If that baby raven would quiet down we might be able to hear the sparrows and robins. Recently fledged from its nest in the Troll Woods, the raven sits in a cottonwood tree, demanding that his parents bring him food. The parents roost in another cottonwood tree, acting like they don’t know their child.
On the other side of the moraine, another raven prince squawks for service from its parents. Soon, hunger will force the newly launched to get their own food. I and the raven parents can’t wait for that day.
Except for the ravens and a bear sow and cub, the moraine seems empty. After leaving the trailhead parking lot, the little dog and I haven’t seen another human or dog. People must be spending this holiday weekend elsewhere—maybe at home or the beach.
On our return to the car, we approach a human family—mom, dad, two toddlers. The trail’s wide here so we can easily maintain two meter social distance. The little family forms a line with their towhead daughter in front. The kids and mom wave like the Queen on Coronation Day. The dad brings up the rear. Instead of a hand, he waves a tiny American flag. That, little day, is what a parade looks like in the time of Covid 19.
We pass a yearling bear on our way to the glacier. Grazing on meadow grass, it gives off a contemplative vibe, like a pastured Jersey cow. It’s brown like a grizzly, but lacks the shoulder hump of one. I suspect it is a cinnamon black bear. Being able to view the bear at a safe distance is cool. But this trip is about arctic terns.
While I get out her leash, Aki trots along the Mendenhall Lake shore. I need to get her on lead but the terns distract me. They hover over the lake, whipping their wings back and forth like a hummingbird and then dive into the glacier-silted water. Few catch anything. Those that do fly with it over to their nest.
By jogging, I catch my little delinquent and snap on the leash. Now tethered, she stops every few feet to sniff and pee. Does she know that I am in a hurry to reach the Picture Point overlook for a better view of the terns? I try not to fume and remind myself that the little dog needs to take it easy or she won’t recover from her muscle strain.
We take it very easy on the trail to Nugget Falls, stopping once to watch a tiny tern divebomb a raven. The raven, easily ten times larger than the tern, is hiding in a clump of willows. I suspect that the raven had been caught robbing the tern’s test. When the tern flies back to her eggs, the raven cruises over to a cottonwood tree and harasses a large bald eagle to flight. Attitude is clearly more important than size on the glacial moraine.
Today, we need to rely on reflection for beauty. The flat light lacks the strength to brighten colors on the moraine. But the lake water sharpens the lines of that it reflects. A breath of wind could take that away. I hurry the little dog down the trail to where I can photograph the glacier in the calm waters of Moose Lake.
Even though the trail offers a rich pee mail exchange, Aki doesn’t try to slow me down. I blame the birds singing concealed in the dense trailside foliage. I waste previous minutes trying to spot them. Then there was a robin that had managed to pluck a dragonfly out of the air.
The wind punishes me for doodling. Just as we arrive at the before reflection spot, a breeze ripples the surface, cutting up the glacier’s reflection into thousands of little pieces.
Aki and I are racing through the Troll Woods, pursued by mosquitos. Six or eight of the pests buzz around the little dog’s face each time she stops to sniff or pee. She shows no sign of being bit. I wish I could say the same. I have a rosary of bites across my forehead. It’s not surprising, then, that we have the woods almost to ourselves.
The place is full of birds. Robins dare Aki to chase her. She is no mood for the game today. Song birds belt out their nesting tunes in the canopy. Most are hidden in the leaves. But a winter wren settles on an exposed branch and belts out its signature song.
We leave the gravel paths and follow trails in the mossy floor that were pioneered by beavers. They are night workers so none appear outside their log-covered dens. But evidence of their presence is everywhere. Sticks stripped of their bark float in the lakes. Similarly denuded cottonwood tree trucks lie on the forest floor. We even find a wood pile of foot-long logs that were cut up by the beaver’s sharp front teeth, not a saw. I wonder if the beavers are preparing wood for a mid-summer bon fire.
No reading person could ignore the sign—a black silhouette of a bear walking across a square of yellow cardboard. Black block letters warn that we are entering bear country. Aki takes no notice. I also try to ignore the warning. We saw no bear sign on the beach. High water levels on the lake forced us off the beach and onto a trail that led into the Mendenhall Campground, a place with signs and federal officers to enforce the rules.
The little dog and I walk down the road that links all the campsites, stopping to watch a mallard hen and her chicks splash around a small pond lined with flowering British tobacco plants. All winter dogs have left pee mail messages along the road. Aki does her best to catch up. She runs free until we reach a bulletin board with another bear warning sign and a poster demanding that all dogs be kept on a six foot long leash. “It’s the Law.”
The normally law abiding Aki submits the leash. It does little to limit her actions. She has the ability to turn herself into a 50 pound rock when she wants to stop and sniff. I can’t shift her once she has exercised this superpower.
