Each year more than 60 inches of rain falls on Juneau. Most drops as mist or light rain. Today it hammers down on the town. In unprotected areas, strong wind drive it sideways. That’s why the little dog and I are in the Treadwell woods, which soften the wind and give us a little protection from the rain.
After she does her business (bodily functions), Aki looks to be ready to return to the car. She is already soaked through and her trick of shaking off accumulated moisture is not working. But we both need exercise so I walk on, knowing that she will follow.
Even through it is a weekend day, the woods are deserted. The only beings on Sandy Beach are skulking gulls, and a small raft of golden eye ducks huddling behind a line of ruined wharf dolphins. I don’t bother to look for the two resident eagles, figuring that are 100 miles north gorging themselves on a late run of chum salmon, until they sing a harmonious duet.
The sun almost blinded me as we drove across the Douglas Island Bridge. It illuminated Sandy Beach to our right. To our left it highlighted a line of fog that reached out across Fritz Cove. I turned right, not left, when we reached the bridge’s roundabout. Then the sun disappeared behind a cloudbank. We were in for a world of gray.
Dogs are reported to be colorblind. Maybe that is why Aki shows the same enthusiasm for a dark forest trail as she does for one flooded in light. I’m too occupied with not slipping on the icy trail boards to check for forest for action. But the little dog has an updated catalogue of smells by the time we reach the beach.
Last night the sand froze and frost formed on the beach pebbles. For once, it was easier to walk on the sand. Storm tides had ripped bull kelp from their anchors and dumped them on the beach along with jellyfish, and rock weed. Frost forms on the edges of the seaweeds. Freezing temperatures turned the once smooth surface of a jellyfish into one covered in leaf skeletons.
Aki and I are beach walking in front of the old Tlingit village where October storms had cut deep wound-like channels from the grass fringe to the water. Aki disappeared from site when she crossed them. This month’s autumnal tides have healed most of the gashes.
A trio of grebes plop one and a time from under the surface of the bay. Their white feathers glisten when hit by shafts of sunlight. Until now, the little dog and I have been walking in a gray world. The sun has finally broken through the clouds smothering the Chilkat Mountains.
Like the tides, winter sunlight can repair some of the day-to-day damage of rain forest life. I don’t need such help today. Aki’s other human and I have just returned from Hawaii. But I think I can detect a little improvement in the little dog’s mood.
After taking the red eye out of Honolulu, I am back in Alaska. It was ninety degrees when we left Oahu. Here in Juneau it’s a balmy forty-three. Aki and I are checking out the Fish Creek Pond. Less than 24 hours ago I was standing on Ewa Beach, watching the sun rise over Diamond Head. Now Aki and I are standing on the high end of Fish Creek Pond, enjoying the soft, clean smelling air and the pattern of rain drops hitting the pond water. It’s good to be home.
I’m in a Hawaiian bike and fishing shop. It’s too hot for biking and too windy for fishing. But all I want to do is exchange the set of bike tires I bought earlier for a better size. The ones I want to exchange for cost a bit more than the ones I had purchased here an hour ago. The owner says something in Hawaiian and waves away the difference with the back of his hand. It’s a gesture that dismisses the matter and directs me to the door.
On the way back to the place Aki’s other human and I are staying, I wonder how the little poodle-mix is doing back home. She has already taken her morning walk in the rain when the temperature was close to freezing. She would have enjoyed the brief time we spent on this trip in Anchorage between flights because there was sun and new snow. But there were also eagles roosting in trees along the Cook Inlet trail I walked while waiting for my flight to Honolulu.
She would be having a great time here in Hawaii scooting over the beach sand as long as the scooting were done before the heat of the day. She’d be here for the sand and interesting food scraps and, I hope for a chance to spend more time with her humans if she didn’t hate to fly.
I wonder if the little dog knows about what is about to happen. We are transiting the glacier moraine, rounding a still unfrozen lake. Water from melting snow drips from shoreline trees onto the lake’s surface. Wet snow was falling when we started this walk. It has been replaced by light rain, which speeds up the snowmelt. The early November assertion of winter is about to end. Fall is not finished with us.
Aki tries to rub her face on the trail snow but finds it is still too thin. Undeterred, she trots on to a place where fresh beaver tracks cross the trail. They seem to soften as we look at them.
The snow disappears from the trail when we enter the troll woods. Aki has to skirt the muddy stretches. I am thankful for the volunteers that have bridges the worst parts with assemblages of scrap lumber.
On the drive back home, I want to tell Aki to look up at Mt. Juneau where snow, rain falls on the mountains flanks. But she has curled herself on the car seat, dozing as her curls begin to dry.
Aki and I are using the Outer Point Trail to reach Shaman Island beach. If we could see it through the clouds, the sun would just be clearing the Douglas Island ridge. Without the snow, it would be dark and even depressive in the woods. It’s amazing how much light fresh snow brings. It highlights the lines of bare-limbed understory plants. The few remaining leaves glow under layers of white flakes. The red famine berries wear crowns of snow.
It’s times like this that I wish Aki could speak. I’d love to know whether she sees snow as anything other than a fun running surface. It doesn’t appear to inhibit her ability to read scent signs. I have to wait often for the little dog to catalogue each new smell and cover it with her own.
Gull screams and shotgun booms reach us while still in the woods. Aki drops closer to the ground each time she hears a blast. But no hunter hunkers in front of his decoys when we break out of the forest. A small raft of bufflehead and harlequin ducks is just pulling away from the beach. Gulls form a line along the beach. Most fly a few feet into the surf when we approach. But a gang of three hold position on a snow covered rock, either wise or foolish enough to trust us.