In a few hours the sky will clear, letting the sunshine light up the Douglas Mountain Range. The sun will also replace the subtitle colors of Gastineau Meadow with richer tones. I’ve taken many pictures to record that beauty. But I’m out here before the storm ends, being soaked by a soft rain, because sometimes raindrops can deliver more sparkle than sunshine.
Tonight the rain returns. Today we can still use the sun to enjoy Mendenhall Lake. Clouds will deaden the sky this evening and heavy rain will keep many folks indoors. That’s why I was surprised at how few people have taken to the glacier trail this morning. The sun still shines, making recently freed glacier ice sparkle.
We wanted to take a moraine trail to where it drops you onto a beach on Mendenhall Lake. But several signs said that no dog, not even a poodle who has used her 10 pound body to chase away grumpy bears, could walk the trail we wanted to take.
Instead we strolled over to a saddle to take another look at this year’s artic terns. They rose off the beach in large clouds when we approached on the last visit. Today we could only spot one or two at a time. Some were collecting food for their nesters. Most kept a close by watch on the new born babes.
It’s late morning when Aki and enter the Dredge Lake Forest. Sun lights up the tops of the surrounding trees but keeps our trail in shade. Because the grass stalks are young and soft, Aki grazes on them as we work our way into the troll woods.
On gray days, when rain water soaks the woods, I use the quickest path to pass through them. But today, cottonwoods are sending out yellow-green leaves that fill the air with a rich perfume. In a few days, the leaves will expand and thicken. They will turn a dark green. They will not long smell like perfume. But today, while the sun still rises, the temperature reaches 60 degrees, and the forest is full of singing birds, the little dog and I try to get lost on a little used forest trail.
I’ve gotten spoiled by the forest’s rich beauty. If visiting from the Lower 48, I would be overwhelmed by the colors, textures and shapes of the trees we pass between to reach a North Douglas Island beach.
This morning, I become a tourist and gave the old growth trees a stronger view. Each trunk grew out of a stump or downed tree. Some had to bend their large bodies around boulders or another tree. They hold on to these bends for years or maybe centuries after the pushy tree lived, died, and rotted away.
We picked Auk Nu Beach for this mornings’ walk. The huge, old growth spruce crowding the trail keeps most raindrops off our parkas. It would have been a great idea if we had the place to ourselves. New leaves were exploding open on ever alder tree. But it was hard to enjoy it because of the long line of little grade schoolers chuckling on the beach.
I wouldn’t leave the woods for the beach on any other wet day. But after the parade of beach kids passed us, I walked with Aki across the beach gravel toward a gang of golden eye ducks and scoters feeding just offshore. Mergansers and mallards would have drifted into deeper water as we approached. But the scots and golden eyes ducks just ignored us. They were too busy harvesting the shallows.
It’s 60 degrees F. We are walking along a small lake covered by a cloud-free sky. A very thin blanket of ice still covers the southeast portion of the lake where Aki and I stand.
Many of the waterfowl birds are taking advantage of the sunny day to sleep on the grassy beach along the northern lake shore. Having winter ice on the lake’s south side but not on the north makes me wonder if the little dog and I wandered into the Southern Hemisphere.
It’s a rich day for bird viewing even if you ignore the ducks. Two geese flew past us on the beach as did a heron. Just before returning to the car I walked to the auto bridge and spotted two other Canada geese standing together on the creek shore. One looked fine. The other had an odd looking tail. Was it damaged or just catching the light in an odd way.
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.
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.
t snowed most of last night. It’s scheduled to snow more this afternoon. But right now, in late morning, no rain or snow falls. The sun is even breaking through the clouds for minutes at a time. Aki is more than ready to walk along Sandy Beach.
Four inches of new snow cover the trail to the beach. But it gives, rather than makng up slip and slide, when we walk on it. It takes us little time to work through the woods and onto the beach. The tide is reducing Sandy to a narrow trail. In a few minutes tidal water will close it to traffic.
By slipping under alders hanging over the beach, we are able to make it to the end of the beach where an immature bald eagle seems to sulking in a beachside cottonwood tree. I wonder, for the tenth time this winter, whether eagles will nest again in the Treadwell Woods that border Sandy Beach. We climb a snow-covered trail off the beach to where we can see an eagle nest built into the framework of a cottonwood. For the time since last summer an adult eagle is stationed above the nest.
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.