The temperature finally ramped up into the high 40’s, enough to tell Mt. Juneau it is time to shed all its heavy winter snow. This afternoon, I could hear, for the first time this Spring, the sound of a white river of snow powering down the mountain. It was so warm that I didn’t have to slip a jacket on to keep from getting too cold when I went out to watch.
While the snow shower continued, two American Robins landed on a nearby tree. They stared at me as I stared at the mountain avalanche. Then they turned up their beaks in judgement, as if I had failed to give them a proper welcome to the neighborhood.
The snow is working hard to simplify our walk through Downtown Juneau. Snow clouds obscure the mountains and ocean channels. Snow flakes fall on the streets like they want to turn them white. But no one flake survives the fall. We walk up Gastineau Avenue and run into a huge gang of ravens. Most of them are roosting on sidewalk rails, ignoring our approach. One looks at the little dog and I, throwing at us the stiff bodied eye of judgment.
Aki, it’s a nasty day. We are in the living room, looking at wet snow coming out of the sky. In a few minutes it turns into rain. It’s going to come down as rain for the rest of the day. Hoping that the weather will be better, if not colder, near the glacier, we drive out the Mendenhall Campground.
Aki’s other adult owner has come as well. Even though the ground at the parking lot is covered with five inches of new, wet snow, the other adult human clamps on her skate skis. Given the soft snow conditions, I figure that she’d do better on her classic skis. As I slide easily in a nice ski track at the beginning of the trail, she struggles. Then we reach the place where a snow machine packer has started to pack down the trail. He wiped out the classic ski tracks, forcing me to bounce over snow made bumpy by the snow machine. That turns the rest of my stay at the campground into a scrabble for the best surface for my skis. But Aki and her other human are able to fly down the packed trail.
The most recent weather report promised us a Sunny, if below freezing day, followed by a week of snow. A storm will dump up 10 inches of heavy white stuff to cover everything in this rain forest town. Aki and I need to see some spring-like beautiful before the storm descends.
We drive out to Fish Creek and start down a snow-covered trail. The tide is almost at flood stage when we arrive. It has already cut off the sections of the trails that will lead to the mouth of the creek. Tidal waters cover most of the creek wetlands, creating a plush little lake for ducks and geese to rest. Some feed in the flooded grasslands. Others sleep on the water’s edge until, out of caution, they take flight.
It’s getting close to the middle of March, when people in the 48 states start to put away their skis. In southern states, like Florida, college kids are drawn to beaches and swimming pools like Winnie the Poo toward honey. This morning, the ski Aki and I took through the glacier campground made dream of Spring. The temperature rose, melting ice crystals that had formed on the ski trail during last night’s hard freeze. When we started, I worried that I’d be dealing with ice-slick trails the whole way. But the sking was firm but fine.
This morning a helicopter carrying a dangling cable flew along the flanks of Mt. Roberts. The cable produced explosive sounds that encourage small avalanches to drop off the mountain flanks. The snow flew down the mountainside, reaching salt water and covering Thane Road. We must be one of the first cars to drive between Mt. Roberts and Gastineau channel after ploughs pushed it off the road.
Sunshine broke through the clouds as we headed toward the little Sheep Creek delta. plotches of light lit up the mountain ridge on Douglas Island. For few seconds it looked like the same thing would happen to the delta. One shaft of light did strike a patch of dead beach grass near Aki as she peed on the beach, then faded away, letting the beach return to gray. Down channel, sunlight make Juneau town sparkle. It offered no help here.
Somewhere someone is playing football (soccer) or American baseball. The sun is shining there, encouraging the locals to leave their winter coats hanging up in the front closet. No sun shines on Southeast Alaska today. Large chunks of snow fall from the ski only to melt when striking our roads or trails. That’s how it’s been for much of the winter. None of this discourages our poodle-mix, Aki, who squirms and even screams while standing at our front door.
We head out to North Douglas Island to use a very icy trail that leads through an old growth spruce forest to a crisp beach. Aki would love to fly down the trail but decides, instead, to wait for me to as I take photos or search for noisy birds. She wants to set a quick trot down the beach but stops to let me appreciate the sudden appearance of our nearby glacial mountains. Yesterday she refused to go on a proper walk. Maybe, today, she is trying to make amends.
Aki and I are having a nice little morning. We should be being hammered by falling rain as we walk into the ocean woods. Instead, it is dry. Aki is a few meters back on the trail, sniffing a place recently decorated by a urinating dog. I’m trying to study the remains of a porcupine that have been scattered over the snowy trail. A porky’s quills covers most of the trail. A collection its skin and more quills lay a meter away.
It looks like the assailant stripped away quills to reach the porky’s flesh. To avoid harvesting from the corpse, I convince Aki to follow me onto the beach just as weak shafts of sun light power through the southern clouds. Even though the sunshine hits clouds more than five miles away, I am draw to it each time I raise the camera.
Aki is dragging her feet this morning. We are on a trail that leads to the Mendenhall River and then on to Fritz Cove. We’ve been avoiding the trail for months because it is used by bird hunters all fall. Maybe the little pooch, who cringes at even distant gun shots, thinks the hunters are still around.
I coax her to the beach in time to watch four bald eagles soar above the beach in tight circles. Two of them hover over the little dog and me, then move further up river. They are riding the strong winds that blows over our heads, sometimes in tight circles. One of the eagles almost taps another as they circle above us. Maybe they are starting their yearly courting.
It’s a grey day. Snow flakes that looks like spaghetti floats out of a flat-lit sky. But Aki and are still having a great morning moving through an old growth forest. Yesterday, big crowds of Valentine’ Day lovers stomped through the forest trail, crushing flat the nice ski trail that we used last week. Still, today, we have the place to ourselves.
I stop often and try to photograph the large ice crystals that weigh down the trail-side alder. If the sun burned through the clouds, it might make the crystals sparkle like diamonds in a Los Vegas wedding parlor. But this morning they look faint and grey. I can’t find any of that would catch the eye of most passing walkers. On one of the meadows, I finally find a large formation of obvious snow crystals that have formed the bloated body of a goose with an huge, exposed rear end. It’s that kind of day.