Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mimicking the Light of Heaven

P1130305Made of tougher stuff than its summer cousin, this winter fog hardly reacted to the morning’s warming sunlight. It won’t burn off. Even when the sun reaches full strength at noon, it will only manage to move the fog on, like police encouraging a homeless person to shift from a restaurant’s back door. The grey blanket will return when the sun dips behind the Douglas Island ridge. We can expect more canceled flights at the Juneau Airport; no mail from outside until the winds return. That doesn’t matter to Aki nor I as we walk along the bright side of a line of light and shade that creeps across Gasteneau Meadow. P1130339

On the dark side, grey frost flowers cover every inch of the pines. In minutes, when reached by light, the needles will transform into yellow green lances shimmering in dying frost. A few more minutes of sun will deaden the needles to a more sustainable green. Even as Aki urges me to move on, I long to spend the day in this cusp of light and dark, watching the sparkle of dying frost on electric green needles. Aki, does the sun backlighting these frosty pines mimic the glow of heaven? Is this like the bright light that bring joy to the near-death experience?  P1130351

Abstract Reflections

P1130269On this, one in a long string of foggy days, reflected and abstract shapes hold my interest. Without shafts of sunlight to create shadows on old growth spruce and Hemlocks in this beachside forest, their trucks flatten to elongated rectangles disappearing into the gray. From the beach we find fog and low clouds blocking off dramatic mountain ranges and slicing off the tops of forested islands. The tide has flooded over all interesting beach shapes. Rather than be like these gulls huddled together in a group sulk, I try to find things to excite me as much as trailside smells wind up my little poodle mix. They are back in the woods where the trunk of a shattered hemlock tree injects orange colored, sharp-edged planes into the soft, green forest. Nearby, the waters of a beaver pond reflect back the shapes of spruce partially severed by beaver teeth.  P1130243Nearer the beaver’s dam, alders form sophisticated abstractions by curving over the pond in a search for light. Reflection is the key, mine and that of the trees.P1130252

Ferry Frost


(Taken on another day)

Wanting to mull over difficulties I am having with an essay, I left my camera behind this morning. While climbing to the back door of the Gasteneau Meadow, I managed to glimmer a solution to the problem but had to give up trying to nail it down after we entered a wooded valley that leads to the open meadow. Distracted by puzzling animal tracks and sun barely penetrating a sky that could have been rendered by Edvard Munch on a good day, I could only observe.

I noticed how well the trees survived the recent snow and wind storms that did so much damage to the spruce and hemlock trees in our tidewater forests. Snow builds up on the old growth trees to damaging levels because they stand close together on good soil.  The big trees can’t colonize the valley’s poor soil, leaving space for mountain hemlocks and stunted pines to spread out. The snow slips through their sparse branches or gathers in drifts around them.

Last night’s freeze left us a thick crust on the snow to walk on. I follow Aki, not realizing she is taking me off the trail until she slips into a thicket of pines I can not enter. With every inch of the thicket’s twigs, cones and branches covered with ferry frost, it looks like the product of a window dresser at Christmas.

I call Aki from her pretty nest and we climb onto the meadow where she rolls on the snow. Feathers of hoar frost fly off her back when he gives a shake of pleasure. I find a broken pine branch, maybe four inches long. Through its thick frost covering I can see two pairs of burls. These beautiful bumps might have been caused by pests, infection or environmental stress. At home, wanting to appreciate the product of so much pain or stress, I sketch the branch in black ink, caressing its curving protuberances with motion lines, emphasizing its dark hollows with unrelieved black ink.     P1130236

Escape to the Gray

P1050941Fog hangs over a riverine forest. You are drawn to the excitement of sunlit meadows. Knowing the fickle nature of ground hugging clouds, push your skis harder than the icy conditions allow. From deep in the gray woods, see on your horizon the sun making something wonderful out of a stream running high against its snow white bank. Ski harder. Sunlight still floods the meadow when you arrive, tired. Feel new muscle twinges; squint at the bright whiteness; escape back to the gray.  P1050946

