Snettisham 2015 - 2: Chopping Wood

Looking upriver at the grassy point

Apparently I was (am') tired. It happens, especially on sunny weekends when the heat saps the body of energy and dulls the mind without any help from me. Not that I’m complaining about the weather! And it’s not surprising that I’m tired. I flew back to Juneau Monday night (Memorial Day) after an 11-day road trip across America (including five days stewing in the humid heat of central Florida), and showed up at work the next three days, doing what minor prep work I needed for the weekend in the evenings. For one reason or another, I was waking up early every day and wound up starting the day at 5:45 or so, though I read in bed until after 6:00. I had all the usual animal care chores to do in addition to last minute packing (feeding Bebop, all the fish and frogs, watering the plants in the house), so it was 7:30 a.m. before I managed to leave for the harbor. I’d fueled the boat the night before, so it was simply a matter of loading the boat, including my parents’ small electric log splitter. I warming up the engine before I would normally be at work and underway shortly after 8:00 a.m.

Though the forecast couldn’t have been better (north winds, seas two feet or less), the brisk breeze at the top of the ramp alarmed me. I hoped I wouldn’t have to slosh my way uncomfortably across Taku Inlet as I had the last time. The channel was smooth and I was happy to encounter some gentle seas coming down Stephen’s Passage from behind Douglas, hoping that the wind would be more of a westerly than a northerly which would make Taku more comfortable. We did have a following sea past Arden, but it was considerably better than it had been on my previous trip, maybe 1-2’ at most, still enough to make Cailey prefer to stay behind me where the ride is smoother (I put her blankets back there and she laid down). I thought the seas would improve past Grave Point, since they did seem to be coming out of the Taku, but I was wrong. That westerly crossing Stephen’s Passage from Admiralty built as we headed south until there were occasional three-footers mixed in. Poor Cailey. Still, it could have been worse, though it was a pleasure to enter the shelter of the Port. I saw one whale on the way, blowing just north of Grand Island, and a bait ball with circling gulls just south of Grand.

We arrived at the sparklingly beautiful homestead around 10:00 a.m., the red and gold wood of the lodge sitting peaceably behind a lush green meadow punctuated by clumps of blue wild irises. I unloaded the gear, grabbed a kayak, and anchored the boat. Cailey was perfect on the kayak as usual. I went through all the steps of opening up, but didn’t have the gumption to get to work right away, instead plopping myself onto the porch to enjoy the view and reacquaint myself with the birds. It wasn’t long before hunger began to distract me and I made myself some quesadillas to eat on the porch as well as ten cups of sugar water for the hummingbirds, who kept reminding me about it until it was cool enough to put outside. The bird activity is quite tame now compared to the frenetic spring activity the last time I was here, which seems appropriate. There seem to be two Townsend’s warblers around the porch singing frequently, sooty grouse in the distance, small groups of cheeping chickadees, what I think is an orange-crowned warbler in front of Mink, varied thrushes, hermit thrushes (more in the evenings), Pacific wrens, a Pacific-slope flycatcher, at least two or three hummingbirds, one with a modest pink throat, and a single ruby-crowned kinglet, the same kinglet (presumably) singing the strangely altered ending to what is normally a very consistent song. I managed to get a couple of recordings of it. For the most part, only one individual seems to be singing. Occasional birds appeared briefly in or between patches of bushes, but none clearly enough to identify. I didn’t see any sign of Wilson’s warblers, which are usually around all summer. The eagles seem to be doing better this year so far and are tending to the new nest. I saw one eagle rise up near the boat and fly toward the nest with something in its talons I thought might be a crab. Just as it was about to land in the nest, it aborted and drew straight up, revealing the perfect silhouette of a crab with a pair of curled legs. Perhaps it was giving the eagle trouble, as it made a tight circle and bit twice at the crab, dropping a little piece of it before landing (apparently) in the nest.

