No No No No November, tomorrow brings December. The calendar claims that we are sliding into winter—that it is only three weeks away. But as rain continues to melt November snow, it feels more like early spring. Aki and I walk through the Treadwell mining ruins. The lovely snow is almost all slush on the trail. The little dog works to avoid stepping into the little swimming pools of melt water that fill each boot print on the trail. But neither the rain nor the slush discourages her. When I feel the cold water soak my socks I check to see if the poodle-mix wants to make it a short day. She is already down the trail, smelling more signs left by her dog buddies.
To avoid the slushy trail, I lead Aki out onto the beach of crushed gold ore that fronts the ruins. Here the trail is drier but we’ve lost the protection from the wind driven rain that the ruin’s trees provided. I’d like to stay and enjoy the harsh beauty of storm clouds above the channel but retreat back into the trees before my hands are too cold to operate the camera.
Later, from a protected spot at the edge of the woods, I will watch two bald eagles circle above the channel as if it were summer. Nearer, a brace of loons will dive on baitfish that have collected in the collapsed glory hole. Aki will play tag with a wet wheaten terrier. But when we reach the trailhead, she will be the first to the car, waiting with impatience, for me to open the door.
Our plane arrived to late last night to allow us to bring Aki home from the neighbor who cared for her during our trip to Washington D.C. When her other human and I enter their house this morning, the little dog yipped with excited and ran back and forth between her temporary caregivers and us. Outside a light rain melted through the snow like it was sugar. Because of the thaw, most of the trails are covered in slush. So I let Aki lead me up Basin Road and onto the Perseverance Trail.
When we left to fly south, the roofs on the Craftsman homes that snake along Basin Road had heavy snow loads. This morning they are wet with rain.
A human friend joins the little dog and I on the hike. When he bends down to secure an ice cleats to his boot, a dog treat drops out of his pocket. Aki stares at it but doesn’t gobble it down. Even after he said she could have it, Aki wouldn’t eat it. But after that, she kept close to my friend. Sometimes she would leap up until she was waist high on him in case he was holding the treat in his hand. But he never was. She never tasted the snack.
Preservation is an odd thing. Using the latest technology, the US government is attempting to preserve in time the home of its first president: George Washington. Here are sheep, grazing like they did when George lived here. Here is the table he dined at, the bed he died in. Here are reproductions of the quarters he fashioned for his slaves. Here is a multi-media display to help modern visitors taste the life of a slave during the country’s infancy.
Still, I can only guess at the brutality it took to maintain this plantation during Washington’s time.
It will be good to return home tomorrow to Alaska and Aki. But, I will miss the sun and moderate temperatures.
I’m in the American Portrait Museum, face to face with a bust of William Seward: the man who engineered the US purchase of Alaska from the Czar. We celebrate his birthday in Alaska by giving everyone the day off. Here, close to where he was almost assassinated, his image hides in a corner.
Earlier, I walked over the Eastern Market, stopping at each of the tiny “take one, leave one” libraries. Even though the birdhouse-like structures only hold a couple dozen books, their contents allow a good read of the neighborhood’s character. The first one I checked on Capitol Hill contained a recent paperback novel by Isabelle Allende and a slim volume of essays by Montaigne. Another one had a hardback tome on Joan Moro. A few blocks away, we could only find crime novels and kid books.
I never found a book on William Seward or even one on US history in any of the tiny library boxes I looked into today. But they did offer an impressive number of fine reads.
It is still snowing in Juneau. Aki’s humans are still in Washington D.C. I am stumbling onto slices of beauty in our capital. They are easier to find during the last hours of daylight, a time of shadow and brightness.
My trip to Giant Foods yesterday afternoon for an early edition of the Sunday paper was a little like dropping by the National Gallery to visit the Goyas. At one point I almost photographed a gutted building being remodeled, sucked in by the subtle contrast between the red and blue insulation sheets. Instead I took one of the D.C. Street Car clanking past a funeral home.
Later I read the newspaper while waiting on the roof of an apartment building for the sun to set.
Here in the U.S. capitol, four thousand miles from Aki’s house, we discover reminders of Alaska in the Native American museum. I found little to remind me of home on the way to the museum. We walked down broad, straight streets lined with hardwood trees in fall color. Cars and buses tried to filled the air with smog but were defeated by a cleansing wind. Only the light, as clarifying as yesterday’s shared something in common with Alaska.
Back home, in Juneau, Aki might be walking by the state museum if someone has shoveled away the foot of snow that has fallen since we left. If allowed inside, she might pass in front of the Tlingit longhouse or the collection of Yupik masks collected near our old home in Bethel.
Brothers of those masks wait behind glass inside the Capitol’s Native American museum. The masks are locked rigidly in place. They will never dance again. But they do watch, over and over again, video loops of Yupik dancers remembering with their bodies, the old songs.
Even though we are in a metropolitan center, a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the air is crisp and clean. No apparent pollution softens the intensity of the afternoon’s light. We’ve just left the American Museum of Natural History after enjoying an exhibit of wildlife photography. Each photograph captured in fine detail, a moment in the life of the depicted animal. In one, a cougar, head dropped in the way they do when approaching in caution, appears to be within striking distance. Even the grains of fur on the predator’s back can be discerned.
I wondered at this artificial clarity and why it thrills us humans? Not having the skill or high-end camera required to capture such detail at a distance, I just try to post pictures that share what I saw when I took them. Are my photos more honest, or just mundane?
Back outside the museum, I realize that the clarifying light is giving me an opportunity to take very crisp pictures with my cell phone camera. The reality, for once, is as crisp as a museum-quality print.
I walking without Aki to get coffee down a back street. It is near 60 degrees and the light cloud layer that dampened the sunrise has burned off. Limbs off hardwoods form tunnel over the sidewalk. I imagine for a minute living in one of the brick row houses, looking out from a bay window at the turning leaves. It wouldn’t be a bad life.
Aki is back home in Alaska where the town is getting another dump of snow. Her humans are on the other side of the country, walking through a Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery. (Veneer and the Masters of Genre Painting). The exhibit labels direct our attention to the men and women depicted in each painting. But I find myself looking at the little dogs placed like a grace note in the corner.
Before arriving at the Gallery, we made out annual pilgrimage to the Bill Reid sculpture at the Canadian Embassy—his black canoe. Reid depicts the Haida totem animals paddling a big bronze canoe. Even though the wolf is comping down on the raven’s wing, and the raven is biting the bear, all the animals are pulling hard to move the canoe forward. I find it a hopeful metaphor for the human race—even though we fight, when it counts, all humans will pull for our common earth.