The trail to Favorite Channel is empty this morning. I am not surprised. Slip ice covers the trail. Without grips, I would have already fallen on it. This is getting to be an old story. They are usually almost always true. This one is.
Every once in a while, Aki and I spot filtered sunlight through snow-burdened spruce trees. A full moon would cast more light in these woods. But hoping to see it reflected in salt water, I lead Aki to the beach. We have to be careful to move down the trail. I have to keep my eyes on the trail to avoid the dangerously icy bits.
Aki lets me walk into the beach alone so she won’t inadvertently chase off any ducks. It’s a wasted effort. The place is empty until two gulls land near the beach. But we can still see a bit of the sun powering through marine clouds to reflect some light on a patch of the offshore water.
The trail is covered by slick ice, made even more slippery by pools of snow melt and rain water. At least one dog walker had to retreat back to the parking lot after walking a few steps down the trail. The ice grippers that cling to my boots make my passage safe.
Together Aki and I work our way to a little passage to Sandy Beach. Last night’s high tide rush cleared ice and snow from the beach. We would drop on to it in a New York minute if it was clear of other dogs and people. It is not. Four or five folks walk down the beach in the direction we want to use.
The dog folks, having found this magical stretch of easy passage, walk slowly down the beach as their dogs play tag with each other. Sometimes they stop to exchange recipes or tall stories. Walking a slow, safe pace on the icy forest trail, Aki and I keep pace. I think about dropping down on the beach to make a wide, covid free swing around them on the beach but the incoming tide has already narrowed it too much for safe passage. Instead, we stay in the people free forest and circle through it to the car.
The slick-ice trail makes our walk to the beach challenging. It’d be dangerous if I weren’t wearing ice grippers and Aki is a skillful ice dog. We pass the beaver pond. Thanks to the recently snow melt, we can see the just frozen holes that beavers use to leave the pond water. They do that every evening so they can patch holes their pond dam.
We see little on the way to the beach except for the portrait of a dragon’s head formed by receding ice. The beach seems empty of life when we reach it. Then a gang of gulls lands on the gravel about twenty feet away. They take up posts on the tops of exposed rocks and give us the hard stare. I still feel honored, maybe even accepted by the normally careful gulls.
Further down the beach we stumble on three harlequin docks. One, a female, is perched on the water’s edge of a rock watching a gull watching Aki and I. The other two harlequins stand nearby on the beach, also watching the rocky gull. This distraction allows us to get pretty near the ducks until they spot us and take to the water.
Slick ice topped with a layer of rainwater covers the trail along Fish Creek. By having metal ice grippers secured on my boots, I can move safely down the trail. Aki’s paws slip a little with each step but it doesn’t slow down her progress. Together we manage to reach a little pond that fills with spawning king salmon each summer.
The salmon all died months ago. Now no ducks cruise the pond. Most of the pond is still covered with frozen ice. After passing the pond, the little dog and I take another icy trail down to the mouth of the creek where the glacier and the surrounding mountains are reflected by the creek’s calm waters.
It’s been a while since Aki and I walked on this trail. The government makes it illegal to walk with dog on it until the bears leave to hibernate. That has happened. The trail takes you through a forest of young spruce trees. Not too many decades ago, the land was too compressed by the shrinking glacier for the spruce.
Soon we drop down a short trail to Mendenhall Lake where a well packed trail heads toward the beginning of Mendenhall River. We see few people but lots of wild animal tracks. A coyote left many of them. I wonder that the little hunter was be attacking. Then we spotted the tracks made by a snowshoe hare running for its life.
Winter came early to this capital town. Snow covered our yard weeks ago and hasn’t been washed away by rain. The weather service predicts five new inches of new snow this afternoon. Aki and I try to sneak in a cruise of Downtown before the storm hits. We work our way up Gastineau Avenue. It’s already snowing now. White flakes collect on the top edges of gray alder limbs, making them look bright against the storm-grey clouds.
Ravens are waiting for us after we leave Gastineau and work our way over to the cruise ship docks. By now the new snow has formed big lumps on my boots. It makes me walk like a raven, rocking from side to side and I try to move forward without falling over.
