On this grey day at Fish Creek, yellow is the dominant color. Last week, when sun hammered down on the snow-covered meadow, white fought with blue for chromatic first place. Tides and rain have washed away the snow. Grey clouds hide the indigo sky. The straw-yellow of last fall’s grass can draw the eye.
Yellow’s time will be short. Already green shoots push up through the bases of the winter-killed grass. Spring arrivals, like American Widgeon ducks and plovers work the shallows of Fritz Cove along with resident mallards.
A half-a-dozen eagles sulk in nearby spruce trees. We have not seen more than one or two at time all winter. The sound of the eagles bickering makes Aki nervous. But she still follows me out to the mouth of Fish Creek where a large raft of widgeons feed. They seem jumpy. Six or eight of the plump ducks panic into flight and fly close by us on their way up stream. Aki is honoring her no-contact-with-waterfowl policy so I know we aren’t making the birds nervous.
We pass another collection of widgeons on the way back to the car. The entire raft bursts into flight, twists around above Fritz Cove, plops onto the shallows and charges onto the beach. I can’t spot the head of a seal offshore. But what else could have driven the sea birds on to the beach?
After yesterday’s expedition out the road, Aki and I are walking on a less demanding trail today. I need cleats to stay upright on the icy surface. Tomorrow’s promised rain should melt most of it away. I look forward to the end of ice season, but I’ll miss the snow that now covers the forest floor.
The trail circles through old growth rain forest. Halfway through, we drop onto a pebble beach. Our appearance encourages the resident mallards and harlequin duck to paddle into the bay. One mallard drake refuses to move. It just gives us a hard look. Okay, Okay, we were heading back into the woods anyway.
Aki and I are about as far away from Juneau as a person can get without boarding a plane or a boat. This fact is more descriptive of the limited Juneau road system than our adventurous spirit. We are at the end of the road.
I just stashed the snowshoes I had been carrying. They are not needed thanks to all the other walkers who compacted the trail snow with their boots. Two miles ahead is the Cowee Meadows cabin. Most of the winter trail users target that cabin or the Blue Mussel cabin on Pt. Bridget.
We leave the main trail and follow a small stream that winds towards a huge beaver pond. Thanks to our recent stretch of cold weather, the swampy land drained by the stream offers easy passage for the little dog and I. Soon, if the weatherman is to believed, warm, wet weather will make it impassible.
We’ve seen moose and bear on the meadow but no animals appear. We pass a beaver house, and negotiate a series of beaver dams before returning to the main trail. I stop often to listen for bird song but hear only ravens. The sun, which had been trapped all day behind clouds, breaks through to light up the irregular shaped peaks that circle the meadow. We push on to a rocky beach that offers open views of Berner’s Bay and Lynn Canal. A small raft of harlequin ducks have the water to themselves.
I can’t believe we are back on the ice cave trail, slipping along the edge of an open crevasse. Because of a recent cold streak, I thought the path would be safe. But I hadn’t given full credit to the power of winter sun.
We had no trouble crossing the ice of Mendenhall Lake. One of Aki’s favorite human friends joined us. The easy trail allowed us to enjoy watching the glacier grow in size as we approached it. Snow still covered the rocky peninsula that serves as a kittiwake rookery each summer. I searched it without success for ptarmigan feeding on willow catkins.
A large slab of ice formed from snowmelt covered the trail just above the lake. Instead of the easy walking we enjoyed on our last visit, we had to scrabble up and over ice to leave the lake. The trail improved after that so we could appreciate the jumble of pyramid-shapes that form the glacier’s icefall.
We stop to check out a minor ice cave but It looked like a muddy hole so we didn’t go in. We pushed on to the second cave, which is lined with aquamarine ice. To get there we have to pass through a section of icy trail and steep, snow-covered chutes.
Aki watches her humans slip and slide down the trail, like the nursery maid she thinks herself to be. A golden retriever joins us just before we reach the cave. The big dog distracts Aki for a few seconds. Then she is back on human duty until I pretzel my way through an ice labyrinth and disappear into the cave. Neither she nor the retriever followed me.
It’s too early for true spring, little dog. Aki squints up at me. She looks relaxed, not annoyed. Even through the temperature is below freezing, my gloveless hands are warm.
We crunch over still frozen sand toward the little bay formed by the collapse of the Treadwell mine tunnel. I look for bird tracks but see only those of dogs and their people. Just offshore, a small raft of golden eye ducks pull mussels off splinted pilings. We watch for several minutes until the head duck stares us down.
With regret, I lead the little dog off Sandy Beach and into the forested ruins of Treadwell. Even here, sunshine manages to dapple the snow-covered ground. A bald eagle gives itself away with a screech. I find him hidden in a snarl of spruce and cottonwood limbs, apparently enjoying the sun.
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.
The sun exited today, leaving behind a place better suited for black and white photography than color. I pull Aki’s most colorful sweater over her muzzle and settle it over her back and shoulders. Then we head out to Gastineau Meadows.
A week of cold temperatures has kept the meadow snow too soft for walking without snowshoes. I didn’t bring a pair. Aki is a shade better off. A thin crust mainly supports her. But the little poodle-mix breaks through every four or five steps. We’d be forced to turn around if three others with snowshoes had not set a trail for us.
Aki loves to chase her Frisbee over snowy meadows, especially this one. Today she growls after the toy when it lands in the broken trail. When it lands elsewhere, she minces toward it, sometimes chest deep in loose snow.