Taku 2015 - 3: Chookan (Meadow)
July 31 - August 2

The fireweed meadow
below Bullard's Landing

Coming up from Snettisham,I made a quick phone call to Chris in a cell window along Taku Inlet, then continued on, grateful when the little northerly ended beyond Jaw Point. I'd seen a boat on the other side of the inlet earlier, and then spotted it again parked in the middle of the inlet off Flat Point. Although I couldn't see it very well, I figured it was likely my parents, as they often arrive on the river considerably before the tide and then wait for it to rise. I buzzed over there and Cailey was beside herself with excitement at seeing them. It was 1:45 then, an hour before the tide, but the river looked high so we stopped for bucket breaks and then went on. Cailey sat on the back bench almost the entire way and stared longingly back at the other boat! We arrived at 2:15 and I tied up to the log above the landing and unloaded my boat, then hauled their gear up the steps before walking up to fetch the 4-wheeler. I couldn't remember how to put it in reverse, so I wound up pushing it out in neutral; my dad showed up about then and showed me how to do it, which is what I had been doing, but it's apparently been finicky about it lately.

After hauling all the gear up, we all had drinks in the cozy cabin, warmed by a fire my dad had built right away, then ate delicious fried rice and veggies that my mother made for dinner. While my dad did the dishes, my mother and I walked the trail upriver, pleased to see considerable ripe nagoonberries; I sought out my early nagoon patch and we soon filled a couple tubs. Along the path through the brush upriver of Debbie's Meadow, we flushed several snipe and small groups of robins, both of which we saw many more times over the weekend, especially in this area.

I  meet up with my parents in the inlet

Tied to Prometheus the log


Mom and Jenny picking berries

Misty meadow

Amanita mushrooms

The next morning we all slept in a bit and had a leisurely time chatting in the living room. As I'd badly wanted a day off the day before, I allowed myself the luxury of a mellow morning. I finally made it out the door at 10:10 and headed up the trail to pick blueberries. I expected to go to Debbie's Meadow and then pick upriver along the trail, but wound up picking six cups before I even got there, in some of the more shaded areas. It had rained the entire day before, but there was no rain that morning and the day was beginning to brighten. When I got back, my mother was getting her new grappling hook ready to try to retrieve the line tied to the anchor in the middle of the channel at the landing site, which was no longer tied to shore. Unfortunately, I made the first throw after inadequately securing it to a cleat on the boat. When it tugged, the line bounced off the cleat and the grappling hook joined the anchor line at the bottom of the river. My mother then scrounged around the shed looking for an alternative and wound up tying a lead zinc to a large square hook, but the line was too short and the zinc not heavy enough and we soon abandoned the effort, myself in a rather pour mood after having ruined the excellent effort. A snack between efforts helped, as did lunch thereafter. While my dad took a nap, having slept poorly the night before, my mom and I headed back upriver and picked a few more tubs of nagoonberries before setting out into the meadow to explore. By then the sun was shining and I was so hot (partly because of the rain paints protecting me from the wet vegetation), that I eventually stripped into a bra while we picked, putting a t-shirt back on for our walk.

After picking, we headed toward the mountain, encountering a slough that was just narrow enough to awkwardly jump across. The flowers were in late summer/early fall mode, asters, the beginnings of goldenrod, the end of fireweed, and brilliant red berries on cranberries and mountain ash. We flushed a yellow bird into a clump of willows, but couldn't get a good enough look to identify it. Sparrows fluttered here and there, but by and large the birds were quiet. We got nice looks at the new eagle's nest on the lone cottonwood tree, which appears to be very sheltered and difficult to access except on the mountain side. An adult sat in a nearby spruce, cackling softy as we watched. Once I saw movement in the nest and, ever so briefly, a brown wing outstretched. The nest must be quite bowl shaped and the eaglet horizontal to be so hidden the rest of the time. My mom speculated if the soft sounds from the adult were encouraging the eaglet to stay low. We wound up on the big hill next to the slough's Big Bend and observed moose tracks in the moss and lichen between the plants, and followed what were probably moose trails through the grass back to the road. On the way we found a patch with an amazing abundance of nagoonberries.

Back at the cabin, my dad had his small Stihl chainsaw out. We mixed some gas, read the directions, and got it running before heading down the new trail behind the cabin that Mike's family had starting clearing a few weeks prior. They'd cut impressively large alders, but there were several spruces that required a chain saw. I cut the first couple and my mother cut the rest along with several protruding alders and branches. My dad drove to determine which trees needed to be cut and we made it all the way to the slough crossing before calling it a day. I think they're planning to make a bridge for the 4-wheeler before attempting that crossing.

