My dad grew up in a very rural section of Montana. It must have rained or snowed often there because he used to tell me if the sun shined on a Sunday he’d go fishing. I have thought often of the little story this winter since snow and clouds have dominated our winter weeks. It popped into my mind again this morning when I spotted rays from the rising sun lighting up the Mount Juneau ridge. But this evening we would again be hammered by snow.
Leaving earlier than usual the poodle-mix and I drove north out of Juneau to Eagle River. No clouds blocked our views of Lynn Canal and the mountains that line it’s east side. Last night slick ice formed on the road, slowing down our efforts to reach the ski trail. We saw few cars on the road. Only one rig sat in the trailhead parking lot when we parked and that one was covered with last night’s frost.
Aki charged down the trail, still firm with last night’s ice. I had to struggle to keep my skis moving forward. Shafts of morning light enriched the yellows and greens of moss covered tree bark. After a bit of a struggle we reached the parking lot for the campground. The little pooch chose an exposed spot in front of the manager’s office to push out a bowl movement. It took me ten minutes to pick it, bag it, and carry it out to the campground garbage bin. Aki used the time to sniff and pee her way around the parking area.
I was pretty grumpy when I lead Aki onto the ski trail and started back toward the car. Only a small number of people were skiing. No one had ventured down a little side trail that delivered Aki and I to an Eagle River sand bar. There we viewed reflections of sharp-edged coastal mountains reflected in the calm river waters.
Aki and I were both a little tired as we drove out to the glacier. The little old dog whined a lot as her other human and I spent time shoveling new snow off the driveway and car. Three of our next door neighbors helped so it didn’t take an unusual amount of time. Aki disappeared into the house of our next door neighbor, where she told one of her favorite other humans how frustrated she was having today’s ski adventure delayed.
At the beginning of the ski run, low snow clouds blocked any views of the glacier, most of the trees, and all of the mountains. This didn’t bother our little dog, who cheered up when a dog friend popped out of his family car. Even though she only weighs 10 pounds, Aki is treated like a princess by most of the dogs she meets. She acts accordingly.
While Aki and rode out to Mendenhall Lake, I expected the trail to be soft. If there is still any sign of the ski trail, it must be flushy and shallow. But while warmish air was quickly melting snow near our downtown home, the air was well under freezing by the glacier. This allowed the volunteer trail guy to create a great, well-formed ski trail this morning.
On a good ski day like this, this is one of Aki’s favorite places to visit. The well packed trails help her fly toward the dogs of other skiers. She dashes up to them, engages in a quick exchange of sniffs, and trots back to me.
When we get close to the river that drains Mendenhall Lake, Aki and I leave the ski trail and walk over to the water. We do this on every Mendenhall ski on the chance that we will see a family of swans. It doesn’t happen on this visit. I think back to the story in the Juneau Empire describing the capture last month of an injured swan. It happened on this little river stretch. Maybe things will change next month. The injured swan might be reunited here with her family, or the little river will fill up with other transit swans.
Aki and I are having a nice little morning. We should be being hammered by falling rain as we walk into the ocean woods. Instead, it is dry. Aki is a few meters back on the trail, sniffing a place recently decorated by a urinating dog. I’m trying to study the remains of a porcupine that have been scattered over the snowy trail. A porky’s quills covers most of the trail. A collection its skin and more quills lay a meter away.
It looks like the assailant stripped away quills to reach the porky’s flesh. To avoid harvesting from the corpse, I convince Aki to follow me onto the beach just as weak shafts of sun light power through the southern clouds. Even though the sunshine hits clouds more than five miles away, I am draw to it each time I raise the camera.
It’s a wet day. Its been wet for several days as the weather has warmed. Yesterday, fat, wet flakes fell. Today its just rain. I was tempted to spend the daylight hours inside, with a copy of a book of poems by Louise Gluck because she won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. But Aki deserves a walk. The Gluck’s book that I received from an inter-library loan was shipped to Juneau from the Fairbanks Library where it had sat since April 5, 2013. The library’s “due date” page is blank, making me wonder if I am the first Alaskan to check it out.
