Snettisham 2015 - 8: Living It
  September 4-13


AG29 (maybe) and a companion pass me outside Speel Arm

Sometimes I feel rewarded for honoring the will of the weather gods.

Having to plan trips around the variability of weather is deeply stressful, and the closer one gets to fall, the more likely it is that weather events will delay or cancel trips. This summer, weather seems to be working out despite what sometimes seems to be an unusual number of blows. After Pavlof, I planned the rest of the summer out: a much needed weekend in town, a weekend trip to Snettisham (done), a long weekend up the Taku, and then a full week at Snettisham including close up. That put me in mid-September, and late September close ups cause difficulties. But the weather didn’t cooperate for a Taku trip and I officially canceled it Wednesday afternoon when even the point-specific forecast was calling for 3-4 footers in the area I would pass through; Thursday (when I hoped to leave) and Friday didn’t look any more favorable, so I turned my attention to town activities. I spent half of Friday getting ready for the next Snettisham trip, running errands all morning. The rest of the weekend was spent working on the house, cleaning mews, pulling the Ronquil (construction supposedly started September 1 on Douglas Harbor so I had to bring  my boat home), and taking advantage of a free weekend of records from the UK ancestry.com site. I didn’t mind the break, to be honest, the Taku trip suggested more by good tides and a waning summer than anything. Then Monday dawned bright and clear and very, very windy, a weather pattern than continued all week. By Wednesday I’d decided to charter a flight to Snettisham south on Thursday night or Friday if there wasn’t a weather window, which there wasn’t for most of the week. When would I go' How would I go' When would I know' But then, creeping in, was a little window…the north wind which had whipped about town (though no one really minded because it accompanied bright, warm sunshine), was meant to die down Thursday night, and the southwesterly that would replace not really pick up until Friday afternoon. I had thought about taking off as early as Thursday night to maximize my time at Snettisham (since I now considered going up the Taku for the second weekend), but I had class Monday and Wednesday and really needed/wanted an evening in town to finish packing and spend time with Chris. Friday it was.

The nice thing about launching the boat is that you’re basically all loaded up when you leave the house! I loaded everything except my totes and clothes Thursday after work, vacuumed the carpet, cleaned the kitchen, and chatted with my parents before making dinner and settling in. I got up before 7:00 on Friday, walked the dog, made food for Bebop, and finished loading the boat before sitting down to tea with Chris at 8:00. At 8:30 I was on my way to the harbor and underway at 8:55. I was a little troubled by a brisk southeasterly breeze coming up the channel, but I was determined to fight my way south if it was at all feasible. I really had hoped all week that I could take my friend the Ronquil south, as I much prefer that mode of travel (not only because it doesn’t cost nearly as much) and that way I could have the freedom of the water to explore at will, and to go up the Taku.

The tiny chop in the channel was no problem, but between Douglas and Arden it developed and caused a lot of uncomfortable bumping and spray. I hoped that it wouldn’t build even further past Arden, but I was beginning to suspect that this chop came out of the Taku, as it was coming from the mainland more than up the channel. Sure enough, as I approached Arden it was clear that this was a northerly. Strangely, it died down just past Arden and I took the time to stop and watch about four whales swim by, a pair among them. Two others were closer to Grand, so it appeared that the group up was still happening. I enjoyed a few miles of smooth water, noting the termination dust on the mainland mountains (see photo to left) before running into some serious swells from the southwest partly down the side of Grand. Thankfully it began to mellow farther down and I looked back with envy at an Allen Marine monohull hanging with a group of at least five whales just south of Grand. Several other whales were in that general area and I saw one at Grave Point and another in the entrance to Snettisham. So nice to see a proper, long-term group-up!

