Harsh Winter Beauty



It’s 8 degrees F. Aki dashes toward the warm car that we left just a minute ago. She has explored on colder days. I wonder if she is aging out of real winter like some one from the Iron Range who moves to Florida after retirement. Ready to wait for warmer weather, I am about to give up on today’s walk when Aki sniffs a patch of frosted grass, pees, and gallops back to me. False alarm.


Reunited, we join one of Aki’s other human friends to walk down the Eagle River on a trail softened by frost feathers. They slush, rather than crack or snap when stepped on. While some light still reaches the mountains and a slice of meadow we walk in dusk conditions even thought it is only 1:30 P.M. Some water still flows in the river but much of it is covered with ice. Five-inch-thick pans of it, all sharp-sided puzzle pieces, are marooned on sand bars until the next flood tide.


I am glad I am wearing an old beaver hat made for me by a Yupik woman from the Kuskokwim River. The weather’s too cold for wool caps. Today’s harsh winter beauty, the kind produced by mixing cold, light, snow and ice, is rarely formed by the rain forest. These ingredients are as common as ravens during the Kuskokwim winter. But gray skies are more common than blue along the Eagle where the temperature rarely drops this low.



Aki has no problem appreciating today’s rare gift. She patrols along without concern and seems put out when I lift her over sea ice that has yet to set. She must not know that her feet could freeze if they became wet in the slush. I take many pictures, keeping my camera inside my parka between snaps. But this precaution doesn’t prevent the shutter button from stinging my finger each time I push down on it.


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