Our sunny streak continues today. Aki some friends and I take advantage by hiking out to Nugget Falls. Previous hikers stomped out a narrow trail through deep snow. Frost feathers on top of the snow sparkle enough to hurt my eyes. Aki doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe that’s because she is so busy herding two other humans and I.
Since she can’t see over the snow banks on either side of the trail, it is hard for her to carry out her duties. We humans try to stay close to each other to ease her load.
The falls are roaring when we arrive even though the snow along the trail is still frozen. But it looks like the spring melt is on in the Nugget Creek Valley.
We wouldn’t be skiing on this meadow if not for the sun. It makes the little dog squint but she doesn’t turn her face away. I don’t either. The trail doesn’t go anywhere, just wanders among spare spruce trees and up and down the banks of a little slough. We don’t mind because there is good snow and sun.
Aki and I are working across a tidal meadow to the Peterson Creek salt chuck. Without snowshoes I’d be post holing a trail in the deep snow. A crust on the snow allows the little dog to fly anywhere she wants. But when area an area shaded by trees, she finds her self crashing, chest deep, into the cold cover. After dropping through the crust several times Aki takes up station behind me.
There is nothing to distract me during the walk across the meadow or along the edge of the salt chuck. I am still excited, knowing what awaits us when we reach the salt chuck’s outlet stream.
Shade from spruce trees darkens the stream rocks. But shafts of sunlight manage to reach snow on top of the rocks. Nothing blocks the sun from lighting up Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Mountains beyond.
Aki and I head up Fish Creek. It’s the wrong choice for at least two reasons. The old growth spruce forest shades the trail. Ninety percent of Juneau’s other trails are sun flushed today. They also offer easier walking on packed paths. The little dog can trot over the top of the crusty snow that borders the path. Since I’d break through the crust, I must use my ice cleats to stay upright on the trail.
We could avoid the slick conditions and have a chance to walk in the sunshine if we dropped onto the frozen creek. But only tracks of the water-happy river otters dimple its surface. The forest deer stay off the creek. As I slog along, I wonder whether the sound of water running under ice intimidated the deer. It certainly discourages me from following the otter tracks.
Few dogs use the trail so nothing distracts Aki from her primary task—to keep me from doing something stupid. She does not follow me onto the creek ice to check out some eagle tracks. She gives me her “Are you kidding me” look when I glance back at her. She shifts into her “you finally figured it out” glare when I rejoin her on the trail. Chastened, I follow her back to the car.
Sometime during the night a powerful high tide scattered 8-inch-thick pans of ice on the trail. The wet snowstorm that plagued us for several days moved on. Fresh morning light shines on the fresh snow covering Fish Creek Pond. As an added bonus, the snow provides good footing. When it melts in a hour or so, the ice-covered trail will be too slick to walk on without ice cleats.
At first the place is silent. No eagle cries as we round the pond and walk out onto the spit that separates Fish Creek from Fritz Cove. No mallard cackles. Then we hear a bald eagle complaint. On the grassy bank of the creek, the noisy eagle is spreading its wings to dry them. It has the white head and tail of a mature bird but the mottled wings of a young one. It looks wet and disheveled.
We won’t see any other birds on the way to the creek mouth. A man with his Labrador retriever will flushed them first by walking around on the wetlands. He will wear the camo clothing of a hunter but there is nothing for him to hunt.
I will debate whether it is any of my business where the man walks. I will argue that it is his responsibility not to intimidate the wild residents off the wetlands when so much of the food-rich ground is exposed by a very low tide. I will follow Aki’s example and concentrate on the fresh light on fresh snow.
The wolves around Juneau are usually black, not white or grey. As Aki and I approach the Eagle River, I see what looks like a black wolf scampering up and over a snow bank. It disappears before I can turn on the camera. Following in its tracks, we reach the edge of a meadow. Thinking that I saw a dog, I expect to see the big canine trotting down the river along with its owner. But only pans of broken river ice dot the grass. Later I will find an isolated line of tracks crossing into the woods.