It’s only eight in the morning but already the sun has defused the glacier’s beauty. I still race out to the mouth of Fish Creek, hurrying past a brace of mergansers on the pond and a heron feeding at the edge of a meadow. There is still a chance that I will catch the reflection of the glacier and surrounding peaks in the still waters of Fritz Cove before the wind starts working against the tide.
Aki tries to slow me down. She hangs back to investigate every smell. When I can no longer see her, I stop and wait, investigating the small things that I would otherwise rush past: backlit lupine, the head of a crow moving above the blades of newly green grass, a mosquito perched on a still-intact globe of dandelion seeds.
Crows announce my progress to the mouth with harsh calls. Across the creek, one of the resident bald eagles calls back. A slight breeze tosses about Aki’s fur when we reach the creek mouth. The little dog wades into the brackish water and sips. Behind her, a rising wind turns the glacier’s reflection into an Impressionist painting.
The last time Aki and I circled Moose Lake, yellows and browns dominated. This morning, all is green. The new leaves display a crayon box worth of green colors. The trail is perfumed by balm of Gilead (cottonwood) sap.
We take a back trail through the troll woods and stop at a break in the trees to admire the reflection of Mt. McGinnis in the lake. It would be perfect if not for the expanding rings made by feeding trout.
Before the trees colonized the moraine, a person tired of owning a 1930’s era sedan abandoned it here. Alders started to pioneer the moraine gravel. Their fallen leaves mulched into soil. Over the years it became rich enough to support the growth of cottonwood trees and spruce. The whole time the old sedan had rusted until now it is only an outline of its original self. But there is enough of its bulbous fender left to provide Aki shelter from the rain.
The first gray day to follow a sunny stretch is crushing. Even a dry overcast day like this one offers little reason for me to leave the house. The same is not true for Aki. She was more than ready to hop into the car this morning.
Figuring that the gloom would discourage others from visiting the glacier, I picked it for our venue. I want to see the artic terns. Those diminutive birds have just arrived after flying 12,000 miles from Antarctica. They are building their nests on the ground of sandy peninsulas that poke out into the lake. Usually they only a few birds show themselves above the nesting grounds. But when we arrive, what looks like the entire flock is swarming in the air. They’ve been stirred off their nests by three humans, one pushing a wheel barrow.
One male tern hovers for a moment over the little dog and I before flying off. It would have dive bombed us if we looked threatening. Once I saw a tern chase an adult bald eagle out of the air space above the tern nests, tugging at the big predator’s tail feathers to hurry it along.
I am surprised that the terns have returned. Each of the last few summers, water released by a collapsed ice dam on Mendenhall Glacier has released water that flooded the terns’ nesting area. Last summer a wolf destroyed some of the tern nests. After receiving such treatment, you would think the terns would migrate to a safer nesting site.
Bird song has dropped in the Troll Woods. The wrens are still going to town. But I haven’t heard a thrush’s blurry whistle since we left the car. Our sunny streak is continuing so I feel like singing, even if the birds had gone silent.
Aki and I circle several small lakes, seeing no one. Since the Covid crisis, I tend to choose the lesser used trails. The little loyal little dog doesn’t object, even though it means she rarely can do a meet and greet with another dog. She still stops often to check out interesting scents. I had to wait a minute for her to finish checking out a smell near the beavers’ lodge.
Usually sunny weather brings the wind to riffle the Troll Woods lakes. But today, only the faintest breeze flows through the woods. Each lake is a crystal mirror reflecting mountains and glaciers.
This is our third attempt in a month to reach Norton Lake. Water backing up from a beaver dam flooding the trail forced me to give up on the first two attempts. It has dropped enough to allow me to reach the lake with damp, but not soaked boots. Aki and I splash along the edge of the water until reaching an old beaver dam. I walk across the top of the dam until reaching a deer trail that leads to the lake.
Aki didn’t walk onto the dam until I was most of the way across it. When I look back, she gives me her, “Are you sure this is how you want to end your life?” look. I search the pond waters for crocodiles and the nearby woods for bears. Seeing none, I push on. Aki dashes across the dam to join me on the other side. Then, she gives me her “I hope this is worth it” glare.
Few dogs have passed this way so at first Aki has little use for her nose. Then she finds beaver scent and appears to go into a trance as she rolls in it. That must have made the dam crossing worth it for the little poodle-mix. I expected a chance to view more northbound waterfowl or even a young beaver looking for a mate. But we only see a bufflehead drake and a small gang of tense looking mallards.
It’s a clam day so lake provides a nice mirror for the glacier and Mt. McGinnis. Little birds sing and make quick sorties onto the ground for seeds or gravel but don’t stay long enough for me to make an identification. Then, an alder flycatcher bops unto the limb of a dead snag lets itself be photographed. I manage to take two photos—one when it is frozen on the snag, and the other with its wings flashed out in a turn.