During this cusp of winter, rain forest natives offer hope of spring. Blue berry brush blush to an almost purple shade of red as their leaf buds swell and crack open. The willow branches turn orange before leafing out. Even the canopies of red alder trees show color. This morning, as sunshine burns the fog out of the Gold Creek Valley, only the balsam poplar still wear winter colors. They stand with their gray and black bones exposed, as they have since stripped of yellow leaves last fall.
The poplar bones emergence from fog is the most beautiful seen so far today. When we left home, the gray still closed off Chicken Ridge but we could see blue sky breaking out above Douglas Island. Something animated the fog. Discrete patches climbed between the spruce trees on Mt. Roberts while a cylinder of grey hovered on the edge of the Franklin Street stairs. Now I wonder if animation is the last step before dissipation in the life of fog.
We climb above the creek on a path that offers views of mountains over the stoic poplars. Mr. Roberts and its buddies, freshly dusted by last night’s snows, muscle their way out of the dying cloud clover. With eyes trained by a week of rain and cloud diminished light, the mountains look too rich, like the window display of a Swedish konditori. Bald eagles add to the opulence of scene. Several sun themselves in trailside poplar trees. We drop back to the creek and find four more around something emerging from the snow. Jumpy, they fly into separate poplars to wait for us to leave.
I cheer on blueberries and that the other Southeast plants that have already committed to spring. But I respect the poplars’ reticence. They teach patience and hope. The trees will wait with knurled limbs exposed until the northern tilt of the earth banishes frost. Then, during the first warm days of summer they become natural censers. Their leaf buds will swell and burst to perfume Downtown Juneau with balsam incense.