I had a diet, caffeine-free pepsi for my afternoon drink instead of wine. My mother started a little fire in the BBQ pit and I fetched some alder sticks from those staged in the woods. They were rather soggy from all the rain, but eventually took hold. In the meantime, I walked down to the old set of stairs in the (former) meadow below the little cabin to check them out, as my parents hoped to retrieve them with my help. When I got back the alders were starting to catch fire and the fish, steak, and asparagus were beginning to grill. We all stood or sat around the cooker in the late sunshine enjoying the spectacular scenery around us. Suddenly Cailey barked and bayed and stared avidly into the woods upriver of the cabin. We surely had a bear guest! She barked on and off for the rest of the grilling process and Jenny adorably imitated her, but it seemed clear that she had no idea why! Unfortunately, we never saw the bear.

After dinner my mom and I set up the motion sensor camera facing the slough on the new trail and I walked to Debbie's Meadow and beyond to pick nagoonberries (including a few token berries from the mostly-overgrown hill which was formerly my favorite nagoon spot) while my mom picked blueberries closer to the cabin.

Cailey eats blueberries

Hoping to eliminate vehicle traffic on our property

Alpine blueberries?

Looking upriver

We tromp through the meadow

Eagle nest tree and meadow

Eagle nest


So many mushrooms!

We trim the rail behind the cabin


Mom grills dinner

We all got up a little earlier the next morning. I had a cup of jasmine tea and chatted until about 8:30; as my parents had yet to have breakfast, I headed out on a task of my own. Borrowing the wonderful little Stihl chainsaw I'd become acquainted with the day before, I walked upriver to the meadow I began working on last year just at the edge of our property, cutting one small spruce near Debbie's Meadow per my dad's request. On the way I enjoyed the morning freshness, the dark, moist mountains in crystal clarity beyond the green trees, the smells of summer up the Taku haunting me with joy.

When I reached my destination, I said words of apology and gratitude and well wishes toward the spruces there that I wished to cut and to their kind in general. And then I began the task at hand: cutting and hauling trees. Last year (or the year before?) I'd begun an effort to save this meadow, a small area rapidly getting overrun with young spruces, the last meadow on our property and separated from Forest Service meadow by a dense line of alders and willows (and, increasingly, spruce trees at the fringes) through which Ben Bullard's barbed wire fence runs. There was more meadow remaining here than there was at Debbie's meadow, areas maybe 30 feet square that were free of large trees. I'd already cut everything I could manage with clippers'over 100 small trees'and was left with the large ones that required a chainsaw or the like. At first it seemed like just half a dozen would do, but everywhere were lone trees or small groups in the middle of otherwise good meadow, or sticking out from a solid fringe of trees, areas that could still be salvaged. In my first sweep, I cut about 25 trees and then paused, exhausted from bending over and sawing. I doffed my fleece and worked in a t-shirt dragging the trees to various nooks and crannies in the surrounding forest to remove them from the meadow and from sight. Most of these trees were 6-8' high and four to six inches in diameter. Most I was able to cut through in one motion, but a couple of them pinched the blade and I wound up excising the saw and finishing the cut from the other side with a downward motion (then flattening out those stumps). Although cutting was a laborious job, and a little scary, hauling the trees out of the meadow was much more difficult. I was soon drenched in sweat, exhausted, and covered in 'spruce bites', my arms and legs appearing to have a bad rash.

After I hauled most of the first batch of trees away (I lost count at 19), I took to the chain saw again, cutting a couple of particularly large trees in half and then cutting another 15 or 20 or more other trees. Even in half, these large trees were very difficult to move. After that, despite Cailey's obvious discomfort with the chain saw, I turned it on one more time to cut the low branches off some of the stumps that had remained behind and to cut just a couple more small trees that had escaped my notice as well as some alders in the middle of the meadow (more will be cut by hand). In the end, I was delighted to find that I'd cut all the trees I'd had in mind to in the middle and the edges of the whole final meadow. It was more than I could have hoped for, and the chain sawing had gone extremely well. I'd spent an hour at it, but took the time to pick a tub of nagoonberries while I was there, astonished at how many there were in that meadow. It is good that they are still so abundant, my motivation for maintaining it. The ones I picked were mostly at the bottoms of some of the larger spruces near the start of the trail, and near a nook where I'd stashed some of the larger trees (I'd noticed them hauling the trees in and vowed to return). It probably took only about 10 minute to pick those final three cups of precious berries.

