The neighborhood ravens, glued in place by a nearby tasty morsel, try to stare down Aki. Knowing she is tethered by a leash, the birds don’t fly away. Such complacence shows wisdom and, I’d like to think, trust in me. I wonder what makes the ravens’ feather coat so glossy. After we move off Chicken Ridge, they return to their morning meal. They aren’t bothered by the wind that dropped the effective temperature to zero.
Aki isn’t bothered by the wind and cold. She keeps her nose down, leaves her marks, approaches homeless people with expectations of a friendly word, maybe a pat on the head. We mostly pass homeless as we walk through Juneau’s downtown core and up past the capital. They walk, head down, on alert for slick ice, wrapped in hand-me-down winter gear. They don’t acknowledge Aki or I. One carries a thick chunk of driftwood, too short for a walking stick but heavy enough to make a good club. Like a man no longer inhibited by pain, he chooses to walk into a wind that quickens our pace.
This morning sun brightens the new snow covering on Chicken Ridge and the flanks of Mt. Juneau. When such a convergence of white and light comes at the end of a week dominated by grays, I wonder why everyone in the world doesn’t shop for a house in this Alaskan town. Then, when Aki and I start up the Perseverance Trail, the wind will rise. And, before we return home, the sun will make an early afternoon exit.
Back home, Aki will remember all the dogs she just chased and those who chased her on the snow-slick trail surface. I’ll tell myself that I have the clothes to deal with the wind and faith that the sun will return tomorrow—if not tomorrow, then some time before the Apocalypse. I’ll know that the little dog and I have the patience required to make it to next spring.
The snow is a pleasant surprise. We expected wind driven rain on the moraine. But fat flakes meander down onto the wet trail. Three inches of new snow will cover the ground by the time we finish the walk. Is winter finally strong enough to push away the wet fall weather? The temperature drops enough to allow a snow slurry to form over the moraine ponds as flakes collect in Aki’s gray fur. Minutes later, the ground snow is cold enough to squeak.
Three bald eagles, apparently unaffected by the weather change, strike patriotic poses on the bare branches of cottonwood trees. One throws us a nasty look and flies off.
I wonder if Aki ever dreams of other climates when we walk down a rain forest trail on a hard day. I do. On this wet, windy transit of a north Douglas trail, I pretend that it will soon lead onto the south rim of the Grand Canyon just as the sun rises to set off the sunset colors of layered rock and sand. But the trail will never lead me out of this land of greens and browns so subtle that they could be shades of gray. It will take me to a beach exposed by an ebbing tide.
The rain stops when we reach the beach. A gang of surly looking gulls watch us as a formation of four harlequin ducks patrols offshore. Further out, white caps tromp across Lynn Canal and clouds from today’s storm obscure the mountains. Small, unexpected waves of contentment wash though me, keeping time with the ones dying on the shore. As fat drops of rain again soak her fur, Aki gives me a look that might be an accusation that I have lost my mind or a plea to book us both space on a jet to Arizona.
I hope for snow farther out the road out of Juneau that runs almost due north along Lynn Canal for forty miles. About mile 20, the roadside ditches retain a burden of snow and patches of white form abstract patterns under the tall spruce trees. A thin snow blanket covers some of the Eagle River gravel bars but only rain-slick ice covers the trail was take along the river. The tracks of an early skier have hardened into ice. I wish I had been here last week to join him.
Aki normally loves snow. She scoots the side of her face through it and then shake away any of the fluff that clings to her muzzle when she surfaces. Today, she avoids the white portions of the trail, trotting along behind me in a track left by one of those giant-tired bicycles. There is little life to interest the poodle-mix but she manages to entertain herself by analyzing tantalizing scents. She can’t see the seal that rode a flood tide up the river to search for late-run salmon. It squints in our direction before disappearing downriver, hardly making a splash during its exit.
Yesterday, while Aki walked a Juneau Trail with a dog buddy, I strolled through the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Treating the main hallways as rain forest trails, I turned off them often to explore one of the rat-warren gallery’s rooms, like the one with the Turners or the hard to spot one with the Vermeer painting of the fop with a fuzzy red beret. The paintings’ drama and rich colors reminded me of Outer Point on the high contrast days of spring or a dying winter afternoon along Eagle River.
Remembering it from an earlier visit, I made an expedition into the basement where they keep the Degas ballerina sculptures and some plasters by Rodin. Even these reminded me of the rain forest with its complex shapes and falling leaves yielding to a strong wind.
This afternoon, an hour after our return flight to Juneau landed, the little dog and I are alone on the Lower Fish Creek Trail. Instead of watchful guards we have an eagle that keeps us honest with its screams. I remember a walk I took a few days before when Aki’s other human and I crossed New York’s Central Park to reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like it does over our glacial moraine, the sun broke through clouds to enrich the yellows and oranges leaves of trees along the trail. We passed a women turned away from the beauty to concentrate on her cell phone conversation while two men waited patiently for their leashed dog to evacuate its bowels.
Through air cold enough to silence the waterfalls, Aki and I walk along Gold Creek. This time of year, none of today’s sunlight will reach the trail. It’s a day to appreciate ice.
The little one doesn’t know or care at what temperature waterfalls freeze solid. The fills her brain with the history of all the places she has marked with scent. Aki loves this trail because of all the other dogs that mark it. Today she gets to flirt with several younger dogs. I stop often to enjoy ice sculptures that have formed in slow moving creeks and icicles hanging off moist valley walls. Even in the daylong dusk, they faintly glow.