It’s a flat light day on the Fish Creek Delta. Aki’s other human and I are willing the little poodle-mix to drop into the crouch she assumes when making a bowel movement. That, we hope, will signal an end to her lower intestinal problems. When she finally does, I scoop up her product into a plastic bag and relax. She must be on the mend.
Thinking that we may have witnessed the most exciting movement of the day, I follow the trotting dog along the edge of the Fish Creek Pond and then onto the wetlands. A mating brace of common mergansers swims along the opposite shore of the pond, passing a clutch of mallards asleep on the point of land that separates the pond from Fish creek.
Nothing but windblown grass is moving on the wetlands, and that still the dead tan color of straw. But at the point we can spy on two American robins snatching and shaking blades of grass. Along the shore three sandpipers (greater yellowlegs?) march in the shallows. Down stream they go in a straight line, hunched over like the Marx Brothers. They turn and march back up stream. They turn back down stream and then burst into a flight that ends thirty meters away. Aki missed the whole show because she was being encouraged by her other human to pose for a selfie with the glacier.
A forty-knot wind plasters Aki’s fur to her skin. Long ago she had dropped down her stub of a tail to cover her privates. I walk behind her, bare hands stuck in my pockets, eyes scanning the Mendenhall River for participants in the spring migration.
Aki didn’t notice a small raft of bufflehead ducks drop onto the river where they now bob in wind driven waves. She doesn’t lift her head when we cross a field of dead-brown grass to the river’s edge. Just upstream a huge raft of mallards shelters in the lee of a bluff cut by the river current. The water glimmers like a shattered mirror left abandoned in the sun. But the grasslands seem dead, as if the strong wind has stripped it of color.
To get out of the wind, we drop down into the gully formed by a small stream and surprise a gang of six Canada geese that had the same idea. They circle in front of the glacier and land on the grass a hundred meters away where they huddle behind a small rise.
My little dog doesn’t complain or give me her “are you crazy” stare. She conducts her usual nasal patrol, covering the more intriguing scents with her own. In a sense, she may be tougher than the geese and other wild things that make their living on the wetlands. All the birds we spotted this morning had obtained shelter from the wind. She trots into it.
Aki and I are back, drawn to the Mendenhall Lake for another chance to ski. Not wanting to press our luck with the lake ice, I lead the little dog on to the ski trail that meanders around a campground. The place is empty of other people and dogs. That might be explained by the fact that we are here on a weekday or because the classic ski trail is as slick as a luge run.
The little dog dashes after her other human who moves much faster than me on her skate skis. Aki’s strong herding instincts kicks in and she runs full out between her two humans as we do a circuit of the trail. When an opportunity to move onto the lake appears we leave the campground and slide into the freedom offered by the snow-covered beach.
I am standing on skis in the middle of the ice-covered Mendenhall Lake. Aki is several hundred meters away, trailing her other human as she skate skis toward the glacier. In a minute or so the little dog will break back and sprint to me. But for now I am alone, warm under the spring sun in a place so quiet I can hear my pulse beating a tattoo.
Even in a small town like ours that has no industry but tourism moments of silent solitude are rare. They usually occur when bad weather keeps everyone else inside, or when the little dog and I are deep in the woods. Today, perhaps thanks to the concern of others about the safety of the ice, I am alone. It’s wise to keep off the ice after long sunny days and early-spring temperatures have weakened it. I didn’t walk onto the ice during yesterday’s walk with Aki due to worry about ice thickness. But it froze hard last night and the tracks of skiers laid down yesterday tempted me to give it a try.
Aki rooted out a treasure and she won’t give it up. We are near Skater’s Cabin after having started a walk along the edge of Mendenhall Lake. My little dog keeps herself between her prize and me. I manage to approach close enough to see that it is the heel of an old baguette. How it came to be buried in inches of snow is a mystery.
I walk on, pondering another mystery—why no one else is here. Morning sun shines on the still frozen lake and the glacier. No clouds obscure the Mendenhall Towers or Mt. McGinnis. The temperature hovers around 40 degrees. In an hour or two the snow will soften enough to make walking on it a struggle. But now it is still firm thanks to last night’s freeze.
Having forgotten Aki and her lump of French bread, I turn around and spot the little poodle-mix on the other side of inlet I just crossed. She is just crunching down the last of the bread. She squints in my direction and then tears across the inlet. In seconds she is at my feet. A second more and she is trotting ahead, looking for adventure or another treat.
Aki flinches at the sound of the first gunshot. She keeps her tail curved down and looks up at me as four more booms block out the sound of nearby Montana Creek. When I stop skiing she starts to shake. What was I thinking choosing this trail?
I know what I was thinking. After two days of rain, most of the other cross country ski trails are deteriorating. This one runs along Montana Creek where winter comes early and leaves late. I am not sure why. Maybe it’s the proximity to the glacier just a kilometer or so away. The trouble, as far as Aki is concerned, is that the trailhead is next to an outdoor gun range. The range’s parking lot was empty when we arrived so we had a peaceful time covering the first two kilometers of the trail. Then the gunshots began.
The little dog skitters along behind me on the trail. We would never hear another gun discharge but Aki will still cringe and shake each time I stop to look at the thick snow and ice that covers the still moving creek. There could be weeks more of skiing at Montana Creek but not for Aki.
Aki and I walk the shore of Mendenhall Lake to Nugget Falls. We seem to have the place to ourselves. Two days ago, when it was all blue skies and sunshine, half of Juneau might have been here, skiing or hiking on the trail or on the lake. Even on a normal weekday, we would be sharing this popular trail with other dog walkers. But today is the first cloudy day we’ve had after a long string of blue-sky one. People must be recovering from sun stimulus syndrome.
Nugget Falls roars its way down to the lake under a bumpy coating of ultramarine colored ice. The places where concentrated current is keeping the falls ice free are fringed with leaf-shaped formations of ice crystals. All this bores my little dog. She follows close at my heals, trying to make eye contact. While I enjoy the solitude of empty spaces, the little dog prefers a crowd.
She is happy when we start back to the car. I don’t know why I turn around but I do. There, on s snow-covered section of glaciated rock, stands a large mountain goat. He looks directly at Aki and me for a minute, then slowing turns away his head. A minute later, he moves slowly away.