Category Archives: Dan Branch

Lucky, if Brief, Brake

Aki’s other human brought her skate skis to the glacier campground. They would have been ideal for moving around the set track. But that was being heavily used this morning by legislative aides and their guests. So, we switched plans and used our skis to trace the edge of the lake. It turned out great. 

Last night well, well-below freezing weather hardened the border ice around the lake. In an hour or so, it will soften in the sun, making it difficult to travel on using the light weight skate skies. But now, the snow still supports us and offers the perfect surface for slashing with skate skis. We make it to the mouth of Mendenhall River in record time. 

Exploitive Gulls

The temperature continues to climb this week. It’s 42 F. when Aki and I leave the car for a walk out to Point Louisa. For Aki, the trail provides a place to exchange information with other dogs. While I stand well off the trail each time another human approaches on the trail, Aki dashes over to visitor for a little sniff. I need to be off the trail to avoid any chance of Covid spread. Aki acts like she can’t catch the pandemic virus.

            Even though the temperature is well above freezing, We feel a bone-chilling blast of air when we walk on to the bare section of Louisa Peninsula. The base seems empty of birds and the sea lions we often see feeding on the protected side of the peninsula. There are scoters feeding on the protected side of the land, accompanied by two gulls trying for the goodies not captured by the hard-working scoters. 

Surprising Sunshine

Aki is taking this cross country ski trip seriously. That’s probably because was are being joined by her other human. The little dog watches the road carefully as we drive out to Skater’s Cabin. That’s where we will start skiing around the shore of Mendenhall Lake. It’s suppose to be snowing but none falls on us as we walk to the  lake shore. Instead we have to squint because no clouds block the sun.

            It’s 38 degrees and the temperature will rise before we finish. The snow, hardened by last night’s cold weather, is firm enough to keep us above the snow’s surface. Aki follows us onto the lake, across a small bay, and around a snow-covered point. When I stopped on the lake ice to take a picture, my ski poles slide easily into the ice. In a half hour my skis would  be sinking into icy water. But we have just enough time to fly over the top of it, high and dry. 

Walking a Little Ways Without Aki

Wet snow mixed with rain has been falling on Aki and I for a week. Even she has been acting grumpy. That’s why I got excited when the Juneau weatherman predicted an hour of dry weather this morning. Aki, who can’t speak or understand English, acted like she didn’t trust me. Still, she let me dress her for a walk.

            The little dog drags her paws when we leave the house. I want her to accompany me on a walk into the mountains which are now at risk of avalanche danger. Aki rejects the plan, preferring instead to drag me onto a snow-covered sidewalk. Once on it, the little pooch moves as slowly as a child just learning to walk. Two poops and several pees later she throws on the breaks. She won’t move until we head back to the house. I drop her off and walk poodle-less along Gold Creek.  

A Few Hours of Sun Light

My dad grew up in a very rural section of Montana. It must have rained or snowed often there because he used to tell me if the sun shined on a Sunday he’d go fishing. I have thought often of the little story this winter since snow and clouds have dominated our winter weeks. It popped into my mind again this morning when I spotted rays from the rising sun lighting up the Mount Juneau ridge.  But this evening we would again be hammered by snow.

            Leaving earlier than usual the poodle-mix and I drove north out of Juneau to Eagle River. No clouds blocked our views of Lynn Canal and the mountains that line it’s east side. Last night slick ice formed on the road, slowing down our efforts to reach the ski trail. We saw few cars on the road. Only one rig sat in the trailhead parking lot when we parked and that one was covered with last night’s frost.

            Aki charged down the trail, still firm with last night’s ice. I had to struggle to keep my skis moving forward. Shafts of morning light enriched the yellows and greens of moss covered tree bark. After a bit of a struggle we reached the parking lot for the campground. The little pooch chose an exposed spot in front of the manager’s office to push out a bowl movement. It took me ten minutes to pick it, bag it, and carry it out to the campground garbage bin. Aki used the time to sniff and pee her way around the parking area.

            I was pretty grumpy when I lead Aki onto the ski trail and started back toward the car. Only a small number of people were skiing. No one had ventured down a little side trail that delivered Aki and I to an Eagle River sand bar. There we viewed reflections of sharp-edged coastal mountains reflected in the calm river waters. 

Dog Princess

Aki and I were both a little tired as we drove out to the glacier. The little old dog whined a lot as her other human and I spent time shoveling new snow off the driveway and car. Three of our next door neighbors helped so it didn’t take an unusual amount of time. Aki disappeared into the house of our next door neighbor, where she told one of her favorite other humans how frustrated she was having today’s ski adventure delayed.

            At the beginning of the ski run, low snow clouds blocked any views of the glacier, most of the trees, and all of the mountains. This didn’t bother our little dog, who cheered up when a dog friend popped out of his family car. Even though she only weighs 10 pounds, Aki is treated like a princess by most of the dogs she meets. She acts accordingly. 

No Swans Today

While Aki and rode out to Mendenhall Lake, I expected the trail to be soft. If there is still any sign of the ski trail, it must be flushy and shallow. But while warmish air was quickly melting snow near our downtown home, the air was well under freezing by the glacier. This allowed the volunteer trail guy to create a great, well-formed ski trail this morning.

            On a good ski day like this, this is one of Aki’s favorite places to visit. The well packed trails help her fly toward the dogs of other skiers. She dashes up to them, engages in a quick exchange of sniffs, and trots back to me. 

When we get close to the river that drains Mendenhall Lake, Aki and I leave the ski trail and walk over to the water. We do this on every Mendenhall ski on the chance that we will see a family of swans. It doesn’t happen on this visit. I think back to the story in the Juneau Empire describing the capture last month of an injured swan. It happened on this little river stretch. Maybe things will change next month. The injured swan might be reunited here with her family, or the little river will fill up with other transit swans.

Louise Gluck Shows up Late

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.

Not Driven Away by Snow

The snow has returned, a snotty, unstructured white mass of dancers. They fly down the street as we drive to Fish Creek. The parking lot for the trail only has one car. We will see them for a few seconds while on the trail. Then we will have the place to ourselves.

            I expected to find the delta empty. But it is full of birds. There are plenty of gulls and mallard duck, all working the shallows for food. None pay us any attention. In a little, shallow pond, two killdeer feed. Normally, they never visit the Alaskan rainforests in winter and are rarely seen in other seasons. They must have flown long and hard to get to the creek delta because they total ignore our presence. 

            On the other side of the little pond, an American wigeon walks along the beach. His kind are rarely seen in our area this time of year. A few minutes later, while passing along a short trail through the woods, a I stop short when a chestnut backed chickadee lands on the trail a few meet away. Like the gulls and the mallards, the chickadee is almost always around. But this one has no time or interest in keeping any distance between himself and Aki or I. 

Grey Days Return

The snow is back, replacing weeks of cold, but sunny skies. The snow turns the skies grey. For a while this morning, clouds blocked the views of surrounding mountains. If not for Aki, the poodle-mix, I would spend the day reading a book on the Alaskan wilderness and trying out some of the tea types we received for Christmas. 

            We end up visiting Sandy Beach. The trail is covered with new snow as is the beach. Aki is in hog heaven, playing “chase and chase me” with other dogs. A knot of golden eye ducks swim close to shore. Two males raise their beaks in song while their females swim alongside, often harvesting food with the submerged beaks.