This morning we drive out the road, passing through Juneau and by its glacier. We move beyond Auk Bay, the Alaska Marine Highway Terminal, Lena Cove, Tee Harbor, and The Shrine of St Teresa. Aki whines and squirms a bit each time we fail to stop of one of the trailheads along the way. She becomes almost pathetic when I slow to take the gravel road toward Amalga Meadows. The hysterics end when we move onto a little meadow covered with tall blades of died-back grass bent toward the ground by frost.
Last night North Lights filled the sky and frost feathers thickened into dense crystalline rods. The latter rise up from the glass blades and radiate out from the otherwise naked willow branches. With her short legs, Aki has to perform a series of foot high leaps to move across the meadow. Each leap knocks loose a cascade of frost crystals that sounds like the warning of a rattlesnake. I have to stop several times for her to catch up.
After crossing an ice-covered slough, we follow a series of otter trails up and over a forested hill. Now the little dog has the advantage. Like the short-legged otters, she can slip under fallen trees and barriers of devil’s club and blue berry bushes. She scampers while I struggle but is polite enough to wait for me at the bottom of the hill. Our roles reverse again when we drop onto another meadow. This times she walks in my wake. I break trail through knee-deep grass, sending frost rods flying with every step. Anyone could trace our progress by the strip of dead-tan grass we leave in our wake.
We destroy beauty by simply moving through the country. I tell myself that it is silly to worry about it; that man’s presence always transforms. The key is to keep down the damage. Unless the wind and temperature rise tonight, more frost will form to cover our tracks. We are heading for the waterfall that releases water from the slough pond into salt water when a shotgun blast sounds. Aki cringes a little and oddly enough, so do I. She gives me her “why can’t you read my mind” look. “Well little dog, has my kind done enough damage for the day?” She doesn’t answer. Hey, she is just a dog. But she does break back down the brown trail we made through the grass.