Going on Alert

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“Boom, boom, boom” and a hunter whistling in his dog interrupt the nattering complaints of Canada geese. Then, the smell of cordite arrives on a light breeze. Aki cringes and moves cautiously ahead, choosing the iciest path. Her little paws slip and then regain a purchase and she is on surer ground. I think about turning back but we are almost to the mouth of Fish Creek. I’ll just peak around the spit to see if the hunter is there. I end my search after spotting gulls strutting along one of the diminutive inlet that drains the wetlands.

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The hunter must be working another part of the wetlands, one upwind from our position. Aki returns to her survey of dog sign. It’s 9:30 and the sun is brightening the snow on the Chilkats and Mt. McGinnis. No light will warm the little dog or sparkle the thick, trailside frost today. But we are used to enjoying the sun’s work from afar.

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On our return to the car I stop to study a long, thin raft of Canada geese that has formed just off shore in Fritz Cove. Each has its beak tucked into its feathered body. It’s 19 degrees F. and they still chose water over the warmer land for their bed.

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We hear a mother and two small boys as we approach the pond. Only a thin layer of ice covers it. The boys, both dressed in heavy winter gear toss rocks onto the ice to hear the sound of it breaking. I think of the admonition of a Tlingit elder I once knew in Ketchikan not to break the stillness of water by skipping stones on it. What would she say to these two boys? They slide down some hinge ice to reach the slanted pond beach. They could slip on the ice and slide into the pond if they edged any further forward. I think of the mother and child who drowned after breaking through ice on this very pond twenty years ago. The boys’ mom saves me using the story as a warning by calling them back from the edge.

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