We stop near the bottom of Main Street to watch an eagle. It sits on top of a pylon, trying to ignore the rain. After flashing me a judgmental look, it turns away to watch the now-empty Gastineau Channel. You rarely spot an eagle this close to downtown Juneau. They go where the food goes. A small raft of ducks just moved down channel. Maybe the eagle will soon follow them.
I stopped to photograph the eagle because it is rainy, the kind of rain that usually keeps eagles off Sandy Beach, where are heading. We drive over to Treadwell Woods and have the place pretty much to ourselves, at least until we reach the beach and spot a very wet bald eagle. It stands on the roof of a mining vent tower, looking quite bored.
While Aki catalogues scat sign, I walk over the tower. The eagle watches my approach but will not move, even when I get very close. Nearby mallard feed just off the beach sand, heads buried in the water. They wouldn’t have time to escape of the eagle attacked. But the big bird just ignores them.
This is a weird day, typical of a year of weird weather. One day six inches of snow falls. A few days later, the temperature rises well above freezing and all the snow falls off all the trees. Maybe in a week or even a few days, snowy winter may return.
There are positives about today’s conditions even though wind and rain slam the car while I park it along the edge of Fritz Cove. Rain starts to soak my parka as I walk to where I can get a good view of a half-a-dozen sea lions. They are chasing feed near the mouth of a small creek. I’ve caught silver salmon while trolling past this sight on summer days. Today sea lions are doing something similar. Three or four of them pull up half out of the water and caste me hard stares. Don’t worry my hungry friends, I’ve already put away my salmon gear for the winter.
We grabbed our snow shoes when we left the house this morning. With snow accumulating in glacier country, Aki’s other owner and I wanted to make sure we could still travel over the moraine. There was no need for the snowshoes. Others before us have already stomped a nice little trail around Moose Lake.
Heavy snow clung to all the trees and bushes lining the trail. The snow pulled down the thinner trunks, forcing us to slip under some of them if we wanted to make it round the lake. If the temperature continues to drop, we will be able to cross the lake ice. Aki doesn’t care. She is on fire today, dashing down the trail then flying back toward us. When not running, she stops to sniff spots under trees where snow can’t reach.
Finally, some sticking snow. At least that what Aki’s other owner and I think as we head up Basin Road. I had to shovel five inches of it off the driveway to open up a path toward the mountains. It’s snowed off and on the past few days but the weather was too warm for the flakes to even reach the ground. All that changed last night.
A neighbor carrying cross country skis shouts out, “Happy new year” as she headed toward the Perseverance Trail. In the past I’ve skied into the mountains from our home on mornings like this. But now, the temperature is already climbing and rain will soon shrink last night’s snow blanket. According to the weather service, we are about to be hammered by warm, rain gray.
This morning, when no wind disturbed the spruce trees lining Mendenhall Lake, Aki and walked from the Old Skater’s Cabin to the Mendenhall River. The parking lot was empty when we started. No humans were there walking the trail or posing for selfies on the lake shore. It would have perfect if eagles or even crows showed themselves. But, as far as the dog and I could tell, we had the beauty to ourselves.
I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of wildlife. When we left the lake shore for the river trail, we might be greeted by the small family of swans that winter on the river. Because of the softening weather patterns, some birds have decided to spend the whole year here. Canada geese fly over the tidal meadows most winter days. They are much noisier than the golden eyes, mallards, and mergansers that watch them fly over.
It was one of those high cloud days, where the light was gray but nothing could interfere with our views of mountain ridges and glacier tops. I could see patches of blue sky above the glacier, which formed a turquoise colored snake out of the ice.
I was disappointed by a lack of swans on the river. But on the opposite side of the river, a long line of mergansers slept on the snow-covered beach.
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.
I guess the year 2020 will end much like the way it began: disappointing and maybe even scary. For the first summer in many years, no cruiseships docked along the Juneau waterfront. Very few tourists took planes to any Alaskan towns. I normally would have enjoyed being able to walk along empty docks on sunny evenings. But, like every other Alaskan, I chose remote hiking trails where we would be unlikely to run into someone carrying Covid.
There were many Alaskans who chose to believe that the Covid pandemic was fake. If I ran into someone not wearing a mask in a store, I’d ask them to give me at least six feet of space. In Safeway, rather than give me the space, a tough looking and mask-less dude got in my face. Others would glare at me in a lumber yard when I passed through wearing a mask.
Last week local health care work received the first of two vaccines. Hopefully before next summer, most, if not all rain forest dwellers will have been vaccinated. I think it will still be hard to convince Alaskans that it is safe to ride in a crowded elevator to shake a stranger’s hand.
It’s the morning after Christmas, when you might expect to see neighbors on the street, quietly showing off hats, gloves or parkas they freed up from fancy wrappers yesterday. But we are the only ones on the street when we start this little hike up Gold Creek. I want to make some time but Aki slows down the progress of her two humans towards the Perseverance Trail. She needs to read the pee mail.
No clouds hide our views of Mt. Juneau or the other ridges that line Gastineau Channel. But only the bright paint covering the old mining houses on Basin Road sparkle color. After living so long in this rainforest town, I can adjust well to these flat light winter mornings. There are a lot of good things provided by this one. There is neither rain or snow falling, no wind whipping the naked cottonwoods or spruce trees. It is quiet except when grouchy ravens fly overhead. We cross Gold Creek and then slip and slide onto the Flume Trail.
The covered flume carries creek water to a small electrical plant near Foodland grocery store. Until repaired this summer, the flume leaked enough water to form long, heavy icicles in winter that clung to the flume frame until the next spring thaw. As we started onto to the flume today, I didn’t have time to mourn the absence of icicles. I was too busy avoiding falls on slick ice covering the trail. Then the sun lit up the trail. It delivered just enough heat to the trail to melt the ice, and give us a late Christmas gift that lasted until the sun set behind the Douglas Island Ridge.
The little dog and I were driving to a quite little lake hike trailhead, hoping that the skies would open, as promised by the weather service, for at least an hour or two. Fog and low clouds hugged Gastineau Channel as we headed out the road. Ten miles north, the morning sun was powering through clouds and fog and striking the glacier. When we identified this magnificent December gift, we drove there..
On times like this, I always wonder if the 14-year-old poodle mix can see as far as the glacier flowing out of sharp-peaked mountains. She keeps her nose glued to a trail that will eventually lead her to a handful of dog food dropped during a recent rain storm. That’s her idea of a perfect poodle holiday gift. Sun reflecting on tiny sections of flat-calm water makes her squint.
We cross two small streams and continue down a snow-covered beach. Aki gets frustrated about how many times I stop to take pictures of the lake, the glacier, and the surrounding mountains. Then I stop to take another photograph of Mt. McGinnis and find it hidden in fog. So are the other mountains and the glacier. Maybe, if the lake ice was strong enough to support the little dog and I, we could walk through the growing wall of fog and see all that sunny beauty again. But I have proof in camera of the gift of almost too-rich beauty we already received this Christmas Eve.
“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.