After lunch I wasn’t any more inspired than I had been before, but I had some basic repairs to do which would make my life here much more enjoyable: namely, fixing the water system. The first thing I did was hook up the new faucet, which was a matter of wrapping both inlet pipes with hose thread and then screwing on the water line to the cold water pipe and a cap to the other. Before I could turn the water on, though, I also had to change the valve off the main line behind the lodge that I use for a hose. Thankfully, it unscrewed easily from the coupling and I didn’t have to take the whole thing apart. I soon had the new valve installed. And then up I went to the water source, noting that the vegetation toward the top was quite smushed, much more so than when I’d left it three weeks ago. Bear'

Thankfully that was the last trip I had to make to the water source. Nothing leaked and I soon had running water again and the sink back in place. After another break, I brought my new red generator over to the porch to push back the wilderness a little. I first checked the oil and the filters (not that I expected to find anything), then started her up, It took quite a few pulls, more than it did last year, to the point that I thought I was doing something wrong. I checked and rechecked all the settings, and eventually she started. I weed-whacked the path from the log up to the stairs, then cleared the area around the fire pit, behind the two benches, and along the downriver side of the deck. A small “lawn” in the chaos of vegetation that is that meadow. I wonder how long a horse could live on that grass' Its sheer abundance is overwhelming.

Since the splitter was right there by the generator, I decided to give it a try. I’d like to buy a splitter, and electric splitters are much, much cheaper than gas ones, so I decided to use my parents’ as an experiment to see if the generator would run it. According to its specs, it would (its maximum load for half an hour is 1.3 AMPs higher than the draw from the splitter). I selected a small round from my stack and gave it a go. It took me a moment to remember which combination of actions make the splitter work, so I’m not sure if for a while the engine was unable to run it. I did eventually make it run and made two splits. After that, now that I knew what I was doing, it was clear that the generator was unable to do more. There would be no electric log splitting for me this weekend! Instead, I grabbed the clippers and cut some of the salmonberries and currents that are creeping in from their strongholds (leaving some of the offending salmonberries that are too thick with green berries to sacrifice). I then strolled down to the motion sensor camera and picked up the memory card.

Back at the lodge, I sat on the couch for a spell and kept hearing Cailey nosing around in the bucket that’s under the sink to catch occasional drips. I told her to stop a couple of times, but she wouldn’t let up. Getting a little irritated, I turned around to find her laying on the floor several feet from the bucket. But the sounds didn’t stop. Aha! I’d caught mice. I’d been disappointed to find mouse dirt all over the lodge when I arrived, apparently entering the lodge through the gray water outlet pipe hole which was inadequately protected with a wrap of loose tinfoil. Two mice were in the bucket and got an escort across the creek. They didn’t seem particularly savvy about hiding and gave Cailey a good chance to get them. One of them came out of a hole and stood a foot behind Cailey and a foot from me and watched me for a while before I told it to hide. It ran to a tree and climbed up it like a squirrel! The last I saw of it, it was on a branch about 20 feet up.

Later that afternoon, I wandered down to the river, possibly to step into the sunshine and warm up. Despite the fact that it was supposed to hit 80 degrees that day, a strong breeze kept me cool in the shade of the porch. On the way back, Cailey and I both noticed movement at the bottom of one of the logs that line the path. It was too slow to be a mouse and I glimpsed the back legs of a toad as it disappeared into a hole under the log! We then wandered downriver through the meadow and returned via the path, again startling the toad back into its hole.

The final task of the day involved a large snaggly branch that was hanging down and blocking the path just before the start of the boardwalk. I tried to bend it every which way, but it was too flexible to break. I finally decided to cut it with my swede saw, but this proved to be an awkward endeavor, as I wanted to cut it high enough that it was out of my hair (literally) which involved pulling it down with one hand and cutting over my head with the other. It wasn’t going well when I realized that I could probably climb that massive tree in my bare feet (which is what I had on). The first branches (small and dead) were over my head and somewhat flimsy, but sturdy enough at the base and there was a nice bole below them that I wound up standing on. This was a good workout for my bare soles, but I made it up and cut that branch at its source. Afterwards, Cailey and I walked out to the rocky point and lingered there for a bit watching the wildlife.

And that was pretty much it for the day. That probably doesn’t sound like a big day’s work, but it was. I reminded myself endlessly that I’ve had these weekends before when cumulative exhaustive must be healed, that I will have energy again. But it is an increasing trend, and I can’t help but remember a time when nothing would have stopped me from working my tail to the bone, digging foundation holes, painting cabins, paneling walls. In fact, I began to consider this weekend that it may be okay to just lead a happy life. Maybe it is okay to leave the dream of an ecotourist lodge behind. Not to say that I won’t keep improving the place, but maybe I can leave it at that. This road trip was so much fun and so enriching, and somehow I came back less deeply satisfied with this place, more keen on pursuing a variety of interests. Who knows—maybe I built this place, this infrastructure, for someone else. Someone else will own it one day when I die…..perhaps my task was to prepare this place for someone else.

