Yesterday, while Aki walked a Juneau Trail with a dog buddy, I strolled through the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Treating the main hallways as rain forest trails, I turned off them often to explore one of the rat-warren gallery’s rooms, like the one with the Turners or the hard to spot one with the Vermeer painting of the fop with a fuzzy red beret. The paintings’ drama and rich colors reminded me of Outer Point on the high contrast days of spring or a dying winter afternoon along Eagle River.
Remembering it from an earlier visit, I made an expedition into the basement where they keep the Degas ballerina sculptures and some plasters by Rodin. Even these reminded me of the rain forest with its complex shapes and falling leaves yielding to a strong wind.
This afternoon, an hour after our return flight to Juneau landed, the little dog and I are alone on the Lower Fish Creek Trail. Instead of watchful guards we have an eagle that keeps us honest with its screams. I remember a walk I took a few days before when Aki’s other human and I crossed New York’s Central Park to reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like it does over our glacial moraine, the sun broke through clouds to enrich the yellows and oranges leaves of trees along the trail. We passed a women turned away from the beauty to concentrate on her cell phone conversation while two men waited patiently for their leashed dog to evacuate its bowels.
Through air cold enough to silence the waterfalls, Aki and I walk along Gold Creek. This time of year, none of today’s sunlight will reach the trail. It’s a day to appreciate ice.
The little one doesn’t know or care at what temperature waterfalls freeze solid. The fills her brain with the history of all the places she has marked with scent. Aki loves this trail because of all the other dogs that mark it. Today she gets to flirt with several younger dogs. I stop often to enjoy ice sculptures that have formed in slow moving creeks and icicles hanging off moist valley walls. Even in the daylong dusk, they faintly glow.
This is our first return to the Troll Woods since the bear incident. That ended with a curious black bear peering down at us from atop a spruce tree. Now, hopefully, the cold that has iced over the ponds and flooded the moraine trails has also driven the bears into hibernation.
The rising sun can’t reach the first section we cross but its reflected power brightens the frost feathers from gray to a subtle white color. Ahead, Aki trots towards a sun-washed portion of the trail. But I want to linger in the calm dusk knowing that I won’t be able to appreciate its beauty after seeing the woods in full sun
On these early winter mornings, the sun paints the rainforest its narrowest brush. Aki and I will spend most of this walk through it on ground where last night’s frost waits to melt when exposed to sunlight. On the border of meadow and forest, the frost may thicken for weeks on Labrador tea and lingonberry plants without challenge from the sun.
It’s low tide when we reach the beach where cold had edged tide pools with rime ice. Frost outlines the iodine-brown fronds of seaweed. I follow Aki to a sunny stretch of the beach and expect some warmth from the sun but it only makes me squint.
Back on the meadow behind the beach, I try Aki’s patience by waiting for sunlight to reach a patch of lingonberry brush. Somehow, three of the dark-red berries have survived the pickers and birds. The one I pluck tastes almost sweet and as complicated as a good red wine. Then, the sun glistens the scene.
Today is Aki’s tenth birthday. We celebrate on the glacial moraine. A favorite trail is almost empty even though it’s sunny and frost feathers cover every stone, fallen leaf, and blade of grass.
Wafer-thin ice covers Mendenhall Lake except where Steep Creek flows into it. At least four late-run sockeye salmon recently entered the stream. Three have taken up station on one end of the first beaver pond. A fourth is dead at the feet a bald eagle that is busy ripping off strips of salmon flesh with its orange beak. In seconds three other eagles land. The first bird chases off one but the other hangs about. Two magpies flutter around the feast but have to settle for scraps that have landed a safe distance from the eagles. Soon raven will push away the magpies and reach a détente with the bigger birds.
Aki, she ignores the bickering birds but not the scent of something she catches after we have moved away from the lake. At first oblivious, I trod on until I sense her absence. Turning, I see her standing stiff, noise wrinkling in caution. A line of what looks like wolf tracks lead from her to me. I back track and take an alternative way to the car with my little protector.
Aki and I race through Treadwell to reach the beach before Sheep Mountain loses the afternoon light. It’s our first walk since her other human and I flew down to Seattle on Friday. Since then I’ve been racing—to board our flight, rent a car, avoid rush hour traffic (failed effort), catch multiple ferries, and to make a wedding on time. On San Juan Island, we watched two people we first knew as children race into their adult lives. Then we raced back to Juneau. I’m tired of city traffic, crowds, and airports. Mainly, I am tired of racing.
It’s been raining in Juneau since Election Day. The forecast calls for more of the same for the next week. Today, it is also windy. Aki and I enjoy a calm respite on the forest trail near Outer Point. We pass several new downed spruce, all toppled by recent storm winds. One floods the trail with resin perfume. The usual gang of gulls occupies the beach when we reach it. Just off shore surf scoters and harlequin ducks fish in a protective storm lee like they did yesterday, last week, last month. Nothing short of a shotgun blast can disturb them. Aki wants to return to the dark woods and then home. But I still linger in the calm.