Aki doesn’t want to be here. She lags behind as I try to lead her deeper into the Treadwell ruins. Each time I turn around she freezes and tries to stop me with a stare. Only when the invisible band that attaches us stretches too far does she slowly shorten the distance.
Maybe it’s the rain, which marks the end of a long, sunny stretch. It could be ghosts of those that lived and worked the mines before a cave in one hundred years ago shut everything down. If she is like me, she is displeased by the recent efforts with chainsaws to push the forest back from ruins that would otherwise crumble into earth.
Aki and I are on a pilgrimage. Today’s light snow won’t stop us, nor will the climb toward the Perseverance Basin. We do stop to watch a small group of mountain goats feeding along a Mt. Juneau waterfall. One is gone after two short leaps. The others are still feeding when the little dog and I return to the pilgrim business.
We climb the old mining road, skirting recent rockslides, leaning into the wind, when we round a point where birch trees sport swelling leaf buds. In minutes we arrive at our prize: a small patch of flowering purple saxifrage with roots jammed into a cliff-side crack. They provide the only joyful color in a muted landscape. In a week the flowers will shrivel to brown and, hopefully, wild columbines will already be building toward their showy bloom.
Today’s harsh, mid-day sun backlights Juneau’s homeless people and ravens to simple silhouettes. The same bright light makes Aki squint. But with a strong west wind blowing, no one can feel the warmth of the sun. This makes the ravens and the little dog cranky and the homeless subdued. A dozen of the latter gather together like a church community in Marine Park, wearing winter gear with sleeping bags over their legs. For them April might be the cruelest month for it’s tendency to deliver warm days followed by cold, never letting the vulnerable accept that the worst of winter is over. The forecast for tonight calls for snow.
The screech of a predator makes Aki jerk toward the noise. When two shotgun blasts follow, she looks to me for reassurance. We are on a wetlands trail near the airport. In minutes a morning flight to Seattle will fly over our heads. I want to tell Aki that the screech and bangs were meant to clear migratory birds from the runway.
The noisy show doesn’t stir a raft of American widgeons feeding on the nearby Mendenhall River. These migratory ducks are another sign of spring as is the daily shrinkage of night. Frost whitens the still dead stalks of grass that cover the wetlands. But tough shoots of green grass have already started their climb into summer.
Four minutes late, the southbound Alaska Airlines flight climbs off the runway and over our heads. Inside, one of Aki’s other humans looks down on familiar landmarks from an unfamiliar angle but we are too close to the flight path to be seen by any of the passengers.
Against my better judgment, Aki convinced me to bring her Frisbee along on this walk on the Rainforest Trail. The beach will be the problem. The little dog likes to wash off her toy. When distracted by a crow or even a wind gust she lets the Frisbee ride away on the tide. Not this time little dog.
On the forest trail to the beach I look for paper lantern shaped blueberry blossoms but find them still wrapped tight against the cold. We have better luck with the skunk cabbage, which appear as a clutch of boats being pulled across a mossy sea by yellow spinnaker sails. Territorial bird songs and the casual appearance of a robin confirm the death of winter.
The blacks and whites of crows and gulls provide most of the animated color on the beach. Aki holds her orange Frisbee in her mouth as I watch one of her other humans skip rocks on the sea surface. After the last one plunks beneath the water I spot the little dog looking toward the glacier. Between her and the river of ice floats her Frisbee. Thanks to tides and an onshore breeze Aki’s toy is on a course to a nearby beach. We walk over to the most likely landing zone and wait. It takes forty-five minutes for the Frisbee to make the passage. It lands near a beautiful sea anemone. But for Aki’s carelessness, I would have need seen it’s gold-flecked green tendrils.
The Gold Creek valley seems vacant today. A male grouse fills the air with hollow drumming that continues unanswered long enough to make me wonder of there are any of their female kind around. Empty cars wait in the trailhead parking lot. A few joggers trot past but Aki ignores them unless accompanied by another dog. It’s high noon a sunny Saturday. The trails should be crowded.
On the lower slope of Mt. Juneau, cotton-soft catkins and the fragile new growth of elder berry brush represent what we expect from spring: gentleness and hope. But, devil’s club plants send out their spring spikes, making sure that any touch will bring misery, reminding us of the hard side of the season.
The kind woman with binoculars doesn’t object when Aki runs up to her and barks a hello. But when she reaches down to pet the little dog Aki is already back at my side. The lady returns her attention upward to watch downy woodpeckers hammer the trailside spruce. I ask for her morning bird count. “Four northern shovelers and a couple of plovers,” is her reply. She looks frail enough to be blow away by the strong off shore wind that reaches us even in this forested part of the trail to Boy Scout Beach. But she doesn’t complain; seems happy to share the woodpeckers with us.
The morning’s strong ebb tide has shrunk Eagle River and exposed sand bars between us and the now turbulent surface of Lynn Canal. Using my old camera as a telescope, I find a wealth of waterfowl and shore birds. Canada geese and ducks (golden eyes, buffleheads, mallards, scaulps, mergansers) fish wind-protected sections of the river for sea going salmon fry. Some geese have flattened themselves against the mud bar. Others wander the exposed flats. Is this what the African Serengeti is like little dog?
We arrive at the beach where wind gusts make Aki jumpy. Rather than stay for more punishment, we climb over a berm and drop down onto a meadow where a score of American robins hunt for food. I am surprised to see such a large flock of robins because our neighborhood birds are already building nests. These guys must be refueling for the next leg north.