I wonder if the little dog knows about what is about to happen. We are transiting the glacier moraine, rounding a still unfrozen lake. Water from melting snow drips from shoreline trees onto the lake’s surface. Wet snow was falling when we started this walk. It has been replaced by light rain, which speeds up the snowmelt. The early November assertion of winter is about to end. Fall is not finished with us.
Aki tries to rub her face on the trail snow but finds it is still too thin. Undeterred, she trots on to a place where fresh beaver tracks cross the trail. They seem to soften as we look at them.
The snow disappears from the trail when we enter the troll woods. Aki has to skirt the muddy stretches. I am thankful for the volunteers that have bridges the worst parts with assemblages of scrap lumber.
On the drive back home, I want to tell Aki to look up at Mt. Juneau where snow, rain falls on the mountains flanks. But she has curled herself on the car seat, dozing as her curls begin to dry.
Aki and I are using the Outer Point Trail to reach Shaman Island beach. If we could see it through the clouds, the sun would just be clearing the Douglas Island ridge. Without the snow, it would be dark and even depressive in the woods. It’s amazing how much light fresh snow brings. It highlights the lines of bare-limbed understory plants. The few remaining leaves glow under layers of white flakes. The red famine berries wear crowns of snow.
It’s times like this that I wish Aki could speak. I’d love to know whether she sees snow as anything other than a fun running surface. It doesn’t appear to inhibit her ability to read scent signs. I have to wait often for the little dog to catalogue each new smell and cover it with her own.
Gull screams and shotgun booms reach us while still in the woods. Aki drops closer to the ground each time she hears a blast. But no hunter hunkers in front of his decoys when we break out of the forest. A small raft of bufflehead and harlequin ducks is just pulling away from the beach. Gulls form a line along the beach. Most fly a few feet into the surf when we approach. But a gang of three hold position on a snow covered rock, either wise or foolish enough to trust us.
As if to pin a lie on weatherman, nature brought us clear, cool skies this morning rather than the promised rain. At first light Aki and I head out to the Mendenhall Wetlands. I’m hoping that it still retains the two inches of snow that fell on it yesterday. But this is early days for winter. The temperature is already above freezing when reach the wetlands. We take the trail along the river even though it is already slick with thawing mud. Aki finds cleaner footing on the grassy fringe.
At first light the still-surfaced river captures crisp reflections of the glacier underlined by trees flocked with snow. But the rising sun frees a breeze that riffles the water. The slight wind doesn’t wake a huge raft of Canada geese that doze, heads tucked into their back feathers, near the opposite side of the river. Among the sleeping flock, four white-fronted geese slip quietly toward shore. These arctic birds will soon resume their southerly migration.
When the heads of two harbor seals appear near the Canadians, the geese move casually towards the beach. I don’t see the seals make a move, but they or maybe a passing eagle flush the geese into flight.
Other than checking frequently to make sure she is near, I haven’t paid much attention to Aki. The little dog, who loves snow, doesn’t seem to mind until I head back toward the muddy trail. Then she gives me one of her “what an idiot” looks, hesitates, and then fast-trots towards her foolish master.
I wonder if Thomas Wood worked out the words to his poem “November” while walking his dog on around this Lake? Aki, who lets all literary references slide off her like snowflakes off her little coat, ignores me. She moves down the trail with a puppy-like friskiness. This is, after all, her first snow of the year. Expecting the snow to turn to rain tomorrow. I am start to catalogue the reasons for why November is my least favorite month.
Using Hood’s poem as a checklist, I note the absence of sun and moon, dawn and noon. I am cold and see no butterflies, bees, fruits, flowers, feel no ease. Some saggy yellow leaves still hang from understory plants so we are slightly better off than Hood was when he wrote “November.” But I am still thinking no, no, no, no, November, when we cross a small stream and spot a pale flash of forget-me-not blue. It’s the Alaska’s state flower shivering in the November wind.
by Thomas Hood
No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
The sun was fighting a winning battle against the marine layer when we left home on this expedition to collect seaweed for the garden.The temperature dropped last night. It’s still above freezing but feels like an Alaskan Autumn day.
Aki would rather go on a regular walk than keep me company while I collect severed rockweed. Staying close, she acts as lookout while, bent over, I grabbed rock weed with gloved hands and dump it into a five gallon bucket. I have to shake from the seaweed crab shells, eagle feathers, and pieces of a deer’s backbone. When she was a puppy, Aki might have snatched some of this wild trash and carried it down the beach.
Taking a break from collecting, I let the little dog lead me off the beach and around False Outer Point. It’s good to see that the resident raft of golden eye ducks have returned to the crescent-shaped bay. Something spooks a gang of scoters as we round the point and they dot our view of Upper Lynn Canal with their dark silhouettes.
Just before climbing over a low headland to return to work, Aki stiffens and holds her nose in the direction of a screen of alders. We circle around the screen and peek behind it. Instead of the expected deer or bear, I spot the remains of an abandoned homeless camp. At the change of seasons, the occupant must have moved closer to the downtown homeless shelter.
There are better trails to take on this rainy morning. Many would offer views of storm clouds over water or mountains. We have no hope of seeing oceans, clouds, whales, eagles or bears along this creek. Even the trail’s surface discourages use. Aki has already become jumpy thanks to the many times I’ve slipped on wet roots or greasy mud. But it’s become an October tradition to hike up the Fish Creek Trail.
Seven Octobers ago I described a trip Aki and I took up this trail in my first blog post. The last of the salmon carcasses had already been washed out to sea by fall storms. With their fishy prey gone the bears, eagles, and herons moved to more likely hunting spots. It was then as it is today, a place gone to rest after the salmon spawn.
Storm flooding and high winds damaged the forest since our last visit. Hundred-year-old trees lay uprooted on dry stream channels. Some blocked the trail until a kind soul with a chain saw cut out a path. A water ouzel (dipper) walks along the creek bottom into the creek’s swift current. It doesn’t stop moving even after it climbs on a midstream rock, bouncing up and down like a child’s toy. Storm floods have wiped away any tracks or scat left along the creek by wild animals. The only signs that eagles ever visited the creek are a few of their dropped feathers in understory plants.
Taking this route was Aki’s idea. I wanted to walk down to the channel, which was sparkling with silver light when we left the house. As we reached the street that offers access to the Perseverance Trail, Aki just broke left. Letting her think it was my plan all along, I followed her.
The little dog trotted past the colorful Craftsmen houses on Basin Road and over the old trestle bridge. The stream, still swollen with rain runoff, ran high and loud beneath us. Only a scattering of yellow leaves clung to their trees. The meadow that slants down the lower flank of Mt. Juneau looked like a faded carpet. I found myself photographing the bare balsam poplar trees that rose above the flume trail on the Mt. Juneau side of Gold Creek. I enjoyed some limp thimbleberry leaves, the yellow color of their leaves enriched by a blink of sunlight. But soon they too will fade and we will have reached the season for admiring shapes and textures instead of color.