In any event, I was exhausted. By 6:00 or so I was also chilled, having spent some time reading outside in the breeze and the shade, and it was always cool inside the lodge. I ate tomato soup for dinner, read a little bit (I couldn’t will myself to write a trip report as I did tonight), and then fell asleep with my feet warmed against Cailey and part of the couch blanket over my legs. I woke up around 7:30, read some more, and then decided to retire to Hermit Thrush for the rest of the evening.


Overgrown path

Overgrown firepit

Looking upriver toward the lodge

Relief from the persistent growth!

Trimming branches with my swede saw

More bear damage

We head to Hermit Thrush

I managed to sleep until after seven, which was an accomplishment this week. But I still felt subdued, as the day’s progress will indicate. The first thing I discovered was mouse dirt in Cailey’s feeding cup, which was clean the night before—evidently the two mice I’d caught were not the only culprits. The second thing I discovered were three mice in the bucket. I really don’t understand what the attraction is of the bucket, but it sure works well as a trap. I wonder why they didn’t go in it while I was gone' After feeding Cailey, we walked upriver across the creek and released those mice who seemed even less eager to run and hide than their predecessors. In fact, one climbed the side of the bucket and walked under my thumb before any of them left. After that it was chaos, with mice standing around and running everywhere. It was really kind of sad—perhaps they were young, and inexperienced, and I feared for their safety. But there was nothing else to do. They did eventually scatter after allowing Cailey a few good lunges.

I had a little breakfast and then got back to weed-whacking. I placed Joanie at the end of the boardwalk and cleared that path, then carried her to the other end and cleared the path past Cottonwood, then carried her to the junction and cleared the path to the outhouse and the path to the bridge. Then I carried her across the bridge and cleared the path to Mink and the path toward the creek to the bottom of the steep climb to Harbor Seal. That only leaves the path between the new stairs and Hermit Thrush (which I probably won’t do) and the path to the lodge outhouse (which I probably will). It does make them a lot more pleasant to walk. Since I was working in a tank top in the shade I wasn’t overheated yet, so I had a cup of Moroccan mint tea in the sunshine and read some more of my dad’s memoirs.

When I got back to work it to fix more bear damage on the water system. The small pipe that connects the filters to the sink on Mink’s system had been broken in two places: the fitting in the filters was broken, and the pipe was broken off just below the bottom elbow joint. I unscrewed the brass fitting from the filters and was amazed when I was able to unscrew the broken plastic coupling inside, since only a sliver of it was still sticking out. Harder was cleaning out the inside of the replacement piece of pipe I’d cut out of my spares. I shot pressurized water through it at the valve at Harbor Seal, but I could still see a little dirt inside.  I kept trying to think of slender metal rods I might have but, coming up empty, I decided to use a small fresh plant stem that I could use to shove a paper towel through. That seemed like a good opportunity to trim the woody stalks that were overhanging the boardwalk and complete its manicure. So I cut ferns and salmonberries and currents and twisted stalk and devil’s club until it was comfortably walkable, selecting as did so a likely salmonberry stem. It was covered in thorns so I rubbed it with another stick until it was smooth, then used it to push a moist paper towel through. It wasn’t long enough, so I grabbed another short piece of stick and pushed that through with the long one. Anyway, a few runs through and the pipe looked clean inside.

Over several trips I managed to get everything I needed on site, including replacement elbow and coupling that I was delighted to find in my box of plumbing supplies in the attic. I was equally delighted to find that my overwintered can of pipe glue was still in good shape. I glued on the elbow fitting, then repaired the leak in the water line nearby. When I had walked the two mice to their new home the day before I’d heard and then seen the geyser shooting from over the path to the cabin outhouse. I’d shut that water supply off, and now cut out the damaged hose and inserted a new coupling. Back at Mink, I screwed in the brass coupling and then the plastic one into that, which unfortunately cracked as I tightened it with a wrench. Oh well, everything is ready for next time.  I guess I won’t tighten it so forcefully then!

