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First Snow

I am in Anchorage, on the hillside above town, watching the first snow of the year whiten the ground. Aki is in a Juneau, in the rain. I wish I were on skis or even wearing boots, getting ready to explore one of the hillside trails. But I’m inside, drinking coffee and listening to the words of fellow writers. As the snow falls, the ideas build one upon another.  

Ultramarine Surprise

Aki and I are walking the Treadwell Woods, a place with forest and mine ruins that offered the only chance for beauty on this wet, gray day. That’s why I was surprised when I glimpsed the Gastineau Channel through a screen of alders. Rather than the expected slate gray, the channel was an almost Mediterranean shade of green.

            Aki didn’t mind leaving the woods for Sandy Beach where she is more likely to meet dogs. In seconds she finds a friendly pair of huskies. While they played chase, I spotted a kingfisher resting on the top of a busted wharf piling. Several gulls picked over the sand beneath the piling. The translucent bodies of flattened jelly fish sparkle on the sand. 

Sniffing the Avenue

Gastineau Avenue cuts a gash across the side of Mt. Roberts. It once provided access to the A.J. Mine tunnels. Feral cats moved into the tunnels after the mine closed in 1944, living on scraps from the fish plant on the docks. The cats are long dead from Parvo Virus and the fish plant has been replaced by cruise ship facilities.  

Even though it offers good views of downtown and the channel. Gastineau has a run down, skid road feel. There are some well-kept craftsmen-style houses and other nice buildings along the avenue. But the empty lots and a burned-out building invite people to camp out on the street in tired cars. None of this matters to Aki. The little dog loves it. She doubles the time needed to walk its length by stopping every few feet to sniff.

When Taku Smokeries is closed for the season and the cruise ships are down in the tropics for the winter, ravens like to patrol the avenue. Aki and I heard one croaking as we climbed past the Baranof Hotel parking lot this morning. We found the bird in a narrow alley, hanging out with two homeless guys and a dozen pigeons. The men had tucked themselves under a sheltering overhang to keep out of the rain. Raven, its feathers confused and wet, stood singing to them in the rain.                 

Cross the Rainbow

It rained hard last night, a real soaker that energized Gold Creek to a dangerous level. Aki and I waited all morning for the storm to stop or at least slow down. When it began to tail back, we headed out to Fish Creek and found it overflowing it banks and carving out new channels through the old growth forest. But the rain had stopped.

            Three eagles circled above the creek but I could not figure out what they were hunting. Until we reached the creek mouth, the only other evidence of life would be a three-toed woodpecker prospecting for bugs in the bark of an alder. 

            Just last week the creek and the estuary that it floods into were empty of bird life. This morning giant rafts of mallards search for food there. The boys are back for the winter. I hope that most of them will survive hunting season. An eagle makes a low pass over the raft, flushing a dozen ducks to flight, then returns with empty talons to the top of a spruce tree. 

            A hundred-bird murder of crows occupy the beach. They rise as a thin, black cloud and fly toward another eagle, harassing it until to takes shelter in a tall cottonwood tree. Then the crows fly across the face of Mendenhall Glacier just as the sun arcs a rainbow across their path. Remember your Bible, little dog. God filled the sky above Noah’s grounded ark as a sign that he would never again flood the world with rain. The rainbow fades just then, and the first drops of another storm start soaking into the poodle-mix’s fur.   

Wash Out

Aki looks upset. It could be the rain that pounds down on the little dog. She might be uncomfortable in the extra clothes I pulled over her head to keep her warm on this cool fall day. Perhaps she is having an existential crisis, wondering whether there is a point to her daily walks in the rain.The 12-year-old could quickly relieve herself in the side yard and be back in the house before the rain could darkened her curls. 

            I move on down the Outer Point Trail, one of her favorites. Aki stalls and then shuffles slowing towards me, head down. She spends little time checking the pee mail. Maybe the rain has managed to wash even the persistent dog urine away. I can feel water working its way down my collar and seep through my jacket fabric to soak into the sleeves of my pull over. Now of one mind with the poodle-mix, I speed up the pace, looking to be back at the car before rain washes the trail and us away.

