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.
It’s a wet day. Its been wet for several days as the weather has warmed. Yesterday, fat, wet flakes fell. Today its just rain. I was tempted to spend the daylight hours inside, with a copy of a book of poems by Louise Gluck because she won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. But Aki deserves a walk. The Gluck’s book that I received from an inter-library loan was shipped to Juneau from the Fairbanks Library where it had sat since April 5, 2013. The library’s “due date” page is blank, making me wonder if I am the first Alaskan to check it out.
While walking with Aki down a rainy beach this afternoon, I wondered why no one ever checked out Gluck’s book, which contains over six hundred pages of her poetry, all of it published between 1962 and 2012. It’s a first edition book that she signed before giving it to the Fairbanks Library. I think after the little dog and I return home and dry off, I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon sinking into Gluck’s poetry.
The snow has returned, a snotty, unstructured white mass of dancers. They fly down the street as we drive to Fish Creek. The parking lot for the trail only has one car. We will see them for a few seconds while on the trail. Then we will have the place to ourselves.
I expected to find the delta empty. But it is full of birds. There are plenty of gulls and mallard duck, all working the shallows for food. None pay us any attention. In a little, shallow pond, two killdeer feed. Normally, they never visit the Alaskan rainforests in winter and are rarely seen in other seasons. They must have flown long and hard to get to the creek delta because they total ignore our presence.
On the other side of the little pond, an American wigeon walks along the beach. His kind are rarely seen in our area this time of year. A few minutes later, while passing along a short trail through the woods, a I stop short when a chestnut backed chickadee lands on the trail a few meet away. Like the gulls and the mallards, the chickadee is almost always around. But this one has no time or interest in keeping any distance between himself and Aki or I.
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.
The snow is back, replacing weeks of cold, but sunny skies. The snow turns the skies grey. For a while this morning, clouds blocked the views of surrounding mountains. If not for Aki, the poodle-mix, I would spend the day reading a book on the Alaskan wilderness and trying out some of the tea types we received for Christmas.
We end up visiting Sandy Beach. The trail is covered with new snow as is the beach. Aki is in hog heaven, playing “chase and chase me” with other dogs. A knot of golden eye ducks swim close to shore. Two males raise their beaks in song while their females swim alongside, often harvesting food with the submerged beaks.
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.
It’s an afternoon for Italian roast coffee and mutted views of Alaskan mountains. That’s how I am seeing and think of things. Aki does not. She sits nearby, giving me the “let’s get going” stare.
Pushing away a little lazy guy spirit that thinks that I should spend the morning drinking tea while looking out the window for the neighborhood raven nest, I leash-up Aki and head out the door. Only a slight breeze stirs the air and the temperature is already in the high 20’s. Then the sun burns through the clouds and I realize that Aki’s was a great idea.
I let her direct me through downtown neighborhoods full of Craftsmen houses. As she does when she is a little upset with me, Aki dog stops every few feet to check scent left by other dogs. Feeling a little guilty about delaying the walk, I turn control over all decision making to her. This improves her mood. It also allows me to discover beauty in buildings that I have taken for granted for years.
Aki turned 14 last Fall. If she were a more normal dog, she would act like she was almost 100 years old. Most folks think she is still puppy. All I know is that she hasn’t started to slow down yet. Today, her other human and I are crossing Mendenhall Lake using cross country skis. The little dog trots just behind me, her little tail beating back and forth like a metronome.
The last time we visited the lake it was several degrees below zero F. Today the air is just below freezing. The air is flat calm and no clouds block the sunshine. We first planned on taking a harder to find, lesser used trail for this morning’s ski because of all the cars parked near our usual trailhead. But the recent sub-zero weather solidified the lake ice. That opened up a path along the lake’s Southern shore.
We never met any other skiers during most of our ski. We saw more tracks left by wild animals than those left by people and their dogs. When checking out one photo after we returned home, I noticed the solo tracks of a red fox left it left while leaving the woods to cross the lake last night. Closer to the start of Mendenhall River, we had to ski over heavier tracks left early this morning by what might have been a lynx.
Seeing the wild animal tracks made me understand better why Aki stops so often to check out scents on the trail—even on new trails like this on lakes that have been used by few dogs. She always wants to know who else is passing through the neighborhood. More than once she had barked discouragement to chase off another wild animal I could not even see. She treed as least four bears. But she seems open to hanging out with other animals. She has even placed herself none-to-nose with a prickly porcupine. Another time, she even dashed across softening lake ice to visit with an otter.
Last night, Aki and I froze in place as a 50 mile-an-hour slammed into us while we left the house. Neither poodle or master had spent much time outside yesterday. We were both intimidated by a heavy wind that had been slamming down 7th Street for a week.
Aki hid under our double bed as I pulled on my warm snow machine suit and beaver hat. I wore both of them when wintering in Western Alaska. They were just the ticket for a walk with the poodle on such a cold night.
Aki, who was hiding under our bed, eventually answered my call for her. After giving me a “you have to be kidding” look, she crawled out. I dressed her in winter-weight gear and she trotted over to the door. After pulling on my heavy-weight mittens, I joined her on the porch, where we both had to freeze in place under the impact of the cold and heavy wind. When it stopped, the little poodle-mix growled at nature and made her way to her favorite place to pee. She kept low to ground to avoid the worst wind gusts, slipping for time to time on street ice that had been polished slick by the wind. I had to freeze into a statue in the high gusts to avoid being blown away in the wind.
We hadn’t intended to do a sub-zero walk this morning. But no wind discouraged us by stirring the country near the glacier. The minus 3 degree temperature (minus 19 C) seemed quite comfortable. Aki dashed onto the Mendenhall Lake and started on the trail to the glacier. We had heard others had posted pictures of a new hollow in the glacier formed from clear, blue ice. I guess the little poodle mix wanted to go check it out.
I told Aki that we didn’t have enough time to reach the glacier and return home before a scheduled meeting. Instead, we shifted over to little-used trail that wound around the glacier moraine. It offered lots of views of the little pocket lakes the glacier left behind as it retreated up the mountains.
On cold winter days, when ice covered lakes allow us a chance to explore new territory, I usually lead Aki off the usual trails. She starts after me when I walk onto Crystal Lake. Then she stops, bogged down in snow. The old puppy starts shivering. It’s like she will freeze if she can’t keep moving.
I dash over to Aki and carry her back to the solid trail. I expect her to ask me to haul her back to car. But she drops out of my arms and trots over to a little alder for a smell of scent left by another pup. She is still a tough little dog.