Wake up and end your winter slumber. That’s what I want to tell the Fish Creek Woods but only fools talk to trees. That’s how Aki sees it. We find a few blue berries willing to send out a spray or two of blossoms but everything else is wrapped up tight.
The soft woods trees and other deciduous plants can’t gamble with nature. Leafing out now and a killing frost could deny them a chance to grow in the summer sun. Their reticence extends famine time for the bear and deer who need some green growth now. Both are around, leaving tracks in creek side gravel. Aki leads me to the bear’s bedding area. Nowhere are the clipped off shoots of beach grass to give evidence of the bear’s spring feed.
There is freedom of sight for Aki and I in this dormant wood. With the devil’s club restrained she owns the low spaces and runs freely under downed trees. For me, this time without leaves allows appreciation of shapes and running water and, ironically, the force of life. Now I can see unimpeded all the young evergreens sucking life from decaying nursery logs. Nothing is wasted here. I can also see reminders of the salmon of summer that will fill this stream with their dying bodies and these trees with eagles and bears. Eagle feathers are scattered along the trail like bread crumbs. Eagle scat and down cover the ground near the spawning grounds.
The West Glacier trail starts on ground too new to be interesting on any but the sunniest day. We have such a day and enjoy patterns of light and dark cast by early morning light. The muddy portions of he trail froze hard last night and have yet to thaw. A thin skim of ice covers the ponds that will soon release clouds of mosquitos to prey on this summer cruise ship tourists. It is good to take this trail now before summer with its guided ecotours, bugs, and helicopters.
The main trail is one of frustration. Even now, while the trees are still bare we only get filtered views of the glacier. After a couple miles of flat walking we climb far above the glacier ice. From here the glacier becomes a frozen river sending up rapids of ice where it flows over granite domes and ridges. A rough trail takes you to the glacial ice but Aki and I keep climbing toward the summit of Mt. McGinnis.
A shattering marmot whistle takes me by surprise and I realize that I’ve dropped into the hiking trance, partly induced by the constant low frequency drumming of grouse. After that I look up more and see things like a grouse and these mountain goats grazing in the sun. I also see the lines carved into hard rock by the glacier and car sized boulders dropped here and there by retreating ice.
We stop where an overhanging rock offers a rare unimpeded view of ice. I sit facing the glacier. Aki faces down the trail, leaning against me, enjoying the warmth of the rock. I reach over and rub her ears. She licks my hand once in thanksgiving. Then we return to the trail.
What does the sun hope to gain
from making a false promise of summer
to this balsam popular?
Why does it glistens these buds with the first light of day and
turn the resin amber?
wait for true summer
patiently drink the cleansing rains of Spring
your balsamic perfume
in the soft light of summer
We returned to higher country on this sunny, warm day. It feels like spring, even while snow shoeing on this high ridge. Aki brought along the other human who feeds her and they are playing catch with her precious frisbee as we move over open ground surrounded by mountains.
Many old souls live here. In the meadow ancient but stunted mountain hemlocks stand alone, sculpted by wind to Bonsai perfection. They cling to ground passed over by others and survive. We pass the twisted remains of others that have not.
Moving into a surprisingly thick spruce forest we find thick but misshaped trees with twisted trunks. Some are split from root to crown. Parallel ladders of dead branches climb up the sides of others. Their tenacity would suggest desperate pride in a human but trees lack such complexity. They only want to live where their seed fell.
Stopping near the forest edge we perch to eat lunch on a twisted spruce that corkscrews horizontally towards the sun. Aki alternatively begs for cheese and for someone to throw her frisbee. When neither happens she shivers, not for dramatic effect but because constant movement keeps her warm.
Not counting Douglas Island and city streets, Juneau has one 45 mile long road. Weirdness tends to collect at both ends. Today Aki and I try the root ridden trail to Dupont that starts at the road’s southern end.
We pass first through a forest of oversized alders and meet a gentle soul collecting wild greens to go with his lentil dinner. He’s old, grey but erect with a buffalo plain shirt that’s pockets are stuffed with the morning harvest. Over a crisp wild cucumber shoot he has just handed me I give him a measuring eye. He could be handing me death in wild form for some look alike plants can kill. Seeing only wisdom and kindness I eat the shoot and everything else he hands me for this time of year wild foods taste fresh and full of summer’s promise.
