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.
Heavy rain has forced us to retreat into the Treadwell ruins. The little dog and I have the place pretty much to ourselves. Aki manages a brief dash about with a big husky mix. When that dog moves on her spirits drop. The rain must be getting to her. She hangs back at a trail junction, apparently questioning my decision to push on rather than take a shortcut back to the car. With human arrogance, I walk further into the ruins. In a minute she ends her strike and trots up to my side.
The storm, which started last night, has engorged all the watercourses and filled up the ponds. Surface water flows down long unused rivulets to the beach where it cuts new courses through the crush gold ore that forms the sandy beach. No bird, crow, raven, eagle, duck, or even gull shows itself. I imagine them all down at the Triangle Bar watching hot dogs cooking on the open rotisserie. Or maybe they are in the Viking, nursing drinks while watching European football on the big screen TV. Too bad dogs are not allowed in either bar.
There are a lot of things the little dog and I could be doing this morning. Recent rainstorms cleared almost all the local trails of ice. We could be walking on one of them. We could be on a snow free beach watching harlequin ducks paddle slowly away. But we are 30 miles north of town where there is enough just snow for cross-country skiing. Thanks to all the dead leaves, twigs and spruce needles on the trail my skis are doing more slogging than sliding.
On a drier day it would be even harder to make progress on the trail. But the steady rain lubricates the trail debris. For some reason, I am the only one of the 30,000 Juneauites that thought skiing here today was a good idea.
Aki would rather be dashing about on a popular dog walking trail but she manages to entertain herself by reading the wild animal sign. When we ski over fresh deer tracks I expect the little dog to growl or bark. But she ignores them. I still search the trailside woods for the animal that left the tracks. Nothing shows itself.
Aki and I are walking on a trail just a few miles from yesterday’s snowy paradise. This place received rain while the moraine was blessed with more snow. But it has beauty and even a little drama to offer. There’s the sound of eagle complaints from raptors perched on riverside spruce. Three other eagles fly in tight circles over the river. I suspect some late arriving silver salmon are drawing the crowd. It could be a deer carcass. We followed the recent tracks of one to the confluence of Montana Creek and the river.
All the eagle activity makes Aki nervous. She stands, almost touching my leg, and squints down river. She calms down when we return to the forest where snowmelt drops rain on both of us. Aki is as excited today, as she would be on a sunny summer Sunday. The little dog uses her nose to discover smells buried under the snow. I have to wait often for her to catalogue the best ones. Gray skies or blue, pee smells the same to her.