Aki flies down the snowy trail blown along by a stiff wind. The same wind is chilling the back of my legs like it did my front when we walked into the Treadwell ruins. My nose and right cheek stiffen, heading towards frostbite. We will be back in the car before my skin on those exposed parts turns from pink to white.
This morning a high-pressure zone keeps storm clouds away but also delivers the strong winds. They started blowing when the rising sun lit up the glacial ice sheet. In response cold air roared down the mountain valleys and up Gastineau Channel when they whipped up waters in front of Sandy Beach.
The little dog and I keep to the shelter of the woods. But each time I slip down onto the beach for a photograph, we feel the bite of the wind.
We hear the waves when still deep in the forest. The sound track does not match the calm, quiet place. No wind disturbs the snow covering the forest floor and the old growth trees. No eagle screams, no raven croaks. If the tiny wrens and chickadees feeding in the canopy are sounding their work chants, I can’t hear them over the wind.
Aki trots ahead, sometimes riveted by scent. Her discoveries can’t be recent deposits. No one has tracked the snowy trail today. When we reach the beach, Aki sprints ahead and out of sight, like she does when spotting another dog. Then she charges back toward me with an intense look on her face. When I start to follow her, she sprints ahead again. I’ll find her where the trail cuts back into the woods giving me her “are you crazy” stare.
Aki and I have been following wolf tracks through an old growth forest for most of an hour. The wolf made its tracks while following those of a yearling deer. With her low-to-ground frame, Aki had no problems walking in the animals’ steps. But I’ve had to straddle wind-fallen trees and duck beneath the snow covered branches of spruce and hemlock. The wolf and deer passed under the branches without dislodging their loads of snow. I wish I could say the same.
Just after leaping across a half-frozen watercourse, I spotted two other sets of tracks. Well, those prints looks familiar little dog. They should. Aki and I made them a half-an-hour ago. We would be lost if not for the sun. I lead Aki toward it, hoping to soon hear the soft sound of Fish Creek sliding over and under new ice.
I blame ice for our predicament. Before diverting onto the wolf’s trail, we had been moving comfortably along the creek. Then we reached a section of trail covered with a hazard of ice chunks. They were part of the ice sheet that covered the stream until the last big rainstorm. Runoff from the storm engorged the creek and shattered the ice covering. Most of the chunks flowed down stream to Fritz Cove. But some were caught by an eddy that pushed them onto the trail.
I almost fell several times while crossing the ice chunk zone. To avoid tempting fate, I chose to return through the forest. That’s when we spotted the wolf trail. That’s when the adventure began.
A small, rocky point helps and hinders the little dog and me. The tide covers the path we normally use to round it so we are stuck. A cabal of crows just 10 meters away must realize our situation. They ignore us as they gossip about a different murder of crows occupying a nearby beach.
The rocky point blocking our progress also hides us from a harbor seal sleeping on a rock just offshore. The water around the seal’s rock is colored with the reflection of mountains and the Mendenhall Glacier.
Checking to make sure that we will have a free passage after clearing the point, I search for and find a work-around-path. In a minute we are on the crow’s beach. They explode into the air and join the victims of their gossip 20 meters away. Perhaps disturbed by the escaping crows, the seal wakes up and looks at us. It slips off its rock and into the water as we walk toward the mouth of Fish Creek.
I am surprised by the hysterical cries of the hundreds of mallard ducks sheltering in the creek. In seconds they take flight and move in an arc across the front of the glacier and head out to the beach that Aki and I walked down yesterday. I want to tell the ducks to relax, that Aki won’t charge into the water after them. But like the seal and the crows, the ducks equate dog walkers with danger.
To escape the wind hammering Downtown Juneau, I drive the little dog to the Mendenhall Peninsula beach access trail. She starts squealing and bouncing around when we are more than a mile away from the parking area. The trail leads us through an old growth spruce forest with a canopy thick enough to keep out all but a dusting of snow. We follow the boot prints of a previously hiker, each one an island of red-brown duff in a sea of white.
We usually pass under several eagles on this trail that make themselves known with screeching complaints. Today I can only hear mallards chuckling in nearby wetlands. Aki’s excitement fades when we reach the forest edge. She hangs back as I walk along the beach and under a line of spruce trees that are often used by bald eagles. The presence of eagles or the sound of birdshot booming from hunter’s shotguns make the little dog nervous. There are no eagles today and hunting season is over. But she sulks along behind as if sensing the ghosts of both.
Like Aki, I remember the eagles we’ve seen on this beach, the gunshots from a skiff emerging from the fog in December, and a gang of otters that crunched through the tough skulls of Irish lords (sculpins) on the beach in spring. I tend to remember past dramas on days that lack any.
After we turn back toward the car, Aki perks up and takes the lead. She starts monitoring smells and urine spots as the sun breaks through the marine layer to provide me a little drama.
A strong north wind slams into Aki’s face when we walk out of our front door. In the past the little dog threw on the brakes when pressed like this by the wind. Today she charges ahead, barking. The little dog continues to power down the street and into the wind, growling.
She goes silent when we turn up Basin Road and cross over the wooden trestle bridge that leads to the Gold Creek valley. The constant wind doesn’t slow down Aki as we climb up the old Perseverance Mine access road. It speeds her up when we swing back toward town. She charges down the old mining road, too fast for me to safely keep up. Just when I start to worry, the little guy, now just a dot down on the road, runs back to me at full speed.
We are about to reach a portion of the road that is open to automobile traffic so I place her back on the lead. Aki pulls me all the way home with the help of the wind.
Only two inches of snow cover the lake ice but it is enough for cross-country skiing. Aki is between the Mendenhall Glacier and me. She is chasing her other human who is using her fast skate skis. They’ve left me to shuffle after them on my old classics.
I am not sulking. It’s peaceful back here. I can hear Nugget Falls and enjoy the low contrast vistas of spruce forest, glacier, and snow-covered mountains. I can also spy on our little dog as she runs flat out across the snow, stopping once or twice to roll her face in it. This gives her a macho white beard, which is not something you see on your average 10-pound poodle-mix.