Aki and I start the Ides of March on the Douglas Island Bridge. Normally she drags her paws on to the bridge. But today she tries to bully me into letting her walk across it. A murder of loud-mouthed crows watches our battle of wills. I know I shouldn’t care what these dudes think about the little dog or me. But I am still bothered by the attention. Aki eventually backs down and we return to the car. It’s time to check out Peterson Creek.
At first glance the creek looks to be ice-free. Over a foot of golden brown water runs between the creek banks, reflecting the mottled bark of the creek side alders. But ice stills covers the creek bed, providing a white background for the golden water. It’s still a winter scene but spring can’t be far away.
We cross over the creek and walk down to a beach bordering Stephens Passage and climb a small rocky headland. Aki gives me her “This is so boring” look. I will accommodate her but first I want to study something that looks like an animal’s backbone trapped in rock. It could be fossil, evidence of life from a time long past.
In summer this parking lot is full of cars and buses ready to take river rafters back to their cruise ships. Today it is empty except for an abandoned Buick and one pickup truck. When Aki and I start down the brotherhood bridge trail, we run into a disheveled young man struggling to push a bicycle through the soft snow covering the trail. “Sir, I hate to ask, but do you happen to have $5. I have a terrible headache and could really use a drink.” I almost complied to reward his honesty.
We pass through a small copse of spruce and move onto to a meadow dotted with alders. Disintegrating ground fog partially obscures the alders. As it lifts I can see the alders, which appear to be leafing out, something unexpected in late winter. But close up I can see that the yellowish green “foliage” are really lichen.
The lichen hang from every branch and twig. I’ve been told that lichen can’t tolerate polluted air. So their colonies in the meadow alders gives proof of our clean air. But the way that they have spread to almost every part of the tree makes me wonder whether the alders would consider them an infection.
Snow covers the parked cars on Gastineau Street. Some are so hemmed in by snow berms that they won’t be freed without some shovel work. I have a lot of time to study the snowed-in cars as Aki inspects every yellow spot in the snow.
We are between snowstorms. Yesterday’s left the cottonwoods and alders branches with white highlights. Already the temperature is well above freezing and the snow on trees will soon soften and fall to ground.
Aki throws on the brakes after we drop down to South Franklin Street. In an effort to keep the sidewalks free of ice and snow, the merchants have spread rock salt on them. At first my little dog ignores the crystals but then stops. She gives me that “what have you gotten me into” look. I end up carrying her in my arms through the salted zone. Unfortunately, it is lunch hour for the downtown office workers, several of whom make teasing comments about my unique style of dog walking.
I am knee deep in snow having been drawn off the packed trail by frost glistening on a grove of burned out spruce. Aki watches from the trail. She won’t move unless I do something really stupid like post hole until I am out of her sight. Even then she might just curl up on a sunny spot and wait for me to come to my senses.
We are crossing the glacial moraine. I wanted to sneak off the trail and into the Troll Woods but that path is snowed in. We keep to a narrow trail that resembles a foot deep trench in the snow cover. I think Aki appreciates the way the narrow trail has discouraged other dogs from wandering off to urinate, which simplifies her task of checking the pee mail.
This is beaver country. We pass a hole kept open in creek ice by one of them. In some places groves of spruce and alders, killed when water backed up behind beaver dams flooded around their trunks, lean against each other like drunks after closing time. They will have the place all to themselves after the next strong Pacific storm brings inches of melting rain.
Aki trots ahead on a trail with just enough traction to allow me to safely follow. We are moving up the old mining road that starts at an old trestle bridge and leads to the ruins of the old Perseverance Mining District. I am enjoying the gray beauty when I am not daydreaming. The little dog must sense my detachment because she is acting more like a bodyguard than a pet.
If I stop to photograph something, she backtracks and stands guard until I’m done. When my feet slip on the trail, she looks back as if to make sure I am okay.
Aki and I start the short climb to Gastineau Meadows, skirting a serpentine of frozen runoff that covers most of the access road. I take a picture of Mt. Jumbo knowing that it will end up in the digital trash. It’s a mountain best seen on a summer afternoon from somewhere on the Juneau side of Gastineau Channel. The meadow and its access trail are too close to offer much of a view.
I stop to admire the alders lining the road. Normally I ignore them like I do all alders. They are ubiquitous, too common for us to really appreciate. Alders and willows are nature’s band-aids. They stabilize disturbed land like rockslides or unused gravel roads with soil too poor to support spruce or hemlocks. After these pioneers have enriched the ground with their fallen leaves, they are pushed out by the evergreens. The indigenous people of the rain forest carve many of their haunting masks from alder wood. But it is hard not to think of them as weeds.
Some of last week’s snow is still draped over the alder branches and trunks. With early morning light shinning on them, the grey-trunked trees look beautiful. But it isn’t a beauty I can capture with my camera. I forget about the alder thickets after we reach the meadow where snow has formed white wigs in the tops of the sparely needled bull pines. Above the pines Juneau, Roberts, and sheep mountains stand white against a blue sky.