The rain doesn’t bother Aki. Nor does it discourage the other dogs and their walkers on the Perseverance Trail. We all carry on, our paws or boots slowly soaking up moisture from the rain sodden snow. Greenish-brown run off from melting snow fills the trailside ditches, providing the strongest color contrast to the grey sky.
Stark skeletons of naked cottonwood trees seem to writhe in pain. Above them the Mt. Juneau waterfalls are still frozen. Snow, not rain falls on the mountain’s upper slopes. Rather than take the upper trail that cuts across an avalanche chute, we walk on the main trail and then take a narrow path over to Gold Creek. Aki alerts and then dashes thirty meters down the trail and buries her nose in the snow. When I reach her, she is sniffing the fresh tracks of a deer.
Having survived hunting season and all but the tail end of winter, the deer still must make it through the early spring famine time before fatting up on fresh greens. The other rain forest locals will have to make do until salmon start their annual invasion of our streams and rivers. Aki doesn’t have to worry. Her people just bought a 20-pound bag of dog food—more than enough to last her until king salmon season.
Aki and I drove over twenty miles to reach this trail. This may be my last chance this year to use my skis on it. Wet snow fell during the entire drive. “Wet” is the operative word here. The thick flakes melted on contact with the road, our car, and the bare branches of roadside trees. Rather than thickening the ground snow layer, the flakes soften it. Our days for skiing are numbered as the winter of 2017-18 begins to die.
Aki squeals as I park the car and leaps onto the snow as I open the car door. If it were a few degrees colder, the snow would clump on the little dog’s fur. But it is too wet for clumping so she can run down the trail unhampered. I follow her into the old growth. It’s not bad skiing except where the forest canopy blocks the sky over the trail. The snow in those places is thin and icy and very close to melting away.
I will have good skiing for most of the visit. Aki will challenge my decision to take a soft side trail. After that she will run and sniff and run some more. I will have to carry my skis and poles over dry sections of the trail. The wet snow will not stop falling. I will feel like a relative on deathwatch, hoping that the treating physician is too pessimistic about our loved one’s chances. But the forest snow is melting and rain is on the way.
Aki shows more enthusiasm for this adventure than I feel as we leave the trailhead. Snow is turning to rain as the little dog and I head into the Treadwell woods. Aki minces down the trail, each step pushing through soaked snow to a thin layer of water beneath. Glad I am wearing waterproof boots, I slosh along behind her.
The poodle-mix dashes toward a urine-yellow Rorschach design in the snow left by the dog of an early morning walker. Similar splotches mark the way to the beach. We slog past roofless ruins and twisted rails of the mining car tracks, all made almost beautiful by mantles of fresh snow. White on rust makes a pleasing combination.
From its perch atop the old ventilation tower, our resident eagle watches us leave the woods and move onto the snow-covered beach. His puffed up chest feathers make me think of Buck Mulligan descending Joyce’s Dublin tower. Aki cares little for literary references so I don’t mention it to her.
When a golden lab approaches, Aki waits in silence rather than barking her usual welcome. You are learning some caution little dog. The meeting goes well and she acts more like her old self when we meet a black-husky-mix. Maybe you are learning to discern rather than to trust that all dogs are potential friends.
After the husky-mix follows its people into the woods, Aki and I have the beach to ourselves. The two ravens that usually greet us have flown. No belted kingfisher chits at us from an overhanging branch. No wind hurries away the loose pans of ice that float around the ruined wharf pilings. If I turn around I could see trucks being loaded at the barge dock across Gastineau Channel and the blocky shapes of the Juneau skyline. But ahead to the south there is only the white-covered beach dotted with broken pilings, Gastineau Channel, and glaciated mountains partially obscured by mist. We move south until we run out of beach.
The little dog shivers at my feet, hunching her shoulders like a homeless man might while warming himself by a barrel fire. She stands in the footsteps I just made in five inches of new snow. We just crossed over wetlands to reach the mouth of Lemon Creek. Normally, she’d be tearing out and back, leaping her way through the fresh snow. Two hours before that is exactly what she would have done. But it wasn’t raining two hours ago.
