Juneau is Alaska’s capital so it has lots of politicians and bureaucrats. Eagles, bears and porcupines also hang out in downtown neighborhoods and whales sometimes feed in the narrow channel that separates Juneau from the town of Douglas. Juneau also has pigeons. Aki dislikes pigeons and cats. Dog genetics explains her relationship with cats but not pigeons. Maybe its her French heritage.
There were a lot of pigeons near the Capital Building when we first moved to Juneau. They would hang out like lobbyists on the window ledges of legislative offices. One day during the height of pigeon ascendance, one dropped dead at my feet on the Main Street sidewalk. It was soon followed by a falcon that scooped it up for a meal. In the following weeks I could watch from my office as falcons picked off other members of the pigeon flock.
Pigeon numbers dropped after that and the survivors all moved closer to the Downtown Mac Donald’s Restaurant at Front and Seward Streets. Now years later pigeon territory is expanding and some have been seen across the street from the Capital Building. The legislature returns next week. Can the falcons be far behind?
The Taku Winds are back. They start in the Yukon Territory and gain strength on glaciers and ice fields then push long snow plumes over the shoulders of Mt. Juneau. The winds hammer Chicken Ridge but not the Mendenhall Valley so we take our Sunday walk there on the Auk Lake Trail.
The trail is iced over and runs through dark woods so we abandon it for the sunny lake ice. A bicyclist rides by followed by a disapproving Queensland Blue Healer. Aki slides over ice toward the dog but it moves silently on behind his master. The rider’s success encourages us to return on the newly refrozen lake.
Last nights hard freeze documented the passage of a walker who braved the lake when it was covered in slush. The sun turns this history into art. Deer tracks show a hard passage through crusty snow from forest to the icy lake. I’ve come to expect signs of human folly in winter ice but not that of a foolish deer. Why would it leave the safe forest for the exposed ice where a predator’s paws work so much better than cloven hooves?
The ice that formed everywhere after last week’s thaw reduces me to baby steps on trails and streets. When this morning broke clear and sunny we had no choice for our walk but the Sheep Creek delta. It’s low tide so we have miles of frosted mud and sand to explore. The first winter light hits high on the beach and on the channel marker a kilometer away. We stretch out toward it without concern of slipping on ice or glaciated snow.
Aki has a hunter’s eye for moving prey but can’t see the eagle resting on the channel marker. It watches without movement as if to measure its chance of carrying my 9 pound dog off for a meal. This would not be the first eagle to dive on Aki. A grown bald eagle, like the one, can carry away eight pounds of fish or rabbit. Nine pounds of a poodle mix in an aqua coat must be too much for this eagle who turns away to scan Gastineau channel for an easier meal.
Most mornings the sky provides some entertainment during my commute down the Seward Street Stairs. Yesterday it did not. Yesterday an unremarkably grey tarp of clouds formed a boring backdrop to the channel and its mountains.
This morning white cloud fragments hung like torn fabric from the shoulder of Mt. Roberts while a dull red glow reflected on the underside of the marine layer over Admiralty Island. It was still dusk in channel from Douglas town to Marmion Island The glow gave promise of a sun that would charge Mt. Juneau with brightness in late morning. I hope the unseen shrimper transiting Stephens Passage will smile at the chance to ride over water sparkling in the pure winter light.
I am standing knee deep in soft wet snow wondering if this is what it is like to be truly lost. The wall of chest high brush surrounding this opening offers no easy way to freedom. Aki is not lost. She moves easily under the brush to follow trails of red squirrels and a deer that is probably near enough to see with a hunter’s eye. In a spruce tree thirty feet away a raven gives away the deer’s hiding place. He hopes to clean up the gut pile but I am not carrying a gun.
We aren’t really lost in this tangled triangle on the back side of Douglas Island. To my right the mainland mountains rise white above the forest. Ahead the waters of Stephen’s Passage crash on the beach. Still, it takes 49 minutes to reach the breakers. Looking toward Admiralty Island and a scene that could be painted in monochrome washes, I wonder why it doesn’t depress