I should be disappointed that clouds have replaced the sunny blue skies that blessed Juneau this morning. But overcast often hangs over our rain forest. The clouds raised the temperature to near 50 degrees so I leave my jacket in the car and join Aki for a skiing investigation of this great open meadow. After dashing about and rolling in the snow Aki settles into a patience pace by my side.
Almost two feet of compressed snow still cover the meadow promising a late Spring for the wild flowers below. It easily supports our weight making skiing a matter to be done without stress or thought. We have the place to ourselves. No recent animal or people tracks dimple the snow. Finding that solid ice still covers the meadows’ watercourses I drop down into one and ski over to the beaver housing complex. The ice ends there and stream water sings a calming song by flowing over a dam made of gnawed tree limbs and sticks. The beaver’s huge pile of feed wood sits at one end of the dam and a snow covered den at the other.
Near here three or four shafts, maybe 12 inches across, drop to the meadow surface. I probe one with a ski pole and find a small tunnel entrance at the shaft’s center. Small concave shelves have been fashioned just beneath the snow’s surface, which makes me suspect it to the be the work of land otters. I can just see then nose out of their home tunnel, place front paws on the shelves and launch themselves onto the snow. There should be a rutted trail of tracks leading from the escape shafts to an otter slide down to the steam ice. There should be an otter sized hole chewed into the ice. We have seen slides and opens holes in the ice here before. Maybe the otter clan has moved over to the salt chuck to fatten up on last Fall’s salmon fry migrating to Favorite Passage.
Many willow bushes dot the meadow. Some mimic English tea roses with objects looking like fully formed flowers that might draw a second look from a florist. These miracles were not produced with the wave of a wand but rather the invasion of the willows by a parasite. Midges formed the flowers or gall for shelter for their larva. Green in summer these galls have now dried to a convincing rose shape the color of dried blood.