This gray warm winter day offers little hope for adventure as we leave Chicken Ridge. Our neighborhood ravens might disagree. They sing their croaky songs from high in a nearby Balsam Popular tree while waiting for the melting snow to reveal its treasures. Behind them low clouds lift to reveal Mt. Juneau wearing a shawl of freshly fallen snow.
We stick to the beach today to avoid a long slog through the wet heavy snow covering the forest trail. Aki charges down to the beach, now exposed at low tide. First she has to cross a 50 foot wide strip of snow that covers the beach between last night’s high tide line and the forest. When up to speed she launches forward into a slide on the snow, rolls, then looks up to show the closest thing to a smile that her the dead panned face dog can display.
While Aki fools about I admire the long strip of alder trees reaching out their branches over the beach. They are a tree best seen standing naked in snow with their subtle gray bark and graceful lines exposed. It’s calm on the beach but the wind rises as we approach False Outer Point. On the way we pass ice columns the color of wine stained amber. Water seeping from the roots of trees on the cliff above formed them during the recent cold snap. On the other side of the cliff we will find similar columns of white and gray ice.
While we round the point, a wind hammers us and raises a sea in Stephens’ Passage. Then we come under a small hail of spruce cones. I suspect the Red Squirrel pirates that live in the trees growing on the cliff. It is only the wind ripping spent cones from the trees. We move quickly up the beach to get into the cliff’s lee. A Bald Eagle flies in from the Passage to land on one of the cliff spruce. A a chorus of other eagles just above us in the trees bursts into a song to warn off the new comer. It makes me jump but sends Aki into an excited run along the snow under these eagle trees. She runs not in fear but excitement. Afraid that she might look too much like an eagle’s dinner I call her back.
One of the eagles flies over our heads to an area just offshore. There it glides a hundred feet above the water then goes into a circling dive. Just before hitting the surface the eagle reaches down with talons to snatch dinner from the water. We watch it fly low over the water to the beach, landing just beyond the next headland.
Interested in whether the eagle plucked fish or fowl from the sea I move as quiet as I can to the landing zone. Just before reaching it three sets of parallel tracks distract Aki and I. They form straight lines running at a 90 degree from the water straight into the woods. I don’t realize that the eagle is only a few feet away from us, finishing his tea. When I tell Aki the tracks were made by mink the eagle flies back to a cliff top spruce. We never did learn what died to sustain the birds’ life.
Now the wind begins to reach us, joined by rain. Clouds drop to cover the mountain tops. It’s time to head home. On the way I watch a huge avalanche roar down Mt. Juneau. Normally we only see moderate ones that involve a rumbling fall of snow down the mountain side. It’s still death to anyone trapped by the fall but for us, common place. Today avalanche also produces a large and moving white cloud in its downward charge that reaches halfway across Gasteneau Channel before dissipating in the wind. I’m thankful for this display of natural power that, like the ice columns and feeding eagle, produces a moment of beauty.
(Here is a news story on one of the February 1st avalanches: http://juneauempire.com/local/2012-02-02/avalanche-blocks-thane-road#.TytN1BzllDQ