A harbor seal swims past in the river current. It stares at the little dog and then disappears under the water. Then a raven flies over our heads and lands on a snow bank. It takes what I can only describe as a snow bath: digging out chunks of snow with its beak and tossing them onto its back, then rolling over and over on the snow. It then tumbles down the snow bank like a child rolling down a grassy slope.
I feel an urge to rate our interactions with the three citizens of nature. Wolf sighting are valuable because they are rare, so rare that I can’t believe that I saw one today. The deep sadness of the seal’s stare haunts me. But the goofy antics of the raven made my day.
Aki and I just left Sheep Creek. It is one of the little dog’s favorite walks because it is the favorite walk of many other Juneau dogs. Aki had to squint into the sun, which made the sides of flying gulls almost painfully white.
We skirted the little inlet always haunted by a small raft of mallards. This morning a gadwall joined them. Even though their numbers make them seem as common as dirt, I love the metallic green heads and blue wing patches of the showy males. This morning two of the male mallards gave us hard looks as a hen plunged her head under the water for food.
Even though she would rather scout the sand dune for scents, Aki followed me to edge of Gastineau Channel. From there I could see Sheep Mountain emerging from a wall of fog. Recent storms have weighed down it and all the local mountains with snow. Thanks to yesterday’s thaw a slick crust covers the snow load. We should have avalanches if we receive the seven inches of new snow promised to fall tonight.
The road from the trailhead to town runs along the bottom of a series of avalanche chutes. In winter it is illegal to stop in this zone. Just before the no-stop section a sign warns us that the road will be closed at noon for avalanche abatement activities. It is now 11:40 A.M. In twenty minutes a helicopter will lower a daisy bell percussion device over areas with too much of a snow load. Sound waves from the daisy bell will set out little avalanches. Some could reach the road.
Until recently the state controlled avalanches by firing shells from a recoilless rifle into the upper sections of the zone. The boom of each shot would echo down the channel. After accurate shots the boom would be followed by the crack and crash of a cascade of snow.
Minutes after we leave the Treadwell woods, two border collies start stalking Aki. They look so similar that I wonder if a sheep dog factory stamped them out. One of the collies is stretched out on the snow, head down, front legs stretched out, ready to charge forward. The other one creeps forward slowly, head down, using mincing steps. Now I know how a lost sheep must feel.
We are not in New Zealand and Aki is a poodle, not a lamb. As if to make that point two eagles roosting on the roof of the mine ventilation shaft let out their keening calls. I check the eyes of the collie dogs and then those of their owner. Finding no meanness, I relax and enjoy my little dog’s reaction.
Aki stands as tall as she can, tail a metronome. When one of the collies breaks toward her, she dashes forward to meet him. They sniff and then Aki runs a circle around me, her tail now an invitation for the collies to chase her. When they do, she yips and drops low onto the sand. Normally the poodle-mix can always win this game. But these two sheep dogs work together to herd her, like seals driving pink salmon into a trap. Aki has met her match.
Aki and I are paying a visit to the harlequins and the other ducks that winter at the old Auk Village site. It snowed last night and will snow again before the sun sets. An 18 foot high tide covers the beach and erodes the snow blanket covering the grass lands between the forest and the beach. Our duck friends take advantage of the tide to hunt close the snow for food. Offshore two western grebes fish deeper waters. Filtered sunlight strikes the harlequins, placing the clownish ducks on the center stage of this snowy circus.
Aki and I are enjoying the Rain Forest Trail. She got to play with a German Sheppard who was nosing around the parking lot when we arrived at the trailhead. Energized, she runs over the packed snow of the trail. I try to keep pace, ignoring the beauty of the forest.
Even though only 5% of the forest trail offers a beach view, I rarely stop to photograph anything in the woods. It has all the stately beauty of an old growth forest: thick trunked spruce and hemlock, displays of old man’s beard lichen, a roof-like canopy and moss covered floor. If I stopped to compare, I am sure I’d find each tree has its own character.
Following the impatient poodle-mix onto the beach, I learn that we are the first visitors of the day. Gulls lounge on beach rocks just cleared of snow by the tide. Golden eye and mallard ducks slip into the water but stay close to the shore. Eight more golden eye ducks drop onto the water to join the others. The ducks are too busy earning a living to acknowledge our presence.