Tonight the rain returns. Today we can still use the sun to enjoy Mendenhall Lake. Clouds will deaden the sky this evening and heavy rain will keep many folks indoors. That’s why I was surprised at how few people have taken to the glacier trail this morning. The sun still shines, making recently freed glacier ice sparkle.
We wanted to take a moraine trail to where it drops you onto a beach on Mendenhall Lake. But several signs said that no dog, not even a poodle who has used her 10 pound body to chase away grumpy bears, could walk the trail we wanted to take.
Instead we strolled over to a saddle to take another look at this year’s artic terns. They rose off the beach in large clouds when we approached on the last visit. Today we could only spot one or two at a time. Some were collecting food for their nesters. Most kept a close by watch on the new born babes.
Two bald eagles were occupying a cottonwood tree when Aki and I reached the end of Sheep Creek Beach. I was surprised to see the pair. Breeding pairs are now taking turns protecting their nest. A week or two ago, I watched an eagle dive bomb a raven trying to snatch an egg from the eagle’s nest. Raven must have left at least one egg there when it flew off. One of the eagle parents was tucked in the nest, over its eggs a week later when I passed by again.
The nesting eagle flashed me a fierce sign. Was it warning that she would rip out my eyes if I tried to climb up her nest tree? The pair of eagles that Aki and I watched this morning were sending out their bored “you don’t deserve our attention” look. Maybe that’s why they let me walk within a few hundred feet before returning their attention to a nearby pen of young salmon that will soon be released into the sea.
This must be our hundredth day of snowfall this winter. I still find it beautiful. But Aki, the poodle who sometimes acts like she was raised in Paris, is disappointed. Still, she doesn’t protest when I dress her in a waterproof coat and let her lead me out the door.
We must be close to the end of winter. The snow has no power to survive on the bare neighborhood streets. I let her chose the route and she drags me down the steepest portion of Gold Street and into the bar district of Juneau. I am feeling cold and a little bored with the thick snow fall.
As we pass the downtown coffee shop, a young woman pops out to drop a chunk of dog cookie in front of Aki. Torn between eating the cookie and walking home, the little pooch looks up at me. I grab the cookie fragment, thank the nice coffee shop person and walk toward home. Then a friend pops out of her car and shouts out my name. While standing in the snow, we bring each other up to date, sharing the happy stories and the sad. She was always a huger but we could only bump fists in greeting.
This morning, Aki is moving down the trail as slow and careful as an archeologist investigating a thousand year old village site. It’s taken us ten minutes to walk 200 yards. Every few feet, she has to stop, smell, and pee. At first I don’t mind. It gives me plenty of time to stop and study the avalanche chutes marking the side of Mt. Juneau.
Thinking that I am free to take photographs, I unshoulder my camera and start to point it at the mountain. Before I can click off a picture, the little dog jerks me down the road. After this little act of rebellion, I stop trying to hold the handle of her leash before photographing something. Instead, I place it on the snow-covered street and keep Aki in place by standing on it. I only have to do this a few more times before the 14 year old pup reassumes her traditional role of non-hunting guide.
There are a lot of places to visit on a sunny March day. We could be out the road, climbing between snow-covered meadows to reach an almost perfect beach. I might be leading Aki around one of the tidal islands accessible at low tide. But we are back at shore of Mendenhall Lake, getting ready to ski around the campground.
The little dog is fine with the idea. It gives her the chance to catch up on the peep mail messages left by other Juneau friends. But I have my doubts. It froze hard last night and we were just told that the snow machine needed for resetting the trail is broken. Aki couldn’t care less even though it might mean me having to struggle on an ice slick trail.
As always happens, Aki wins. But when we start down the trail I realize that I am also a winner. The trail is just soft enough for me to ski without slipping. I can fly down the trail. In record time we reach a little path that we can use to ski along the Mendenhall River and back to the car along the edge of the lake. Even though strong spring sunshine had been hammering the snow trail, it is still rock hard. This doesn’t bother the little poodle-mix, but toughens my skiing. That’s until I drop onto the lake, which is covered with a thin layer of snow. It lets me glide back to car by simply pulling myself forward with my ski poles.
