One hundred and forty-five years ago today Mother Russia gave the United States the keys to Alaska. We celebrate the anniversary by heading into the mountains. Aki, who loves snow above all things (other than cheese) finds a blanket of it covering the meadows. Dashing from the car she speeds her way up and then down the trail while I measure the cold and wind. I’ve underdressed for this stiff wind whipping away my body temperature even through rain gear. Oh well, I’d planned on visiting the sheltered woods drained by Fish Creek later anyway. “Sorry Aki, we won’t be here long.”
The first snow always catches nature unprepared. We see submerged lilly pads, still in the process of fall die back, through a pond surface made opaque by snow. A blue berry bush still in high fall color struggles to shake over its new white coat. They were unprepared for the flick of God’s wrist that brought this early taste of winter.
We stay longer than originally planned, knowing that our fickle weather will soon bring a cleansing rain to this world of white. Aki, not yet toughened to winter cold is happy to hop back into the car. She is just as happy to hop out of it at the Fish Creek trailhead. Here surprising shafts of sunlight break through cloud cover to enhance the beauty of fading fall color. I spot a porcupine, upper back almost devoid of spines, gnawing the bark of a willow bush. Aki, distracted by some dog’s pee mail, doesn’t spot the little guy.
If allowed to get too close to a porcupine, a dog can end up with a mouth and face full of quills. Aki, who seems to think of them as slow moving dogs, has managed many close encounters with these spiny guys without picking up a quill. Not wanting to tempt fate I pick her up and we walk past the feeding porcupine.
The thick woods along Fish Creek are still holding off winter. Most bushes are in fall color while some skunk cabbage still sport green leaves. Almost bored after experiencing the snowy drama of the mountain meadows we spend little time in the old growth, finding the strongest beauty in a yellowing leaf apparently too stubborn to join his fallen neighbors now covering the forest floor.