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.
Just the little dog and I walking toward the Perseverance basin.
Just three mountain goats hammering brush along the flanks of Mt. Juneau.
Just one porcupine climbing up the north side of Mt. Maria within a few feet of the Basin Road trestle bridge.
No lingering flowers.
Just strings of shriveling Oregon grapes.
The mountain goat is a surprise. I wouldn’t have thought to look in its direction if not for how bright and white its coat is in the morning sun. Did today’s spring-like conditions trigger a memory of the new shoots it enjoyed here last April? Even though it feeds high up a flank of Mt. Juneau, the goat turns to look at us when Aki barks a welcome to an approaching dog. At this distance, my eye bests the camera I brought for recording the goat’s presence. But, much to the little dog’s annoyance, I still try many settings to capture an image I can share on this blog.
I put away the camera and we walk further up the Perseverance Trail. She forgives me after we round the next bend.
Summer came today for a brief visit. The temperature has reached 77 degrees and no clouds prevent the sun from warming the stones we sit on near the edge of Favorite Passage. Aki pants and pesters us to throw her Frisbee. Her other human hid it away because wind driven waves slam the base of these rocks. Aki won’t survive if she fell in the water while chasing after he flying toy. The dogs’ yaps bounce off the rocks as three eagles cruise overhead. Maybe they are looking for a tasty, if noisy treat.
Yesterday’s warmth triggered a release of sap that now coats the balsam poplars’ new growth. It also must have released incense trapped in the sap because the air along the Perseverance Trail smells like church. When the sun finally pushes through the morning cloud layer, the yellow-green poplar leaves seem to absorb it until they glow. These leaves will spend the summer coated in an drab green and then, while dying, give the Gold Creek valley it’s only fall glory by turning rich yellow.
Above the new growth I look for mountain goats but only find two. One disappears. The other, its fur poofing out like a well trimmed French poodle, lingers. Just down the trail, I watched a bald eagle cruise low over the flank of Mt. Juneau where I spotted two goats last week. It could have been hunting for kids or afterbirth. The goats aren’t due to birth their young until late May but I wonder if, like everything else this year, they are ahead of schedule.