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.
Cold but no wind—that is what we hoped to find when we visited a trail system 30 miles away. We dressed Aki in warm gear, filled up the car, and drove out to Eagle Beach. The campground parking lot was full of other cars so we drove a little further to an almost-empty trail head. From there we took a little used path into an old growth spruce forest.
The skiing was almost perfect as were the shafts of sunlight that powered around the trunks of the huge spruce. We had the trail to ourselves. Every once in awhile a huge and heavy load of new snow tumbled in a thick shower on the forest floor. I loved skiing through the trail, hoping to pass through without being hammered from loads of falling snow.
It was also dark in the forest. At the edge, the trail led to a sunlit trail where the full sin made the snow covered alders almost too painful to view. From there we powered through another sunny meadow to the river, where Aki ran into a collection of other dogs. For the first time on the ski, she acted like a hog heaven.
A new snow storm moved over Juneau last night. This morning, it blocked our view of mountains, islands, and clouds. But I was ready to accept what we could see—clouds of snow flakes clinging to the neighborhood spruce or fluttering to the ground.
It took an hour to shovel out a path for our car to reach the street. From there, with care, we were able to creep down the steep downtown streets and work our way out to Montana Lake. We normally head out there on sunny days when we can see the glacier and its surrounding mountains sparkling with sunshine.
We push ahead though the forest on a newly laid ski trail. It’s a time for enjoying the simplified view. Any thoughts or concerns I carried as I stepped into my skis disappeared a-half-mile down the trail. From there I just enjoyed the ski’s rhythms, stopping for time to time to look at surprising designs in the trail-side alders that were almost over-burdened by the fresh snow.
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.
“Crap.” I should have taken the little path around the flooded part of the wooden trail. But my feet were protected by rubber boots. Only a few inches of dark water covered the plank trail. Piece of cake. Then things were very wrong.
Passage over the first part of the walk filled me with too much courage. While Aki had had to be carried over flooded sections of the forest trail, my rubber boots kept me dry. Then we had to cross an icy meadow trail to the beach. But we managed work arounds so man and dog made it safely to the ocean. I could relax and think about the dozen sea lions we watched feed as we drove to the trailhead. We were circling back through the forest to the car when things got very wet.
Once, Aki and I could have easily walked over a now-flooded wood trail. When she reached it, the little poodle-mix took the rough work-around path that requires us to squeeze through drenched blue berry brush. Aki had already finished the side path by the time I had reached the sunken part of the wooden trail. To show off, I continued down the trail, trusting my boots to stay on the submerged trail planks. Less than a foot from the finish, my right foot slipped off the trail and dropped into a deep, mucky pool. Water filled the boot and soaked my jean leg. After watching the drama, Aki turned and trotted toward the car.
Before heading over to the Gastineau Meadows Trail, I had to shovel away several inches of snow from our driveway. There might be more on the trail so I slipped my ice grippers into a jacket pocket. The sun was only a few inches above the Douglas Island ridge when we started the drive. It rarely rises more above the ridge this close to our shortest day of the year.
Two ravens are waiting for us when we reach the trailhead. One clings to the snow-covered branches of an alder tree, its pure-black body standing out against the flanks of Mt. Juneau. The ravens fly just in front of us as we head up the trail, then stop just before we can see Mt. Jumbo. They will be waiting at this spot when return from our swing through the meadow.
Thirty minutes later we reach the meadow. The sun has already disappeared behind Mt. Juneau even though dusk will last for three more hours. I often wonder why naturalists haven’t named this place “Dusk” rather than given it the name of an early explorer.
Early this morning, while crouching next to our kitchen heater, waiting for the coffee pot to finish its waking magic, a local radio announcer promised listeners a day of wind, rain and snow.
For three hours I expected first snow, then rain to blur our house windows. But the sun flooded the neighborhood, making spruce trees throw shadows onto the moss-covered roof across the street. We might just have enough time to walk to the mouth of Fish Creek while the sun still lit up the glacier and mountains rising on the other side of Fritz Cove.
This close to the shortest day of the year, much of Douglas Island sits in gray light. But on clear winter days, unblocked sunlight brightens the snow covered mountains on the mainland, making them almost too bright to view from Fish Creek.
The little dog and I walk across a creek bridge still slick with winter ice and cruise through a grey forest towards Fritz’s Cove. Normally, I’d be frustrated by the flat, dull light and the lack of birds. I’d be aggravated that we can hear the cries of hidden eagles and another bird of prey but not see them. But when we reach a spit that offers views of the glacier reflected in the creek waters, the absence or presence of birds no longer seems to matter.