I wonder if seals are the ravens of the ocean. Aki, who has never interacted with seals but has a grudging respect for ravens, is uncomfortable responding to my musing. It might be different if we were talking beavers or river otters. She has been lured out onto thin ice twice by their kind. Two otters called for her to join them on thin ice over this very Fish Creek Pond. She broke through pond ice twice near the glacier while answering the call of a young beaver.
My little dog may be wondering why I bring up harbor seals where we are walking along a fresh water stream. But then she cannot see one of them twirling and diving in Fish Creek. It must have followed the high tide surge up the creek seeking something to eat or just to alleviate boredom. More than once while kayaking I have turned in my seat to see a harbor seal a few feet from my rudder, looking at me with the saddest eyes in the world.
It snowed last night, which seems to have disturbed the gulls. Thirty or forty of the normally noisy birds float quietly along the newly whitened beach. Some stand on the snow mounds that have formed on offshore rocks. As usual, Aki ignores the big birds. But oddly, the birds appear to be ignoring me. They don’t flinch when the trail brings me within ten feet of them.
The snow won’t last, I tell the gulls. I am not lying. The temperature is already rising; snowmelt dropped on us when we walked in the forest. The gulls continue to ignore us so we move on to a portion of the bay favored by my favorite guys—the harlequin ducks.
Diving ducks, the harlequins aren’t bother by the new snow. They must be on top of a school of baitfish. More than once a parti-colored male chases off another duck and then dives under the water. Six of the ducks breaks off from the larger raft and work like a synchronized swim team. One duck diving is a beautiful thing. Six diving together, well, it’s six times better. One second there are six ducks swimming in formation. The next, just disturbed water. A few seconds later, the six are back.
On the way to the Treadwell Ruins trailhead, Aki and I stopped on the Juneau waterfront and watched sunlight break through the clouds. As if shinning through a lattice window, the sun formed sunrise colored squares onto Gastineau Channel. Near the navigational tower, a single seal swam through squares of yellow/red light. I told the little dog that that was more beauty than we are to expect on this early December day. But I was wrong.
On the sandy beach that borders the Treadwell Ruins, I try to correct my earlier statement. Aki, I think each kind of weather produces its own beauty. As she usually does when I try to share a profound idea, the little dog throws me her “are you kidding” look.
No, really. Take this scene, one with frost but no snow. Even without sun to sparkle the frost, this beach and the trees that crouch towards it are quite lovely.
Knowing this I am not convincing the little dog, I turn and look toward Juneau. Sunlight has managed to again pierce the clouds to swath the town and the mountain with the same name.
We move south until reaching the collapsed glory hole that marks the end of Sandy Beach. Frost feathers have turned the offshore rocks an icy grey. A raft of mallards slides from behind the rocks to provide just the right punch of color.
Has winter finally arrived? The signs are here. Thickening ice covers the lake. I’ve broken out my winter-weight parka. So has the human friend who walks with us along the shore of Mendenhall Lake. Even Aki wears her warmest wrap.
It is still early morning when we start the walk. Sunlight hasn’t reached the lake. But rose madder red clouds float over Thunder Mountain. Soon the day’s first rays will brighten the tips of the Mendenhall Towers.
The last time we made this walk, Aki uses a parallel forest trail rather than join me on the muddy beach. Now that the mud is frozen she is happy to trot with us along the ice edge.
Sunshine seems precious this time of year. Thanks to the mountains that rim Juneau like canyon walls, we are lucky to have more than four hours of sun even on cloudless days. This is such a day so Aki and I head out to the Mendenhall Wetlands where the sun arrives at daybreak and doesn’t leave until near the official time for sunset.
Aki is extra happy this morning, in part because she got a dog treat when a human friend and I stopped at a drive through stand for coffee. She is excited to have another dog along for the walk. She looks forward to feeling sun on her fur for the first time in weeks.
The trail forms a rough parallel with the Lower Mendenhall River, which is covered with a fragile skim of ice. We won’t see any of the resident mallards until reaching a section kept ice-free by current. The water on that section will provide a stunning reflection of a wall of mountains pierced through by the glacier. I will try to ignore the fact that the river is fed with melt water from the shrinking river of ice.
We will see one bald eagle resting on the roots of a driftwood tree. It will glance at us for a moment and then turn its face into the sun.
Sunlight illuminates ground fog as Aki and I drive up to a mountain meadow. It’s the kind of scene that documentary filmmakers use to inject a sense of grandeur into movies about the rain forest. I think about stopping to take a picture of the drama but a gravel truck is grinding up the hill behind us. I push on, hoping to find at least a little sexy fog on the meadow.
The meadow, which was frozen solid during our last visit, has thawed. But a new dusting of snow clings to the avalanche chutes on the surrounding mountains. The sun is about to climb over the shoulder of Ben Stewart. Already streaks of light whiten the meadow’s ground fog and light up a scattering of the meadow’s stunted trees. In minutes clouds descend to cover the mountains and block the sun. We find the upper meadow frosted and frozen when we reach it. If Aki would let me, I could wait for an hour for the sun might banish the clouds and burn away the fog. But then all the drama would be gone.
Aki should be bored. She has little to distract her while I gather seaweed into five gallon buckets. The last high tide rolled severed rockweed into a thick line that extends the length of the beach. I tell Aki that the buckets will soon be filled thanks to this bounty. She ignores me, like she ignores the five ravens that glide and croak over the beach. They must be waiting for us to leave so they can continue picking at a nest of nearby deer bones.
This beach won’t enjoy direct sunlight until next spring. The Douglas Island Ridge sees to that. But this morning’s sun throws cloud shadows on the wooded hills on the far side of Fritz Cove. Between the sunny hills and this dusky beach a seal hunts the cove waters.