Aki is taking this cross country ski trip seriously. That’s probably because was are being joined by her other human. The little dog watches the road carefully as we drive out to Skater’s Cabin. That’s where we will start skiing around the shore of Mendenhall Lake. It’s suppose to be snowing but none falls on us as we walk to the lake shore. Instead we have to squint because no clouds block the sun.
It’s 38 degrees and the temperature will rise before we finish. The snow, hardened by last night’s cold weather, is firm enough to keep us above the snow’s surface. Aki follows us onto the lake, across a small bay, and around a snow-covered point. When I stopped on the lake ice to take a picture, my ski poles slide easily into the ice. In a half hour my skis would be sinking into icy water. But we have just enough time to fly over the top of it, high and dry.
The snow is back, replacing weeks of cold, but sunny skies. The snow turns the skies grey. For a while this morning, clouds blocked the views of surrounding mountains. If not for Aki, the poodle-mix, I would spend the day reading a book on the Alaskan wilderness and trying out some of the tea types we received for Christmas.
We end up visiting Sandy Beach. The trail is covered with new snow as is the beach. Aki is in hog heaven, playing “chase and chase me” with other dogs. A knot of golden eye ducks swim close to shore. Two males raise their beaks in song while their females swim alongside, often harvesting food with the submerged beaks.
It’s an afternoon for Italian roast coffee and mutted views of Alaskan mountains. That’s how I am seeing and think of things. Aki does not. She sits nearby, giving me the “let’s get going” stare.
Pushing away a little lazy guy spirit that thinks that I should spend the morning drinking tea while looking out the window for the neighborhood raven nest, I leash-up Aki and head out the door. Only a slight breeze stirs the air and the temperature is already in the high 20’s. Then the sun burns through the clouds and I realize that Aki’s was a great idea.
I let her direct me through downtown neighborhoods full of Craftsmen houses. As she does when she is a little upset with me, Aki dog stops every few feet to check scent left by other dogs. Feeling a little guilty about delaying the walk, I turn control over all decision making to her. This improves her mood. It also allows me to discover beauty in buildings that I have taken for granted for years.
We hadn’t intended to do a sub-zero walk this morning. But no wind discouraged us by stirring the country near the glacier. The minus 3 degree temperature (minus 19 C) seemed quite comfortable. Aki dashed onto the Mendenhall Lake and started on the trail to the glacier. We had heard others had posted pictures of a new hollow in the glacier formed from clear, blue ice. I guess the little poodle mix wanted to go check it out.
I told Aki that we didn’t have enough time to reach the glacier and return home before a scheduled meeting. Instead, we shifted over to little-used trail that wound around the glacier moraine. It offered lots of views of the little pocket lakes the glacier left behind as it retreated up the mountains.
On cold winter days, when ice covered lakes allow us a chance to explore new territory, I usually lead Aki off the usual trails. She starts after me when I walk onto Crystal Lake. Then she stops, bogged down in snow. The old puppy starts shivering. It’s like she will freeze if she can’t keep moving.
I dash over to Aki and carry her back to the solid trail. I expect her to ask me to haul her back to car. But she drops out of my arms and trots over to a little alder for a smell of scent left by another pup. She is still a tough little dog.
The temperature of Upper Fish Creek Valley has been dropping for the past few days. Since Aki and I haven’t used the trail in months, I picked it for today’s hike. In the past, the creek has been swollen with water. Other times, the smell of dead, spawned out salmon hangs in the air. I’ve seen sparkling ice cycles lit up by the morning sun. But, until today, I’ve never seen the creak so enslaved by ice.
We can barely hear small holes in the ice mumble as the little dog and I pass a deep-water section of the creek. In minutes ice covers the water. Normally it is hard to let yourself think over the noise of the rushing creek waters. Today, for the first time that I can remember, it is profoundly quiet. We are passing through a old growth forest with trees still growing strong after hundreds of years in the little creek valley. Every other old growth creek on the island is pockmarked with downed hemlock or spruce. But here, in a forest that seems impervious to high winds or floods, time seems to have stopped.