I arrived at around 11:00, an hour shy of low tide, and some ways out on the flats. I had enough of a load that I decided to wait for the tide that afternoon, so I loaded up quesadilla-makings, the perishables, and a few other items, anchored the boat far up the beach, and headed in. A quesadilla and a half later I was ready for a little chore before my 2:00 chat date with Chris (don’t tell anyone). Having accidentally left Chris’s maquita here the last time, with dead batteries, and having failed to use it effectively with a hole saw, I’d brought along my electric drill to drill a hole for the coax cables to enter the lodge. I selected the smallest sized hole saw, scoped out the best place for a hole (below the window downriver of the couch) from both the inside and the outside, wanting to make sure I didn’t drill into a joist, and started up the generator. Of course, as I was honing in on the spot, I realized that the hole saw lacked the central bit. I fetched it from the shed and stuck it in place, puzzled as usual that it isn’t built in or at least secured to the rest of the saw! When I started drilling to little effect, it dawned on me that it might be the fact that the central bit isn’t spinning well, because it isn’t rigidly attached to the rest of the saw. I was able to turn it with my fingers, and hold it in place with the saw spinning. So, I got a proper bit and just drilled the pilot hole first, after which I drilled the hole in the floor in no time (see photo to right), slightly overlapping a joist, which was good as it minimized the hole’s size (which didn’t need to be as big as the saw). Then I threaded the coax cable around the wood pile outside, under the porch, and up the hole. I swept up the area and hooked the system up, bringing the battery inside on a piece of cardboard. It was surely luxury when I was able to hook up internet (which thankfully worked from the pole with no trouble) on the couch! But I was quite chilly by then, the weak sunshine beaming through high clouds warming the outside air, but the lodge air was much colder.

However, I knew how I’d warm up. As I thought about the tide, I’d hatched a convenient scheme involving a potential trip to Sweetheart Creek. We’d had such luck two weeks prior, and I’d heard of someone catching sockeye the week before, so it seemed possible they were still in fishable places and in decent shape, despite the lateness of the season. Plus, it would be fun to try fishing Sweetheart in SEPTEMBER. On top of that, the little breeze coming down the whiting when I’d arrived had quickly died and the afternoon was utterly still and serene. Just walking around the Sweetheart area sounded like fun.
 
But first I had a little time to kill, so puttered around, opened up my new motion sensor camera, and dug out my COASST bird ID guide to see if it could settle the species of gull I’d found on Sandy Beach a few weeks prior—my first ever COASST bird. I was amused and somewhat relieved to find that I had found a LIGU, which stands for Large Immature Gull, ha! I still think the wing tips are too dark for a glaucous-winged gull, but I don’t know for sure. The two-toned bill apparently indicates that it is a sub-adult (i.e., not young-of-the-year). Finally it was 2:00 and I chatted with Chris and told him my plans for Sweetheart. When I signed off at 2:30, I walked down to the beach and pulled the Ronquil in on the rapidly rising tide (I’d repositioned the anchor once already on a long line). Quite a number of trips later, I’d hauled the metal sheets, two totes, beer, wine, concrete, bag, shingles, and propane tank to the lodge and I was ready to go. Unfortunately, Cailey had been bitten by the “boat activity—must not be left behind” bug and followed me everywhere. She was willing to follow me to Hermit Thrush and step inside, but when I turned at some strange clicking sounds as I walked away, I saw her watching through a window. Then I heard a yowl, and then another. I think I heard four in all, the last one as I stood at the water’s edge ready to go. It was very sad, but I had a really good feeling about going to Sweetheart. Not only was it a beautiful afternoon and convenient with the boat, but I knew I’d be antsy all week until I did it. I’d already cleaned out and packed my backpack with everything I’d need, so on my way back from the cabin I just grabbed the kayak and headed down. After piling up the anchor line and pushing my way into deeper water, I changed into waders and then slowly took off for Sweetheart. It was just after 3:00. The water the whole way was glassy calm, the air bright with cloud-filtered sun, the whole area deserted and quiet and wonderful.

