This morning Aki again exhibits her fascination with land otters. I just stopped trying to ski on a mostly bare meadow normally covered with deep snow this time of year. Now, I’m walking into the otter country. Aki is ahead, already on thinning stream ice, nose now, tail up, temporarily deaf to my command to return.
This is not a life or death situation but I am still worried. If she brakes through the ice, I can rescue her. But, what if she noses into one of their den doors? She does look lovely in the early morning sun, which highlights the edges of her fur, covering her with an aura of light. The sun does the same thing and a little more to the streamside willows and alders. They glow and sparkle.
Giving up, I turn and walk toward the big beaver house neared their ruined dam, stretching to the braking point the invisible tether that connects me to the little dog. In seconds she snaps back and walks beside me on the way to the abandoned beaver town.
I tell myself to remember the way the pebbles, frozen together by last might’s freeze, slowly give way beneath my boots. Otherwise the memory of the sensation will disappear under the deluge of Technicolor images I see every time I look out to sea.
Aki and I walk toward Camping Cove over sunny beaches and through dappled, forested headlands. Inshore barrier islands, thick with old growth spruce and hemlock trees, frame views of Lynn Canal and the snow covered Chilkat Mountains.
Aki flushes a grouse, her first. I watch it fly into a snag where it seems to disappear into the rough bark. Later we will hear the slow hammering sound of a woodpecker. More surprising, I hear the long tones of a varied thrush. The thrush song, heard on a sunny day, while standing on bare trail, might be the final confirmation of winter’s end. The bird might have been fooled by the swelling leaf buds on spring-green blue berry brush. We might have more ice and snow. Winter can’t be over. There is still more three weeks before the spring equinox.
Across the channel from the Treadwell ruins, the boring buildings on the Rock Dump port form a community of colored boxes. Cheap and almost durable, they do the job, but nothing more; make no attempt to lift a viewer’s spirits. On the Treadwell side, the forces of decay have nibbled away at the symmetry of wooden pilings so they now squat like Naguchi inspired chess pieces on the exposed sand. In the woods, similar forces pit complex patterns into the iron pipes, gears, and valves that once served the gold mine. They even attack alder and cottonwood trees by covering graceful limbs with electric green moss. On the channel, decay delivers more beauty than architects. If only we could harness decay or organize bacteria into flying squadrons of artists.
Nothing enhances the natural beauty of the rain forest today. Our latest extended thaw and rain melted away all winter enhancements. We are a month away from spring flowers and bird song. Looking into the forest from the beach is like watching a movie star buying butter at the store. She walks the dairy aisle in mom jeans and a tee shirt, not the figure enhancing dresses she wears for the cameras, but her grace of movement still demands attention. Even with her face bare, the store clerk is drawn to the expression in her eyes. Likewise, the forest that Aki and I walk through this morning has the fine bone structure of old growth spruce, genuine sparkle of rain drops striking a forest pond, and a sense of peace hard to find in Hollywood.
From the apex of the Gastineau Channel Bridge, I can see where we started this walk in Treadwell and Chicken Ridge, where we will end. Aki, who showed nonchalance during the walk from Douglas town along a busy highway, wants off this bridge. She hugs the concrete divider that separates pedestrians from vehicle traffic because it is as far as she can get from the bridge edge. She must share my discomfort at walking along the edge of empty space.
Low clouds and fog diminish the view. They may burn off like yesterday. I want to stop here on the high point of the bridge and wait for the sun to power through but Aki needs to push on so we do—off the bridge, through the almost vacant flats, then up the steep angles of Goldbelt to home.
Clarity of light and a sense of ground relaxing; those are the things I appreciate this morning on the Fish Creek delta. The ground is still solid thanks the last night’s freeze but there is no wind and the temperature is climbing above 40 degrees F. Some ice covers parts of the pond but the rest of winter’s work lays scattered in sharp-sided chunks of crystal on the golden meadow’s grass.
Aki runs this way and that, ears flapping, chasing ghosts. I hear a splash and think of the otter that tried to coax her onto the pond ice during our last visit. Opaque fog rises from the meadows like cold smoke. The little dog gives up on a promising scent to follow me out to the creek mouth where the snow-white Mendenhall Towers seem to be showing off in the morning sun. This is what full sun exposure can do to a rain forest dweller—it can turn us anthropomorphic. It makes me want to think of God as a human mother figure because this morning of Hers has given me comfort, beauty, and peace.
Early on this walk up the Perseverance Trail we stumble upon grottos of moss blocked off the forest by icicle bars. They made a gaudy display on an otherwise low contrast gray day. Aki waits impatiently for me to take a few pictures. For one with her interests and nasal talents, this is an abundant and rich place. The snow cover is gone but not the offal messages left by animals during winter thaws. When we leave the visual beauty spot, the little poodle mix twitches from other dogs’ pee to poop and back. She shows no joy, just a serious intent to catalogue all the smells in case winter returns before she can.
It may be Shrove Tuesday but we missed Marti Gras along the Eagle River. The tracks of yesterday’s skiers mark the wet snow trail like wounds. The paws of their dogs punched through the classic tracks. Is this what the New Orleans devout feel like on Ash Wednesday morning as they work their way through Fat Tuesday street trash to get marked with ashes? Aki is in a party mood, dashing back and forth between her humans undistracted by other dogs or skiers. At the price of wet feet, I follow Aki down the trail and find the skiing good and a wet beauty when the fog releases mountain views.
Winter seems terminal today: snow almost gone from the moraine and trail ice already turned to a leaky bowl of melt water. If I lived in an information vacuum, I’d only know of this winter’s deaths and resurrections; how it grows with blizzards and shrinks in a following onshore flow. Since our house is wired to the grid, I know the truth. Winter flits between autumn and spring, riding the jet stream out of his Alaska home to places like Maine where he has worn out his welcome. He ignores our glacier’s need of snow but clogs Atlantic streets with it. Oh sure, winter visits the folks at home when it can, throwing around a little freeze here, a few inches of snow there, before returning to places where they feature him on the nightly news. Son, settle down and come home.
When the wind throws rain against our windows like it does this morning, I’d rather stay home and read than take the little dog out for a walk. She follows me around, trying to control me with doggie esp. I give in, wrap her in fleece and me in a tent like combination of parka and rain pants. Outside, she flinches in the wind, drops down her muzzle, and powers past the old Alaska mansions on Chicken Ridge. We walk up Basin Road, with its snake line of Craftsmen homes into the steep sided valley drained by Gold Creek. I hold a bag of her poop in one hand where it will stay until we reach a trashcan. With the other, I try to focus the camera on water dripping from a dying ice formation. This wet, windy day has produced something other than malaise and snow melt. There is beauty here on a cusp of freezing and thaw: water on ice infused with winter light.