A freezing wave appeared to wash up and down the Fish Creek valley this morning. It appeared to ebb when we entered the dark old growth forest because little bags of water plopped from leaf to unfrozen ground. A wiser guy would have chosen a more open walk where today’s rare sunshine could strike his face. I hoped to find it slicing through the old growth canopy to turn frost damaged leaves into things of beauty. “Too early,” I thought on the way up valley. The sun only reached the tree tops, could only be photographed as reflections in dark waters.
A little disheartened, I turned back where a recent windfall tree blocked the trail, then climbed a wild animal’s trail to a bench above the valley, Here the sun light did spot the forest moss. Thinking about the Japanese photographer Michio, I took a deep breathe and used patience, rather than instinct to frame a shot. The quick moving sun disappeared as I turned the camera’s focus wheel.
Things started to refreeze as we turned toward to trail head, as if washed over by another wave of cold. Perhaps, it was sun, not air temperature that made the surface moisture flow, then freeze on remanent leaves.
The sun reaches this tidal meadow late on November mornings. Only a light hoar frost coats the grass and dead stalks of cow parsnip in the shaded parts. Plants in full light for more than a few minutes sparkle with melted frost than go dull as they dry in the sun. Again I try to catch the magic, shinny things when still frost white. Again I fail.
We walk over a low hill to Aki’s favorite pocket beach, where we have watched sea lions, harlequin ducks, and sometimes whales from a sunny rock bench. Today only we find a murder of crows skulking on the beach. They still manage some beauty as they fly around the point, croaking a protest or maybe a curse as they go.
This mountain meadow has different appeals for Aki and I this morning. For her, its the fresh two inches of snow through which she bounds as if it were a foot deep. (little dog/big drama queen). I like the snow well enough but am glad that wind keeps it from obscuring the pond ice that formed quick enough to capture things in a translucent shield.
My favorite ice captives are bubbles, perhaps because my favor Yup’ik mask honors the bubbles or Walaunuk caught in river ice. It spent a winter in the State Museum as part of a Smithsonian exhibit of Yup’ik Eskimo masks. Knowing I would miss it when it returned to Washington D.C., I carved a copy to hang in our home.
Ice bubbles provide tangible proof of breath, therefore life. The Walaunuk mask may really honor the animals that created the captured bubbles with their breath. I honor the pond ice captives as signs of the life and decay in these shallow ponds: unfurled lily pads caught unaware by the sudden freeze, the flowering British tobacco plants of summer, especially the long legged bugs that used the water’s surface tension to move rapidly across their diminutive kingdom.
The battle has begun. Winter struck last weekend, driving temperatures low enough to cover Mendenhall Lake with ice and whiten the evergreen forests with fresh snow. Fall fought back yesterday with southern wind and rain that melted the snow cover. Aki must root for winter. She rarely shows much enthusiasm for walks in the cold rain but she enjoyed winter’s short visit.
I wonder what fall fights for, now that the forest colors have mostly faded to brown. Shapes? We found many graceful ones on this mornings old growth walk to the beach. My favorites were formed by spruce and hemlock roots, distorted into wrapping curves when their nursery logs rotted from beneath them. The absence of snow allowed us to find a small pile of mammal bones—multifaceted knuckles and a digit damaged by a scavenger. I thought of Henry Moore’s sculptures and the sea lion carcass pushed high up the beach years ago by an autumn tide. Were the found bones all that remained of his presence?
This morning, low sunlight shined through frost covered leaves on Chicken Ridge. I knew it would be lovely on the moraine where colder temperatures and lack of wind would have allowed shards of hoar frost to cover the grass and willows. The same low light would bring out the details in the glacier’s ice. People and dogs would be thick on the trails, drawn out by sun and all it dazzles. I tried to resist going there, like a fat man tries resisting chocolate cake, but gave in to the promise of all that shinny beauty.
Aki nosed, chased, and sometimes cringed through the parade of dogs. Her other human and I took pictures. Half-inch thick ice covered most of the lake but we found open bays that reflected the glacier and its consorts, freshly white with snow. Joining a parade, we walked to Nugget Falls with the sun at our backs, watching the glacier grow in size with each step. If not for its more famous neighbor the huge waterfall would be a tourist attraction. Here it mainly provides the summer sound track for watching glacier, terns and gulls. I hear it on fall walks over the moraine and even on cross country ski adventures until the cold of deepest winter silences it.
Having sated our hunger for gaudy beauty, we turned to the sun, now so strong we can only look down at the trail. When the trail changes direction so the the sun shines from our right we see a frost covered bouquet of rose shaped galls formed on the ends of willow branches. The surrounding hoar frost melted quickly in the sun but these galls were just emerging from shade. The sun sparkle in the hoar frost, shinning enhanced by the melting until only moisture glistened on the willow galls and prismatic drops of water clung to the willow’s dead leaves.
Winter planted a brief kiss on Chicken Ridge this morning. Black ice covered the asphalt and fine frost rimmed fallen maple leafs. Aki trots over the ice while I struggle to keep upright. We head up to Basin Road where the gravel surface offers firm footing. Last night storm left a cap of snow on Mt. Juneau that now reflects back the first morning light as we move onto the Flume Trail. Perhaps for the first time in her life, Aki has trouble gaining traction on the Flume. Warming temperatures melted rain droplets that had frozen to the thin branches of overhead alder trees. The reanimated rain formed quarter-sized disks of ice after splatting on trail boards supercooled by water moving through the flume. With both of us at risk of a fall, the little dog and I back track to a gravel trail and follow it home.