If we hadn’t lingered over breakfast, if the onshore flow had held off a few more hours, if the globe isn’t warming, we could enjoy the return of winter longer. But it is already raining on this mountain meadow. But, Aki finds enough snow to slide in as she chases after her Frisbee. Rain has yet to wash away the tracks of a coyote that crossed ours more than a half-dozen times. We can still make out sign of a squirrel’s quick dash from tree cover and tracks of snowshoe hares. One of the hares crossed the trail just before we arrived so we know it survived the coyote.
It’s 12:30 in the afternoon but no sun reaches the little dog or I in Gold Creek valley. We stood in eye squinting light just minutes ago. The sun just dropped before a spruce-lined ridge, backlighting a dozen of the tall trees so they glow like Greek gods. While Aki divines meaning in signs left by other dogs, I think of Orfeo. Aki missed out on the local performance of that opera by Monteverdi. The gods portrayed cast down favors and torment like today’s sun distributes light on the south-facing side of Mount Juneau.
It’s good to see the mountains’ white silhouette against today’s blue sky. The sun doesn’t reach us on the moraine where we walk on barely-frozen ground. Across the ice-covered lake, it slams into the snowy peaks and dull-white glacial ice. Aki cares only for her beloved orange Frisbee. She chases it again and again down the beach. At a stream draining a big beaver dam the little dog drops her sand-covered toy into the water. For a moment she watches it float downstream where it might disappear under the lake ice. She has lost other Frisbees this way. But today she snatches it and carries it to my feet with a silent demand to renew the game of catch and release.
Aki may be a deep file—one deep enough to remember the eagles that usually roost in the spruce trees along the lower end of the Mendenhall River. Rather than dash around the expanse of sand that I cross, she trots over the rough gravel near the tree line. When I stop to examine something, she appears briefly at my feet, then returns to the safer path along the trees.
There are eagles but they are heard, but not seen. A scattering of gulls are spread out like shy bathers on a summer beach. They tolerate the little dog and I, as well as a single raven that follows us down the river to its mouth at Fritz Cove.
It’s Valentine’s Day but Aki isn’t finding romance or even friendship on the Sheep Creek delta. I can’t figure out why we are alone. There is cloud cover but no rain or wind. The sun is a silver disk seen easily through the gray overcast. Racing the incoming tide, we walk out to the channel then take a normally flooded path around two pothole lakes. Each reflects Mount Jumbo, today looking like a mother of the bride in her cloud shawl, white top, and silver-sun tiara.
Aki disappears into the beach grass and comes back with a tail-wagging husky dog. My little poodle-mix gives out a series of high-pitched yelps and runs tight circles in the damp beach sand. Her new friend stands, looking a little confused. But, he follows us back to the car. Aki and he pee on the same patch of grass (a symbolic act?) and part.
This is not a day for visual treats. Winter beauty has melted from the rain forest. Clouds block mountain views. Wind shatters the reflective surfaces of a river diminished by the ebbing tide. Only a landing raven provides something to photograph. This doesn’t bother the little dog as she sniffs a pile of fresh wolf scat textured by snowshoe hare fur. I concentrate on the sound of the wind muscling through the old growth canopy that could be a song sung by baritone ghosts. Aki, a poodle-mix known to bark at empty places, might see the ghosts I miss but she doesn’t react to this song. Instead, she dashes ahead to a junction and stands a few feet up the Yankee Basin trail. She wants to follow the wolf into wilder woods, maybe taste snowshoe hare meat.
Aki is trying to use her psychic powers again. She stops at each trail junction and forms a resolute, staring statue with a snout that points in her preferred direction. If I take her path of choice, she scoots past me and sniffs her way to the next trail junction. When I choose poorly, the little dog holds her ground, looking like a tiny Jedi that hasn’t mastered mind tricks. Just before I move out of her sight, she will dash up, give what looks like a derisive look, and forge ahead to the next junction. When we reach the narrow Gold Creek Bridge, the little dog throws on the brakes. I know from past walks down this trail, that Aki will not cross the bridge on her own so I carry her across. Normally she does a little victory trot down the trail after I set her on the ground. But today she waits for me to take the lead—a sure sign that she smells the bear that crossed this ground during the night.