The Pocket Grove

This morning the mountains circling downtown Juneau stand as dowagers with shawls of snow melting under the morning sun. We stay close to home, choosing to explore lands drained by a nearby creek rather than head out to wilder places. It’s an odd choice on this warm sunny morning but, as it turns out, a good one.

We start across a broad meadow still covered with compressed snow. The sounds of fire crackers being set off at the nearby land fill compete with the roar of highway noise. Someone sets off the fireworks to chase eagles and raven from our decomposing garbage. The big birds now circle above us as we cross the meadow and enter into a hill side forest.

It’s a rich place with moderate sized spruce and hemlock trees rising straight as grain stalks above the stumps of their ancestors. No snow litters the ground in this well managed wood lot. Already blue berry leaf buds swell, looking lovely when backlit by shafts of sun light. The refugee eagles and ravens are settling into the trees above us. We hear the ravens sound out what may be a love song. It’s their time of year. The eagles just sound perturbed.  

We follow the trail as it climbs up the steep hillside to crest on a false summit that offers a view of more second growth forest. Rather than follow it over the hill we move on a diagonal line down the hill toward a promising splash of white snow showing through the trees. The chance to walk back all the way on a sun splashed field of snow draws me through patches of thorny devil’s club stalks and over countless fallen trees. We pass one hemlock with military posture and a two inch thick root climbing straight up the length of the trunk rather diving into the earth. The tree’s bark now partially encloses the errant root.

Just before our breakout we must cross a thick belt of devil’s club. In a few weeks when these nasty plants send out their prickly leaves we would have to turn around. Today it only requires caution to pass through. We find a stand of massive spruce on the other side. Here within ear shot of traffic and the dump we stumble on a pocket grove of majesty bordering a small snow covered meadow. A tiny stream drains the grove. Yellow shoots of skunk cabbage push up from the stream bed. I am not sure which is more surprising — the pocket grove of ancient trees or finding the first sign of spring in such an unexpected place. 

Aki ignores these wonders to concentrate on the snowy meadow where she dashes about before rolling in the sun softened snow. Looking beyond her I expect to see the meadow continuing along the base of the hill to offer an easy stroll to the car. I find a small pond backed by a rising hill.

Expecting another battle with devil club and windfalls we cross the meadow and entered an area still recovering from clear cutting. Here there is darkness and thin trees with reddish trunks. It’s lack of understory plants allows us to move quickly up the hill and then down through some old growth forest to where the big meadow begins. Compared to the complex forest, the meadow offers a simple beauty — a plane of white dotted with the twisted shapes of bare brush.

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