Monthly Archives: February 2012

Buddy Tabor Died Yesterday

Juneau singer/songwriter Buddy Tabor died of cancer yesterday. He leaves behind many who will miss his music and his way of engaging with those he met. He used to say that others sing his songs better than he could but he had one of those honest voices and he understood everything he sung. You could tell that by listening to him. He will be missed. Here is a link to a website where you can listen to some of his music. My favorite is “Walks in Beauty.”http://www.myspace.com/buddytabor/music/songs/  If you pray, pray for him.

On Ground Usually Seen from Afar

It’s 49 degrees above zero at home when head out north to hike the Eagle River trail. With the streets ice free I am tempted to take the bicycle out for a ride and leave Aki. As if she senses such thoughts running through my brain, she takes up station at door to whimper. Soon we are driving to the trailhead, snowshoes in the trunk.

A marine layer of clouds forms over us as we drive north.  Twenty miles out we find black ice on the highway and fresh frost covering the roadside willows. Winter is already returning to Upper Lynn Canal. The trail takes us along the edge of a muskeg meadow populated by stunted Mountain Hemlock and Shore Pines. The crust allows freedom of movement for both Aki and I. We take this rare opportunity to walk ground usually viewed from afar. I take many pictures of the pines covered with bumps of frost that now glow in filtered sunlight.

The freeing crust reminds me of the way snow on the tundra would set up every clear night in later winter. I’d hitch up a team of six or eight husky dogs to a sled filled with camping clear and head for places unmarked by trails. The dogs would fly over the frozen crust until midday when the sun softened it. Then we either had to camp or find a packed snowmachine trail.  Daylight stretched until 9 or 10 at night that time of year allowing plenty of time to set up camp, secure the dogs and cook their dinner on a gas stove. They would watch the ice melt in the big pot we used and then stir when I dumped in the food. Then they would howl. The noise dropped each time I placed a full bowl of feed in front of a dog.  A brief period of noisy eating came next, followed by a profound silence only found on a vacant tundra.

With the chores done we’d build a wood fire and pick out constellations until the moon rose. Then the dogs would howl. Sometimes I’d join in just to feel the relief of release—the casting off, if for an evening, of my civilized coat.

The Meadow

Our northern rain forest weather rides a pendulum between the seasons. For last two weeks it brought us serious winter with the cold and heavy snowfall that comes with it. Today. it brings Juneau an early spring day.  It’s well above zero. The sun shines but the wind does not blow. With Aki I am cross country skiing on a long flat meadow dotted with dark green islands of compact spruce trees.  A fragile mist rises just above the snow but will soon be vanquished by the rising sun.

It froze last night to cover the meadow’s deep wet snow with a crust. Aki trots easily along it. When moving through the meadow’s willow barrier my skis break through. Seeking easier passage I fight my way along the meadow’s edge and drop onto a little stream.  We find faint tracks that lead to slides formed by the river otters that have colonized the meadow. Given all the recent rain I‘d expected thin ice here but it easily holds my weight. Downstream we find the answer in the form of a beaver dam that turned the steam into a long winding pond. A snow covered beaver den and their wood pile straddle the dam, which has  become a waterfall. It’s all open water below the dam.

Denied an ice highway by the beavers I move onto the meadow proper and find it easy going.  A heavier crust supports my weight so I can actually do the kick slide kick that makes skiing so much fun. Far from flat the meadow snow forms a field of small domes, maybe 2 feet across. low wrinkled ridges protect the northern edge of each dome as if the resident mink expect a siege by mice.

The sun almost blinds me on our return loop across the meadow so I guide us into a grove of tortured bull pine trees.  Each still manages a show of long green needles but I barely notice them for the many flags of yellow Spanish moss hanging from every branch. Each flag sparkles with backlit drops of snowmelt.

Violence in weather often brings at least one moment of beauty. In Juneau it usually comes just after scheduled sunrise but before the day’s storm winds build to full strength. This morning, after being driven without mercy by 4o knot winds, the clouds over Gasteneau Channel lost cohesion and let in a pyramid of light. It brightened the channel water and the houses of the hardy few living at Lucky Me.  Something made precious by the knowledge that it would disappear in minutes.

Shortly after the winds returns, shaking the building where I work and making transit up the downtown streets an adventure.  But all who stopped to see the clouds part received Beauty to carry them through the day’s storm.

{This morning’s weather report from the Juneau Empire: Particularly gusty wind conditions this morning canceled four Alaska Airline trips from, or stopping in Juneau, with at least one flight delayed by weather. Winds gusts were so high around Juneau that Eaglecrest Ski Area set a new record. Patricia deLaBruere deputy airport manager, said the Juneau Area Wind System clocked winds at Eaglecrest at 116 knots — 133.49 miles per hour.)

Not so Boring After All

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