We hadn’t seen the sun shine for a week, maybe two. Every morning my computer weather app. had predicted another gray, snowy day. Every morning during the past two weeks, the temperature climbed above freezing and stayed there until late in evening. The warming weather didn’t stop the snow from falling, only made sure that it would melt just as it hit our streets and trails. Last night the sun did appear, causing me to check the weather app. It promised that tomorrow would be a sunny day, followed by at least another week of snow.
Waking this morning, and hoping to find confirmation of the weather app prediction, I looked out the window at the top of Mt. Juneau, and found it lit by early sun under a blue, cloudless sky. Even though she was sleeping on the family bed, I grabbed Aki’s warm wrap and slid it around her neck and shoulders. She was immediately awake and reading for a hike.
We drove through the empty streets of Downtown Juneau and across the Douglas Island Bridge to the Gastineau Meadows trail head. The tiny parking lot was empty. Aki followed me up the steep approach path and on to the main trail. We saw no one, animal or human, during the hike. I could hear blue jays complaints and complicated speeches of ravens. I sought and then spotted a wood pecker wounding the side of a giant alder tree. As always happened after we reach the open meadow, I was almost overwhelmed by the sight of sunshine on the snow covering the meadows and mountains that surrounded the little dog and I.
Deep snow covers the trail to Sandy Beach. It’s dense enough to has enough to support Aki’s weigh. But, I have to keep on the narrow trail to avoid wearing myself out on the soft, deep snow that borders it.
The beach is lined with dark and naked tree trunks. They still look pleasing but I am wondering whether spring will ever arrive. Then I spot one willow tree displaying a cloud of white. It’s not snow, but cotton-like flowers called pussy willows. I should take photographs of the blooms but don’t want to tromp my way through many meters of deep snow to reach them. Believing that there are more blooming willows, I follow Aki toward the beach’s end.
None of the other willows along the beach are blooming. I wonder if the flowery one is a wise predictor of winter’s end, or a short-lived fool. Then I leave the beach and climb a steep trail toward an eagle’s nest. One of the nesting birds calls out on our approach. But none of them make themselves visible from the trail.
Aki and I are not getting along. Maybe she overheard me speaking about today’s hike with her other human. At the time the driving roads were bare of snow. I told the other human I would drive Aki and I to a little used trail out the road. Then the snow started.
By the time we were ready to leave, four inches of fresh snow covered the car and the road we would have to use to get the car out of town. The continuing storm brought beauty by dumping even more snow on the roads. I knew that the little dog and I would be better off walking on the Juneau streets rather than challenging the snowy roads in the car. After we left the house, the little dog pouted and poodled her way down the snowy hill to town.
According to the government, the season of Spring replaced Winter last week. Ads that accompany the national news on TV push purchases of gardening supplies or Easter candy. Last night the temperature dropped to below freezing, like it has done every night for what seems like months. This morning snow is falling through warming skies. Soon it will turn to rain. Clouds block our views of local mountains. But there might still skiable snow near the Mendenhall Glacier.
Aki, our other human and I drive out to the glacier in hopes that the snow covering the lake’s beaches hasn’t softened to mush. We find it perfect for skiing. Recognizing that we have finally gotten a break, we use our cross country skis to work along the beach and bays. No people, birds, or bears share the lake ice with us. In no time we make it to the Mendenhall River and ski down it to where it almost touches the campground ski trail. We will use that trail to return to the car. I am once again disappointed not to see the swans that normally feed in the river this time of year. Perhaps, they are waiting for Spring to finally appear.
Aki and I were forced today to take a break from skiing. The snows on our favorite cross country trails are too soft for setting tracks. For a week, large flakes of wet snow have fallen through the night and into the morning. Then, as the temperature climbed above freezing, the snow gave way to rain.
Some people might question whether Aki needs groomed ski tracks. Even today, the poodle mix could still dash down an uncarved trail. But because she is a tiny little dog, she’d miss the ability to run down a single set ski track, which has been hardened and made fast by prior cross country skiers. Instead of making both of us struggle with unset tracks, I’ve taken her to a North Douglas Island trail, where what snow still covering the gravel has already been packed down by other hikers and their friendly dogs.
We are skiing. At least Aki’s other human and I are skiing. Aki is stalling, at least until we are almost out of her reach. Then the little dog fires up into a trot to catch up with us. The snow storm that has dumped on us all night briefly stops. Sun shine starts pushing through the clouds then disappears. The snow storm returned, dropping even more precipitation. This reduces our vision almost to zero. We have just enough vision to find our way back to the car.
The snow is working hard to simplify our walk through Downtown Juneau. Snow clouds obscure the mountains and ocean channels. Snow flakes fall on the streets like they want to turn them white. But no one flake survives the fall. We walk up Gastineau Avenue and run into a huge gang of ravens. Most of them are roosting on sidewalk rails, ignoring our approach. One looks at the little dog and I, throwing at us the stiff bodied eye of judgment.
We were promised more rain and snow today. But sunshine was sparkling on Gastineau Channel as I brewed my second cup of coffee. We headed out to the trail earlier than usual in case the sun is soon blocked by clouds.
There were no cars in the parking lot for the Gastineau Meadow trail. We soon learned why. Yesterday, rain had flooded the trail, covering it with an inch or so of water. Last night, a one inch layer of ice formed over the rain water. In an hour or so, after the temperature rises well above freezing, hikers will return to their cars with water-soaked boots.
It’s been a couple of months since we last hiked on this trail. It was icy then, and there was little snow on the meadow. Today, it is covered by a couple feet of snow. It’s not hard to move up from tidewater and onto the meadow as long as we stayed on the pounded trail. Any time I move off of it to take a photograph, my boots sink a foot or two into the still soft snow.
Aki, it’s a nasty day. We are in the living room, looking at wet snow coming out of the sky. In a few minutes it turns into rain. It’s going to come down as rain for the rest of the day. Hoping that the weather will be better, if not colder, near the glacier, we drive out the Mendenhall Campground.
Aki’s other adult owner has come as well. Even though the ground at the parking lot is covered with five inches of new, wet snow, the other adult human clamps on her skate skis. Given the soft snow conditions, I figure that she’d do better on her classic skis. As I slide easily in a nice ski track at the beginning of the trail, she struggles. Then we reach the place where a snow machine packer has started to pack down the trail. He wiped out the classic ski tracks, forcing me to bounce over snow made bumpy by the snow machine. That turns the rest of my stay at the campground into a scrabble for the best surface for my skis. But Aki and her other human are able to fly down the packed trail.
Yesterday a storm dumped over a foot of snow on Chicken Ridge. We joined our neighbors in shoveling out driveways for our cars and pathways to reach them. In these Covid times, people in Juneau town keep to themselves most of the time. That changes when the snow falls. The morning following an overnight storm, the people living in our house and others grab their shovels and join the neighborhood to push away a deep layer of snow.