The snow covering on the wetlands acts like a sponge, soaking up water from the retreating tide and the rain. Rather than expanding, the snow shrinks as the rain and tidewater condense fluffy flakes into thickening cement. It will rock hard if the temperature drops back below freezing. But the forecast is for warmer temperatures and heavy rain. Then the snow will melt away.
The rain and snow conditions don’t bother a water ouzel (American dipper) that just landed near us. The dipper bounces up and down along the edge of tiny watercourse, apparently looking for a meal. Look at the little bird, little dog, dancing in the rain. Aki just shivers until we turn back to the car.
If not for the ice there would be no drama and little beauty to be seen on this rainy day walk. Yesterday’s 20-foot high tide broke up the five-inch thick ice sheet covering the Fish Creek Pond and carried pans of it up the creek where it now forms a temporary dam. More ice pans ended up on the meadow. Several large pieces came to rest athwart the trail.
Aki is happy that we have the Fish Creek delta to ourselves. The little dog is always shy when wearing her “Elvis Presley in Scotland wrap”—a pink and gray fleece number with an argyle pattern and a large collar that curls up toward her ears. I’d share a picture of it but she refuses to pose for portraits today. The Elvis wrap keeps her warm, even when wet, so she wears it.
Before arriving at the pond, we stopped to watch a raft of scoters drift over the waters of Fritz Cove. In the foreground a red-breasted merganser bobbed to the surface with a sand lance wriggling to escape the bird’s beak. Disheveled with head feathers all ahoo, it still looks more at home than some little dog I know.
Rain-slick ice covers the trail into the Treadwell Ruins. Thin strips of grass form margins on both side of the ice. Aki and I watch an older hiker maneuver down one of the grass verges, using a walking stick to keep from falling. The little dog and I follow, she sniffing, me dancing around islands of ice or dog poop. It’s the only way to add excitement to this gray, wet visit to the ruins.
I manage to descend through Treadwell to the ice-free beach and spot a bald eagle perched on an old mine ventilation shaft. The eagle ignores us, which is not surprising as 100 meters of seawater separate us from the bird.
After we move down beach a raven lands on a short piling 10 meters ahead. Turning its back on the little dog and I, it looks as relaxed as a drinker on his favorite bar stool. When we’ve halved the distance, close enough to make out the patterns of purple and black feathers on the bird’s back, an Australian shepherd dog dashes past us and chases the raven off its perch. The raven calmly lands on a 3-meter high piling. Another raven occupies the top of a similar piling a few meters away. The shepherd circles one of the occupied pilings. Neither raven move even when the shepherd dog rises up on its hind legs and reaches up the piling with its front paws. In seconds they could both be perched high in a beachside alder, away from the pesky dog. But that would end the excitement.
Happy Saint Lucy day little dog. Aki looks at with me like someone who had to watch a trusted friend eat warm saffron buns with his morning coffee while all she had to look forward to was a breakfast of dried kibble. Fortunately she forgot about my neglect by the time we climbed into the car for a drive out to the Sheep Creek delta.
Using our car’s magic blue tooth connector, we listen to music recorded on my phone. This morning that device doesn’t allow me to choose songs. Instead we have to settle for an eclectic mix tape as the phone shuttles through my music library. After The Pogues finish a song about brown eyes, Yo Yo Ma starts playing one of the more obscure Bach cello suites. We reach the trailhead before the phone can shuttle over to the Texas Tornados. As if she doesn’t care for Bach, Aki bursts out of the car and into a heavy rain when I opened the door.
It’s high tide so most of the delta is under water. What seems like every mallard in the greater Juneau area hugs the beach or sleeps on it. When I close the car door, one of the mallards makes a sarcastic chuckle. Crows have crowded onto the mid-channel navigation aid. More of their murder stand on a nearby gravel bar even though it is covered with a inch of water. When the tide turns in a few minutes and retreats from their gravel bar, the crows will fly to another one closer to the beach that was dry when theirs was wet.
We won’t see or hear an eagle during our beach walk. But on the drive home the car will pass under a trio of them jockeying for position over a beach with a brace of stubborn ravens. The center of their temporary universe is something dead. I look on the beach but see only rocks and rubble.