I ran out of gas in one tank and had to switch just moments before stopping to anchor. I must have wound up in a deep channel, as it took a lot of line to get the anchor to the bottom and I needed to let out more line to get it to catch. But soon I was paddling to shore with my backpack and the yellow bag. Thankfully, the rising tide meant I didn’t have to pull the kayak too far to get to the tree line where I tied it up and dug out my bear mace. I startled a large number of eagles in the trees on the way up, including several juveniles, one of which could have been Columbus. And then I started chatting to the bears on my way through the forest, speaking as much Tlingit as I could. I’m pretty sure I effectively said “I’m walking toward Sweetheart Creek” or “Tlaksidak de yanxagut.” Along both of the grassy meadows along the creek the air was rich with the smell of decaying salmon and pink carcasses lay everywhere along the water’s edge where they’d been left by the tide, some in veritable piles. As before, the shallow creek was alive with pairs of pink salmon evenly spaced along the bottom. To my relief, I saw no bears, and the only recent footprints I saw on the rain-soaked mud were those of a sow and cubs. I was also pleased to see how much the creek had dropped after five dry days—the pool where Chis and I had fished, which was hardly bigger than a net’s width, was several times as large, and the deep water below the falls where we sometimes cast was crystal clear and I could see the fish milling about there. There weren’t nearly as many as there had been two weeks before, but in their favorite spot was a cylinder of fish, most of them with the while bellies of pink salmon. But….there were others….that were large and dark... Could they be sockeyes' I eyed one individual specifically, toward the top of the creek, solid dark, and big. When he broke the surface with almost half his tail, I was sure I saw no spots. He stayed right there in that spot, but I didn’t want to risk my first cast, likely to be wanting, on him. So I cast into the upper pool and in came a single fish….a sockeye. A good start! I cast twice more in that pool, catching only pinks, all the time eyeing that lower pool. Then I could resist no longer and made a decent cast in the general area of that school. I came back with a twisted net full of fish, two of which were sockeyes. This was good fishing, and I was so delighted! The water had receded enough that there was more room on the point and I could step several feet closer to the pools, helpful for a weak caster like me. There was only a few inches of water in the bleeding crevasse, though, which was already nearly full. I only had a short stringer, which I’d attached to my backpack for safety as it didn’t reach a tree once I made room for more fish, but I didn’t want to leave it anywhere else since I didn’t have a way to guard it. I wound up leaving them in the crevasse, putting the new ones on the bottom to bleed out, splashing fresh water in now and then, and partially damming the outlet with a plastic bag. I figured they weren’t going to be there long regardless.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! Several casts later I caught a fourth fish, and it was just then about 4:00 and I’d been fishing for 20 minutes. I thought again how good the fishing is! I was so grateful to those sockeye. I was catching a lot of pinks too, maybe a few less than last time, but it felt like more as I was on my own releasing them. I don’t think any of them were badly injured, but some of them did spend considerable time in the net while I worked to free them and their cohort. I discovered a new way to disentangle snaggly teeth from the net—pushing down on the inside of their mouth while pulling up on the net. That worked most of the time, but once I actually had to cut the net to free one. This action created wear and tear on the net, too. The hole that had been created two weeks before got big enough to self-release fish, or perhaps a second hold was made, I lost another of the thick strings that attach the lead line to the top of the net, and many small rips were made. But I was catching fish! I caught two more at the edge of the white water, and thought about quitting—six is a good number, and a considerable weight to carry. But I figured I’d fish a little longer and see what happened, which was when I caught a very large male with a beautiful kype. Seven fish! That seemed a good final cast, but I hefted the group up and decided I could go for eight! But for several casts I caught only pinks, leaving the net more damaged and more harassed fish in the creek. And my casts weren’t going as far, either, so after I executed a few last good throws, I called it a day. I’d been fishing only an hour!
 
