It’s sunrise on Gastineau Meadow. There are no clouds to block the light so it illuminates the meadow’s frozen surface, hitting the golden grass at an oblique angle. In less than a minute I’m 30 meters in, camera clicking, looking for Aki. If the sunlight weren’t highlighting the fur on her raised ears I wouldn’t be able to spot the little dog. She is still on the gravel trail waiting for me to come to my senses.
She has been burned twice metaphorically by following me onto the meadow. Once she trotted after me in early fall and dropped chest-deep into meadow mire. The other time was after a winter storm when the little dog floundered in deep snow until I rescued her. Today, when I whistle, Aki runs to a spot halfway between the trail and me and stops, perhaps giving a chance to reconsider my rash decision. When I don’t she catches up and we both enjoy a meander over the rock-hard meadow muskeg.
The strong sunlight softens the images of the mountains it backlights, like Jumbo, Sheep, and Gastineau Peak. But the sun gives Mt. Juneau the position of pride like it is Hamlet reciting a soliloquy. Most of my early photos feature the mountain.
At the northern edge of the meadow I take a well-used animal trail that would allow a deer or wolf to view activity of the meadow without being seen. Aki follows close at my heals, like she does when nervous or uncertain. She calms down after we spot the fresh scat of a deer buck. The green-colored poop does not steam like it did when just dropped by the deer but it hasn’t been here long enough to earn a coating of frost.
Aki pulls ahead and tries to lead me toward a human trail we have used many times to drop off the meadow. But I want to follow animal paths marked by broken blades of grass and crushed moss. Aki doesn’t mind. Her tiny frame can slip between narrow openings between alders like a deer and slide under windfalls that I have to struggle over. She reaches the human trail while I am eating frozen blue berries in the middle of an alder thicket. The sun has awakened the local birds—a grumpy bluejay, industrious red-breasted sap sucker, and a cloud of black-capped chickadees that chit and chirp as they feed.