The mallards are mellow today. We spot a small raft of them on a small beaver pond. The move away from the little dog and I, but slowly, like they don’t Aki to think that she discomforts them. Even the Harlequin ducks ignore us, hugging the beach that we walk along after exiting the woods. Only a seal seems to notice the little dog and I. It keeps its all-too-sad eyes on Aki like an urchin starring through a sweet shop window. We walk in the gray but across Lynn Canal strong sunlight patterns the Chilkat Mountains with darks and lights shapes.
Aki and I wander around a now-empty Mendenhall Campground. In a normal, snowy winter, cross-country skiers would be whipping past us. But this is not a normal winter. In a few months the place will be jammed with motor homes and tent campers. Today, even through it offers a chance to walk under full sun in spring-like temperatures, the campground is empty of all but the little dog and I.
Aki hunts for scent and snacks dropped by other dog walkers. I philosophize. Aki, there are two kinds of people—clumpers and loners. The clumpers gather with their kind, like those that form an ant-like line on the trail to the glacial ice cave. Loners, we like to stroll alone through beauty. Neither clumper nor loner she, the little dog ignores me. She is happy when alone with me and happy when surrounded by other dogs.
I choose this hike through the Treadwell ruins for convenience. We usually save the trail for days when the large cottonwoods and old mining buildings are needed to protect us from wind-driven rain or snow. This morning, sunshine reaches through the winter-sparse canopy to light up the electric green tree moss and enflame the ends of the little dog’s fine hair to make visible her aura.
The beach is empty when we reach it. Two ravens burst from their roosts across the glory hole and fly over our heads. Must be a slow day for corvids. I look without success for the seal that usually swims off the beach but find only a scoter and one Barrow golden eye. Because the flooded glory hole looks tropical on a sunny day like this, I lead Aki up a trail leading to a cliff edge that will offer us the perfect view of its water. Far down below the cliff edge, the seal surfaces out of the green of the hole and looks at the beach where we were buzzed by the ravens. I am surprised at how long the seal stays on the surface until it turns and looks directly at us and slips back into the hole. Can a seal see a poodle and her human a quarter-mile away? The answer must be “yes.” It’s the only explanation for the seal’s behavior.
Aki and I head out the road. That’ local lingo for driving forty-miles to the north end of the Juneau road system. The little dog is getting frustrated because I stop often to take pictures of the spruce-green Lynn Canal islands back-dropped by the white frosted Chilkat Mountains. She starts squealing when I stop to photograph Canada geese near Eagle River. Because of the birds, Aki has to stay in the car.
When we finally reach the Camping Cove trailhead, the poodle-mix flies out of the car. I follow her down a newly graveled trail that winds to the beach through a mature alder grove. It’s the perfect day for this walk, which takes us along beaches and over the headlands that connect them. Perfect because last night’s cold temperatures have firmed up the boggy portions of the trail. Excellent because full sun floods the beaches with light, making the surf line burn with a silver light.
It’s not all sweetness and light. The little dog disappears and then returns with a “he will never know” look on her face. In the car I smell the evidence. She rolled in something long dead. I see bath time in her near future.