It had been a thoroughly lovely hour. American dippers had been zipping up and down the creek and the sun shone through the gully, and no bears showed themselves. I even fished in a t-shirt, having stuffed first my vest (at the boat) and then my fleece (at the point) into my bulging backpack. I dropped the net in a garbage bag and put it in my backpack, filled out my paperwork, slid the fish into the yellow dry bag, and sat for a few minutes to rest. Of course I didn’t manage to rest much, but took a few photos instead, and then hefted the dry bag on my back after again failing to find a sensible way to close it or tighten up the straps. It hung low, banging against my upper thighs, but wasn’t unbearable. I wore my other pack against my chest and chatted my way through the woods and meadows back to the boat, this time adding the sentences “Yaakw de yanxagut” and “Tlaksidak dax yanxagut” to my repertoire (“I am walking toward the boat” and “I’m walking from Sweetheart Creek” respectively). Dragging the kayak with seven fish on board was tiring, but the water was even closer this time and soon I was paddling across the utterly serene bay and back to the boat. As the bugs hadn’t followed me, I went ahead and cleaned the fish right there, tossing organs overboard, cleaning the cavities in a water-filled bucket, and doing a final rinse in the ocean before laying them in a tarp over the fuel tanks. There was the big male and one small male and the rest were gracious ladies; this time I kept all of their roe.

It was 5:50 when I left the boat at anchor and kayaked to shore. I quickly dropped everything on the porch and got Cailey, who was laying on the bed, though I can’t say whether she was asleep or not. Then I set myself up on the porch to fillet and portion as I had the last time, complete with glass of wine, though this time I was facing the water. An hour or so later I had everything inside and discovered, to my shame, that I really should have brought an extra roll of vacuum bags, as I had only enough in the machine to make three! I think I mostly didn’t want to jinx myself, but it would have been useful. However, I consoled myself with the fact that I had ziplocks and, as far as I know, my strategy of dipping frozen portions from ziplocks into water and then vacuum packing them worked the last time. Also, I thought these would be good candidates for smoking, in which case we would only thaw them once before smoking them, assuming that happened in the near future. The sockeye I caught were still silver, but somewhat duller than those we’d caught two weeks before, and with more scale loss and injuries. I could imagine a greenish tinge on some of the heads, but I can’t say they don’t always look like that. One individual had noticeably paler flesh than the others, and another one was somewhere in between.

When I rinsed the portions and laid them out on paper towels, I separated them into two groups: one definitely for smoking and the others good for meals (meaning good sized and well-filleted). Two of the latter I vacuum packed, then used the third, large bag to vacuum pack four portions for smoking. The rest I put in ziplock bags, most with multiple pieces, and used up all but one ziplock. By that time it was after 8:00 and, thoroughly pleased with the day, I set about making dinner. I pulled out a portion of sockeye from the freezer and started it braising in wine while I administered some of the salmon rub Jeannette had left behind. While that cooked I boiled water for the bag of flavored instant mashed potatoes I’d bought—kind of a wild card that seemed perfect for this meal. Not long after dinner, Cailey and I headed to Hermit Thrush in the dark where I put a fresh bottle of propane on my little buddy heater, which warmed the cabin nicely as I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed, totally delighted to be here in this lovely fall weather, and with more fish in the freezer (well, two freezers) than we’ve ever had before.


Anchored on the flats at low tide

Rainwater has drained into the first hole

My modem inside!

Pinks spawning in Sweetheart Creek

Look at that big pool of green water!

