The trail from Skater’ Cabin to Mendenhall Lake is flooded. Aki saunters to the edge of the water, sniffs and then hops straight onto the top of a two-foot high concrete barrier. In seconds she has walked onto a pocket beach. I don’t know what amazes me more—that she figured out the workaround on her own or that at 12 years of age, she can still manage such a vertical leap.
While the little dog conducts a nose survey of the beach, I try to enjoy the view of Mendenhall Glacier reflected in the calm waters of the lake. In winter light, the mountains surrounding the glacier would cut a crisp, jagged line across the blue sky. Today forest fire haze blurs their rocky details. The glacial ice manages to catch and refract light to reduce the dullness. It’s still a beautiful thing, but one robbed of drama.
Glacier melt water has swollen the lake so we are forced to use the informal paths made by animals in the lakeside forest. I coax Aki onto tiny beaches when we find them. One is occupied by a juvenile semipalmated plover. It takes no notice of Aki. The little dog returns the favor. I wonder why one of the normally nervous plovers is content to stretch and flex in the morning sun while we watch.
Leaving the plover, Aki and I cross a small beaver dam and reenter the forest. In minutes we are walking around a small pond. Dragonflies battle each other over the pond water. We spook a small flock of winter wrens and dark-eyed juncos. Instead of flying off to safety, the birds fly down the trail a few meters and stare at us from the trailside spruce. I can make no more sense of this behavior than I could that of the mellow plover. I have to accept my ignorance, like I have to accept the dulling effect of forest fire smoke blown here from the Yukon by prevailing winds.