Carpe Diem

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAki, will we pay for this long stretch of warmth in January? The temperature has held above 40 degrees F. for days at a time.  To our winter-hardened bodies, it feels like spring. Yesterday it rained hard but today we will have sun if the fog burns off. Aki doesn’t sacrifice today’s chance for joy to appease the gods of winter. Trying to follow my little dog’s lead, I enjoy, without much guilt, the warmth. While she stands guard over Seventh Street from her outpost on the couch, I’m upstairs watching channel fog glowing with sunlight.  Earlier we skied over a trail reduced by warmth and rain, stopping to watch the glacier appear from behind a soft white wall. I remembered prior winter warm spells and how I feared we would somehow be punished by Taku conditions in February if I enjoyed the warmth. Winds named for the glacier they cross to make our lives miserable, the Takus blow when the sun shines and the temperatures are low. They rattle down on Chicken Ridge as our heater struggles to keep the house livable. Realizing that cold winds may blow in February, whether I enjoy the comfortable beauty on offer today, I put them out of mind.  Carpe diem should be my motto, as long as there are enough fish in the freezer, and fuel oil in the tank. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More Village than State Capitol


On this gray morning, downtown Juneau looks more like a sleepy village than the state capital. Aki and I drop down Gold Street from our home on Chicken Ridge. Only one car passes us. During heavy snow storms, local kids ski down Gold, racing to get in some runs before city snow plows can clear it for the cars. Today, no snow slows our decent to Fourth Street where Gold, now called Gasteneau, starts climbing up along steep slopes scarred with the ruins of the A.J. Gold Mine.

Without the modern cars parked along Gasteneau, it could be 1935. The houses, some original, and others built in the old craftsmen style, cling to the hillside above the bars of South Franklin Street. Strings of Tibet prayer flags run between bare alder trees and over garbage sacks torn open by our ill mannered bears. Stairs serve as streets and sidewalks, some providing the only access to homes. No cars drive on Gasteneau. No one uses the stairs.

As an ambulance siren sounds near the homeless shelter on South Franklin. It’s  the only sound except for raven croaks. Aki and I follow a bold raven along the wet pavement of Gasteneau Street. Rather than fly above the prayer flags to safety, Raven dances up the street with a rolling gait, throwing in the occasional vertical leap. Ending his performance, he flies over our heads and lands at the spot where we first saw him to wait for another audience.

At the end of Gasteneau, we take a stairway street to a strip of South Franklin Street lined with shuttered curio shops. Brightly colored banners promise great bargains on Alaska theme tee shirts and foreign diamonds but there is no around to sell or buy the amazing merchandise. Aki pees here, then poops—for her a double benediction—more honor than the street deserves.  I carry a black bag of her scat along the old Alaska Steamship Dock all the way back to town before finding a functioning garbage can.  We pass the statute commemorating  Patsy Ann, a punctual bull terrier who in the 1930‘s, greeted every passenger ship that tied up at the Steamship Dock. Today her statute stares down an  channel as rain water drips off her turned down ears. When a puppy, Aki would bark at this big bronze dog. Now she ignores the statute and two gulls that strike iconic poses on nearby dock dolphins.


If three cars waiting at a traffic light constitutes traffic, we experience it for the first time on our walk.  Only a few pedestrians share the Main Street sidewalk with us as we enter the downtown business district and climb past the Alaska Capital Building to Chicken Ridge. Inside the Capital, the Alaska Legislators  have gaveled open their annual session. The lobbyists, with their expensive haircuts and suits, must already be inside, following the money.

P1130231The town was built by people following the money. Our drinking water flows through old mine tunnels. Miners built our house and most of the others in Downtown. A huge fish cold storage plant once dominated South Franklin Street, where fisherman sold their halibut, black cod and salmon. Now the street businesses only process the money of cruise ship passengers. Aki and I avoid South Franklin when the Cruise Ships are tied up along its docks, like we would avoid Gasteneau Street if the ruined gold stamp mills still pounded ore. Now in winter, with the mines closed and the ships serving warm weather towns, we can enjoy the solitude of deep woods on our city’s streets until the tourists arrive in May.


