Popping Next Door

By , December 3, 2010

Wednesday we “popped next door” to our nearest full time neighbors. On our way there, it occurred to me that going next door in our neighborhood represents more adventure than most people care to experience in a day.

They live about a quarter of a mile away, north along the coast toward Haines. We have two direct routes: a path through the woods at the edge of the beach, or the beach itself. The beach was not an option that day. It’s a long expanse of large boulders and drift logs, usually slick with black moss. Right now, it’s also swept by a 40-knot northerly gale. With temperatures in the low 20s, that puts the wind chill somewhere around Pretty Damned Cold.

The forest path goes over the hump of our trail, down the swale and into the neighboring property. It crosses the back porch of the nearest cabin, a small weekender owned by two couples in Juneau. It winds through their yard and follows 40-50 foot cliffs. Rock falls are common here. Ground seep trickles down the rock faces. In winter, these freeze into large icicles. Some are crystal clear, but most are a lurid yellowish brown from the muskeg tannins. Right now, many of them are warped and twisted, bent by the stiff winds as they froze. Walking along the base of the cliff is like passing under a whole hall full of swords of Damocles.

The snow drifted in the wind eddies along the cliff, scoured bare in some places, piled deep in others. It recorded the activities of the Little World: juncos shelter right under the cliffs; squirrels have been very busy, and quite hungry. A loping track of larger prints showed where a marten had come through—just once—on its way somewhere important.

The trail isn’t difficult, but at one place it crosses a sloped rock outcropping. It looks easy, but it presents problems, as it’s deceptively slick in the summer, even more so in the winter, covered with snow and seep ice. We crossed it in relays. I crossed first, climbed down, then turned back to receive the wrapped casserole Michelle carried. With her hands free, she climbed down while I “spotted” her descent. Next I kept watch while Aly climbed across.

The only other obstacle is an area of the forest floor that is prime stashing Real Estate for squirrels. They like to tunnel there to cache spruce cones. Any step could break through the surface and unexpectedly drop one several inches. We have to be wary of sprained ankles.

The final leg of the journey is an ascent of their front stairs, about two stories worth of wooden steps. Once we’d arrived at the top and crossed the frozen drip patch, our “pop over” to the neighbors was achieved.

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