The wind shook our little car on the way to this morning’ trailhead. With the help of the windshield wipers I could make out the road through sheets of rain. Aki still whined with excitement a few blocks before we reached the entrance to the Marriot Trail. Two ravens were waiting for us. They flew ahead and landed on a spruce tree and watched. The ravens followed as we walked along a creek and then out onto a very wet meadow. No longer inhibited by the forest trees, the wind blasted the little dog and I. We pushed on. The ravens did not.
The trail led us into a forest still recovering from being clearcut. Like all second growtht forests, it is dark even on a sunny day. Thanks to the dense canopy formed by densely packed spruce and hemlock trees, not enough light can reach the forest floor to support life. We drop into a creek drainage which was never logged. Some of the thick spruce have been growing here for three hundred years.
The second growth forest continues on the other side of the street. Thin trees, twenty feet long and stripped of bark lay scattered on the ground. Most still have a root ball. Micro-bursts of wind must have uprooted them years ago, and tossed them about like an angry giant. Here and there new trees have taken root in an old growth stump. If left alone, nature wastes nothing.
It stops me dead in my tracks. Aki trots off to catch up with her doggie guest. As she disappears around the corner, I stare at the source of my distraction—a leafed-out blueberry bush. It’s almost January, you little fool. The lush, green plant doesn’t look out of place. At the bush’s base sorrel plants are yet to turn red. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s 40 degrees. Winter seems like a legend for old men to share with their grandkids.
In a week the little dog and I might be struggling down this same North Douglas trail through deep snow. Then the precocious blueberry plant will suffer like a Dickensian orphan. Now, its roots are drinking in the rain.
Aki, why is this eagle sulking? When I look down at the little dog she appears to be sulking too. The eagle has jammed itself into the tangled branches of an alder tree. The dog stands at my few, squinting to keep rain drops out of her eyes. Aki and I have just left the Sheep Creek Delta where only the ducks seem to be enjoying the weather.
The beach was empty except for the resident gulls, mallards, and Barrow golden eye ducks. The gulls clustered together on a sand bar. The golden eyes paddled and fed just off shore. But to my surprise, the mallards waddled around the beach where they would be easy targets for eagles. They were today’s canaries in the coal mine, letting me know that there were no eagles around to carry my diminutive poodle away.
It’s just gone past two in the afternoon. Full darkness is less than an hour away. Two hours ago the marine layer descended on downtown Juneau, enclosing us in mist. Aki is dragging me up Gastineau Avenue. She pours over sidewalk smells like a accountant on tax day. In her mind, where the nose is king, our walk through Downtown Juneau is stimulating.
Visual stimulation appeals more to me. There is little of that now. In the growing darkness, parked cars with new paint jobs look as bright as Christmas candy. Within a few minutes, the electric blue of this new Subaru will fade into the gray.
I have to carry the little dog down a set of metal stairs to South Franklin where light glares out from the Red Dog Saloon. With strings of white lights spiraling up their posts, the street lamps look like stale candy canes. Around the corner customers in Pel Meni study their screens while finishing their orders of Russian dumplings.
A homeless couple, profiles thickened with layers of warm clothes, share a bench under the Marine Park shelter. They ignore a lighted Christmas tree a few feet away. Across the street, the colors in a mural depicting the appearance of man on earth sparkle under twin spotlights. Rainwater trapped in the tire ruts on Marine Way reflect totem animals watching the first man emerging from a clam shell.
I’m again walking into the breeze on Sandy Beach. The wind tosses rain into my face and onto my parka. I want to ask Aki why I always make this mistake. But the little dog is thirty meters away, trotting along the forest’s edge where the wind can’t reach her.
Next time, I promise myself, I will walk through the Treadwell Woods to Glory Hole Bay and then home with the wind at my back. I wipe rain from my glasses so I can see down Gastineau Channel. Just past Glory Hole Bay, two bald eagles ride upward in the wind. Flexing their wings, the eagles then drop like stones. One dives on something in the channel. The other eagle turns its wings into a parachute and drifts onto the top of an old wharf piling. They are masters of their six-foot wings.
While driving through the avalanche zone on the way to Sheep Creek, I wanted to stop and photograph the southern end of Gastineau Channel. A rising wind had broken up the gray mass of clouds that hung over the channel. Sunlight infused the clouds above Lucky Me. But there was no place to stop safely and we were only a few minutes away from the creek. When we arrived, the light was gone and the clouds were beginning to heal their wounds. At least it wasn’t raining.
I followed a dune of gravel out toward the channel where a raft of Barrow golden eye ducks fed. Aki held back to stare at me from a fringe of beach grass. Then came rain. It feel in sporadic drops at first then followed by and a wind-driven deluge.
After the little dog joined me on the dune, we moved toward the channel for a better view of the ducks. The golden eyes were keeping close to the shore even as we approached them. Usually they would edge out into the channel, like shop lifters moving slowly out a store’s door to avoid looking suspicious. This morning, when they tried to edge out a little, they quickly returned and to the shallows. That’s when the seal head appeared. It wasn’t the first time that we had been used without our knowledge to herd ducks in a seal’s direction.
Snow no longer covers this trail through the old growth. Yesterday it did. Yesterday snow drifted down through the forest canopy. Today it’s rain. The rain forest is once again the venue for the annual fight between fall and winter.
While Aki hangs back to investigate a stain of urine near the trail, I push on to the beaver dam. Water spills over the dam through layers of newly severed tree branches dragged there by beavers. There is still a paper-thin layer of ice covering parts of the pond. But it is already melting as the temperature climbs and the rain falls. Snow still covers the mountain backdrop for the pond. But winter lacks the strength to counterpunch the warmth of fall here where the beavers sleep.