Sitting in the Dark
It isn’t odd
to sit in the dark
watching night give way
to gentle morning light.
provides the entertainment
arriving in fat flakes that coat
our bare apple tree.
Passing headlights reveal
our neighbors shoveling snow.
I should shovel too but that
would cut the white blanket
I admire. Better to dimple it
as I leave for work.
We wouldn’t be walking along the North Douglas Highway if this wasn’t Super Bowl Sunday and I wasn’t nursing a sore knee. The road offers a firm flat tread and the football game is keeping everyone inside.
The tide is flooding up Gasteneau Channel as we start north from the boat ramp. A turn to the west offers the best view in town of the glacier. It’s framed nicely by the Mendenhall Towers and Mt. McGinnis all visible on this high overcast day.
Here the highway curves just above tidewater along a steep forested slope. We pass a series of partially frozen falls with dark water carving the remaining ice into Henry Moore sculptures. Usually all the action is on the water side of the road.
Once while preparing to launch our kayaks for a weekend trip my friend and I watched a deer swim toward us from the Smuggler’s Cove side of the channel. A sea lion chased her to the beach where she stood a few feet away, recovering.
In September, while I laboriously composed a text message to my daughter in California, a pod of killer whales swam up the channel. The message grew in length as the whales closed on me. It ended with “honey the Orca baby just breached. Love, Dad.”
Today only a few sea ducks spice up the gray green channel waters. We see no whales, no sea lions, no salmon trollers heading for harbor. Gone even are the gangs of eagles and ravens that usually haunt those tall spruce trees up hill from the road. “Aki, we got it all for ourselves.” She flashes me the puzzled look she saves for my fits of silliness, then marks her new territory with urine.
Today we take the Eagle Glacier trail because a preceding herd of boy scouts tramped down its surface snow. I tried taking a less traveled fork where only the tracks of a single wolf broke the snowy crust. A sore knee drove me back into the scouts’ wake.
The trail takes us along the edge of a flood plain forest. Last night’s snow dusting still clings to spruce and hemlock needles but a strengthening morning sun will soon end that. The forest’s lights and darks mix in satisfaction with the slate grays of river water that undercut translucent ice.
There is peace here until the trail climbs a small rise and becomes a narrow icy path cut into the river bank. Aki prancers over this icy shelf just a five feet drop from the fast moving river but I do not. We turn around and head back to the car.
Back on the plain, I stop often to enjoy morning light reaching around spruce trunks to give beauty to bare devil’s club stalks. I can not stop my self from whistling the theme of Holst’s Jupiter while Aki tears circles through the underbrush. I feel like we are being naughty in church.
This day is about measuring wind and lives well lived. It is hard not to think of wind today since it blows fierce across this beach. We could avoid the wind by staying on the old growth trail but the sound of a heavy surf draws me to the water. Aki stands by my side looking puzzled. She finds no magic here.
The wind strengthens as we approach Point Louisa where bending grass reminds me of a late summer morning spent watching spiders. Once, while my child was young, I sat in a tidal meadow at sunrise watching thousands of spiders climb stalks of beach grass. They were small—born that spring. As each reached the top of a stalk it would jump off, trailing a short line of silk that caught the wind and carried the spider away.
The spiders rode a stiff wind, strong enough to carry some of them across a fiord to a healing clear-cut forest beyond to begin a life well lived. The journey of others would end when their silk caught on branches in a nearby spruce grove. Many spiders would fall to their deaths in salty water.
Today’s wind finally drives us into the trees where Aki stalks a well groomed Skye Terrier. Her owners, an older couple, find joy watching Aki trying to get the aging terrier to play. Tall, thin, slightly stooped, they look comfortable in this place of unkind winters. When we part I ponder measurements of a life well lived.
Society judges a person by attendance of their funeral or plaques on the wall. But isn’t success better measured by the peace reflected in an older person’s eyes when they smile. It only took seconds to find it in the terrier’s owners.