Normally Aki refuses to follow me onto Gastineau, giving me her “are you crazy, I am just a little dog with short legs and tiny feet who will just flounder out there” look. But it is still morning and the sun has not had time to soften the frozen surface of the snow. We are free to roam.
On the far edge of the meadow, where we can enjoy an unfiltered view of Mt. Juneau, Aki goes on alert. I can’t find anything among the stubby Douglas pines to merit her attention. Twice more during our walk across the meadow, the little poodle-mix will bark and stare into the woods. Twice more I will fail to spot anything worth barking at. I will hear a hawk whistle, see two bald eagles circle over our heads, and trace the track of a black bear made yesterday afternoon in softening snow.
Aki and I are back, drawn to the Mendenhall Lake for another chance to ski. Not wanting to press our luck with the lake ice, I lead the little dog on to the ski trail that meanders around a campground. The place is empty of other people and dogs. That might be explained by the fact that we are here on a weekday or because the classic ski trail is as slick as a luge run.
The little dog dashes after her other human who moves much faster than me on her skate skis. Aki’s strong herding instincts kicks in and she runs full out between her two humans as we do a circuit of the trail. When an opportunity to move onto the lake appears we leave the campground and slide into the freedom offered by the snow-covered beach.
I am standing on skis in the middle of the ice-covered Mendenhall Lake. Aki is several hundred meters away, trailing her other human as she skate skis toward the glacier. In a minute or so the little dog will break back and sprint to me. But for now I am alone, warm under the spring sun in a place so quiet I can hear my pulse beating a tattoo.
Even in a small town like ours that has no industry but tourism moments of silent solitude are rare. They usually occur when bad weather keeps everyone else inside, or when the little dog and I are deep in the woods. Today, perhaps thanks to the concern of others about the safety of the ice, I am alone. It’s wise to keep off the ice after long sunny days and early-spring temperatures have weakened it. I didn’t walk onto the ice during yesterday’s walk with Aki due to worry about ice thickness. But it froze hard last night and the tracks of skiers laid down yesterday tempted me to give it a try.
Aki rooted out a treasure and she won’t give it up. We are near Skater’s Cabin after having started a walk along the edge of Mendenhall Lake. My little dog keeps herself between her prize and me. I manage to approach close enough to see that it is the heel of an old baguette. How it came to be buried in inches of snow is a mystery.
I walk on, pondering another mystery—why no one else is here. Morning sun shines on the still frozen lake and the glacier. No clouds obscure the Mendenhall Towers or Mt. McGinnis. The temperature hovers around 40 degrees. In an hour or two the snow will soften enough to make walking on it a struggle. But now it is still firm thanks to last night’s freeze.
Having forgotten Aki and her lump of French bread, I turn around and spot the little poodle-mix on the other side of inlet I just crossed. She is just crunching down the last of the bread. She squints in my direction and then tears across the inlet. In seconds she is at my feet. A second more and she is trotting ahead, looking for adventure or another treat.