            We stall for a few minutes where the trail touches the beach. A half-a-dozen eagles sulk in the trees or along the shore of Peterson Creek. They show no interest in us. Nor do a mixed flock of dark-eyed juncos and swallows. An abundance of rain does that even to those that earn their living in the wild. 

            On our return through the forest we learn that our concern over wash outs is justified. Water backed up by a beaver dam has closed over sections of the boardwalk trail. Aki and I splash through, emerging with wet feet. A top-notched Steller’s jay watches while perched on a partially submerged skunk cabbage leaf. Normally a jumpy bird, the jay looks more puzzled than alarmed at our presence.   

Weather BreakWeather Break

On the drive from town we saw the Chilkat Mountains for the first time in a week. We meant to walk around the Troll Woods but the northern break in the clouds encouraged me to change plans and head to Auk Bay.  I wanted to get a better view of the mountains from Point Louisa. 

           Aki was happy with the change of plans. The Auk trail is a dog rich environment. She would see and smell more than six dogs on the trail. Only one would growl at her. From the trail I would search a crescent-shaped bay for the raft of harlequin ducks that usually winter there. I’d strain to see the black triangle dorsal fins of the little Dall porpoise that are often see there this time of year, chasing late returning salmon. There’d be no porpoise sign but a raft of harlequins would appear on the bay’s surface in quick succession of plops and the return to the water in a snappy group dive. We would stop often to check on the transition of the fireweed and dogwood plants from summer green to autumn reds.        

Hello From Sweden Little Dog

Dear Aki, 

           Your other human and I send you greeting from Stockholm, Sweden. Hope you are enjoying your stay with Cedar and her humans. We’ll be home in a couple of days. I tried to send you some letters earlier but ran into insurmountable technical difficulties. 

        Before we left we told you that this was a trip for renewing friendships in Sweden and Norway. Food was another incentive. I had long been craving pickled herring on hardtack and filmilk over cornflakes. 

        We stopped first in Uppsala, where the weather was hot but we still manage to visit Linneas’ garden where butterflies clung to flowers that swayed in a cooling wind. We also rode bikes out to the royal burial mounds at Gamla Uppsala. 

        Afterwards we visited an open air farming museum where every building had been painted rust red. It’s the unofficial national color of Sweden, more unifying than the blue and yellow of the Swedish flag.

       While drinking coffee with a 92-year-old friend, we learned the red paint tradition started long ago in Darlana, when people learned that painting their building with iron oxide from the Falun copper mine preserved them. Today many houses and most barns in Sweden are red with white trim.    

        Later in the trip we moved to Avesta where an old friend and I rode bikes along the Dalälven (river) and out to a crossroads church that had thick walls and old window glass that distorted the images of surrounding birch trees. We passed sheep and horses, which you would have tried to herd. It’s a good thing you stayed home. 

      After Avesta we flew to the Lofoton Islands of northern Norway to spend time with other long-time friends. They are nice and like dogs. You would have been popular in their home until the two moose calves stopped by to sample plants in their garden. 

        Each morning I borrowed a bicycle and rode along bays, disturbing herons when my brakes squeaked. This was fishing and farming country with farm houses and fishing huts painted as red as a Swedish barn and bare wooded pole racks where folks dry salted sides of arctic cod.  

      It rained during most of our visit to Lofoton but the clouds rarely blocked our views of the island mountains, many shaped like battered witches hats. I first saw the mountains over thirty years ago from the deck of a coastal mail boat. We had spent most of that trip from Narvik in a tiny parlor where the only chairs formed a circle around a coffin containing a body being brought home for burial. Cod fishing and salmon farming drove the economy then. Now, like Juneau, it’s becoming an international tourist destination.  

            Well, little dog, it’s late and we have an early flight to catch in the morning. We will pass part of the travel time telling Aki stories. It’s a thing people do when they are missing their dog. 

See You Soon