Far out on Mendenhall Lake an exclamation point and a period move toward us. In a minute the punctuation marks transform into a skiing man and his dog. Assured that the lake ice is now firm enough, I ski onto the lake. Aki follows and the passes me. Soon she is running in large circles.
The glacier grows in size as I move further onto the ice. The conditions are perfect—five centimeters of sugar snow on firm, flat ice—almost too perfect. We are moving fast. Soon the little dog and I will be reduced to punctuation marks when seen from the beach. Worrying about skiing onto ice weakened by hidden currents or underwater springs, I head over toward the beach.
We cross a series of points and small bays to reach the Mendenhall River, which still runs dark and free. I can’t remember a winter cold enough to silence it. Something honks as we approach the place where the trail leaves the river bank and enters the woods.
Expecting Canada geese, I spot four large waterfowl gliding on a river eddy. The fierce morning light makes it hard to see more than the birds’ shapes. They could be Canadians but they would be larger than normal Canadians. Aki follows as I ski further down river to a get a better angle for investigating the birds. I stop when I can see that the birds are swans. They are recovering from their northern migration on the only piece of open fresh water for miles around.
The swans huddle against a snow-covered gravel bar where they almost vanish. After Aki and I move into the woods the swans come out of hiding. I watch them for a few minutes while screened from their view of shoreside alders.