Just minutes from the car, Aki and I are already soaked. Without interference from the wind, steady rain falls straight onto the glacial moraine. The Irish guide that once drove me around the Dingle Peninsula would call this a soft day, as if sunshine cuts like a knife. The description was accurate in one way: that day’s wet grayness softened away the visual contrasts that could have given the Irish farmland pop.
Today’s rains falls from clouds low enough to hide surrounding mountains and the glacier. Later we will see a slice of mountains and ice as the clouds lift. But, when we pass it on our way onto the moraine, the Mendenhall River appears to come out of a cloud. Raindrops bead up on blueberry and poplar leaves as well as in the border of segments of horsetail shoots. But the robins still sing, the kingfisher scolds, beavers tail slap lake water, and the little dog manages to enjoy herself.
Like a magician tracing a ley line, Aki confidently trots a straight path through wetland grass too tall for her to see over. An eagle does a fly over and two others perch. One of these occupies a stump in the middle of Lemon Creek. The other rests on a light standard that arcs over two lanes of traffic on Egan Expressway. Without knowing it, Aki is heading in the right direction—toward one of the odd little islands that seem to float on a tidal grass sea.
Fall and spring, foliage on the islands’ balsam poplars work like gold leaf on an icon to draw the eye. Spruce, alders, and elderberry bush squeeze onto the islands with the poplars. They all send roots into a mix of glacial silt and gravel carried there by the creek. Savannah sparrows nest in the grass bordering the islands. One of those diminutive birds flies to the top of an elderberry bush to watch us pass. I wonder what the tiny thing would do if we came near its nest. The severe look it flashes me as I pass within a few feet could not form on the face of a timid beast.
I’m impatient to see if the shooting stars are out on Gastineau Meadow. But Aki won’t be hurried. A scent stops her dead, makes her back track, turn ninety degrees and trot back on a path inscribing a right triangle. When a different smell sends her on another geometric path, I study the red alders that bow out toward the trail. Their wood is almost perfect for carving portrait masks. This makes me think of my father and the alder mask I carved after his death.
Done with her investigations, Aki slips around me and takes point on our walk onto the meadow. When I stop to photograph a wild rhododendron or meat-eating sundew, the little dog stares at me, apparently forgetting who slowed our earlier progress. Brat.
We push on and find the small section of meadow where shooting stars grow and find them in bloom. My dad learned to love the shooting stars that grew on meadows near his Montana home. Maybe he passed this love on to me, They are one of my favorite wild flowers.
As we back track to the car, I think again about dad’s alder mask and how carving it helped me grieve his death. Writing an essay about it help further. If you have the time, can read the essay, which was published in the fourth edition of Twisted Vine Literary Journal. ( http://show.wnmu.edu/twistedvine/category/issue-4/ ).
This morning, I drove Aki out to the glacial moraine in hopes of seeing some transient tundra swans. Nothing, not even a merganser breaks the mirror surface of Dredge Lake. But it’s early enough that we have the place to ourselves. Moving through a cloud of bird song we walk a circuit of the other moraine lakes.
Beaver leavings—dams, fallen trees stripped of bark, wood chips, scattered sticks marred by tooth marks—litter the trailside ground. Many of their diminutives logging roads cross the trail. On the eastern shore of Moose Lake I say, It’s funny little dog. We rarely see those responsible for all this mess. Just then, a beaver slips into the lake and paddles toward the glacier.
Minutes later, another beaver scrabbles out from underneath a bridge we are crossing and plops into the lake. Aki paces up and down the bank while I measure the progress of its underwater swim by the trail of breath bubbles. Four meters from the shore, the beaver surfaces, see us, and crashes back under the water with a tremendous splash.
We continued on our search for swans but find only a sole Canada goose. I give up the search after two birders tell me that the swans had left two days ago. Released, I can enjoy the morning light infusing new cottonwood growth and the personality of a yellow-rumped kinglet that shows itself to us.
Today is a sunny as yesterday was rainy. I wanted an early start for our walk but we didn’t make it to the Rainforest Trailhead until mid-day. But the lack of early-morning bird frenzy is made up for by the sunshine that will only reach the forest understory for another hour or so. The bright light clarifies the greens of newly emerging leaves. It also makes the head of a red-breasted sapsucker shine like the queen’s jewels.
The sapsucker is nervous. It flits from tree to tree, staying for seconds in one spot. The little dog and I aren’t responsible for it’s behavior. Each movement of the bird brings it closer. When it does come to rest, it’s on a tree ten feet away, which happens to be flooded in light.
Back in Juneau, back in the rain. Aki, her other human and I splash down the Nugget Falls Trail. Ahead, a mountain goat focuses on the emerging alder and cottonwood growth. Beneath him, the falls charge into Mendenhall Lake. Later, when I upload photographs of the day onto the computer, I’ll find one in which the goat is staring at the little dog and her family. He could be looking at the glacier or one of the many icebergs it calved since spring. He could be distracted by the hoards of dark-eyed juncos bouncing around the trailside brush. I’d understand it if he noticed the brilliant yellow-green of the leaves he had been eating. Why look at Aki?
The photo that I uploaded next shows the goat head searching for food, turned so that his rear faces our fronts. Back to business. Don’t take it personal, little dog.
While Aki reads the scents left by dogs and other mammals along the trail, I search a disturbed section of the Gastineau Meadows for insect-eating sundews. The cry of another predator makes Aki cringe and startles me into an upward look. We both watch a red tail hawk continue its hunt across the meadow. The hawk’s distinctive cry, which froze my little dog must do the same to its prey.
I watch the red tail circle over the eastern meadow but rather than dive, it rises higher and higher, shrinking to a brown dot against the clouds disintegrating on the flank of Mt. Jumbo.
It’s too early for the shooting stars to flower but there should be some other flashes of magenta on the meadow. I head up the trail to find some. Aki won’t follow so I turn back toward where we startled a Sitka black-tailed doe. Just our smell was enough to send it running for cover. I wonder if we carry the odor of the meat eater, like the wolves that leave tracks in the meadow snow.
On a morning where events established Aki as possible predator and prey, we return home where the little dog hopes to hunt up some cheese to go with her breakfast of kibble.