While walking with Aki down a rainy beach this afternoon, I wondered why no one ever checked out Gluck’s book, which contains over six hundred pages of her poetry, all of it published between 1962 and 2012. It’s a first edition book that she signed before giving it to the Fairbanks Library. I think after the little dog and I return home and dry off, I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon sinking into Gluck’s poetry.
The snow has returned, a snotty, unstructured white mass of dancers. They fly down the street as we drive to Fish Creek. The parking lot for the trail only has one car. We will see them for a few seconds while on the trail. Then we will have the place to ourselves.
I expected to find the delta empty. But it is full of birds. There are plenty of gulls and mallard duck, all working the shallows for food. None pay us any attention. In a little, shallow pond, two killdeer feed. Normally, they never visit the Alaskan rainforests in winter and are rarely seen in other seasons. They must have flown long and hard to get to the creek delta because they total ignore our presence.
On the other side of the little pond, an American wigeon walks along the beach. His kind are rarely seen in our area this time of year. A few minutes later, while passing along a short trail through the woods, a I stop short when a chestnut backed chickadee lands on the trail a few meet away. Like the gulls and the mallards, the chickadee is almost always around. But this one has no time or interest in keeping any distance between himself and Aki or I.
Aki is dragging her feet this morning. We are on a trail that leads to the Mendenhall River and then on to Fritz Cove. We’ve been avoiding the trail for months because it is used by bird hunters all fall. Maybe the little pooch, who cringes at even distant gun shots, thinks the hunters are still around.
I coax her to the beach in time to watch four bald eagles soar above the beach in tight circles. Two of them hover over the little dog and me, then move further up river. They are riding the strong winds that blows over our heads, sometimes in tight circles. One of the eagles almost taps another as they circle above us. Maybe they are starting their yearly courting.
The snow is back, replacing weeks of cold, but sunny skies. The snow turns the skies grey. For a while this morning, clouds blocked the views of surrounding mountains. If not for Aki, the poodle-mix, I would spend the day reading a book on the Alaskan wilderness and trying out some of the tea types we received for Christmas.
We end up visiting Sandy Beach. The trail is covered with new snow as is the beach. Aki is in hog heaven, playing “chase and chase me” with other dogs. A knot of golden eye ducks swim close to shore. Two males raise their beaks in song while their females swim alongside, often harvesting food with the submerged beaks.
It’s a grey day. Snow flakes that looks like spaghetti floats out of a flat-lit sky. But Aki and are still having a great morning moving through an old growth forest. Yesterday, big crowds of Valentine’ Day lovers stomped through the forest trail, crushing flat the nice ski trail that we used last week. Still, today, we have the place to ourselves.
I stop often and try to photograph the large ice crystals that weigh down the trail-side alder. If the sun burned through the clouds, it might make the crystals sparkle like diamonds in a Los Vegas wedding parlor. But this morning they look faint and grey. I can’t find any of that would catch the eye of most passing walkers. On one of the meadows, I finally find a large formation of obvious snow crystals that have formed the bloated body of a goose with an huge, exposed rear end. It’s that kind of day.
It’s an afternoon for Italian roast coffee and mutted views of Alaskan mountains. That’s how I am seeing and think of things. Aki does not. She sits nearby, giving me the “let’s get going” stare.
Pushing away a little lazy guy spirit that thinks that I should spend the morning drinking tea while looking out the window for the neighborhood raven nest, I leash-up Aki and head out the door. Only a slight breeze stirs the air and the temperature is already in the high 20’s. Then the sun burns through the clouds and I realize that Aki’s was a great idea.
I let her direct me through downtown neighborhoods full of Craftsmen houses. As she does when she is a little upset with me, Aki dog stops every few feet to check scent left by other dogs. Feeling a little guilty about delaying the walk, I turn control over all decision making to her. This improves her mood. It also allows me to discover beauty in buildings that I have taken for granted for years.