As Common as Geese

L1220080I’d be here on the wetlands photographing mountain obscuring fog obscuring and tide flattened grass if not for the geese. Minutes from the car I spot a good size gang of Canadians feeding just across a small stream from us. Aki and I respect their space, keeping on our side of the stream, far enough away to avoid flushing them. In the process we inconvenience a pair of ravens who make way for us by gliding with their feathered feet down, twenty feet from the trail. L1220008

The wetlands Canada geese, like many of their cousins in the rest of America, no longer migrate.  They have made themselves common by hanging around, filling the air with off-key singing, L1220084and covering the ground with their ropey scat. I still enjoy seeing their white cheeked heads on top of long black necks.  While admiring this local gang, another flight of Canadians, maybe 20, lifts off from Douglas Island and flies towards the locals and then makes a series of wide circles around Aki. I could be holding a tether to the lead goose. On their third flight around us I get it. Aki and I are standing on their intended landing field. Before we can move further out into the wetlands, they give up and fly to a spot on the other side of the already feeding geese. L1220135

For Eric

L1210994Flooding tides, rain, and a warm front worked to take the beauty away from this stream delta. Just last week translucent ice capped rounded beach rocks and white snow brought the innocent look of new creations. Now we have a false spring, all gray and brown. It suits the gulls and ducks (Barrow golden eyes, buffleheads, mallards) but not the eagles, who no longer gather near the stream. It suits those in transit through sadness.

L1210981Rain falls, a soft shower that substitutes for the tears I should be shedding for a recently dead friend. He, a geologist, would have been bounding around the beach gravel, quickly reading the history that I can only tread upon. Years ago, we stood on a nearby beach in night made darker by fog and rain, sharing a unexpected joy at being alive. Most people would have scrambled away to warmth and artificial light. Eric stayed for the wild comfort on offer. He would have found more wild comfort here. May he be at piece.L1220006

Two Sides to Solitude

P1050889While skiing along Eagle River at sunset, we stop to watch seals, driftwood, and small pans of ice move downriver on the ebbing tide. As I always do when seeing a seal in river in winter, I wonder why they enter salmon-less waters on the flood tide. Unlike me, they can’t be seeking solitude for they usually travel in company. My volunteer job at the local hospital this week made me look deeper at the meaning of solitude, which assumes the shape of loneliness for patients during slow moving weekend days. As long as solitude promises me peace through isolation I will seek it in the company of my little dog; hoping it’s isolation will provide curative rest if I ever spend the weekend in a hospital bed remembering a seal gazing up at me from river waters painted by a winter sunset. P1050890

Deer’s Dilemma

P1130206The promise of sunshine after weeks of wet gray skies enticed me to Gasteneau Meadow. I found the promise first fulfilled in a shallow pool of melt water formed on an icy road.  Sunshine and blue skies reflected from the pool, a scene made more dramatic by the pool’s gray, icy frame. Aki posed herself in the reflection, drawn by some smelly clue of an animal’s prior passage.

Sunshine never touched our faces or the surrounding snow for we visited after noon when the sun leaves Douglas Island. It did flood the snow covered line of mountains across the channel.

P1130181After finding easy going on the main Gasteneau Meadows trail I took a snowshoe trail deeper into the meadow where we could see the peaks unimpeded by the diminutive pines that struggle in poor soil. While the snow supported us, it couldn’t do the same for a deer. Its hooves cut deep gashes while moving across the meadow that morning. How odd for me to move freely when an animal born to the place could not. The deer trail paralleled that of the snowshoers but for a long time did not cross it. The deer should have found easier going by moving onto the snow packed by passing men. Later, down a section of the trail that gets less use by man, I found evidence that the deer finally moved onto the snowshoe path. Here, his hooves only sunk a few inches with every step. Does each passing person leave behind a smell? Does it build until wild things would rather struggle in soft snow than walk through it?  P1130191