covered our street, I didn’t bother putting on my ice cleats when Aki and I left the house. Two blocks later, we ran into two friends. The first thing they asked was whether I was wearing my cleats. When I admitted to walking without them, they told to be very careful. I could hear their ice cleats scrap the sidewalk as they walked back home.
I was fine for another block but began struggling when we passed the last house and started into the Gold Creek Valley. Aki, whose claws help her move over ice, still waited patiently for me to creeped my way across the old wooden bridge then worked my way toward the cross of Gold Creek. Halfway we met two woman walkers who warned that their cleats slipped on some of the trail ice. Rather than push my luck, I turned back and recrossed the bridges. The slick trail required me to move slowly, which gave me more than enough time to study the growing ice formations that lined the road.
Tomorrow starts a five day stretch of snow. But we have sunshine today. We haven’t been there for a while, so Aki and I drive out to Dredge Lake trail head. Six inches of snow cover the trail. But the Mendenhall River and most of its tributaries still flow.
Bright, winter sun makes the snow sparkle. But it softens the borders of the mountains that line the river. I’d like to be able to walk onto ice-covered Moose Lake to get a better view of the surrounding mountains. But breaking through the new ice would allow the lake water to soak through my jeans. They might be frozen by the time I return to the car.
Aki loves to walk around this lake, no matter the weather. She has already touched noises with several canine noses and at least one rear end.
A pair of ravens live in our neighborhood. When upstairs, I often hear them climbing around on our metal roof. This morning, when Aki and I leave for a downtown walk our ravens are nowhere to be seen.
The streets and sidewalks are mostly empty. As she also does, Aki takes her time moving through the neighborhood. She pees often but sniffs more. Two ravens greet us at the bottom of Gastineau Avenue. Most will be perched on the top of the library building or a tiny park.
We work our way down ice covered stairs and walk onto the dock. Just before reaching it, we spot a crowd of wax wing birds feeding in a tangle of deciduous trees. Fall colored leaves still cling the tree branches even though we have already had a week full of cold and snow.
The dock waters are empty of birds but near a little picnic area we can spot a raven playing with an empty plastic food container. Aki approaches the big bird, her doggy tail wagging, her posture held like she does when about to play with another dog. The raven continues playing with the food container even though he is less than a meter from Aki. I wonder, with good cause, whether this raven is one of the pair that lives in our neighborhood,