Author Archives: Dan Branch

Stark Beauty

During these short winter days, when sunlight can never reach the upper reaches of Perseverance Trail, I always appreciate Gold Creek’s bare cottonwood trees.  I lead Aki off the trail and onto the creek shire. Next spring, the new leaves of the surrounding cottonwoods will hide the mountains. But today, the naked frame of my favorite cottonwoods stands black and barren, too thin to block any view of the steep, snow-white walls of our mountains climbing out of the Gold Creek Canyon.  

They Eat Rain or Shine

I didn’t really want to leave the house today. I wasn’t looking forward to splashing under  heavy, wind-driven rain falling out of clouds that cover the mountains along Gastineau Channel. It’s a day of grays, not blues. It’s the time for catching up on a good book. But a poodle like Aki is owed a small adventure a day so we slide into the car and head out to north end of Douglas Island, where the heavy forests can protect us from the worst of the rain. 

            When just a few miles from the trailhead, I spot gangs of sea lions hammering herring just off shore. Two whales do the same out in the middle of Fritz Cove. I park the car and step out. Ignoring heavy rain bouncing off my parka, I take photos of the hungry and aggressive sea lions. 

            In a few minutes I switch and watch the two whales conducting a similar hunt out in the cove. I think they are humpback whales, who sometimes winter over in the rain forest waters. A little gang of sea lions run just in front of the whales. The sea lions must be snatching at the herring being chased by the humpback. 

            I get back into the car before rain soaks through my parka. We drive to the end of the road and walk to the beach, now flooded by the high tide. Just off shore surf scoters have tightly tucked themselves into a tight raft. Are they stumbling over each other to harvest food or just enjoying a tight hug? In a few minutes they disburse as Aki and I head back to the car and then home.  

Whippy Day

Aki and I are home after a whippy walk through Downtown Juneau. It was a morning for  appreciating the black and white shapes of neighborhood trees and mountains. Except for one dense strip of Franklin Street loaded with bars and homeless folks waiting for lunch, we saw little until we walked onto the downtown cruise ship dock.

            Gulls lined the dock railings in a posture similar to that of the hungry pre-lunch crowd over at the homeless shelter. But one raven landed near us. It waddled across a decorative, if tiny piece of grass, stopping often to scream out a complaint. On this low-light winter day, all the screaming photos I took of it were blurred. But twice, the crusty gull moved until I could clearly see its profile and froze so my camera could capture the wild-bird distain it had with town on this wind-blown day.

Short Flashes of Beauty

This was supposed to be a practical, not a glorious day. We left early to reach St. Vincent DePaul’s while they were still accepting donations. Then, the other chores kicked in. We were running low on milk and bananas, bread and bean burgers so we hit the store after dropping off the donations. Two friends that appreciate good cookie baking each received a tasty dozen. After that we took the patience little poodle for a walk.

            It was a sunny day, at least at first. Early in the morning, sunlight reached the tops of Mt. Juneau and Gastineau Channel. It enriched the sun-covered mountains along the Western side of Lynn Canal. We had to squint in the light when we unloaded stuff at the St. Vincent’s and then pointed the car toward the first cookie drop.

            Gray clouds blocked the sun by the time we reached Amalga Harbor. There was still a small patch of blue in the Southern sky, but it faded to flat and then dark as we worked our way to the Peterson Lake salt chuck. We usual visit here in spring to fish for Dolly Varden or in July to watch salmon climb the salt chuck on their way into the salt chuck. Today, we could only enjoy the sound of the steep rocky water course dumping water into Lynn Canal and the view of a kingfisher longing for spring.

Eagles Killing Time

We stop near the bottom of Main Street to watch an eagle. It sits on top of a pylon, trying to ignore the rain. After flashing me a judgmental look, it turns away to watch the now-empty Gastineau Channel.  You rarely spot an eagle this close to downtown Juneau. They go where the food goes. A small raft of ducks just moved down channel. Maybe the eagle will soon follow them.

            I stopped to photograph the eagle because it is rainy, the kind of rain that usually keeps eagles off Sandy Beach, where are heading. We drive over to Treadwell Woods and have the place pretty much to ourselves, at least until we reach the beach and spot a very wet bald eagle. It stands on the roof of a mining vent tower, looking quite bored. 