One of the ravens flies over so Aki will chase it. Aki growls but won’t chase, even after the raven takes flight. It lands a few away and looks a little put out. A half dozen other ravens sulk while we pass. One, who might not have seen us approach, flutters its feathers, making snowflakes fly.
For the past few weeks, Aki and I have spotted a pair of Sitka blacktail deer does walking near a road that leads to Sheep Creek. We drove out there this morning to walk around a delta exposed by the low tide. We didn’t see any deer along the road or even any had eagles.
It had snowed while the tide retreated early this morning. Today’s incoming tide will melt the fallen snow. But now, with the tide at its lowest, a thin blanket of white still coveres the exposed beach. The snow enriches the view by emphasizing the curves and dips of the tidal ridges. I can’t remember seeing this before.
We walked out to the edge of the now exposed wetlands and then to the beach’s end, where amateur gold miners have parked their makeshift dredges. One was made from the body of a tired looking pickup truck.
A collection of eagles and ravens had gathered along the road side. We drive past them on our way back to town. I stop the car and head toward the collection of hungry bird. They let me get within twenty feet before flying to roosts across the road. Then I spotted one of our Sitka black tailed deers lying dead on roadside snow now tramped by the thorny feet of the hungry birds.
Aki doesn’t act like this is her 14th birthday. She is planted on a very slippery ice, waiting for me to drop a bag of her poop into a bearproof garbage can. After I return, she and my wife walk off the ice and onto a snow free Basin Road.
In less than a block ice and slick snow again covers the road. It will be this way as we travel up the road up to Gold Creek crossing and then walk onto the newly reopened Flume Trail. It’s been shut down for the last two years for repairs. The last time we walked it in winter, twenty-footlong icicles hung from the bottom of parts of the flume. We see none today because they finally patched the leaks.
The flume carries water from the Gold Creek Valley to a tiny hydro plant near the Indian Village. The plant can continue to deliver electricity to Juneau town if landslides stop the main power lines.
Aki walks along the flume trail until we reach a patch with ice, rather than snow. Then, she throws on the breaks. My wife and I try to talk her into continuing. But she won’t move. Frustrated, I look above her and see forty knot winds pushing cloud of snow off the sides of Mt. Roberts. If the wind shifts, Aki and her people might get the big chill. The little dog is picked up and carried down the now slippery trail. Think of this as an early present little dog.
Accepting the promise for sunshine by the weatherman, I headed out to the Rain Forest Trail with Aki in Tow. After crossing the Douglas Island Bridge, we drove north on the Douglas Highway. There were few cars on the highway but a lot of wildlife close to its border.
Eagles and ravens flew over the car during the first nine miles of the drive. Oddly we didn’t see any eagles after we reached the North Douglas boat ramp. From there until we almost reached the trailhead, we had an unrestricted view of Fritz Cove and Stephens Passage. The water was dotted with gulls and ducks. A tight congregation of sea lions harvested small fish just off the shore.
We drove to the Rain Forest trailhead and made our way down the icy trail. It led up to an open patch of ocean which was being used by a humpback whale to feed. The whale moved past a large black mass shaped like a very large ball. The incoming tide carried it up channel at about the same speed as the whale. I wondered whether it once was another whale, maybe an orca, now floating dead weight on the tide.
Aki and her other owner just crossed the shrinking dry path that will allow them to avoid being soaked by the incoming tide. A judgmental crow keeps me from immediately following them. It lands two meters away on a piece of ground about to be covered by tidal waters. Having crossed the disappearing spot without getting my boots wet, I stop to watch the bratty bird.
The crow holds it ground, seemingly ignoring me and the incoming tide. Seconds before he is inundated with ocean water, he flies away. I take a few seconds to photograph his rescue, then look down to spot flooding tide waters about to soak my boots. He is not the first crow that tried to trick me. More than one has succeeded.
The friends of the surley crow have been drawn to Sheep Creek, where four bald eagles were fighting over a scrap of meat. As is usual, one of the eagles is pulling chunks of feed off the carcass while the other eagles watch. So do a gang of crows. One or two of the crows try to sneak up on the munching eagle but can’t snatch away any food. Maybe that is why the other eagles keep nearby where they can chase off any crow willing to cross the line.