Pleased with my progress, I came back to the lodge to find my mother busy trying to get the water pump going, which would start and then die no matter what she did. I lingered there watching the process for a while and then went to pick blueberries while they trouble shooted. I'd picked about a cup before I heard the pump start and continue, the result apparently of a new spark plug. After that, my mother and I (and Cailey) hopped aboard the Ronquil and headed downriver to the Forest Service meadow below the property line that used to be fantastic strawberry picking but is now almost entirely grown up with spruces, a meadow I wish I could save but can't/won't. At one time my parents used it occasionally as a landing and had left behind a large staircase and several sandbags on the bank. We pulled in to shore, scrabbled up the sheer 8' high sand bank, and began taking the heavy stairs apart. My mother managed to remove two screws with a cordless drill, after which we used a sledge hammer to pull the treads off the stringers. We threw all the pieces down to the beach and loaded them onto the boat along with the sand bags (mostly my mother's work'I was prepared to leave them behind!). Then we continued downriver to the fireweed meadow where a couple of boards had been left years ago when offloading the lawnmower there from a landing craft. We only found one board, covered in several inches of sand and turf and overhanging the bank, and suspect the other went in the river with erosion. We had to scrape away the sand on top over almost the entire board before we could lift it and put it on the bow of the boat. With all that weight on the bow, the boat rode low in the water as we puttered upriver to the landing. Slipping under the Kathy M's stern line, we pulled onto shore and unloaded all the lumber before I put the Ronquil back in place on the log just upriver.

By then it was noon and I volunteered to cook quesadillas while my mom picked some blueberries on the way back. Quite by accident, I happened to have exactly the number of tortillas, exactly the right amount of cheese (with perhaps an extra tablespoon or two), and an emergency can of salsa left at the cabin to serve us all, consumed with Pacificos.

After lunch, my parents decided they'd better pack up, as it was two hours to departure time. I packed my gear, then walked down toward the river with my dad so he could show me where Bullard's shed he's talked about is located. Naturally the whole area was so grown up with alders that it was impossible to find right then, but at least I know where to keep looking. He also showed me how to run this amazing weed/shrub cutting machine. It has a huge circular saw in front and you walk behind it and use a control panel which controls the gear (including reverse!) and whether the blade is in action. I returned to the area we'd just been at near the river with this machine and took out all the clumps of small alders growing up in the meadow there and did a couple big circles around the trails and cleared a bunch more alders encroaching on the trails. I didn't realize how much good work that machine has done under my dad's operation all these years in keeping those trails alder-free. It was fun to operate and, I have to admit, very satisfying to see the tidy meadow that is left behind. What I cut in ten minutes probably would have taken more than an hour of hard work with clippers.

I put the machine away and went inside to sweep the carpet and do other odds and ends to help the packing process. When we were all done it was 2:00, still an hour until our departure time which was half an hour before the tide. My dad suggested I run a load of gear to the boat and I agreed on the condition that we all sit and have a drink in the sunshine afterward before we left. I delivered the load and came back, enjoying a diet Dr. Pepper on the porch. Unfortunately, my dad was too antsy to enjoy the moment and my mother thought of too many things to do to sit still very long, so I think I'm the only one who actually enjoyed more than a minute or two in the sunshine gazing at one of the most spectacular views around, a sparkling clear day over the Taku Glacier and the edge of the ice field.

My dad wandered down to the boat and, shortly thereafter, I relented and took the last load of gear to the waterfront, passed my parents' gear to my dad on board the Kathy M, and put the 4-wheeler away. We headed out onto the river at 3:03, right on schedule. I led the way down the river, confident enough in the high water and a 17.9 tide to run at speed through the shoals by the meadow. A boat went by us, rudely refusing the wave, though I know the occupants saw me wave from only a few feet away. We bucked a little bit of a chop, nothing too bad, all the way home, which was a bit disappointing as I'd hoped for a following sea with the weather. Nevertheless, it was one of the nicest rides this year as I made my way around the few gillnetters that happened to be in our path. The seas got worse and worse until we reached the channel, though, at which point we were getting into two foot seas. The size diminished as we got farther in, but we fought against one of the nastiest chops I've ever encountered in the channel. It was non-stop banging and smashing'no way to avoid it'exacerbated by all the wakes of passing boats. Mayflower Island refused to get any closer and I was having a miserable time, sometimes going ridiculously slow, as there was no way to speed up without risking jostling my boat all to pieces. The most exciting part was passing a cruise ship going in the opposite direction. The wake was huge and close together, and dropped my boat in the trough until the rail was even with the surface of the water. My parents, who were a bit closer to the stern, had it worse; they took water over the bow, which managed to force open the hatch in the middle of the windshield and douse them with water! It took at least 45 miserable minutes to make it up the channel and back to the harbor, and another 40 minutes to tidy up the boat, fetch the truck, and load all my gear up the ramp (grateful for the high tide). And then home, to my first shower in eight days!

Cutting trees in the morning

Somewhat clearer meadow after hauling the trees away

Hauling old lumber back

Avalanche area below the meadows

Mom and the dogs in the meadow