The Sheep Creek delta seems empty this morning. No gulls or ducks or even crows wade in the creek waters. No heron stalks small fry in the shallows. A clutch of gulls float in Gastineau Channel under the eye of the adult bald eagle perched in the superstructure of navigation aid no. 2. If it weren’t for a large raft of scoters on the channel waters it would be stone quiet.
I imagine that our other local waterfowl are feeding on their summer grounds on the outside coast. Later, when the creek fills up with spawning pink salmon, clouds of screaming gulls will make it difficult for Aki to hear my summing whistle. But today, she has no such excuse. I’m in the no man’s land between the splash zone grass and the channel. The little dog stands in the grass, using her mental powers to call me back. She wants us to walk down the beach at the edge of a grass-covered dune, which is rich in dog smells.
This drama repeats itself on every visit to the creek so I keep walking, knowing that she will eventually trot out to me. When she does, we walk toward the nav aid to check out the eagle. It ignores us, only leaving its perch to sweep out over the channel to fish.
Aki’s been a good sport about what she considers a silly detour so after a few minutes we walk over the grassy dune where she can scent and pee to her heart’s content. At the end of the dune the nav aid eagle is now perched in an alder tree. Maybe, for the big raptor, we are the morning’s entertainment.
Aki and I have come too soon to the troll woods. It looks and feels like winter has just left. Many of the lakeside alders and cottonwoods stand with naked limbs against a dull-grey sky. But there is hope for spring in for the form of pussy willows and bursting alder buds. Even though little or no snow remains on Thunder Mountain, it is cold enough for me to hood up.
By straining I am able to spot one mallard on Crystal Lake. The shrill whistles of the vared thrush and once, a hawk’s complaint supply the only other evidence of animated life. Pushing deeper into the moraine, despite a government sign warning of recent bear activity, I lead the little dog to the edge of a beaver-flooded trail.
Aki, apparently knowing I will have to soon reverse course, the poodle-mix watches me doing a clumsy tightrope-walking maneuver along the trail’s edge. When I reach a patch of dry ground, my eye is pulled down to the flooded trail by the panicked movements of water bugs. They are heading toward islands of grass where the waves generated by raindrops can’t break the tension that keeps them afloat.
Aki and the Gastineau ravens are ignoring each other. The little dog had the runs last night but seems over it now. Still, she seems a little grumpy. Maybe the ravens are cutting her some slack. A block to the south, where alders partially obscure the cement walls of the old ore crushing plant, more ravens circle in the blue sky. A bald eagle screams out a complaint but doesn’t show itself. The north wind blows the little dog and I past the birds and down onto South Franklin Street.
Here, the tourist shops, bars, Filipino Hall, and the homeless shelter block the wind. Aki follows a pee trail that leads her past the Red Dog Saloon, the Lucky Lady Bar, and the ancient Alaska Hotel. Early day drinkers are no doubt sheltering in each of these establishments. Now facing into the wind, Aki powers past a distillery, tattoo shop, and the Franklin Street Barbers. She shows impatience with I stop to photograph a bronze brown bear statute. In minutes, thanks to her insistence, we are home.
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.