It’s only eight in the morning but already the sun has defused the glacier’s beauty. I still race out to the mouth of Fish Creek, hurrying past a brace of mergansers on the pond and a heron feeding at the edge of a meadow. There is still a chance that I will catch the reflection of the glacier and surrounding peaks in the still waters of Fritz Cove before the wind starts working against the tide.
Aki tries to slow me down. She hangs back to investigate every smell. When I can no longer see her, I stop and wait, investigating the small things that I would otherwise rush past: backlit lupine, the head of a crow moving above the blades of newly green grass, a mosquito perched on a still-intact globe of dandelion seeds.
Crows announce my progress to the mouth with harsh calls. Across the creek, one of the resident bald eagles calls back. A slight breeze tosses about Aki’s fur when we reach the creek mouth. The little dog wades into the brackish water and sips. Behind her, a rising wind turns the glacier’s reflection into an Impressionist painting.
This morning, Gastineau Meadow seems more city park than a place where wolves run down deer. In part it’s the sun flooding the place with warmth and light, which makes me want to lie down on the meadow and watch the movement of clouds. It’s also today’s unusual assortment of trail users. Usually, Aki and I have the place to ourselves. On busy days we might pass one or two dog walkers.
I knew things were going to be different today day when we were passed by a man keeping his child on a tether followed by a woman and a man who could barely maintain control over his German Shepard dog. The man used the dog’s leash to keep its front legs off the ground.
Two moms with small children and a dog named Indiana Jones came next. Indy broke away from his owner and charged down the trail at Aki. But Indy’s heart was only full of love so Aki enjoyed the interaction.
On the way back to the car we passed a young couple standing on opposite sides of the wide trail. The woman sorted through clothes in a duffle bag. The man used his cell phone to register for the $1200 stimulus payment the federal government is sending out to Americans as the woman shouted out advice. They reminded me of the two Steller’s jays that we saw earlier calling to each other from the branches of meadow pines.
Aki and I drove through a rain storm to reach this mountain meadow. The rain stopped as we pulled up at the empty trailhead parking lot. At least it would be dry and we wouldn’t have to share the views with other dog walkers.
A shaft of sun powers through the clouds, illuminating Aki as she marks a spot with pee. The shaft seems to erode the cloud, opening up a hole large enough for blue sky to show through. In a few seconds the sun and blue sky disappear. It’s going to be a peak-a-boo day, one for sudden sucker holes that close as quickly as they open.
The sun flashes on and off during the rest of the walk down through meadows to the Fish Creek Bridge. Sometimes it targets yellow skunk cabbage flowers beaded by the rain. Others shafts enrich the green flanks of a north-facing mountain ridge. Once the sun backlit the leaves of a blueberry patch, still showing autumn yellows, reds, and oranges. Without the help of the sun I may not have enjoyed the berry plants flash of fall beauty. Within a week they will transition to summer green.
The last time Aki and I circled Moose Lake, yellows and browns dominated. This morning, all is green. The new leaves display a crayon box worth of green colors. The trail is perfumed by balm of Gilead (cottonwood) sap.
We take a back trail through the troll woods and stop at a break in the trees to admire the reflection of Mt. McGinnis in the lake. It would be perfect if not for the expanding rings made by feeding trout.
Before the trees colonized the moraine, a person tired of owning a 1930’s era sedan abandoned it here. Alders started to pioneer the moraine gravel. Their fallen leaves mulched into soil. Over the years it became rich enough to support the growth of cottonwood trees and spruce. The whole time the old sedan had rusted until now it is only an outline of its original self. But there is enough of its bulbous fender left to provide Aki shelter from the rain.
The pine siskins have spread out over the wetlands. It must be their nesting time. If you hear bird song now, it is either a siskin or the more vocally skillful American robin. The robins hop through the low grass, always trying to seduce you into following them away for their nest. It makes them seem common and uninteresting until you spot one of the males, with a red breast posing in front of butter cup flowers.
I’ve a soft spot in my heart for the pine siskins, the way they sing while swaying in the top of a shaft of impossibly thin dried grass. Since I am confessing, I also have a thin for sandpipers, the way they stand in the shallows on one leg. Are they resting the other one or just showing off?
The trail is crowded today with dog walkers. This pleases Aki, who really enjoys meets and greets. While she and another dog exchange sniffs, we owners walk slowly our of sneezing range of each other. We are practicing social distance, like the birds who fly off if a dog or human gets too close. A belted king fisher buzzes over our heads and hovers over the river while screaming our its discordant call. I will it into one of its patent cannonball plunges. But rather dive in the water, it flies across the river looking for more accessible prey.
Rain seems to have driven the old growth birds to ground, or at least to the nests. Only the Stellar’s Jay, the forest’s policeman, shows himself. He throws a hard stare at me from between branches of a spruce tree.
The heavy rain drops hammering the beaver pond have little effect on the pond lily flowers and their broad leaves. Some of the flowers float on the surface like lotus blossoms. Most have risen a few inches into the air where they sway in the wind.
The beach, when we reach it, is empty of birds. You’d think a guy could find some crows or gulls skulking around a tidepool. But nothing swims off the beach or walks the tide line. I spot a bald eagle flying out over Lynn Canal. It is too far away for me to see if it still has its chestnut feathers of youth.
The first gray day to follow a sunny stretch is crushing. Even a dry overcast day like this one offers little reason for me to leave the house. The same is not true for Aki. She was more than ready to hop into the car this morning.
Figuring that the gloom would discourage others from visiting the glacier, I picked it for our venue. I want to see the artic terns. Those diminutive birds have just arrived after flying 12,000 miles from Antarctica. They are building their nests on the ground of sandy peninsulas that poke out into the lake. Usually they only a few birds show themselves above the nesting grounds. But when we arrive, what looks like the entire flock is swarming in the air. They’ve been stirred off their nests by three humans, one pushing a wheel barrow.
One male tern hovers for a moment over the little dog and I before flying off. It would have dive bombed us if we looked threatening. Once I saw a tern chase an adult bald eagle out of the air space above the tern nests, tugging at the big predator’s tail feathers to hurry it along.
I am surprised that the terns have returned. Each of the last few summers, water released by a collapsed ice dam on Mendenhall Glacier has released water that flooded the terns’ nesting area. Last summer a wolf destroyed some of the tern nests. After receiving such treatment, you would think the terns would migrate to a safer nesting site.