It’s a miserable day for a beach walk. Strong, fast winds make snowflakes tumble and turn. They catch on my parka but not on Aki, who walks just under the snow flake zone.
We keep to an old growth trail, passing several saddened fallen spruce and hemlock trees. A 19 foot high today covers the beach but leaves us a narrow lane across a small peninsula that leads to a tiny island. I came here to watch sea lions feeding or lots of waterfowl. But only a single bald eagle shows it self until I reach the very tip of the island, where several rafts of golden eye ducks swim, tucked together just off the beach.
During these short winter days, when sunlight can never reach the upper reaches of Perseverance Trail, I always appreciate Gold Creek’s bare cottonwood trees. I lead Aki off the trail and onto the creek shire. Next spring, the new leaves of the surrounding cottonwoods will hide the mountains. But today, the naked frame of my favorite cottonwoods stands black and barren, too thin to block any view of the steep, snow-white walls of our mountains climbing out of the Gold Creek Canyon.
The parking lot for every trailhead is full this morning. It makes me wonder if most of hikers in Juneau are linked via their phones to a fancy app. A flat, gray sky hangs over the oceans, and cuts off views of the mountain sides. Today’s high tide chokes off the trailside beaches. We do pass a small gang of sea lions but no one is stopping to watch them.
We drive to the end of the North Douglas Highway and are happily surprised to find the parking lot for the Peterson Creek trail empty. Knowing what to expect, I slipped grippers onto the souls of my hiker boots. They made it possible to walk down a narrow, ice covered plank trail without slipping.
Sunshine broke through the clouds just before we reached a small beach. It lacked the power to clear the skies. But enough holes in the sky appears to deliver drama. On the way back to the car, I found a single, red-ripe cranberry still clinging to its evergreen mom. Since nobody was around to talk me out if it, I picked the little berry and swallowed it. My last Christmas present?
Aki and her other owner just crossed the shrinking dry path that will allow them to avoid being soaked by the incoming tide. A judgmental crow keeps me from immediately following them. It lands two meters away on a piece of ground about to be covered by tidal waters. Having crossed the disappearing spot without getting my boots wet, I stop to watch the bratty bird.
The crow holds it ground, seemingly ignoring me and the incoming tide. Seconds before he is inundated with ocean water, he flies away. I take a few seconds to photograph his rescue, then look down to spot flooding tide waters about to soak my boots. He is not the first crow that tried to trick me. More than one has succeeded.
The friends of the surley crow have been drawn to Sheep Creek, where four bald eagles were fighting over a scrap of meat. As is usual, one of the eagles is pulling chunks of feed off the carcass while the other eagles watch. So do a gang of crows. One or two of the crows try to sneak up on the munching eagle but can’t snatch away any food. Maybe that is why the other eagles keep nearby where they can chase off any crow willing to cross the line.
A pair of ravens live in our neighborhood. When upstairs, I often hear them climbing around on our metal roof. This morning, when Aki and I leave for a downtown walk our ravens are nowhere to be seen.
The streets and sidewalks are mostly empty. As she also does, Aki takes her time moving through the neighborhood. She pees often but sniffs more. Two ravens greet us at the bottom of Gastineau Avenue. Most will be perched on the top of the library building or a tiny park.
We work our way down ice covered stairs and walk onto the dock. Just before reaching it, we spot a crowd of wax wing birds feeding in a tangle of deciduous trees. Fall colored leaves still cling the tree branches even though we have already had a week full of cold and snow.
The dock waters are empty of birds but near a little picnic area we can spot a raven playing with an empty plastic food container. Aki approaches the big bird, her doggy tail wagging, her posture held like she does when about to play with another dog. The raven continues playing with the food container even though he is less than a meter from Aki. I wonder, with good cause, whether this raven is one of the pair that lives in our neighborhood,
“This is the worst snow storm I’ve seen here in forty years.” That’s what my neighbor told me while resting on his snow shovel. Several of us were working to clear our little roadway.
During last night’ snow storm, the temperature rose above freezing for a few hours. This melted the snow. Before the moisture could drip to the ground, the temperature plummeted, turning tit into a thick, transparent coating on our lilac branches and leaves. Six inches of new snow already covered our yards. The quick change in temperature transformed it into a rock-hard mess. We could walk on the surface without sinking in. We had to work very hard to shovel it away.
There was a time, not so long ago, when we rarely saw Stellar’s jays on Chicken Ridge. In 1995 crows dominated the neighborhood. They’d arrive in a noisy crowd each spring on one of the first warm days, taking positions in the neighborhood trees like an occupying force. Ten years later they relocated in another neighborhood, allowing a pair of ravens to move in.
I am happy to hang with the ravens, who entertained we humans by hiding flashy little garbage scraps in our yard. The ravens still spend much of their time in ours or our neighbors’ yards. But a pair of Stellar’s jays now fly in and out of our yard like bossy blue birds.
Our best weather app promised two hours of dry weather this afternoon. We headed out of the house at the choice time. But a heavy rain greeted us when we reached the Sheep Creek Delta. After I wiped a heavy coating of rain off my glasses, I discovered sunshine illuminating the side of Mt. Roberts. All of Downtown Juneau was basking in sunshine.
We proceeded onto the delta as more sunshine lit up the northern edge of Gastineau Channel. Aki complained because rain continued to soak through her wrap around parka. We continued to walk under wet, grey skies and turned back toward Juneau as a rainbow emerged of the middle of the channel.
Expecting expansion of the sunny weather, I stop walking to wait. That’s when the sunshine vanished and the rain returned.
After the Second World War, most brave Japanese Americans left the army. Their family members had just been freed from unjust prison camps. They worked their way back into American society. They told no one the history of their poor treatment with their new neighbors or their own children. In 1970 I first discovered the history of the Japanese American internment camp at college museum. Later I discovered that my Japanese American friends were learning the sad story at the same time.
I remembered this history yesterday while visiting a bonsai garden in Tacoma. All of the plants had been started after World War II. Some stood in front of photographs of Japanese Americans entering guarded internment camps, where bonsai artists would teach the interned how to create new bonsai trees. Only one tree had recently been plucked from a mountainside. Nearby, a thousand year old bristle pine looked like it was still growing on the slope of a 13 thousand foot Californian peak.
People often visit this bonsai garden. Few are Asian. All are drawn to the trees’ beauty. They collect little stories of how Japanese Americans protected that beauty from racism, transformed common American trees into symbols of an ancient culture adapting to cultural change.
He would be up early, drinking rich expresso at the cabin window as a strengthening sunshine sparkled the frosted meadow grass and the usual hometown deer worked his latest attempt at kale.
He would turn on the radio and listen to morning’s new complaints about followed politics and the latest baseball scores. He would be bored but he would be free to putter and push for change.
He’s up but there is no bear to search for, no sun melting a satisfied frost, no desire to do anything than monitor the fire, the smoke that thickens and soaks the morning air like a sarcastic joke as it has for the last week.
The kale still grows as if it cannot feel the gray heat. He passed it while carrying survival things to his car, an older Toyota almost filled with stuff he can’t abandon or burn, like fresh ground coffee. He now drinks instant.
Will the fancy cut street houses catch first, or will the abandon old growth forests burn? A northerly gust rips across the meadow, driving away smoke, turning the air crisp and clear, letting the sun pierce and reveal.
The survival road clears. He starts to return his coffee maker from the car, plans on re-furnishing the cabin with needed gear. Then the thick smoke returns, a nearby forest fire renders the air almost impossible to breath so he repacks the car and waits.