This afternoon’s sun shines full on Mount Juneau but not on me. Is this what the weatherman meant when he predicted party cloudy skies? I am not the only one in shade. The sun doesn’t reach a gull as it squats on one of our downtown light stands. It doesn’t shine on the raven that lands a few feet from the gull. When raven points its beak at gull, the shier bird flinches, then drops into a pre-flight crouch. Raven looks away. So does gull. Raven flies away. Gull stays.
Puzzled, I walk onto the steamship dock and find most of the day’s beauty trapped in water between the old seaplane hanger and a gravel barge. If Florence had been located in our rain forest, its renaissance church ceilings would have been painted to look like the channel’s sky reflection. Fine ocean waves distort the mirrored texture of sunlit clouds and obscure an unexpected patch of blue sky.
No one would write a homesick song about the Eagle River meadows today. Rain, wind and current provide the only moment before the little dog and I start down an icy trail. I stop where we once watch mergansers and golden eye ducks rotate around an eddy, peer where harbor seals spy-hopped to get a better look at Aki, search the meadow where we found occupied by grumbling geese. The little dog manages to attract the negative attention of a squirrel, but, maybe made grumpy by the rain, it soon loses interest in us.
The tide if out so we can see sand bars at the river’s mouth. Two eagles lift off the sand and fly into a nearby spruce tree. When we pass it on the way to the beach, the big birds fly over our heads and out to tide’s edge. One settles onto a driftwood perch. The other dives on him. The first eagle holds on to its perch as now the incoming tidal flow surrounds it and the other one manages to find a similar perch fifty feet away. Both ignore a third eagle’s attempt to drive them off. Surrounded by a cloud of gulls, they hunch in the rain and wait for the tide to deliver dinner.
Last night’s windstorm littered the Treadwell ruins with broken branches. But now only rain falls on the little dog and I. The place seems empty. A croaking raven hides in the woods and the neighborhood eagles and ducks have been blown off the channel. Only a seal breaks the monotony of green and gray. He holds his head above the channel surface, like us, looking for some action.
A spring-like breakup continues on Mendenhall Lake. The ice on the lakeside trail that made talking dangerous just three days ago is gone. Rainwater pools on the lake ice, Cracks and open water are sure to follow unless winter returns. The most dramatic change is in the icebergs. The less-dense ones have softened until they look like sculptures of turquoise snow. One, fashioned on the denser old ice looks like the armored spine of a submerged dragon. Above all this melting, ghosts of fog move with purpose, caressing the bald rock hills recently exposed by the retreating glacier. Along the shore a little poodle mix trots with her Frisbee in her mouth.
This morning’s soaking rain has turned the path down to Mendenhall Lake into an Olympic-grade bobsled run. At its base a young women in white tights, black leotard, her hair in a dancer’s bun, strikes an arabesque on a patch of snow. She seems as unaffected by the cold and rain as the glacier that provides her backdrop. Aki peers at the apparition, charges to a point a few feet away, then sniffs. I want to take the young woman’s picture or at least watch her dance. But whatever is going on, it has the feel of a private moment. So we slip and slide down to the lake where a raven leads us toward the glacier with that breed’s little hopping dance.
I don’t expect much drama on our Downtown walk. Because it offers a banquet of smells and even the odd chance for a scrap of food, Aki loves our route. I enjoy the way Gold Street plunges from Chicken Ridge and then jams into Gastineau Street, with its views of the channel, the backs of the Alaska Hotel, and the ruins of the old AJ Mine.
Even with the tourists ships in warmer waters, the whales in Hawaii, and our bears asleep, I find some visual drama. But, not from he Gastineau Street ravens, who drip casualness from their alder perches above the homeless shelter. But those that cruise the empty docks are jumpy and quick to fly. So are the gulls.
After climbing Main Street, past the capitol building, to Chicken Ridge we stumble on an aerial dog flight between our neighborhood eagles and ravens. The eagles look like they are hunting. Above then, four ravens make spiral climbs and then dive on the poachers. As is almost always the case, the ravens drive the eagles from their sky.
Rain and wind, not a snow flake in sight, but we have solitude on this North Douglas beach walk. It’s high tide on a windy day so the waves reach almost to the beach grass. Gulls hunker at the edge of the grass, like they are waiting for a favorite restaurant to open. In a sense, they are. In a few hours the retreating tide will expose gull-tasty goodies battered to the surface by the surf.
Aki has never been so close to a surf line. The little dog cringes at my feet, then shoots ahead to where she can escape onto the grass. Even though I know better, I feel a tinge of fear when, near me, a two-foot high breaker rakes back beach gavel in its undertow. “Wait for me little dog.”
Aki and I walk on a snow-covered meadow barely able to support my weight. The little dog, she flies across it. But I break through the crust on every fourth step. Yesterday, a deer struggled along the meadow’s edge, its hooves plunging five inches or more on each step. I follow its tracks until Aki starts to bark at a spot in the forest ahead of us. The poodle-mix is edgy after I veer off the deer trail.
The sky is also edgy, changeable. When we arrived it was filled with clouds and fog. Now the sun has opened up a blue wound in the gray and sparkles on snow-covered alders and willows. It puts me on edge. I’d be comfortable in the calming gray, maybe a little joyful under sunny skies. But the meadow whipsaws back and forth between joy and sorrow, mimicking a wake.
You’d think that grey days, like this one, would be perfect for grieving. But I feel more joy than sorrow even through a friend and mentor died yesterday. Earlier, when confined with people who did not know her, I felt the expected sadness. But here, on a beach made musical by waves, with the Chilkat Mountains managing to glow under storm clouds, I think of the love she gracefully gave and received. I smile remembering that when she recited her poetry, Eva only spoke the truth.
This morning, Aki and her two humans cruised the semi-frozen wetlands. At the grassland’s edge, the ebbing tide revealed great expanses of sand over which the poodle-mix chased her Frisbee. A great gathering of Canada geese cackled together near Sunny Point, a name made ironic by the flat gray light and clouds that distributed snow pellets on Aki’s gray curls. Eagles, chased from the dump by cracker shells flew over the geese, set some to flight. Most of the Canadians stayed on the ground as did a single swan, its white-feathered body drawing my attention like a candle flame would on a dark night. The geese are local boys, commonly seen on this broad stretch of grassland. But a swan alone in mid-winter is a weather omen, sign of climate change, or just a confused bird.