Category Archives: Southeast Alaska


Aki, you wouldn’t like this. It’s 2 degrees F. below zero. Two snowmachines snarl around me on their way to the Talkeetna River. The cold seems to amplify the noise and thicken the snowgos’ exhaust smoke. When the machines drive between the setting sun and me, the exhaust takes on an orange tinge. No, little dog, if here, you’d be begging to be carried back to the Roadhouse.

            I shuffle along the snowmachine trail, slipping every fifth step on glazed snow. It’s been twenty years since I’ve approached a frozen river while subzero temperature numbs my cheeks. Remembering previous experiences with minor frostbite, I free a hand from its mitten and warm the affected spots. I came to Talkeetna for writing school, not first aid.

            A sign near the riverbank warns against walking on the river. I can hear the sound of current running through patches of open water where the Talkeetna river joins the larger Susitna. On the other side of the rivers rises Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. Seeing it in this clear winter light, you’d think that you could reach its summit in a day. 

Scary Scavengers

Aki and I are walking up Main Street when a raven flies over our heads and lands in the middle of the snow covered street. It digs at something the color of strawberry licorice until a car approaches. It flies away just before the car squashes it flat. The raven returns seconds later, joined by several more of its brothers. Soon the surrounding trees fill up with a dozen more ravens. 

            Seeing the ravens feeding on something the color of human blood reminds me that in addition to being clowns and tricksters, the big birds are voracious, sometimes scary scavengers. Days later, across from Perseverance Theatre, I stumble on another gang of ravens. Hours before city ploughs had cleared away snow that cheated theatre goers of needed parking spaces. They must have stirred up something tasty.  

Trotting into the Wind

Yesterday, after an enormous high tide flooded all the low-lying sections of the wetlands, A man and his large-pawed dog walked across this normally dry slough while the 10 degree temperature was turning the tide water to ice. Crisp, detailed impressions of paw of boot bottom now mark the duo’s passage. Usually, such evidence of another’s use of newly formed ice would encourage me to following in his footsteps. But there is something sinister about the frozen tide waters. 

            When I work up courage for the crossing, I carefully place my left boot onto the ice. It gets no purchase on the impossibly slick ice. I follow Aki onto an informal trail in the snow that will lead us around the frozen slough and to the base of a spruce tree. An adult bald eagle lands on a top branch of the tree and looks at everything except at us.  

            The wind stiffens as we move down along the now-frozen Mendenhall River. Aki, wearing two of her warmest wraps, trots ahead of me. I turn back to the car to avoid a long slog into the wind. Now ploughing into a 20-knot breeze, the little poodle-mix keeps up a steady, sled dog trot. When a sudden gust stops me in my tracks, Aki flinches and jumps sideways, like she had been pinched. Then she drops into a sheltered gully and continues towards the warm car. 

Cold Silence

This rim of rime frost explains why the woods are so quiet. Frozen breath of the squirrel within formed the thick, white border. On a warmer day, the little guy would be scolding Aki as we moved up the trail. 

            Similar frost borders mark the sleeping places of the other squirrels in the woods.  Up near the forest canopy, a wood pecker climbs an old growth hemlock but does not make a noise. Two Steller’s jays land on a close-in tree limb to silently watch us pass. 

            One gull keens when we reach the beach but the rest of the birds on the beach are silent. So is the raven that cruises overhead. A smart breeze riffles the off shore water but there are no leaves in the beachside alders to break the silence. 

Sore Paws

It is still cold and windy in downtown Juneau. I should have started this walk an hour ago, before wind started to funnel down from Mt. Juneau. Aki is too blissed out over the plethora of scents to notice. As we climb Gastineau Avenue, a shadow crosses over us. I look up in time to see the eagle that made it. 

            The eagle is part of an airshow of ravens and pigeons that ride the wind currents over South Franklin Street.  I suspect the pigeons to be prey for the larger birds. Most of the pigeons settle on a balcony of a house with a view of the channel. One of the ravens lands on the snow in front of the house. Another settles on a railing where it seems to be measuring the little dog and I. One of its eyes is cloudy, the other clear. I wonder if it can see out of the one with a cataract. 

            We walk to the end of Gastineau Avenue and drop down stairs to South Franklin. The metal stair grates are cold so I carry Aki. After I set her down on the sidewalk at the foot of the stairs, she walks with one paw suspended over the air. The protected one must have stepped on an ice melting crystal. Similar crystals have been scattered on most of the downtown sidewalks. I will carry Aki most of the way home,  


Aki and I are staying away from the glacial moraine until this cold snap ends. Thanks to Juneau’s myriad of micro climates, we have lots of options, including the trails on North Douglas Island. I pull the car into the parking lot for the closest North Douglas trail—Fish Creek. It’s 17 degrees F. Only a light breeze ruffles Aki’s curls as she sniffs around for friendly scents. 

            Ice now covers the creek except for the riffles. Fast water freezes last. The temperature must drop far below 17 degrees for it to ice over. We move down to the pond but can’t use the normal trail to pass around it. The last flood tide covered the trail with brackish water, which is now slippery ice. Inch-thick sheets of pan ice lay on the pond bank. It crunches and cracks as it is lifted by a new flood tide. 

            The wind picks up as we leave the pond and head toward the creek mouth. Aki sticks close to my heels. She ignores the large raft of mallards that swim with heads down just offshore. I try to imagine dunking my head in the same water and the pain it would bring. A plump, shore bird stands on a rock just offshore, looking as relaxed as it would on a summer day. 

            As the wind numbs my face, I lose interest in slipping and sliding down the creek mouth. I turn back, followed by a now energized poodle-mix. We work our way back to the trailhead. When we cross the creek bridge, I expect to see the ice breaking up under pressure from the incoming tide. It still holds firm. Fifty meters up stream three river otters slink onto the ice. One by one they dive into the ice-free rapids.  We are such cold weather wimps, little dog. 

A Little Help

It is 14 degrees F. when Aki and I leave home. Dressed as she is in an insulated wrapper, she should be fine on our planned walk across the glacial moraine. The temperature drops as we approach the trailhead. It’s 11 degrees when we pass the airport and 10 when we reach the Catholic Church. Like a launch countdown, the temperature continues to drop: 10, 9. 8, 7, 6, 5, and finally to four by the time I park the car. 

            The little dog squeaks and squeals like she usually does when I open the car door. She leaps out and onto the snow-covered pavement. I have to trot quickly to catch up with her on the trail. As I fasten the chin strap on my mock-fur hat, Aki moves into deep snow and starts the peeing ceremony. She is still circling as I move down the trail, confident that she will soon catchup. 

            Fifty meters later I turn around, expecting to see Aki just behind me. The trail is empty. I backtrack and find her at the place where she peed. She holds a front paw suspended in the air, drops it to the trail and raises a rear paw. Then she hunches her back, like she does when I am about to pick her up, I lift her into my arms.

            I carry the chilled old dog to our car and take a solo walk to the now-frozen Mendenhall Lake. While I take a picture of the surrounding mountains, a father and son approach a stream diminished by the cold to a trickle. Both are wearing rubber boots. The dad splashes across but the son hesitates. He is already cold and doesn’t want to be colder. The dad offers to give him a piggyback ride back to the heated visitor’s center after he crosses the stream.  The boy does, then climbs onto his father’s back.