Three of Aki’s humans spent the last few days in Idaho saying goodbye to one of the family elders. The deceased lived a rich life, receiving and giving much love. But we will miss her. Even though Aki stayed home in Juneau, we felt like she rode in the rental car with us as we drove down roads that bisected snow-covered wheat fields. We received frequent updates from Aki’s minder, most with photographs of her enjoying the rain forest.
I can’t find Aki. While I stood and stared at plops of snow hitting the surface of Mendenhall River, she disappeared. We are in too thick a brush for an eagle ambush. So I look into the woods, rather up at sky when searching for the little dog. The bears are in their winter dens but wolves and coyotes still hunt the moraine for rabbits, which are grey and about her size. I whistle our summoning tune. When she doesn’t appear, I wonder if I will ever see Aki again.
Is the little dog punishing me? She was put out by the new vacuuming robot that this morning made her retreat under the bed. She is an elder dog, 84 in dog years. But does she have the depth to plan revenge?
I could trudge back up the snow covered trail to search for her. But I don’t know if she is already waiting for me at the car. I head slowing toward the trailhead. In a minute she is trotting by my side, looking a little smug.
Aki and I head out to the Sheep Creek delta, hoping to sneak in a walk before the wind rises and the sun is swallowed by clouds. One look at the Gastineau Channel tells me that we are too late. Wind pouring off the ice field has already raised a mist where the channel meets Taku Inlet. Froth-covered waves march up the channel toward Juneau town. Aki wants to stay in the splash zone grass where the wind can’t touch her.
I want to follow the sun out onto the exposed gravel. Aki hangs back until the distance between us becomes too great for her to stand. Then she walks just downwind of me, hoping to find some protection from the thirty-knot gusts whipping up channel. But I offer poor protection from the wind. She dashes ahead, as if trying to out run the wind. But it is there, waiting for her when she next stops.
Knowing that the little dog wants to turn back, I lead her towards the grass-covered sand dune that protects the site of the old ore house. Only one of us minds it when the sun disappears for the day in a wall of clouds.
As a single crow lands on an offshore rock, I look for the rest of the murder. Crows never travel alone. Neither our approach nor the small waves slapping it’s rock perch bothers the bird. I turn away to watch an eagle land in the top of a spruce. When I look back there are two crows in the rock.
In seconds, five more land on the crow’s small island. The original guy doesn’t yield any ground as its brothers and sisters point their talons at the rock, throw back their wings, and alight next to him. Another one lands, bringing the total to seven crows on the rock.
Another twenty crows do a flyby. They draw off birds from the rock until only the original crow remains. Then he flies around a headland and out of sight. Down the beach we find the murder feeding in the splash zone. Aki sniffs a diminutive snowman with a mussel shell bow tie, and cow parsnip arms. Tiny chunks of beach shale form its eyes and mouth.
I don’t enjoy this either, little dog. I’m holding Aki over the bathroom sink trying to move one of her front legs into the faucet stream. It, like her other three legs, is covered with snowballs. Better this, than having me pull them off.This reminder does nothing to reduce her resistance.
Aki picked up her snowballs running on new snow that covered the Perseverance Trail. She could have avoided them by staying on the packed portion of the trail. But, as she would say if she could, what would be the fun in that? While she gamboled and nosed into the snow, I took stock of the day. Mist ghosts climbed up the side of Mt. Juneau. New snow lay crowed onto the tops of cottonwood limbs and the rocks lining Gold Creek. Looking down the valley we could see dark, anvil-shaped clouds, about to deliver our next dump of snow.
Still standing over the bathroom sink, I manage to remove all Aki’s snowballs and dry her off. Her paws are moving before I can manage to drop her onto the floor. We meet at the back door, where she is waits for her post-walk treat.
Wind drives Aki and I into the woods. Using the Rain Forest Trail, the little dog and I enjoy the protection of an old growth forest. In addition to defeating the wind, the forest, with its thick canopy, has kept snow from accumulating on the trail. Snowy patches of the forest floor mark where wind-fallen trees have opened up holes in the canopy.
We can hear the sound of small but steady surf when we approach the beach. It doesn’t bother the harlequin ducks. The males seem too intent on breeding to take much notice of us. But something has stirred the golden eyes to flight.
December 25th is one of the days on which I wish Aki could speak. What does the little dog make of Christmas, with its gifts and extra visitors? Does she hate holiday music? She shows her appreciation during Christmas dinner for scraps of meat secreted to her under the table. But does she wish everyone would leave the house as soon as the turkey or lamb is put away?
If she could understand, I’d tell her that humans need something to celebrate during this, the darkest time of the year. People living closer to the equator may not get this. But since last summer we northerners have had to wait longer and longer for the daily sunrise. Those of us wintering in Juneau suffer even greater reductions in daylight because of the Douglas Mountain Ridge. Five days ago on the solstice, the earth began slowly rotating its north pole to the south. Merry Christmas little poodle, spring is just three or four months away.
Looks like the fawn is still alive. Aki’s responding look implies that I am stating of the obvious. We both can see the little deer’s fresh tracks in meadow snow. I wonder if the stuck-up little dog bothered to note the tracks madeby an adult deer that I spotted near the tree line. She definitely recognized the ones left by a wolf as it leaped seven feet across a half-frozen watercourse. These she marked with her pee.
What will the wolf think when it returns this way tonight? Will she honor the little poodle-mix’s territorial claim or douse Aki’s scent with her own stream?
It’s a day to enjoy the mountain meadow’s beauty, not to predict a predator’s behavior. Because it is in the shadow of the Douglas Island Ridge, the meadow will spend the day in the shade. But the sun shining off Mt. Juneau and the other peaks that line Gastineau Channel almost blinds. The sun rich mountains are rich in beauty when seen when standing here in the half-light of dusk.
This is more like it little dog. By her actions, Aki must agree. I am crunching along the snow-covered edge of Mendenhall Lake, my boot sinking in three or four inches with each step. The dog charges ahead, her little paws only sinking in half as deep. Since we are near the glacier, the snow is too cold to form balls on Aki’s curly coat. But more often than not, patches of snow cling to her muzzle and cheeks when she looks back at me.
To our right the glacier snakes beneath the Mendenhall Towers. She is snow white except for sections of exposed aquamarine-colored ice. I wish I had brought skis. But then I may have been tempted to slide onto the still-too-thin lake ice.
This chance to ski is an unexpected holiday gift. Everywhere but along Montana Creek is bare of snow. Thanks to Montana Creek’s microclimate, it received snow while the rest of town saw only rain. But the recent string of warm days and freezing nights have iced over sections of the trail and exposed rocks. This might be the only chance for the little dog and I to get in a ski until we receive a new blanketing of snow.
Aki and I sneak by the gun range, thankful that no one is blasting away. The sound of a shotgun or rifle can send the poodle-mix into a panic. We won’t hear gunshots until two kilometers up the creek. Mostly we listen to the sound of skis shushing on the trail and water pouring over creek boulders and windfalls that have fallen into the stream. At first Aki dashes ahead as we climb up the creek valley. When she tires, the little dog trots just ahead of me on the set classic ski tracks.