Gatineau Meadow provides great awards for anyone willing to put in the modest effort required to reach it from sea level. We have snow shoed and cross country skied across it, read tracks in its snow and watched deer emerging onto its muskeg from the surrounding spruce forest. Unless low cloud cover hides them you can view our highest mountains from the meadow. Today, long after the winter snow melt, I am looking for summer flowers.
Aki isn’t a flower fan. But while I shuffle from bog rosemary to Alaska violet, the little dog can leisurely check her pee mail. I usually have to coax her past the coyote trail. Today she scoots past it as if her wild cousins have moved south for better hunting.
This morning, some of the meadow’s flowers offer more than beauty. A dramatic scene is unfolding in the yellow cup of a large-leafed avens blossom. Two legs of a tiny spider grip a flower pedal, tensed to pull the spider into the flower where a fly is trapped in a forest of long stamens. Aki’s patience is limited so I move on before the kill and look at a carnivorous sundew plant. I hate to hear her whine.
For the first day this week Aki has to squint when looking down the trail. As strong morning sun burns fog off the channel, we climb the gentle trail up to Gastineau Meadows. Aki likes the lower portion of the trail but always drags her paws when we near a side trail made last winter by coyotes. Today it is no different. Since the little poodle seems to love all dogs, I wonder why she is averse to meeting one of her wild cousins.
I hunt the meadow for wild blooms but only find the curling yellow flowers of the skunk cabbage and tiny magenta colored buds of Labrador tea. If they survived the winter, the meat eating sundew plants haven’t emerged.
When I leave the dry trail for explorations on the boggy muskeg Aki doesn’t follow. Instead she stands stiff as a soldier with head cocked to one side as if seeing me at a different angle will help her understand my strange behavior.
Aki, my little guardian walks three or four meters behind me. She looks concerned each time I turn around. She has reason to be. We are crossing a snow-covered meadow, something only made possible by a firm foot wide track. Each time I step off it my leg sinks into soft snow to mid-calf. I must look like a drunk trying to walk home after closing time. Aki acts like a faithful wingman, acting like she is ready to stop me from falling each time I lurch.
To keep the slippage to a minimum, I rivet my eyes on the trail. While this denies me views of the surrounding mountains, it lets me search for animal tracks crossing the trail. Right off I spot fresh tracks of a small Sitka black tail deer. The deer must have been drawn to the firm trail for the same reasons I am using it. But it broke off the trail and into soft snow. Wondering if we had scared it off the trail, I look through the scattering of shore pines in case it is hiding beside one of them. When I return my gaze to the trail I notice a line of canine prints covering the deer’s tracks.
The canine’s prints are too small for a wolf and too deliberate for a wolf. That leaves Coyote. I realize that I’ve never seen one in Alaska. They were common enough on the California high desert where, as a boy, I’d lie next to my dad and listen to them sing. The mid-sized predator (10-15 kilos) moved into the rain forest over a hundred years ago. But I’ve seen wolves in the woods but never a coyote. Could the coyote that tracked the deer be watching my little dog right now?