At least a foot snow still covers the Montana Creek Trail. Thanks to the recent stint of spring weather the snow is soft but still skiable. Ahead, Aki’s other human starts down the chicane of three hills that starts the trail. The little dog chases her, charging down a deep grove cut by the wheel of an all terrain vehicle.
Early this morning some yob drove his or her four-wheeler up the trail, ripping it up. The anger I initially felt at having to ski in the resulting mess fades, calmed by the sounds of the creek and the Zen rhythm of skiing. By time we reach the turn around point I am no longer wishing great bodily harm on the person that chewed up the trail out of boredom or a desire to destroy something that provides an entry into the woods for those willing to make the effort.
Aki splashes along a trail of covered by ice and a thin layer of water. Before I left for my weekend trip to Anchorage it offered skiable snow. Now I have to struggle to stay upright on my cross-country skis. I follow the little dog, thinking that we should turn around. Each time I do, the glimmer of water on Mendenhall Lake draws me forward.
The water covering the still frozen lake reflect a gray ski, clouds, mountains, the glacier, and surrounding trees. The captured reflections are outlined by the glow from the underlying ice. To eye them is to see into Alice’s looking glass.
After almost falling a few times, I follow Aki into the relatively snow free woods and onto the edge of the lake. Here a border of windblown snow offers a skiable surface. The little dog walks behind me on my ski tracks. I still have to take care to avoid skiing over the tops of emerging rocks.
The temperature has reached 54 degrees F. I unzip my parka and remove my hats and gloves. The snow, already reduced by a recent deluge of rain, can’t survive long in these conditions. Is winter dying, little dog? She offers no opinion.
Tempted by another dog’s scent, Aki stopped to investigate it. Finding the spot worthy of marking, the little dog lifted her rear into the air and peed—a trademarked poodle move. Just before I could catch up with her on my cross-country skis, Aki charged down the lake after her other human—the one using the faster skate skis. They were the only creatures between the Mendenhall Glacier and me.
The poodle-mix looked even tinier than the ten-pound dog she is against the glacial background. Slowed by the soft, wet snow, she struggled like Dickens’ Tiny Tim. We still had two miles of snow to cross before returning to the car. She should have slow down to save her strength. But the growing gap between her other human and I spurred her herding instinct.
I tried to pick up my pace but was slowed by the softening snow. Ahead, Aki snaked back and forth across the trail, trying to find the firmest footing. Water began filling her paw prints almost as soon as she made them. She wasn’t winded when we finally caught up with her skate-skiing human. Not bad for a 12 and a half year old dog.
This morning a frustrated Aki barked through the window at a thieving raven. It didn’t stop the bird from tearing strips from a bundle of floating row cover. The poodle-mix barked even more when the raven flew toward its nest site with a beak full of lining material. The raven, a pirate by nature, would probably blame me for leaving the cloth just laying around. It might even find fault with Aki for not figuring out how to escape from the house.
A few ravens flew over Aki as we slipped onto Mendenhall Lake to do a circuit around the cross-country ski course. Aki ignored them. There were just too many smells for her to catalogue. I listened to the hair-blown-through-comb sound of the passing corvid and started skiing toward the glacier. Aki dashed ahead until she was a tiny dot of color in a world of white—a small dog charging toward a river of ice.
We wouldn’t be skiing on this meadow if not for the sun. It makes the little dog squint but she doesn’t turn her face away. I don’t either. The trail doesn’t go anywhere, just wanders among spare spruce trees and up and down the banks of a little slough. We don’t mind because there is good snow and sun.
Because the skiing is still good here, the little dog and I have returned to Mendenhall Lake. Last night a half-a-foot of snow fell. But thanks to the ski club groomers, we have a well-packed trail. Otherwise Aki’d be wallowing in soft snow.
A flat light dominates the lake and the mountains that surround it. I miss the sunshine and blue skies that we enjoyed during our last visit. But the new snow that clings to spruce trees and bare-branched alders provides its own bright beauty.
The rain forest sees more cloudy days than sunny ones. When a day breaks clear after a storm, the scenes enjoyed during the sunny hours that follow can seem as rich as a North Douglas Chocolate Cake. We ignore the shapes and sights that moved us on soft, gray days. This afternoon, I’m relieved that the recently sunny spell didn’t rob me of the rain forest knack of recognizing beauty in the simplest things.
Lured by promises of a new ice cave, Aki and her humans headed out to the toe of Mendenhall Glacier. It’s been snowing all day, making it easier to ski the 1.2 miles across Mendenhall Lake to the glacier. Those of us on skis used a soft track set by previous skiers. The little dog found a superhighway pounded flat by walking pilgrims.
One man stared up at the face of the glacier when we arrived. When he left we had the place to ourselves. Before seeking entrance to the cave, we enjoyed the abstract forms created by an assemblage of icebergs. Between two geometric blacks stood a slice of ice in form of penitent monk. He bowed in the direction of the cave.
Accepting the monk’s guidance, we skied to up to the glacier and found a thin opening to the ice cave. I had to drop onto to my knees to see under a very low ceiling. By crawling on my stomach, I could have accessed the cave’s interior. Since I didn’t bring rain gear, I had to settle for a filtered view.