Across Norton Lake a plume of snow rises from a wooded valley high into the air. When its animating gust dies, the plume disintegrates. According to the weather service, the strength of the wind will grow to something like a gale. Then half-a-kilometer long plumes of snow will fly from the mountain ridges.
Aki and I are an hour into our walk with plans to continue a circle route back to the car. But the promised winds and the chance we would have to walk over thin trail ice convince me to turn back.
We have to walk across the tops of three beaver dams to reach home. Not quite ready for the long winter, the beavers have broken open channels in their pond ice from the dams to their wood lots. Seeing how the ice is just forming over these channels makes me even more comfortable with the idea of returning home over known ground.
Last night, at the end of Aki’s before bedtime walk, the little dog lingered in the cold to smell a spot in the yard crusted over with snow. Before this morning’s sunrise, she asked to let out. It was 24 degrees F. at the time. Since she usually likes to sleep in, I was puzzled. When she didn’t return right away, I went out side and found her munching on a piece of sliced bread. I stopped her half way through the feast and brought her back inside the house. Minutes later one of the neighborhood ravens carried away the remains of Aki’s found meal. I had just been trying to work out how Aki managed to find a slice of bread buried in the snow. Mystery solved. She had raided the raven’s cache. I doubt if the bird will make that mistake again. Too bad for you, Akio.
It’s below freezing. A light wind makes it feel colder. But for the first time in a week, the sun shines down unimpeded on the rain forest. While watching golden eye ducks splash after fish in Gastineau Channel I hear a strange cry. It is faint and very close. It is not a mimicking or sarcastic sound so I rule out ravens. It is far from a mallard’s maniacal cackle, the gull’s tattletale scream, or the eagle’s scolding screech.
I wonder, for a moment, whether a nearby great blue heron is singing the plaintiff song. Then I remember that herons squawk like barnyard chickens.
Looking down, I discover the source of the noise at my feet. Aki, squinting under the unfamiliar sun, is singing to herself.
It’s a blues song. The little dog dislikes walking along Gastineau Channel. I think she only agrees to join me out on the exposed gravel because she knows that we will soon be walking along the edge of a grass-covered dune where many people walk their dogs.
With snow falling down in coin-sized flakes, Aki and I head out to False Outer Point. We started the drive on gray, glistening pavement but by the time we reach the trailhead, several inches of snow cover the road. The little dog bursts out of the car and into the white.
Aki loves snow, loves the way her paws dig in to the stuff when she runs, loves to run the side of her muzzle down a stretch of it. But the snow produced by this morning’s shower offers none of those doggie enjoyments. When she runs down the beach, her paws reach sand and gravel. The new covering the beach is too shallow to muzzle rubbing. But she doesn’t throw in the brakes or try to coax me back to the car. She just ignores the way the flakes into her curls and trots along by my side.
For me, the snow is perfect—not too deep for walking but thick enough to enhance the angles and curves of the rocks that jut out into Lynn Canal.
The outdoor thermometer on Chicken Ridge promised a mild day for this time of year. If not for a brief snow shower that fell while I gathered things for today’s walk, winter would have seemed a long way off. Aki and I headed out to the wetlands to cruise for ducks or eagles. We only saw ravens.
The temperature during the walk never dropped below freezing but the wind chill made Aki shiver and me wish I had brought a heavier coat. At the beginning of the walk, we watched an airborne raven try to drive its brother off a scrap of food. After that it was all windblown grass and muddy trails. Well, that is not entirely true.
On the side of a large driftwood log, I found a little moss and lichen garden. Red lichen flowered among moss with leaves like tiny blades of grass. I would have never found this magic garden if not for the wind, which forced Aki and I behind the big log to warm up.
There is almost always an eagle in that cottonwood this time of year. Aki takes notice of my mumbling. The big birds always make her nervous. The eagle, marked with the white head and tail of an adult, watches us out of the corner of its eye. She is even wetter than my little dog.
From its cottonwood perch, the eagle can see the toe of Mendenhall Glacier poking out from a fog that hides the rest of the river of ice. Ghosts of mist float over Nugget Falls and the spruce covered hills that encroach on the east side of Mendenhall Lake. The resulting beauty helps me ignore the plink and plunk of raindrops hitting the hood of my rain parka.
The eagle can’t pull on a gore-tex coat when the weather worsens. It must endure and hope to scavenge some food to fuel its inter furnace. Is it dreaming of summer when salmon swim past its cottonwood tree on their way to spawn then become eagle and bear food? Or just does it just curse the rain and pray for a chance to dry out in the sun.
Aki wants to leave the Treadwell ruins for the beach even through a forty-mile-an-hour wind is whipping rain over the sand. I follow the little dog into the maelstrom. One of us knows what to expect.
We usually walk north down the beach to the little bay that formed more than 100 years ago when an undersea mine tunnel collapsed. On a calmer day we could expect to see a pair of eagles sulking on top of the old ventilation shaft. Two ravens are usually here looking for mischief. Today there is only a diminished raft of mallards huddling in the lee of a small point. Later we will see the ravens roosting on a pickup truck in the Foodland parking lot. They, will be staring at the Domino’s Pizza store, as if waiting for the cooks to finish the large meat lover’s special they ordered.
While I try to count the ducks, Aki sprints across the beach to take shelter in the border grass. In seconds she is standing at the start of a trail that leads back into the woods. I follow my poodle-mix into the forest. Steel rails that were once used by horse drawn carts to pull ore from the mine now twist and turn along the mossy ground. Some seem to erupt from the trunks of the spruce trees.