The trail goes native after we leave behind the kind gatherer. Winter rains have washed trees root bare so they curl like arthritic hands over the steep hill side. Whole trees, still attached to their upturned roots block the trail as if tipped over by a petulant giant.
After passing though some softer land decorated by emerging skunk cabbage, we break onto the beach at Dupont where they stored bombs during the Second World War. Here I try to catch some Dolly Varden Char. Aki only wants to chase her frisbee, She loses it while washing it in the sea. Her angst rises as it floats away from the beach until I snag it with a salmon fry fly. It‘s all I catch.
send this rich light
across mountains and seas
to bring us beauty?
Man who fills my bowl,
it crosses the seas
and forces its way
through this thick forest
to sting my eyes.
before the winds rise
and the work day starts
I watch mountain reflections
in Gasteneau Channel
and let my self believe
the calm will last forever
that by launching a kayak
I can paddle down this channel
then others until reaching the Pacific
Then winds rise
I pull on an armor of calm
I wanted to write about the moss wrapping trees in the deepest forest with a burning green fire. Backlit by the morning sun, it seemed the most important thing.
Aki and I rediscovered these moss covered trees after abandoning the old river trail. It will soon be made impassible by spreading devil’s club leaves. On this trail, only the river matters with its gravel bars jammed with stacks of drift wood, some whole trees with roots attached. These give evidence of the power of flooding torrents. Such proof is needed today, when the current raises barely a ripple on the river’s surface.
After the moss, came the geese, seen not heard this time, as they searched the river meadowlands for safety. While heading there I was diverted by sun and shadow playing on the still white mountains rising out of the spruce forest. A line of bare branched alders formed an imperfect screen across the base of one peak. Aki and I admire the winter above mix with spring below and return to town.
Aki and I attempt again the ascent to Cropley Lake. This time we bring reinforcements and a map that promises an easier route than the shear wall of snow we faced on our last try. The other human in Aki’s daily life joins us after packing a picnic, which I gladly carry in a day pack.
Keeping Fish Creek on our left we follow the track of a skier that crashed down through this thick forest to the ski area parking lot. He or she had skills for we find no blood on the snow. Near where the trail breaks out onto a rolling mountain meadow we flush a pure white ptarmigan. At this time of year, flushing means stirring the bird into a slow strutting walk.
I think of Bethel friend Franz for together we once hunted these tasty birds from the seats of snow machines. This one looks fat and would probably yield nice stew meat. It also looks beautiful, striking an erect rooster pose, head slight aback to monitor danger.
An hour and half on snow shoes brings up to the lake. The surrounding mountain walls are closer that I remembered. Deep snow still covers all. Hundreds of small avalanche tracks marks the steep mountain walls, promising danger to anyone foolish enough to pass under them.
We had full sun when we started but now dark clouds fill half the sky. The stubborn sun still shines through a sucker hole to fill one of the mountain bowls with pure white light.
Each April millions of herring meet in Sitka Sound to spawn. They lay a myriad of tiny white eggs on kelp and the submerged branches of shoreline evergreens. Long ago the Tlingits who first settled the area learned to submerge hemlock branches into these waters to form herring nurseries so they could harvest the delicious eggs.
In years past volunteers in the Sitka Native Community would carefully prepare thousands of pounds of this herring roe so it could be carried by a fishing boat to other Native communities in Southeast Alaska where it was enjoyed as one of the first natural gifts of Spring.
This year, due to federal legal restrictions, the herring roe boat couldn’t sail. Someone pointed out that while he is Tlingit, the boat’s captain lives in Seattle and therefore can not legally take part in the subsistence harvest. It does not matter that he did it without expectation of payment or that his family had been harvesting roe this way since before there was a federal government.
Today a Tlingit friend showed me a small plastic bag of herring roe that a friend had given her after an aunt had sent it from their home village. Tonight she is sharing it with her grand children so they will know the taste of spring.