Aki and I start the short climb to Gastineau Meadows, skirting a serpentine of frozen runoff that covers most of the access road. I take a picture of Mt. Jumbo knowing that it will end up in the digital trash. It’s a mountain best seen on a summer afternoon from somewhere on the Juneau side of Gastineau Channel. The meadow and its access trail are too close to offer much of a view.
I stop to admire the alders lining the road. Normally I ignore them like I do all alders. They are ubiquitous, too common for us to really appreciate. Alders and willows are nature’s band-aids. They stabilize disturbed land like rockslides or unused gravel roads with soil too poor to support spruce or hemlocks. After these pioneers have enriched the ground with their fallen leaves, they are pushed out by the evergreens. The indigenous people of the rain forest carve many of their haunting masks from alder wood. But it is hard not to think of them as weeds.
Some of last week’s snow is still draped over the alder branches and trunks. With early morning light shinning on them, the grey-trunked trees look beautiful. But it isn’t a beauty I can capture with my camera. I forget about the alder thickets after we reach the meadow where snow has formed white wigs in the tops of the sparely needled bull pines. Above the pines Juneau, Roberts, and sheep mountains stand white against a blue sky.