To avoid heavy dog traffic on our normal Fish Creek trail, I lead Aki down one I haven’t explored for at least 20 years. It passes through a second growth forest. A generation ago, someone had cut every old growth spruce or hemlock on this streamside land. Today only spruce with 5 or 6 inch thick trunks grow jammed together so tight that their combined canopy blocks out sunlight. No understory plants can survive the resulting darkness.
After sliding along an icy trail through the second growth, the little dog and I drop onto the wetlands in time to watch a bald eagle flush fifty mallards from a stream eddy. If the eagle’s goal was to nail one of the plump ducks for dinner, he failed. With empty talons it lands next to another eagle that might be it’s mate. At any rate he doesn’t receive a warm welcome.
The disturbed ducks circle over Fritz Cove and then return to their protected stream eddy. A little further onto the wetlands we find ourselves surrounded by a gang of robin red breasts. (American Robins). Most hunt the grasslands for food but a few hop around in a showy fashion between stints of freezing into statutes like children do when playing Simon Says.
Wondering why the eagles don’t hunt the robins rather then skittery ducks, I climb onto a earthen dike that surrounds a small pond. Spruce have colonized the top of the dyke. The ground beneath one is covered with eagle down and white splats of the big predator’s poop. Just down wind is a scattering of mallard feathers.
Aki and I reunited this morning. Last week, while her humans traveled, she hung out in a dog haven. But rather than her usual dash ahead into the rain forest the little poodle-mix looks at me as if for guidance. She hesitates when I start down the trail. But soon she is sniffing, and peeing, and trotting like always.
With things back to normal I can enjoy being back in the rain forest. The thick ground layer of snow that fell two days ago is shrinking as the sun climbs into a blue sky. Above the white ground, a mini-forest of spruce sprigs covers the top edge of a wind-blown spruce, their roots pulling nutrients from the heart of the dead old growth tree. One or two of the tree babies on this nursery tree will eventually crowd the others out until their roots reach the ground.
Almost all of the spruce and hemlock trees in the forest rooted first on a back of a downed log. Sometimes the new tree forms a root that curls around the outside of the nursery log before reaching the ground. One hundred years later, long after the nursery log has rotted totally away, nutrients will flow over a hundred feet up the trunk of a spruce or hemlock through a root retaining the shape of the tree that gave it life.
You have to admire the commitment of this magnolia tree to flower. Growing between a giant typewriter eraser and a confused bronze work by Miro, it set buds before last week’s snow storm. The resulting flowers have been browned by a series of freezing nights.
In the nearby National Gallery, a great collection of portraits by Cezanne with unsmiling faces look without interest at museum visitors.
In a normal year the Tidal Basin entrance to the Martin Luther King memorial would be pink with cherry blossoms. But this year the the limbs of cherry trees reaching over the basin waters are still bare. The trees still have a stark beauty on this sunny afternoon. We find two great blue herons, apparently immune to the attentions of tourists, sunning themselves near the Jefferson Memorial.
The Cathedral at home in Juneau is tiny—the smallest one in America. So I am a little lost in the gothic wonder that is Washington’s National Cathedral. Outside bright afternoon sun robs the gargoyles of detail. Inside it would be too dark to read without artificial light. But as the stain glass windows in Juneau’s diminutive cathedral do on sunny days, those in the National Cathedral cast abstract patterns of color on inside walls and floors.
The wind chill is low enough for Alaska and there is snow on the ground even though we are on the edge of the Mason Dixon Line. After walking along the Mall, we drop into the Hirschorn sculpture garden. Yellow and purple crocuses have broken through the snow at the feet of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. They remind me of cut flowers laid in testament to the Burghers’ brave sacrifices.
A little further on, we spot a trio of blooming cherry trees, the ground over their roots still covered with snow. We are grateful for this brave show of beauty swaying gently in a north wind.
We left Aki in the rain forest because she hates to travel on airplanes. We left Alaska for Washington D.C. so we could walk along flowering cherry trees on the National Mall. Last night Aki’s other human and I rode the Metro from the airport as sleet collected on the car’s windows.
This morning I enjoyed a snowy walk to the store for coffee and bread as fresh wet snow coated the branches of each cherry tree.
Rain soaks into Aki’s gray fur and makes my parka glisten. It slickens the already traitorous trail ice and softens what snow remains in the forest. It falls from clouds that deny us any mountain views. I’d feel claustrophobic if not the old growth trees that appear to be keeping the heavy, wet skies from collapsing on the little dog and I.
We are in the tweens—between snowy winter and the soft green spring. This year March, not April may be the cruelest month.
Aki sits in my lap in friend’s car. We are on the look out for winter. Cross-country skis rattled in the back. We found plenty of ice on the first trail we tried. Giving up on that one, we headed out to Eagle Beach in hopes of seeing some migratory waterfowl. The day before a snow goose was spotted in a formation of transiting Canada geese.
The tide was out when we arrived, giving the migrants little water to rest on. We walked along the river on a trail of mud and dead grass. Two skiers sat near the river’s mouth eating lunch. They had returned form an aborted ski trip to Point Bridget trail after finding it free of snow. “You go another mile on the road and there is no snow.” Looking around the snow free meadow I realize that it is time to put away the skis.
There is a “no dog allowed rule” in this cabin so Aki stayed home with her other human. The cabin is on the grounds of the Shrine of St. Theresa, which is north of Juneau. Outside of the cabin plein-air painters stand behind their easels. Some hold brushes. Others load oil paint onto a palette knife. Minutes before they had Pearl Harbor and fog-shrouded mountains beyond as their subject. Now a wall of sun-charged fog obscures everything but a beach in the foreground. This is enough for most of the painters to work with. The others head back to their cabin for coffee and community.
I walk on a trail that leads south along Favorite Passage. Golden eye and harlequin ducks hunt the outflow of a small salmon stream for smolt. Beyond them, more diving ducks fish the deeper water. A rowdy Stellar sea lion rips up the water’s surface.
The fog thickens briefly and then melts until only a strip along the shore of Shelter Island has survived the sun.