After a holiday season spent under gray skies, trying to dig beauty out of low contrast grays, this cloudless, sunny day is an appreciated gift. Even better, the rain that damped Chicken Ridge on Christmas fell as snow on the lands drained by Eagle River. Aki explodes out of the car after we drop out of the river of cars heading out Juneau’s only real road. I am not sure where, on the remaining fourteen miles of it, they are going to park. Maybe they are driven by people brought here to work for a legislator from one of those car-centered cultures like Los Angeles or Anchorage. Maybe they just need to drive somewhere, if only to feel their right foot on the gas pedal, their hands on a steering wheel.
A stiff crust covers the snow so we can explore off the usual paths. Aki sniffs at recent trails left by a porcupine, a fox, and a coyote. No human or dog has come this way since the last snow. Shafts of sunlight spotlight the beardlike lichen that almost covers the meadow’s mountain hemlocks but mostly we walk in the shade. At the head of a tiny iced over stream, sunlight turns a free standing spruce into a candle. Aki and I approach it like two wise men. The little poodle mix is on the coyote’s trail but loses it where her wild cousin crossed the stream ice. Up close, I understand that even with its halo, our oracle is only a dying tree. Suddenly I realize that I have been breaking through the crust and abrasive snow has worked its way into my new waterproof boots. I’m 100 meters from the packed trail and face a hard job getting off the softening meadow. I turn toward the tree when I reach the trail and am pleased to see that it still shines like the Spirit of Christmas.