            While Aki catalogues scat sign, I walk over the tower. The eagle watches my approach but will not move, even when I get very close. Nearby mallard feed just off the beach sand, heads buried in the water. They wouldn’t have time to escape of the eagle attacked. But the big bird just ignores them. 

Trust Me Guys

This is a weird day, typical of a year of weird weather. One day six inches of snow falls. A few days later, the temperature rises well above freezing and all the snow falls off all the trees. Maybe in a week or even a few days, snowy winter may return. 

            There are positives about today’s conditions even though wind and rain slam the car while I park it along the edge of Fritz Cove. Rain starts to soak my parka as I walk to where I can get a good view of a half-a-dozen sea lions. They are chasing feed near the mouth of a small creek. I’ve caught silver salmon while trolling past this sight on summer days. Today sea lions are doing something similar. Three or four of them pull up half out of the water and caste me hard stares. Don’t worry my hungry friends, I’ve already put away my salmon gear for the winter. 

Charged Up Poodle

We grabbed our snow shoes when we left the house this morning. With snow accumulating in glacier country, Aki’s other owner and I wanted to make sure we could still travel over the moraine. There was no need for the snowshoes. Others before us have already stomped a nice little trail around Moose Lake. 

            Heavy snow clung to all the trees and bushes lining the trail. The snow pulled down the thinner trunks, forcing us to slip under some of them if we wanted to make it round the lake. If the temperature continues to drop, we will be able to cross the lake ice. Aki doesn’t care. She is on fire today, dashing down the trail then flying back toward us. When not running, she stops to sniff spots under trees where snow can’t reach.   

Deep Slice of Winter

Finally, some sticking snow. At least that what Aki’s other owner and I think as we head up Basin Road. I had to shovel five inches of it off the driveway to open up a path toward the mountains. It’s snowed off and on the past few days but the weather was too warm for the flakes to even reach the ground. All that changed last night.

            A neighbor carrying cross country skis shouts out, “Happy new year” as she headed toward the Perseverance Trail. In the past I’ve skied into the mountains from our home on mornings like this. But now, the temperature is already climbing and rain will soon shrink last night’s snow blanket. According to the weather service, we are about to be hammered by warm, rain gray. 

Only a Row of Mergansers

This morning, when no wind disturbed the spruce trees lining Mendenhall Lake, Aki and walked from the Old Skater’s Cabin to the Mendenhall River. The parking lot was empty when we started. No humans were there walking the trail or posing for selfies on the lake shore. It would have perfect if eagles or even crows showed themselves. But, as far as the dog and I could tell, we had the beauty to ourselves.

            I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of wildlife. When we left the lake shore for the river trail, we might be greeted by the small family of swans that winter on the river. Because of the softening weather patterns, some birds have decided to spend the whole year here. Canada geese fly over the tidal meadows most winter days. They are much noisier than the golden eyes, mallards, and mergansers that watch them fly over.

            It was one of those high cloud days, where the light was gray but nothing could interfere with our views of mountain ridges and glacier tops. I could see patches of blue sky above the glacier, which formed a turquoise colored snake out of the ice. 

            I was disappointed by a lack of swans on the river. But on the opposite side of the river, a long line of mergansers slept on the snow-covered beach.  

Aki Takes Control

Aki and I were late to start our walk today. She had been stuck in the house all morning, which I had spent in the local park with our  neighborhood Tai Chi group. I was in a great mood while walking back to get Aki. Thick clouds had broken up open over the park, letting sunshine make new snow on the cottonwood trees sparkle.

            The little dog didn’t greet me at the door. She didn’t appear for a treat when I heated up a quick lunch in the microwave. It took me 10 minutes to find her hiding under the bed. She only acknowledged my presence after her other human carried out from under the bed.

            Knowing how things had to be this late on the last day of the year, I surrendered all decision-control to the ten pound poodle. Knowing this, she stopped every few seconds to pee or smell something left by another dog. In what seemed like a day’s worth of daylight, we wandered onto the flats near the Federal Building, wandering up narrow streets and across footbridges until I had enough. I thought I’d would have had to carry the little poodle up the hill. But Aki relinquished control, to voluntarily follow me home.