Even though the town wraps around it, the Wetlands receive few visitors who are not carrying shotguns. There are a few well used dog walking trails that skirt the area but most is empty ground. For Juneauites it is just something to glance at during the morning compute from the Mendenhall Valley bedrooms to the SOB. (That’s the local name for the State Office Building. Juneau visitors shouldn’t expect the sound of sadness to reach then as they enter the building.)
Back to the Wetlands, where the road noise from Egan Expressway fades very quickly as you walk toward Gasteneau Channel. Soon into a walk only startled Canada Geese and transiting airplanes will raise the decibel level above a whisper. The whole area can flood during high tide so we always keep a tide book in the car to time visits.
The start of this day of the walk promised spring like weather but delivered gray skies and a chilling wind. We should be in the thick woods by the glacier where the day’s 40 degree temperatures would not have to fight with wind to set the tone. Instead we are crossing a slick patch of ice formed on the Wetlands above the high tide line. Down channel a sunrise streaks the sky with strips of gray and weak orange light.
Aki cruises right over the ice but I must do the tundra shuffling slide or crash to the ground. Even with legs slightly apart, feet parallel, weight evenly distributed I almost fall when my left boot slides over a slight rise in the ice. I am forced to concentrate only the ice and ignore a Bald Eagle that vocalizes it resentment at our presence on this hunting ground. The slow speed of transit forced by slick ice has a blessing. It gives me the time to appreciate reflected sunrise colors that almost set the ice aglow.
Once off the ice we cross wet grasslands where each dead blade, brown, tan or straw yellow, has been pushed down flat by the recent heavy snow. In the middle of this destruction sits a weathered driftwood tree that has rested here long enough to earn badges of lichen. It lays on its side so that its circle of shallow roots are at a 80 degree angle to the ground. One foolish spruce seedling grows between the skyward pointing roots. Growing above salt soaked ground, the spruce has no chance of being more than a bonsai decoration to welcome the geese and ducks that will soon be resting here on their north bound migration.
I have mixed feeling about this isolated spruce striving to grow on its precarious perch. It’s is a life wasted but history is full of honorable fools who joined the forlorn hope. I’d admire this tree for its courage and determination if it had a soul. Instead I admire the life force it represents and the sower, nature, that imprinted all spruce seeds with need to root and grow where ever they land. They affirm the preciousness of life. So too, do the birds who each Spring fly thousands of miles to nest. Tree, birds, man; the need to live drives us all.
Aki is whimpering now so I look down to see the wind bending back her ears and flattening her facial fur. When I stop she holds up a paw as if it to dry it in the cold wind. We’ve reached the deep channel of Duck Creek that cuts us off from the rest of the Wetlands so I grant Aki’s request and turn toward the Sunny Point bluffs jutting into the Wetlands. We walk along them to the car.
Aki finds a long strip of snow perfect for her diving then rolling game. My boots crunch with each step after I join her there sending seven Canada Geese breaking for the sky. We return to grasslands when the snow strip ends. Here a paper thin layer of ice lays like a sheet over the tussocks of flattened grass. Only frozen salt water has such flexible strength. Several things had to happen at the same time to create this. This fragile sheet of ice would not be here if the last night’s high tide hadn’t manage to cover the grass just as the night’s temperature dropped enough to freeze it into this thin white covering. I wonder at the purpose of covering beaten grass with a beautiful translucent sheet when we hear the nervous cackling of worried ducks huddled 50 feet away. They burst from cover and fly deeper into the wetlands, necks stretched out, willing more speed. Aki looks away as if embarrassed by their cowardliness. If she would understand I would tell her that they are only driven by the will to live.