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.
In a gray interlude between yesterday’s sunshine and today’s predicted rain, Aki and I sneak in a visit to the Last Chance Basin. The trail we use suffered from the effects of Typhoon Lan. Thick tracks of fresh mud line both sides of the trail. At one point we have to climb up and over a ten-foot high hill of rock and mud washed down the side of Mt. Juneau during the typhoon.
As if we are the only folks in Juneau that didn’t get the memo, Aki and are alone on the normally popular trail. Even the animals seemed to have abandoned it. No squirrels chatter at the little dog. No birds flit between the yellowing thimbleberry brush. There are the cloven tracks of a mountain goat that had recently struggled through a muddy stretch. But Aki’s lack of interest confirms my suspicion that the goat is long gone.
I work hard to dig out some beauty on this flat-light day. But the fall color is fading and the normally red high bush cranberries are drifting to black husks. A white eruption of plum agaric mushrooms does provide a pleasant surprise deep in a mossy wood.
When I look up from the field of pink pumpkins, I spot a mountain goat feeding on the Southern slope of Mt. Juneau. Later, at home, I will enlarge the photo I took of the goat and realize that it is starring down at Aki and me. We are doing a circuit through Downtown Juneau. Already I followed the little dog up the gentle Gastineau Avenue grade to where we could look down on the docks, now cruise ship free. Then we dropped to South Franklin Street with its shuttered tee shirt and jewelry shops.
A line of gulls lined the superstructure of the cruise ship docks, dozing in the sun. A handful of smokers had spaced themselves along the dock. Some stood alone looking without much interest at the Douglas Mountain Ridge. Two talked, heads almost touching, as steam rose from their take-away coffee cups. One man, dressed in the business casual shirt and slacks of our commercial classes, lit up a long, smooth Cuban cigar. In short, the goat had plenty to look at from its mountain perch. But it broke off feeding to study a little poodle-mix sniff among a field of pink pumpkins. I suppose it makes sense. The man who painted and planted the pumpkins must have hoped to draw attention to his little field.
Pearly-gray has replaced blue as the prominent color in Anchorage skies today. I ride away from the Inlet toward the Campbell Creek trail system, vowing to keep away from the salmon spawning stream because it draws brown bears this time of year. At first I ride against the flow of morning commuter traffic on Elmore and then swing into the woods. A single-track trail allows me to meander among white-trunked paper birch that might be hiding moose. If they do, none of the big, horse-like guys show themselves.
I take another trail that offers more open views and spot, a half-a-mile ahead, something that looks like a wobbly billboard. As I approach it resolves itself into a young male moose with tiny antlers covered in velvet. When I stop, he stares for a second and walks elegantly toward the woods. I will have to pass him if I continue down the trail. I’ll see how it goes. Remounting, I ride closer, which causes him to freeze again. I remember my dad’s warning amount never approaching a deer or elk while they are in velvet and stop again. The moose resumes his walk toward the woods. When he reaches the forest edge, leaving a good chunk of land between him and the trail, I restart my ride.
Wow, my first moose of the year. I didn’t see any during last summer’ writer’s school residency.
The trail brings me back to Elmore where I watch a late-model Corvette speed by before crossing over to the bike lane. I briefly ponder whether a moose or sports car would cause me the most damage and am thankful to the government that funded this ride-alone bike path.
A mile down Elmore, a cow moose and two calves feed next to the road. Workers listening to talk radio or silently planning a pattern of attack at work wiz by the family scene. Honey, stop gorging yourself and look after your babies, I think. While the mom turns her butt to the road, her two calves dance along the verge. The aggressive one bucks like a bareback bronc and drives its sibling away from food and mom. In running away, shy one almost enters the rushing traffic stream. I’m close enough to see the startled look in the shy moose’s eyes when it freezes just before it would have been crushed by a northbound SUV. Unable to watch any more, I ride back to campus.
Back in Juneau, back in the rain. Aki, her other human and I splash down the Nugget Falls Trail. Ahead, a mountain goat focuses on the emerging alder and cottonwood growth. Beneath him, the falls charge into Mendenhall Lake. Later, when I upload photographs of the day onto the computer, I’ll find one in which the goat is staring at the little dog and her family. He could be looking at the glacier or one of the many icebergs it calved since spring. He could be distracted by the hoards of dark-eyed juncos bouncing around the trailside brush. I’d understand it if he noticed the brilliant yellow-green of the leaves he had been eating. Why look at Aki?
The photo that I uploaded next shows the goat head searching for food, turned so that his rear faces our fronts. Back to business. Don’t take it personal, little dog.
Aki and I climb up the old gold road that leads to Perseverance Basin. The sun, which yesterday lit up Juneau with garish light, now tries to hide behind a thin sheath of clouds. I can see you. Any thing that can tries to hide from the little dog and me. But their efforts are imperfect.
Keeping a wall of alders between itself and us, a marmot (Alaska’s Guinea Pig) lets out a peeping whistle to give itself away. The air is full of bird song but we can’t spot the singers. I want to watch the resident mountain goats feed on the flank of Mt. Juneau but until the return leg of the hike, we only find a patch of white goat fur caught on a trailside branch. While we walk down the Basin Road trestle bridge, a goat appears as a puffy white dot against the mountain’s gray stone. But even he is partially screened by a tall cottonwood.