Last week, a storm moved up the Narrows to our shores and by Sunday morning, two feet of fresh dense snow covered the roads, beaches, and mountainsides. I pulled out my snowshoes and headed to the nearby Dock Point trail which loops around a rocky peninsula jutting into the Port Valdez fjord. In the summer, this spot is audacious with color: lime-green alder thickets, lipstick-hued salmonberry blossoms, sunny dandelions. In the winter, it is austere. Everything is black, white, and grayscale.
|Big snow shoes like these give you |
more floatation in snow,
but, in very deep snow, they still sink in!
I set off down the trail, following a groove in the deep snow that appeared to lead around the loop. People snowshoe and walk this route all winter long, but no one had been out yet on that Sunday morning before me. In the sticky snow, I broke a sweat on my third step. I glanced behind and saw I was leaving a trench a foot-and-a-half deep.
The area is forested with tall Sitka Spruce and their boughs were burdened with snow. On the ground below the trees, dollops of snow had fallen, creating indentations in the snowpack like foot prints. As I proceeded along the route, snowy arches of alder and cottonwood saplings formed what looked to be an impenetrable barrier across the trail. I paused and poked the branches with my ski pole, dumping the cakes of snow, and the branches rebounded, allowing me through.
Dock Point is so close to town that typically you can hear cars passing on their way to the ship escort compound, and when standing at the trail’s high point, you look right down on the boat yard, fingers of the dock, and mammoth harbor lights. Yet, for a moment as I dropped into what I knew should be a boggy region, I became disoriented, couldn’t recognize anything, couldn’t hear traffic to give me direction due to the snow’s sound-muting capabilities. All of the land’s sharp points and angles were rounded out and smothered in white.
The snow was still falling, flakes becoming larger as the temperature rose a degree. Cohorts of dendrites broke into particles on impact with my sleeve, my hat, my glove. Then, melted in an instant. A solitary magpie flapped across the opening in the forest canopy. A ship thrice sounded its horn, the noise absorbed by the saturated air.
Ice formed like lily pads on the surface of the mud flats’ placid water and moved almost imperceptibly on the outgoing tide. There, I frightened a lone goldeneye from its resting spot, and it burst into flight. The trail wound back to its starting point and my legs were fatigued with the effort of stamping a pathway through the thick, sodden snow. It was time for a hot cup of coffee and the next chapter of my book.