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.
We are back in beaver country where there is still snow on the ground. Low clouds soften the mountain views, forcing me to concentrate on the close-in beauty. The boot prints of someone willing to test the rotten lake ice lead toward deep water and I wonder why. There are no other tracks, not even the paw prints of a water-loving Lab. Why did this guy chance a cold dunking? The local beavers wouldn’t take such a risk, even in their logging operations. They never chew all the way through a standing tree, always leave a thin core of trunk that will snap in the next strong wind.
Aki and I join a line of dogs and owners on the trail from Downtown Juneau to the old Perseverance mining district. At the upper end of craftsmen homes on Basin Road, we passed under a light standard occupied by two ravens. The poodle-mix and I must walk in rain but the ravens could fly in less than a minute to the snow line. Instead they hang out on their light standard, commenting in raven speak on we earthbound travelers. The sleek, black birds turn their back when I stop to listen and croak out something that sounds like, “the nerve of that guy and his little overdressed dog.”
Aki and I break out of the old growth, after maneuvering the latest wind-fallen hemlock, and spot a line of sunlit gulls that shine like a string of white lights strung over dark water. Other shafts of light enrich the color of the spruce and hemlock on Shaman Island. Another makes the new snow on an Admiralty Island mountain sparkle.
To appreciate the emotional impact of one of these rain-forest winter breakouts, imagine the sudden appearance of something joyful, say a child’s smile, during your workday. You are content with the gray nine to five life, appreciate the warmth generated by co-worker relationships and positive evaluations, until the child laughs, then flashes that smile. That how today’s sudden appearance of sun light and blue skies hits me today.
The forecast is for more rain, clouds, and fog—a return to winter’s more subtle beauty. We will be able to appreciate the subtleties, thanks to this unexpected release of light.