The Wetlands in Winter

From this Mendenhall Wetlands access point we can see Juneau’s only four lane highway and the trash dump.  Five hundred meters away people shop at Walmart. Placing that behind us we plunge into the deep snow covering the portion of the wetlands above the high tide line. The snow fall that started up again last night persists so Aki has to shake often to avoid turning from gray to white.

I picked this hike because it takes you over ground washed clean of snow by last nights high tide, which only peaked 7 hours ago. Unfortunately the storm has already replaced much of what was lost to the tide so we must slog our way down to Gasteneau Channel. With everything covered in white I can’t spot all the walking hazards and soon manage to submerge one boot completely in brackish water.  Aki avoids these pitfalls but refuses to walk ahead of me to show the way. That would mean breaking trail in the soft snow.

Hoping to find it easier going I start across a wide mud bar sporting only a skim of snow. Aki looks doubtful but follows along until my boots sink in several inches of goo to release a smell that could have inspired Dante to write the Inferno. We are halfway across the bar so I push on to higher ground carrying Aki until we reach dry snow. Both of my boots are soaked now. Moving around one of the small spruce islands on the wetlands I spot seven Canada Geese hanging out ahead.  When I slip on another patch of stinking mud they begin in cackle. In minutes they are airborne, quickly disappearing into a wall of falling snow.  Later we will watch 300 more geese break cover and flee, flushed from something on the far side of the wetlands.

My head was down looking for deer tracks when the big flock of geese took flight.  I had just seen on the horizon three or four large animals moving slowing away from us. In this light damped by constant snow it is hard to gauge size and distance but they could have been deer or dogs.   Snow accumulation is flushing some of our deer out of the old growth forest. Early each morning they can be seen walking down city streets to the Gasteneau Channel to feed. I’ve heard takes of deer surviving on sea weed exposed at low tide so maybe that is what draws them to the sea. There is nothing for them to eat today on this wilderness of snow covered mud.

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