The sun was shinning when we flew out of Portland. It has just set when we landed in Seattle. But it rained hard on the plane when we landed in Ketchikan. I felt sorry from the poor folks that had to direct the plane up to the terminal. I felt like I had been away from Aki and home for months, not weeks. The little dog greeted us at the Juneau Airport, making her other human and I feel like we were missed. I can’t wait to take her for a proper walk.
I feel like writing a letter to Aki. It’s been so long since we have walked on a rain forest trail. But I will be home tomorrow if the planes fly. This morning I walked on the Silver Falls Trail. It had been raining and gray for days here in Oregon but this morning the sun showed up along with blue sky breaks in the clouds. Ironically, the falls trail mostly kept me in the shade. Spray from the falls turned parts of the trail into a shallow stream. Droplets of spray collected like rain does on my glasses. But some rays found their way between spruce and fur trees to turn the atomized water into prisms.
This morning, before the start of writer’s school classes, I walked down Seaside’s 1stAvenue to the promenade. At the end of the avenue a man, bareheaded and wearing a heavy plaid shirt, slumped on a bench. He faced in the opposite direction from a gull perched on a nearby railing. They both looked like they were disgusted with each other.
After I used my phone to take a picture of them, the man rose and stared at me. I walked up to him and admitted that I had taken a picture of him and that I’d happily delete the photo is he wanted that. He didn’t. We chatted for a minute, him probably trying to figure out my deal, me thinking that he looked like an aged version of rocker David Crosby with his salt and pepper hair and walrus mustache.
A 20-knot wind swept up the beach. It explained why the man and bird faced away from each other. The man wanted to let his back take the cold impact of the wind. The bird, like all gulls would, was weather veining into it. The wind couldn’t explain the expression I saw in the man’s face. He was probably just focusing on the sound of heavy surf or maybe dreading what the dark clouds collecting over the ocean would bring us later in the day. But after spending a week at writer’s school, I couldn’t stop myself from mentally writing him a script—one where he revives a memory of loss or mistake.
Perhaps because of the insistent surf hammering Seaside Beach this afternoon, the air here is filled with water vapor. It occludes the view of Tillamook Head and even makes it possible to photograph the sun. While the ground fog back home in Juneau is animated—likely to crawl like a pre-toddler along Gastineau Channel or climb up the slope of Mt. Juneau—the Seaside vapor is lazy. It haunts the beach like a bored teenager.
The fog doesn’t interfere with the ability of the local dogs to enjoy their beach walks. I miss Aki when I see little dogs sniffing the beach grass or trotting with their owner near the surf line. One calls my attention to a line of beach grass that someone has transplanted below the high tide line. Is this art or a doomed effort to expand the range of the tough grass?
December 25th is one of the days on which I wish Aki could speak. What does the little dog make of Christmas, with its gifts and extra visitors? Does she hate holiday music? She shows her appreciation during Christmas dinner for scraps of meat secreted to her under the table. But does she wish everyone would leave the house as soon as the turkey or lamb is put away?
If she could understand, I’d tell her that humans need something to celebrate during this, the darkest time of the year. People living closer to the equator may not get this. But since last summer we northerners have had to wait longer and longer for the daily sunrise. Those of us wintering in Juneau suffer even greater reductions in daylight because of the Douglas Mountain Ridge. Five days ago on the solstice, the earth began slowly rotating its north pole to the south. Merry Christmas little poodle, spring is just three or four months away.
This chance to ski is an unexpected holiday gift. Everywhere but along Montana Creek is bare of snow. Thanks to Montana Creek’s microclimate, it received snow while the rest of town saw only rain. But the recent string of warm days and freezing nights have iced over sections of the trail and exposed rocks. This might be the only chance for the little dog and I to get in a ski until we receive a new blanketing of snow.
Aki and I sneak by the gun range, thankful that no one is blasting away. The sound of a shotgun or rifle can send the poodle-mix into a panic. We won’t hear gunshots until two kilometers up the creek. Mostly we listen to the sound of skis shushing on the trail and water pouring over creek boulders and windfalls that have fallen into the stream. At first Aki dashes ahead as we climb up the creek valley. When she tires, the little dog trots just ahead of me on the set classic ski tracks.
Rain is falling, dimpling Auk Lake and melting the remains of last week’s snowfall. Mt. McGinnis stands above the lake against a featureless sky. These rain doesn’t bother Aki or I. The little dog is excited to be out of the car and free to sniff and pee. While I’d prefer sunshine on snow, the soft grayness of the scene offers a calm alternative to the noisy world of man.
Just before leaving the lake, I spot a common merganser paddling away from the little dog and I. He moves fast enough to raise a wake. Calm on top, frenzy underneath. We drive out the road and take the Breadline Bluffs trail. The path crosses a small stream with snow-covered banks and then rises to a small muskeg meadow. In minutes we follow it into an old growth spruce forest.
The noise of airplanes and road noise ceases. After an eagle calls out to its mate from a nearby tree, the only sound we will hear will be that made by a small surf collapsing into the base of the bluffs.