Scattered snowflakes are falling on this mountain meadow. An hour ago the sun shone here. The deer that left tracks on the trail might have stood in the sun. Did he stretch his neck in happiness the sun warmed his hide?Aki, who has known only snow on this walk, ignores the question.
I’m pretty sure that the little dog feels a range of emotions. She can bark in anger or melt into my arms with a look of bliss on her face. What emotions drive the wild deer? They can panic. A doe protects her fawn like her human counterpart would. Love motivates the human mom. Is the doe only driven by instinct?
Humans can feel joy, like I did last night while watching a surprising sunset. I suspect that domestic animals might feel joy. What else could explain the display Aki puts on when her humans from vacation? But I wonder if wild animals like the deer and bear experience joy.
The smell of fresh-sawn spruce was the first clue. Saw dust on the trail and a nearby jumble of tree rounds confirmed that the wind blew down another tree while we were in Idaho. The wind that dropped this one, snapped off the trunk of another nearby mature spruce.
When nature takes beautiful trees like these, I try to accept it like I try to accept that death is a necessary part of life. But first I allow myself a little moment to mourn.
Aki would prefer to keep moving. But she stands without complaint, shivering as rain soaks into her curls. I look from the downed spruce to other, older wind-fallen tress. Electric green moss softens their lines. Hundreds of spruce and hemlock seedlings have sunk their roots into the rotting nursery logs. Nature wastes nothing when left alone by man.
Having pushed Aki to the point of impatience, I start down the trail before the little dog starts to whine.
I can’t find Aki. While I stood and stared at plops of snow hitting the surface of Mendenhall River, she disappeared. We are in too thick a brush for an eagle ambush. So I look into the woods, rather up at sky when searching for the little dog. The bears are in their winter dens but wolves and coyotes still hunt the moraine for rabbits, which are grey and about her size. I whistle our summoning tune. When she doesn’t appear, I wonder if I will ever see Aki again.
Is the little dog punishing me? She was put out by the new vacuuming robot that this morning made her retreat under the bed. She is an elder dog, 84 in dog years. But does she have the depth to plan revenge?
I could trudge back up the snow covered trail to search for her. But I don’t know if she is already waiting for me at the car. I head slowing toward the trailhead. In a minute she is trotting by my side, looking a little smug.
Aki and I head out to the Sheep Creek delta, hoping to sneak in a walk before the wind rises and the sun is swallowed by clouds. One look at the Gastineau Channel tells me that we are too late. Wind pouring off the ice field has already raised a mist where the channel meets Taku Inlet. Froth-covered waves march up the channel toward Juneau town. Aki wants to stay in the splash zone grass where the wind can’t touch her.
I want to follow the sun out onto the exposed gravel. Aki hangs back until the distance between us becomes too great for her to stand. Then she walks just downwind of me, hoping to find some protection from the thirty-knot gusts whipping up channel. But I offer poor protection from the wind. She dashes ahead, as if trying to out run the wind. But it is there, waiting for her when she next stops.
Knowing that the little dog wants to turn back, I lead her towards the grass-covered sand dune that protects the site of the old ore house. Only one of us minds it when the sun disappears for the day in a wall of clouds.
As a single crow lands on an offshore rock, I look for the rest of the murder. Crows never travel alone. Neither our approach nor the small waves slapping it’s rock perch bothers the bird. I turn away to watch an eagle land in the top of a spruce. When I look back there are two crows in the rock.
In seconds, five more land on the crow’s small island. The original guy doesn’t yield any ground as its brothers and sisters point their talons at the rock, throw back their wings, and alight next to him. Another one lands, bringing the total to seven crows on the rock.
Another twenty crows do a flyby. They draw off birds from the rock until only the original crow remains. Then he flies around a headland and out of sight. Down the beach we find the murder feeding in the splash zone. Aki sniffs a diminutive snowman with a mussel shell bow tie, and cow parsnip arms. Tiny chunks of beach shale form its eyes and mouth.
I don’t enjoy this either, little dog. I’m holding Aki over the bathroom sink trying to move one of her front legs into the faucet stream. It, like her other three legs, is covered with snowballs. Better this, than having me pull them off.This reminder does nothing to reduce her resistance.
Aki picked up her snowballs running on new snow that covered the Perseverance Trail. She could have avoided them by staying on the packed portion of the trail. But, as she would say if she could, what would be the fun in that? While she gamboled and nosed into the snow, I took stock of the day. Mist ghosts climbed up the side of Mt. Juneau. New snow lay crowed onto the tops of cottonwood limbs and the rocks lining Gold Creek. Looking down the valley we could see dark, anvil-shaped clouds, about to deliver our next dump of snow.
Still standing over the bathroom sink, I manage to remove all Aki’s snowballs and dry her off. Her paws are moving before I can manage to drop her onto the floor. We meet at the back door, where she is waits for her post-walk treat.
Wind drives Aki and I into the woods. Using the Rain Forest Trail, the little dog and I enjoy the protection of an old growth forest. In addition to defeating the wind, the forest, with its thick canopy, has kept snow from accumulating on the trail. Snowy patches of the forest floor mark where wind-fallen trees have opened up holes in the canopy.
We can hear the sound of small but steady surf when we approach the beach. It doesn’t bother the harlequin ducks. The males seem too intent on breeding to take much notice of us. But something has stirred the golden eyes to flight.