I smell the smoke from his cigarette before I see a man heading towards us on an informal meadow trail. It’s deer hunting season so I expect to spot a rifle slung over his shoulder. But where a hunter would carry his rifle, he carries a small crosscut saw. After introducing himself to Aki, he says he is looking to cut down one of the meadow pines for a Christmas tree: “I used to take my grandchildren with me, but they have moved away.”
We share stories of taking kids into the woods to hunt for Christmas trees until Aki starts to shiver. Wishing the tree hunter good luck, we head out across the meadow. It’s a place of weather-stunted trees, tiny ponds, and patches of red cranberry moss. A thin layer of hoar frost binds the scene together.
Looking up, I spot Mt. McGinnis at the far end of the meadow. Used to seeing the mountain reflected on the surface of Mendenhall Lake, it takes me a while to identify McGinnis. It’s as if we are in the boarding area of a crowded airport when spotting someone familiar standing in flight to board a flight. Without the context of home, it takes time to convince myself that it really is my old friend.
A Stellar’s jay lands in the top of pine tree with a peanut trapped in its beak. The peanut is the size of the jay’s head. Its only chance of cracking the shell is to set it on the ground. But then a nearby raven would be on it in a New York minute. Aki needs to keep moving so we can’t wait to see how the jay cracks the nut. A half hour and a mile later the jay lands on another tree near the little dog and I. No longer burdened with the peanut, it squawks and gives us the evil eye. Since we haven’t offered up a nut with which to pay for our use of the meadow, it wants us exit his domain. As we enter a belt of trees bordering the meadow, a raven does a low fly over, as if to make sure we are not overstaying our welcome.