This was to be an easy walk through the Treadwell woods. The sun had managed to break through mottled sky. With the temperature just above freezing we expected a walk in the park.
We had it easy at first. Previous dog walkers had broken a trail through the foot of new snow that covered the forest floor. Aki bounced ahead, stopping often to pee or sniff. I unzipped my jacket and shoved my mittens into a pocket.
I walked toward the beach, attracted by what sounded like a series of express trains moving through a tunnel. Aki reluctantly followed me until the trail disappeared.
I carried the little dog across a drifted-over streambed and then onto a snow-covered dune. Aki made to turned back when she felt the first strong gust of wind blow snow into her fur. But she perked up when we reached the frozen sand of the beach.
The poodle-mix charged down the beach as if in a race with the streams of windblown snow that skidded over the sand. She disappeared for a moment in a whiteout. Seconds later I spotted her sheltering behind a weathered piling. When the wind dropped she charged back to me and then took a trail off the beach. That’s the smart move little dog, I said as I followed her into the sheltering woods.
Aki bursts out of the car and charges onto Sandy Beach. She crosses a line of snow made brown by blowing sand, slides to a stop, and retreats behind a grass-covered dune. I can’t argue with her judgment. The 60 miles-an-hour gust that stopped her run made the 24 degree ambient temperature feel like 3.
I don’t have any problem convincing the little dog to follow me into the Treadwell woods. The wind rushing through the trees sounds like an express train. It’s calmer in the forest except where fallen trees opened up paths for the wind.
We walk on a path parallel to the beach until reaching the little bay created when the Treadwell Mine tunnels collapsed. There, close up against the rocky shore, a mixed raft of mallards and golden eye ducks find shelter from the wind.
When Aki barks. I look up and see two large dogs muzzle to muzzle. They growl at each and soon might fight. My little dog wants to investigate. With tail wagging, she approaches the two combatants. We are in the Treadwell Ruins near a side trail I have been wanting to take. I do now and ask Aki to follow. To my relief, she does. The trail leads to a 100-year-old junkyard.
When the waters of Gastineau Channel flooded the Treadwell mine tunnels in 1917, all mining on Douglas Island stopped with the exception of that carried out in the Ready Bullion Mine. That too closed in 1922. We are heading toward a small train of ore cars that were abandoned here when the mining stopped.
Most of the cars have already rusted into components. Aki sniffs at the one intact car. It looks fit enough to haul ore. The sight of the car triggers conflicting feelings about the ruins. Without human intervention the forest will eventually reclaim the land. In a few generations, old growth spruce and hemlock trees could replace the cottonwoods and alders that are now repairing the ground. But I find a beauty in the steel rails that lay rusting on the forest floor, the giant iron gears disappearing under moss, and this one intact ore car.
Aki wants to leave the Treadwell ruins for the beach even through a forty-mile-an-hour wind is whipping rain over the sand. I follow the little dog into the maelstrom. One of us knows what to expect.
We usually walk north down the beach to the little bay that formed more than 100 years ago when an undersea mine tunnel collapsed. On a calmer day we could expect to see a pair of eagles sulking on top of the old ventilation shaft. Two ravens are usually here looking for mischief. Today there is only a diminished raft of mallards huddling in the lee of a small point. Later we will see the ravens roosting on a pickup truck in the Foodland parking lot. They, will be staring at the Domino’s Pizza store, as if waiting for the cooks to finish the large meat lover’s special they ordered.
While I try to count the ducks, Aki sprints across the beach to take shelter in the border grass. In seconds she is standing at the start of a trail that leads back into the woods. I follow my poodle-mix into the forest. Steel rails that were once used by horse drawn carts to pull ore from the mine now twist and turn along the mossy ground. Some seem to erupt from the trunks of the spruce trees.
On the way to the Treadwell Ruins trailhead, Aki and I stopped on the Juneau waterfront and watched sunlight break through the clouds. As if shinning through a lattice window, the sun formed sunrise colored squares onto Gastineau Channel. Near the navigational tower, a single seal swam through squares of yellow/red light. I told the little dog that that was more beauty than we are to expect on this early December day. But I was wrong.
On the sandy beach that borders the Treadwell Ruins, I try to correct my earlier statement. Aki, I think each kind of weather produces its own beauty. As she usually does when I try to share a profound idea, the little dog throws me her “are you kidding” look.
No, really. Take this scene, one with frost but no snow. Even without sun to sparkle the frost, this beach and the trees that crouch towards it are quite lovely.
Knowing this I am not convincing the little dog, I turn and look toward Juneau. Sunlight has managed to again pierce the clouds to swath the town and the mountain with the same name.
We move south until reaching the collapsed glory hole that marks the end of Sandy Beach. Frost feathers have turned the offshore rocks an icy grey. A raft of mallards slides from behind the rocks to provide just the right punch of color.
There is only one eagle on top of the mine tunnel ventilator shaft this morning. Its mate must be off feeding. Even though no wind stirs the air, white feathers stick out from the back of its head like untamed cowlicks. It stares down channel, maybe at the flock of gulls that just landed on the beach, or perhaps at the top of Sheep Mountain rimmed with light from the rising sun.
The eagle’s mate plops down on the shaft roof. Rather than exchanging the usual screeching welcomes, the two eagles face in opposite directions. A minute later only the original eagle remains on the shaft roof. The other flies toward the rising sun, flushing the gulls and a raft of scoters to flight.
I find myself slowing down as we near the end of the beach. Even though it is still blocked by the Sheep Mountain knob, the sun has already managed to paint a golden strip of light on the waters of Gastineau Channel. A tiny raft of mallards lingers in it, as it provides them warmth. Aki is already at the edge of the Treadwell woods, giving me her “time to go” look. As if to confirm her wisdom, the sun immediately slips behind heavy cloud cover the minute it clears the mountain. The golden light vanishes, leaving the ducks, dog and I in a world of gray.
Fog is easier to see on a beach but you can discern its presence inside a thick forest. Aki and I have no problem detecting the way it thickens the air in the Treadwell forest. She pays it little attention. Fog doesn’t diminish the rich smells she searches for in the forest.
The little dog is slow to follow me from the forest down a grassy trail to Sandy Beach. As I wait for her to catch up I spot the resident pair of eagles on top of the old mine ventilation shaft. They appear to be gossiping, although with their profiles softened by fog it is hard to tell. More than one person has noticed how eagle pairs interact like long-suffering human couples who keep together for the sake of the kids. One is almost always scolding the other. The one receiving the dressing down will bow and shrink like a penitent. This pair looks like a couple of drinkers leaning toward each other over their Alaskan beers.
Aki finally pushes through the splash-zone grass to join me on the beach and spots a canine friend waiting for her. Even though they are both over ten human years old, they chase each other over the sand like puppies. Now the eagles have something to gossip about.