Wandering in Mendenhall Meadows

The meadows lie like pearls on a string along the winding, muddy Mendenhall River.

I live only three kilometres from the river as the crow flies. When there is no obvious road or trail to where I want to go, I will find one.

Many years ago I created a small path for the first kilometre going toward the highway – through dark spruce forest, moss covering the ground, large squirrel dens with piles of spruce-cone scales their building material.

Old Man’s Beard hanging from branches, and jumbles of dead wood.

To my good fortune, the Mendenhall community cleared a wider path for me in the form of a Fire Smart project around the subdivision.

Now I walk that path through green grass and bluebells, larkspur blues and beginnings of fireweed. Magenta! I love the name for that colour as much as I love the colour itself.

Coming out by the highway the flowers change; more whites and yellows. Among them pink roses, their fragrance surrounding me.

But no prickles scratching my legs! I am delighted to see it’s the Woods’ rose(rosa woodsii) that grows here. Look for them whenever you drive to Haines Junction, right by the bluff past Mendenhall Subdivision. They also grow along the Millennium Trail in Whitehorse.

They look only slightly different from the more common prickly rose (rosa acicularis); more dense, with smaller flowers. The distinctive difference is that they have no bristles and just a few thorns. Who would have known?

I cross the highway into the next spruce forest.

For some reason, I haven’t been on this path for years. I made it one winter. Winter is good because, in the snow, I could find the path I was looking for again the next day.

When making a path, I try to follow openings, removing dead wood to make the path fairly straight. I break branches, maybe bring a little axe or hacksaw, but don’t do anything major.

I also like to follow animal trails. Today I expect not much left of my work. But it’s surprisingly true that our Yukon landscape is very sensitive. My trail is clearly visible as a brown path through the green moss.

It seems that animals also use my paths. There’s scat on the trail. At the end, I do lose the trail where a recently-fallen tree crosses it.

Still, I come out in the familiar lovely clearing and am greeted by two screeching eagles being chased by other birds.

It seems I am not helping much to create peace. Birds here are obviously not used to visitors. Yellowlegs and redwing blackbirds scream at me.

A meadow lies lushly green before me. Dark blue mountains, streaked with white, stand in the background.

I call the Mendenhall meadows pearls. This pearl contains glittering crystals in the form of ponds. And every pond contains another surprise.

On the higher ground surrounding the meadow, a different bouquet of flowers again.

July 2011 seems to be a good time for fields of wildflowers. Here we add purple, violet and the silver wild sage. And I love the fine wild blue flax waving in the breeze.

The meadow is very wet, so I try to follow a ridge, an ancient levee, toward the river.

One kilometre to go, but who knows? I didn’t consult aerial photos. The river winds so much, you never know if it is close or far. You could be lost in a big bend, walking right by the river, but it’s hidden by willow and spruce.

Indeed, today I don’t reach the river – all these ponds blocking my way. I did wear my rain boots, but the ponds are too deep for just rain boots.

Still, it is a miracle that my feet stay dry, because walking in this swampy land it is easy to suddenly step in a little channel. I walk by at least a half dozen ponds, and every one contains a surprise.

Ducklings! The biggest group a mother American wigeon with at least eight ducklings. At another pond I just see two little ones disappear into the marsh grass. In another, there are shovelers, but I don’t know if they had babies.

It always amazes to me how hard it is here to get close to the birds. Frogs care less. They just jump away as I walk through the swamp.

In town the birds are more used to people. Last week on the Millennium Trail, walking by the Woods’ roses toward the eagle nest, there were two Arctic terns sitting right on the rocks beside the trail.

Out here, they scream their heads off a mile before I see them. But I don’t mind. It means I am in the wilderness.

The next day I try again to find the river, taking a different route, which brings me more fields of flowers and … the first strawberries!

I wander, totally in my element. The river remains unreachable due to high water in the meadows. In the marsh grass, I catch a frog.

This day the birds call at me again. Ducks take off when I approach.

But close to home, a deer – a young buck – steps towards me when our paths cross.

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