While I was at it, I repaired the same hose at Harbor Seal where it appears the hose had only come looks from the elbow and wasn’t actually broken. I also wrapped a piece of garden hose around a second bite in the water line about a foot from the one I’d already fixed and clamped it shut, reducing it to a drip. The last thing I decided to try for the day was splitting wood. I’d brought down a maul and two splitting wedges in February in case we ran out of firewood, so I gave it a go. I chose a nice big round for a base and set it up on level ground at the end of the boardwalk. When I uncovered the stack of logs I discovered first that there were quite a few branches that had been bucked up, some of which will be too long for the wood stove, but small enough that they don’t need splitting (though they’d benefit from it). Certainly too narrow for splitting by hand. I tossed those out to put under the lodge porch, then selected a few of the smaller rounds to try splitting. With work gloves and plastic goggles on, I raised the maul and let it fall onto the round. And it split down the middle just like they do in the movies, the two sides popping off either side of the block. Wow! I split wood! It turns out that I’m quite good at splitting wood, when the round is about ten inches wide, about a foot tall, and slightly rotten. I made a respectable pile of split wood before I took a break and rinsed off, surprised that, although I was tired and covered in sweat, my arms weren’t tired at all. I guess it really is all in the back.

I took a half an hour break, had a drink on the porch, and then split the rest of the wood that fit my parameters. I also moved all the wood that was already under the porch out onto the deck except for the alder and the small pile of small spruce rounds. That way the entire back row is available for new wood, some of which is ready to burn and some of which is quite water logged from sitting on the soggy ground.

By then it was dinner time—at least Cailey thought so—so we headed inside. I fed her and finally decided I must be hungry enough for dinner too if I kept nibbling. I’d had quesadillas again at lunch and also made cherry cobbler from a mix my mom gave me, which I found very difficult to stop eating once I started. I heated up an overwintered can of split pea soup for dinner and called it good. Now here it is 8:05 already and I’m finally caught up! Maybe I’ll soon be caught up on my sleep as well and life will start to brighten again. I hope those wispy clouds out there are a good sign of a change in the wind to favor me on the ride home tomorrow. It was very windy again today. 

Coke zero seemed to win over Dr. Pepper

We enjoy the sun on the river

Brushed boardwalk

Mice inexplicably enjoy chocolate

It’s 12:30 p.m. I was thinking of heading out around 2:00 and hopefully by then this strong breeze coming in off Gilbert Bay will have settled down a bit. It started up mid-morning, a fierce breeze turning the devil’s club leaves upside down and chilling me in the shade; it seems to have mellowed somewhat, but the inlet is still ripply and I’d just as soon wait. I’m sitting outside, more comfortable now that the sun has reached the upper deck, but still in a heavy fleece despite the persistent sunshine (tempered now with a few welcome clouds that seem to be moving north, halleluiah). Two humpbacks are feeding in the inlet.

I woke up this morning after a hard sleep, with my spirits somewhat restored. There were no mice in the lodge and no evidence that they’d been there overnight, so my more thorough tinfoiling of the gap may have done the trick. It’s a good reminder not to be lazy about that. I should staple hardware cloth around the outside of it now that the drain seems to be working long-term and be done with it.

I had some breakfast on the porch and strongly considered a caffeinated drink, as I was feeling a bit dazed still from sleep. Instead I decided to get to work. The first task, or course, was to finish the firewood project. I moved all the dry firewood from the deck to the back porch to put inside, then carried about a dozen rounds that were also down there that looked like I could split them to the splitting area. I split those, which will make them burn ever so much better, pleased at the smooth white interior of un-rotten spruce. I put a 2x12” ramp up to the deck and hauled wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load and dumped them on the deck. Then I stacked it all down there, a little oddly as it turned out, hiding the dry spruce round stack between two wet stacks, accessible now only from the side. Then I returned to the shed area and restacked the remaining rounds on PT 2xs to keep them off the ground. The remaining stack is really quite impressive, now covered neatly in a tarp. I stacked all the dry firewood from the back porch inside, weed-whacked the path to the lodge outhouse, cleared the trail between the outhouse and Hermit Thrush with a machete, swept the stairs and the bridge, checked the motion sensor camera, washed the dishes, and that brings us up to date. It was a good morning’s work. I don’t see myself washing the cabins today as I thought I might…I haven’t even found the garden hose yet. But, we’ll see how this wind goes.

I wound up pulling away from the homestead with a minute or so of my goal of 2:00. A brisk wind slowed us down crossing Gilbert Bay, and I was much relieved to see that it was coming down the Port when we got that far. It wasn’t as bad as on the previous trip, but it was still a great relief to reach Stephen’s Passage, pull out past Seal Rocks, and turn north. The seas were probably two feet, maybe three, and we rolled in them on our way home, singing out thanks for the following sea under such sunny skies. The seas diminished the farther we went and we had an uneventful ride home.

I chopped wood!

What remains to chop

Heading home

Impossible to get enough of this view