Aki loves the human friend we walk with today. She squeals when I drive up to his house and spends the whole ride to the trailhead on his lap. The little dog walks attentively at his side as we travel the length of the Auk Rec trail.
The resident clutch of harlequin ducks are in their winter place just off shore of the mouth of a small streams. Down beach from them a school of gulls sulks at the mouth of another stream. Last week Typhoon Lan rains turned the normally gentle streams into eroding firehoses, cutting deep channels into the beach gravel and exposing roots of tough beach grass. But shafts of silver light pouring from the marine layer seem to bless the storm tired land. Sunlight even manages to illuminate yellow stands of dogwood and Mt. ash trees to remind us of why we love the rain forest.
Even with all this beauty, the human conversation turns to the effects of mine tailing stacking on marine life. As we watch harlequins, buffleheads, and golden eye ducks dive on small fish, my friend tells me about the heavy metal concentrations being found in seals. As if on queue, a Steller sea lion surfaces just off Pt. Louisa to disturb the glide of a loon. The descendents of the Tlingit people who once lived above these beaches still harvest seals for meat. Rich in protein and vitamins, they feed it to their children.
In a gray interlude between yesterday’s sunshine and today’s predicted rain, Aki and I sneak in a visit to the Last Chance Basin. The trail we use suffered from the effects of Typhoon Lan. Thick tracks of fresh mud line both sides of the trail. At one point we have to climb up and over a ten-foot high hill of rock and mud washed down the side of Mt. Juneau during the typhoon.
As if we are the only folks in Juneau that didn’t get the memo, Aki and are alone on the normally popular trail. Even the animals seemed to have abandoned it. No squirrels chatter at the little dog. No birds flit between the yellowing thimbleberry brush. There are the cloven tracks of a mountain goat that had recently struggled through a muddy stretch. But Aki’s lack of interest confirms my suspicion that the goat is long gone.
I work hard to dig out some beauty on this flat-light day. But the fall color is fading and the normally red high bush cranberries are drifting to black husks. A white eruption of plum agaric mushrooms does provide a pleasant surprise deep in a mossy wood.
Timing is everything on these foggy mornings. The sun blinks in and out of the cotton-wool clouds, turning the sky pink at sunrise, surrendering to the gray, and then returning briefly to flood the Gastineau Meadow with light. Aki and I are enjoying the sunlight on the meadow. Fine frost covers the trailside plants and glazes fallen leaves. Seconds in direct sun is enough to melt away the beauty. A few minutes before our arrival, fog still covered the channel waters and probably reached into the northern edge of the meadow. But that’s all gone now and for a half-an-hour we can walk in full sunshine. After that Clouds will move in to return us to a soft world of gray.
Usually on the first sunny Saturday after a storm, this place would be crowded. But today, at noon Aki and I are alone on the Fish Creek trail. Except for a woman plopping gumshoe mollusks into a plastic bucket, only gulls and mallards make a sound.
While making morning coffee I am shocked to see sunshine. Without bothering Aki, who is still asleep, I slip outside. A block away, Gold Creek roars at near flood, charged with rainwater from Typhoon Lan. Yesterday the storm lost its fight with Mt. Juneau. During the battle the typhoon dropped eight inches of rain on our town and washed the streets clean. Trees that managed to retain their leaves during the storm sparkle like stream water hit by a sunbeam. Low angled light makes it easy to spot the long lines of spider silk that form thin bridges between plants and fences. Down channel, fog still covers the water but it won’t last long under this morning’s strong sun.
Five days ago, Aki’s other human and I just managed to escape Typhoon Lan in a jet that took off from Osaka’s Kansai Airport bound for Seoul. Last night, the typhoon forced its way up Icy Straight to slam into Juneau. We can’t escape this guy!
I delayed this morning’s walk as long as possible in hope that they typhoon would rain itself out. But Aki has needs so the little dog and I headed out to the Mendenhall Lake where forest surrounding one of the trails offered a little protection from the storm. The poodle-mix must have sensed my reluctance. She took a long time to answer my summons.
We had to drive a different route to the glacier because high water made one of the bridges unsafe. Rounding Auk Lake I spotted a large raft of Canada geese and mallards tucked into a quiet bay, hunkering down in the storm. Beside a couple of people smoking marijuana in the lee of Skater’s Cabin Aki and I wouldn’t see anyone or anything on our walk except one duck too far away to identify. It slowly paddled back and forth across a small kettle pond as it was on a search and rescue mission.
Like most dwellers of lands closer to the poles than the equator, people in Juneau tend to paint their homes in bright colors. Walking past a rose-colored Craftsman house on a stormy day, like this one, can lift your spirits. I’m thankful, this morning, for all those in Juneau who paint their homes or businesses in pastel colors. I am grateful to those who long ago planted the trees of fall color, like maples and birch, that seem to give off light on this gray day.
Aki and I are conducting her standard downtown patrol. As usual, she is all business. It’s been weeks since she has checked the trail of scent left on the streets by other dogs. Other than a trio of house dogs allowed out for a quick pee on their lawn, my poodle-mix will have no opportunity to sniff other dogs on this walk. We will pass a scattering of homeless in donated raingear. One, already smelling of stale smoke, will ask me for light. Others will pass head down as if to avoid getting rain in their eyes.
After enjoying our first sunrise for what seems like months, I drive with Aki out to the one place without morning sun: the Mendenhall Glacier. The sun will have to rise above the shoulders of Thunder Mountain before it can warm the trail we walk on or make Nugget Falls sparkle. That won’t be much before eleven, when we will be back on Chicken Ridge.
Why then, Aki might ask, are we out here shivering in the twilight? If she did, I’d remind her that she is not shivering and there is light striking the glacier and the Mendenhall Towers that rise above it into blue sky. But we are both too distracted by eagles for conversation.
Attracted here by spawning sockeye salmon, five eagles bicker near the waters of Steep Creek. One with better luck or eyes tears away strips of flesh from a dead salmon. Behind the feeding bird, the calm waters of the lake reflect the glacier and Mt. McGinnis.
When the sun clears Thunder Mountain to bath everything in strong light, it will also bring a wind to riffle the ice-free portion of the lake, shattering the glacier’s mirror.
Yesterday, the clouds that pounded the little dog and me with rain decorated this mountain meadow with snow. We are here to enjoy the resulting white blanket. While Aki catches up on weeks worth of pee mail, I watch ghosts of fog climb the whitened mountain ridges. A scattering of tiny ponds reflect the scene, breaking up the mountains’ image with still-green lily pads. There are other signs that winter’s snow caught out the meadow plants.
Islands of strong, still green clumps of grass dot the snowy meadow. Many plants, like the sparse-leafed Labrador tea and blue berry bushes are still in fall color. At least they aren’t being crushed by the heavy snow like the low-growing sorrel.
A friend recently saw a hummingbird and a warbler, both summer visitors to the rain forest. Are they delaying their southern migration to avoid the current heat wave in California? It is 100 degrees in Los Angeles today and the Santa Anna winds are pushing wild fire through bird habitat. If things don’t change soon the birds will be caught between fire and ice.
Aki and I are back together after a two-week absence. With the help of a human friend, the little dog her other human and I at the Juneau airport. Immediately after moving her kennel back into the house, I drove Aki out to the Rainforest Trail for a walk in heavy rain. The rain-charged trees shed fat drops onto the little dog and me. We both were a little cold and very wet when we returned to the car. Aki cuddled in my lap on the drive home.