On the way to the Treadwell Ruins trailhead, Aki and I stopped on the Juneau waterfront and watched sunlight break through the clouds. As if shinning through a lattice window, the sun formed sunrise colored squares onto Gastineau Channel. Near the navigational tower, a single seal swam through squares of yellow/red light. I told the little dog that that was more beauty than we are to expect on this early December day. But I was wrong.
On the sandy beach that borders the Treadwell Ruins, I try to correct my earlier statement. Aki, I think each kind of weather produces its own beauty. As she usually does when I try to share a profound idea, the little dog throws me her “are you kidding” look.
No, really. Take this scene, one with frost but no snow. Even without sun to sparkle the frost, this beach and the trees that crouch towards it are quite lovely.
Knowing this I am not convincing the little dog, I turn and look toward Juneau. Sunlight has managed to again pierce the clouds to swath the town and the mountain with the same name.
We move south until reaching the collapsed glory hole that marks the end of Sandy Beach. Frost feathers have turned the offshore rocks an icy grey. A raft of mallards slides from behind the rocks to provide just the right punch of color.
Has winter finally arrived? The signs are here. Thickening ice covers the lake. I’ve broken out my winter-weight parka. So has the human friend who walks with us along the shore of Mendenhall Lake. Even Aki wears her warmest wrap.
It is still early morning when we start the walk. Sunlight hasn’t reached the lake. But rose madder red clouds float over Thunder Mountain. Soon the day’s first rays will brighten the tips of the Mendenhall Towers.
The last time we made this walk, Aki uses a parallel forest trail rather than join me on the muddy beach. Now that the mud is frozen she is happy to trot with us along the ice edge.
Sunshine seems precious this time of year. Thanks to the mountains that rim Juneau like canyon walls, we are lucky to have more than four hours of sun even on cloudless days. This is such a day so Aki and I head out to the Mendenhall Wetlands where the sun arrives at daybreak and doesn’t leave until near the official time for sunset.
Aki is extra happy this morning, in part because she got a dog treat when a human friend and I stopped at a drive through stand for coffee. She is excited to have another dog along for the walk. She looks forward to feeling sun on her fur for the first time in weeks.
The trail forms a rough parallel with the Lower Mendenhall River, which is covered with a fragile skim of ice. We won’t see any of the resident mallards until reaching a section kept ice-free by current. The water on that section will provide a stunning reflection of a wall of mountains pierced through by the glacier. I will try to ignore the fact that the river is fed with melt water from the shrinking river of ice.
We will see one bald eagle resting on the roots of a driftwood tree. It will glance at us for a moment and then turn its face into the sun.
Sunlight illuminates ground fog as Aki and I drive up to a mountain meadow. It’s the kind of scene that documentary filmmakers use to inject a sense of grandeur into movies about the rain forest. I think about stopping to take a picture of the drama but a gravel truck is grinding up the hill behind us. I push on, hoping to find at least a little sexy fog on the meadow.
The meadow, which was frozen solid during our last visit, has thawed. But a new dusting of snow clings to the avalanche chutes on the surrounding mountains. The sun is about to climb over the shoulder of Ben Stewart. Already streaks of light whiten the meadow’s ground fog and light up a scattering of the meadow’s stunted trees. In minutes clouds descend to cover the mountains and block the sun. We find the upper meadow frosted and frozen when we reach it. If Aki would let me, I could wait for an hour for the sun might banish the clouds and burn away the fog. But then all the drama would be gone.
Aki should be bored. She has little to distract her while I gather seaweed into five gallon buckets. The last high tide rolled severed rockweed into a thick line that extends the length of the beach. I tell Aki that the buckets will soon be filled thanks to this bounty. She ignores me, like she ignores the five ravens that glide and croak over the beach. They must be waiting for us to leave so they can continue picking at a nest of nearby deer bones.
This beach won’t enjoy direct sunlight until next spring. The Douglas Island Ridge sees to that. But this morning’s sun throws cloud shadows on the wooded hills on the far side of Fritz Cove. Between the sunny hills and this dusky beach a seal hunts the cove waters.
The weatherman promised partly cloudy skies for this morning. A gray versus blue battle rages over Gastineau Meadow. Earlier this morning the blue forces seemed about to win the day for the sun. Then fog patches rose from the forested mountainsides. The marine layer solidified and dropped down to connect up with its grey allies. Disappointed for not being able to see sun lighted mountainsides, I feel like a victim of the war. Aki, of course, couldn’t care less. Before we return to the car she will have checked her pee mail and made at least six new dog friends.
This morning Aki will meet a scary looking but nice dog and a nice looking dog that will act scary. Both interactions will have peaceful outcomes. We won’t meet anyone else on our walk along the shore of Mendenhall Lake.
I am surprised to have the spectacular scenery to ourselves this morning. The low clouds that had been obscuring the glacier and its mountains have lifted. No wind prevents the lake from making perfect reflections of them. Only sunshine would ramp up the beauty. But that would also raise a wind to shatter the crisp reflections.
As usual when taking this walk, I am moving down a mucky beach while Aki parallels me on a mossy forest trail. Suddenly she is at my side being chased by a hulking American bulldog. Aki ducks between my legs and then burst out to chase the bulldog. In seconds I know the new arrival is a sweet guy. In distance we hear his owner’s voice. She will tell us how she lives nearby and will display a local’s knowledge of the beavers that raise their young near where she raises her’s.
I envy the relationship the bulldog owner has with this dramatic slice of the rain forest. Except for the neighborhood ravens, wild animals only transit through our Chicken Ridge neighborhood. We encourage the porcupines to move on before they devour more of our fruit trees. We pray that black bears will spend more time on the salmon streams than knocking over neighborhood trash bins. I’d like the song birds to spend longer in our trees but they are too busy to comply. Mostly we see cars and dog walkers.
Feeling a little sorry for myself, I lead Aki onto a road through an empty campground. Around the corner a nuclear family of three approaches accompanied by a border collie. The dog drops it head and tail and pads towards us like we are rebellious sheep. It growls and barks when Aki moves toward it. Aki looks shocked but soon recovers. We will never see the collie or her human charges again. But the dog’s bark will reach us from across the forest many times before we return to the car.