Today, winter solstice should be the northern new year’s eve. We all look forward to the lengthening of days that starts tomorrow. In Aki’s human home holiday lights keep the darkness at bay. Floors and clothes have been cleaned in preparation for the New Year. Here, on the Fish Creek delta, an 18.8 foot high tide washes the marshes clean and floods over the trail. In Gastineau Channel, a salmon gill-netter takes advantage of the high water to motor across the bar to downtown Juneau.
On our last visit an otter coxed Aki out onto the ice and I felt fortunate to get the little dog back in one piece. Today, only small chunks of ice float on the flooded pond so I relax and let Aki wander. While she sniffs a nearby alder, I spot the bright purple interior of a recently harvested sea urchin—the leavings of an otter’s new year’s meal. Like a whale’s plume or even a steaming pile of bear scat, the broken purple shells remind me who will share the rain forest with us during the next year. I am humble by the thought, humbled by these scattered shells, but also happy to have such interesting neighbors.
We start every walk with the pooping ceremony. Aki circles one way and then the other to prepare the snow and loosen her bowels. If a squirrel doesn’t dash through her peripheral vision or a raven doesn’t chant, she does her job. Before the drop, I usually turn away and prepare the plastic bag for capture of her product. This morning, distracted by hundreds of Canada geese fleeing from something on the wetlands, I miss the ceremony. I will also miss the geese. Even though we will hear their cackling complaints during the entire walk on the Fish Creek delta, we won’t see the big fat birds. After the geese flyby, I search the snow for Aki’s scat and end up bagging several piles of poo with the hope that the little dog produced at least one of them.
Fog clogs the air above Gastineau Channel but hasn’t reached delta wetlands. That changes when we reach the creek’s mouth. I spot what looks like a shack walking upstream—a bird hunter packing out his decoys. Did he chase off the geese? Downstream, fog block our view of the glacier. The tide flooding onto the wetlands has driven the gray blanket over Smuggler’s Cove and onto the mountainsides, shrinking our world.
When I stop to photograph a lead in the pond ice Aki slips onto the ice, now only 2 inches thick. I spot her nosing a recently disturbed patch of open water in the lead. The little dog scrambles on shore when I call her. Fifty feet away a river otter eye hops and then slides out of the water by extending its long neck over the ice. When half of his elongated body is on the ice the other half pops out of the water. The wild animal makes a chitterling call and Aki returns to the ice. I call her back but when she starts to respond, the otter chits. I call, the otter chits again and again until the little poodle mix finally slinks up to me, perhaps shocked at the language I used to demand her return. The otter, tail in the water, four paws on the ice, watches her playmate/tasty meal walk away.