Mendenhall lake is a peaceful place this morning: silent, wet and gray except for the aquamarine glacial ice. The lake ice is useless for skiing after a day or two of rain. We had better success on the campground trails. Aki walks chest deep in slush, apparently ready to give the lake a try. But her people find it enough to stand near the shore and watch the glacier disappear behind a descending cloud.
Winter left this morning,
ending her February visit to town.
She flew in angry with wind
cold as the arctic.
We welcomed her
because she promised to cover our ski trails with snow.
But she had a bad flight from Boston
where they didn’t appreciate her white beauty.
She discharged her anger by hammering us for days
with cold Taku winds
that stirred the dust on downtown streets
but brought no snow. After mellowing,
she released flurries
onto ground cooled by her gentle caress.
Winter left this morning
as her snowflakes soften into rain.
After wishing her well, Aki and I slogged
through deep snow over a mountain meadow
before it melts under an approaching wet storm.
pay us at least one more visit
before the crocus bloom
Aki wears herself out trying to herd her humans. They have spread out over the flatness of Mendenhall Lake. One powers forward on her jet skis. The other doddles several hundred meters away, trying to take a photograph that might convince someone that shafts of morning sunlight can paint islands of bright beauty on a sea of snowy spruce trees.
The recent wind-enhanced cold has given way to a day in the mid-teens. Aki and I walk, some might say tromp, along the edge of Mendenhall Lake with plans for a large loop through the glacial moraine. There is enough snow on the trail for a ski but the slow pace forced by the snow cover leads to contemplation. Aki contemplates the absence of other dogs or even good smells. Once, after burying her face in the soft snow, she stared at me, as if sending her thoughts to one with lesser mental powers. I use my height advantage (so there little poodle) to watch a line of supplicants heading toward the glacial ice cave. I would ask Aki what draws them to the cold space but she would think me even more a fool. In time I figure it out for myself. For most of the year those without wings, or willingness to take the risky overland trail, can never touch the glacier. We can only study from across the lake, the river of ice’s blue color fade and strengthen in our ever-changing light.
(Photo taken at another time and place)
On Chicken Ridge, it’s 6 degrees F. and a twenty knot wind makes exposed skin respond like its fifteen below. Inside, Aki stares at me as I spread peanut butter over another sourdough blueberry pancake. She must want some peanut butter. No dog would want to go on a morning walk, not in this weather. The little dog continues to stalk me around the house, discouraging any thought of me catching the last bit of the Liverpool-Everton derby on the TV. Okay, Aki, I need to go the Good Hardware anyway. You can come.
Outside, both of us dressed for the cold, Aki sniffs and pees, as usual until a strong gust catches her with her in mid-squat. She snaps her head into the wind and stares. Tough little pup. With the winds mostly at our backs we cruise down to the hardware store down near Gastineau Channel and find the door lock. A sign informs the one of that can read, “Closed, Big Going Out of Business Sale on February 12.” Aki, the one who can’t read, plants herself at the door and waits for me to open it. In time I convince her that no one is within to give her the expected dog treat.
We walk back up the hill, wind now in our faces; me wishing that I had brought a scarf; Aki knowing that she has been cheated out of a treat. We pass the Salvation Army store and come up against a gang of least twenty ravens squatting against the cold near the small hydro plant on Capital Street. The sun has come out, which brings out the purple sheen in the ravens’ feathers. Aki, shoulders hunched against the wind, powers along the conclave’s edge. Except for he two in her path, the big birds hold their ground. Even the two in her path only flit a few feet to right so we can pass.
Aki and ravens have a difficult relationship so this calm passage through their midst’s surprises me. Aki barks her resentment when ravens prowl in her yard. Just last week a raven swooped down on Aki and then, as the little dog followed, flew off over a busy highway. If she hadn’t come back when I called her, Aki would have been smashed flat by a car. They just don’t like each other. Perhaps, this morning, it is just too cold for combat.
We woke this morning to light snow falling, a thermometer reading of 7 degrees F. (minus 14 C,), and a thirty-mile an hour wind that hammered Chicken Ridge. At this temperature, the snow lacks the weight to resist wind. It just drifts away. The house humans dress in our old dog mushing clothes, stuff Aki into a doggie version of Walls insulated overalls, and head north to the Eagle River. On the road, our cross country skis rattle in their rack in wind that shakes our Subaru like a martini. The little poodle mix whines as she rides like she is in a hurry to herd her people together on the ski trail.
I spot the sun’s ghost, a yellowish disk softened by blowing snow, high above the river. Once on skis, the stiff wind pushes me over snow now covered with forest debris ripped from trees by last night’s 70 knot winds. That ends as soon as we enter the sheltering forest, which protects us from the worst of the wind. If it were warmer, I would have taken more pictures of the river filled with soft ice pans or clouds of snow not left to settle on the riverine meadow.
The air is clear blue and cold above Mendenhall Lake when we step into our skis. The sun rose while Aki ran circles around the car: her potty dance. Now, wearing her pink puffy vest, she hunches up as we adjust jackets and gloves before moving toward the glacier. Wind rises with the sun but can’t make up its mind as to direction. Our eyes water and a large tear, the size of a raindrop, freezes on my human partner’s cheek. I ignore the metaphor, watch a streak of sunshine move down the glacial ice, consider whether great natural beauty can really stimulate tears, think, “nah,” and ski on.
We take advantage of the uniform snow surface on the lake to make a beeline toward the lake’s sunny side. I stop to photograph a fracture line in the ice that runs almost to the glacier. Here is another metaphor but I am too cold to care. The wind now blows hard off the Juneau Ice Fields. It streams loose snow off the Mendenhall Towers and sends white spindrifts around my legs and over the grooved trail. We fly, without effort back toward Skater’s Cabin, where we started. Another metaphor with options: Glacial wind scouring away the rift raft or returning the speed of youth.
I dragged Aki onto this windy, if sunny meadow, to look for a lost ice gripper. The little dog is a good sport about it but does look stunned each time a forty-knot gust slams into her 9.9 pound body. We retrace where we walked the day I lost one of my grippers but can’t find it. When we cross the grooved trail left by a four wheel ATV I wonder it the damage was done by the same Yob who mucked up the meadow we walked over in the fog last week. Those tracks saddened and even angered me but the similar ones that mar this sun drenched meadow today are easier to accept.