Aki is having weekend off while I visit Alaska’s one big city. I am slipping and sliding along Anchorage streets, trying reach the Coastal Trail without falling on my bum. It’s hard to concentrate because I keep thinking about the cloud of Bohemian waxwings I just saw. They descended from the branches of a dormant birch to drink water trapped in an icy pothole. Beautiful things in a homely place.
A week’s worth of sunny weather has turned all the snow on the Outer Point Trail to ice. This doesn’t cause a problem for the little dog or I as long as I wear my ice cleats. Her claws keep her safe. It’s a quiet place. No squirrels or Jays scold Aki. While crossing the ice-covered beaver pond we hear a flock of Canada geese fly overhead. Then it is quiet again.
I stop often to listen for bird song. Otherwise I couldn’t hear a crow’s creaky caw over the sound of the cleats biting into the ice. Until we reach the beach there is no caw to be heard. Just a profound silence, itself a beautiful song.
The beach is almost empty of ducks or gulls when we reach it. Here though, we do hear crow complaints. An Alaska ferry cruises past Lena Point on its way to Haines. Between the beach and the ferry a large raft of scoters changes formation like a high school drill team.
Our sunny streak continues today. Aki some friends and I take advantage by hiking out to Nugget Falls. Previous hikers stomped out a narrow trail through deep snow. Frost feathers on top of the snow sparkle enough to hurt my eyes. Aki doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe that’s because she is so busy herding two other humans and I.
Since she can’t see over the snow banks on either side of the trail, it is hard for her to carry out her duties. We humans try to stay close to each other to ease her load.
The falls are roaring when we arrive even though the snow along the trail is still frozen. But it looks like the spring melt is on in the Nugget Creek Valley.
Aki and I are working across a tidal meadow to the Peterson Creek salt chuck. Without snowshoes I’d be post holing a trail in the deep snow. A crust on the snow allows the little dog to fly anywhere she wants. But when area an area shaded by trees, she finds her self crashing, chest deep, into the cold cover. After dropping through the crust several times Aki takes up station behind me.
There is nothing to distract me during the walk across the meadow or along the edge of the salt chuck. I am still excited, knowing what awaits us when we reach the salt chuck’s outlet stream.
Shade from spruce trees darkens the stream rocks. But shafts of sunlight manage to reach snow on top of the rocks. Nothing blocks the sun from lighting up Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Mountains beyond.
Yesterday hid in her kennel as I gathered gear for our daily walk. I managed to coax her out but she was back in the kennel by the time I opened the front door. It had been snowing for hours by that time. Six inches of fluff covered the hiking trails. I didn’t push the matter. But this morning I am wondering whether she will balk again.
The snowstorm ended an hour before. But it was still storm gray out. Aki didn’t seem to mind. She waited at the front door for me to secure my boots. She leaped from the car as soon after I stopped the car at the trailhead. We had to climb an two-meter high snow berm to reach the trail. That didn’t slow her. But a half-mile down the trail I discovered that I was alone. Backtracking, I found the little poodle-mix chest deep in new snow. Golf-ball sized snow clumps covered all four of her legs.
Looking like a guilty child, Aki slowly turned and headed back toward the car. I knew we would soon be on a snow-free beach so I picked her up. While I carried her up the trail, I pulled snowballs from her fur. Most were gone by time we reach a spot where she could smell salt water. She wriggled as I lowered her onto the trail.
In ten minutes were on a beach swept clear of snow by the ebbing tide. Aki, her legs again loaded down with snowballs, stood by my side. Together we watched a sea lion, just fifteen meters away, raise its doggie head out of the water to check us out. Aki gave out a low growl. The sea lion immediately disappeared into the water. After that, the little dog had no problem leading me back to the car.
Aki and I are out the road to get away from the strong winds hammering Downtown Juneau. Usually it is colder out here. But today it is a toasty 15 above F.
No clouds block the sun. It lights up the snow-covered Chilkat Mountains and brightens the surface of Lynn Canal. Aki squints into the resulting glare as we approach the Peterson Lake outfall stream. Inches of thick ice coat the rocks on either side of the stream. The ice would glow as if lit from within if the sunlight could reach it. Without the sun’s help the ice is reduced to a low-contrast rock coating that make passage impossible, even for the sure-footed little poodle.
On one of January’s last days it’s 37 degrees above zero. Persistent rainfall has eliminated snow from the forest floor except where it has been packed into ice by foot traffic. You see, this week Winter left Alaska to holiday below the 49th parallel. Subzero temperatures made worst by strong winds have people in the Lower 48 are penned down in their homes while we watch our ski trails melt in the rain.
Aki and I head out to the Fish Creek Delta looking for distractions from the weather. A mature bald eagle, feathers soaked by rain, has positioned itself above to pond. Last week the pond was capped by a solid layer of ice. The fractured flows that remain float up and down with the tides.
Aki is soon as soaked as the eagle. She shivers each time I stop to watch the eagle or a small raft of mallards that have moved up the creek with the tide. She doesn’t object when I turn back towards the car. Don’t worry little dog, snow is in the forecast and the temperatures should be in signal digits soon. Winter’s vacation is almost over.