Gilbert Bay is achingly serene

My slightly battered sockeye catch

I drive toward a wall of gulls in Gilbert Bay

I slept pretty well, with Cailey leaning up against me all night. I was plenty warm while Cailey shivered (until I covered her up with the blanket), a good indication that part of my chilliness problem was the damp mattress in years past. I luxuriated in being in bed in the morning, such that I didn’t rise until around 9:00 after Cailey kept playfully pushing her face in my hands. I had a cup of cider (spiked with a spoonful of Russian tea mix) on the porch and began to get more acquainted with the bird life again. It seemed to be fairly hit or miss, tittering, fluttering activity interspersed with what seemed like complete absence of life. After I arrived yesterday, I did sit on the porch a few times, and mostly what I heard was complete silence save for crows cawing both upriver and downriver (individuals and pairs flew back and forth occasionally) and, surprisingly, distant sooty grouse. This morning I began to see more action in the bushes, a Pacific wren watching me beguilingly, and sparrows. It wasn’t until later in the morning that I had a good look at several birds, though. The first was this very pale sparrow that’s been puzzling me, noticeably paler and less streaky than the other sparrows, which I guessed (off the cuff) to be Lincoln’s. After I had a long look at him in the open and memorized his characteristics (mercifully few), I opened up my bird app and was surprised to see that he is probably a white-crowned sparrow! No local sparrow lacks streaking on the breast, as this one so conspicuously does, and he doesn’t seem to have some of the golden-crowned features. As these guys don’t nest here, that’s pretty interesting! I also had good looks as what must be a fox sparrow, so much darker than any other sparrow, and with that pale lower beak. A hermit thrush cheeped sweetly from the bushes, stealing pale blue currents in the yellowing vegetation. This afternoon I had a very nice look at a juvenile varied thrush at similar work. I have a note here about a Steller’s jay, so I must have had some encounter with one of those as well.

After my cider I grabbed the bucket of sockeye carcasses and distributed them around the beach—a couple places on the rocks upriver, several in the grass near the log where Chris had left some last time, and one in the wash of the nearby creek. I tried to steer Cailey away, and she followed me back, but soon returned to the pile in the grass and remained there some time. When I got back, I reluctantly set about a little task, thinking I should get to work on something. Although it had apparently sprinkled just a tiny bit in the night, it was high overcast again and calm and just as serene and wonderful as the day before. I broke out the cable clips I’d brought and fitted them each with a joist nail, then, barefoot and wearing rainpants, I crawled under the deck and awkwardly hung the coax cable from the bottom of the joists as far as I could go (basically across the deck). Then I added one to the side of a 4x4 where it first entered the deck, and another from the opposite side where I couldn’t crawl. Finally, I added two just under the hole in the floor in the lodge so it clings to one side and then stapled the remaining opening with hardware cloth to keep the rodents out.

That felt like a pretty good project done, though it was not even 11:00. Finally, I forced myself to unpack so I felt less like I’d just arrived when I walked in the lodge. I put away the food and tools, tidied up, did the dishes, and swept the lodge, and then I sat outside with my new mushroom ID books and a novel and alternately read and birdwatched. Hunger finally overtook me and I had another wild card for lunch—organic canned pasta! You know, like chef Boyardee, only organic and probably with sugar instead of corn syrup. I can’t say it tasted better, or even as good, but sometimes you just have to go with these things. At 1:00 I decided I had time to start working on the new roof to the back deck, so I pulled out lumber from under the lodge and set it on sawhorses, then rummaged around in the staged lumber pile for 1x6s, which I found, and 2x4s, which I didn’t. Well, I did find the 2x4s, but even the driest of them were too rotten to use, and many of them weren’t dry. More firewood it seems! I did bring a few pieces back for that, but wound up crawling under the lodge to dig out pressure treated 2x4s for the porch; thankfully, I had just enough. I set up a ladder on the back porch and decided to put the joists two inches above the door. While holding up a short piece of old 2x4, I pondered the slope to use and, after several minutes pondering it, decided to drop eight inches over the four feet the joist would travel. That means the 4x4s needed to be 77.5” tall. Wait, no! The 77.5 inches includes the 4x4 stringer, so the posts needed to be only 74”. I was glad I caught that in time!

By the time I’d marked the boards to cut (including the 2x6 that would replace the rail on the bridge), it was time to come in and plug in the modem for a chat. I wound up online for an hour and fifteen minutes between chatting with Chris and starting the week’s trip report. Chris asked me how long I thought it would take to finish the deck and I estimated 1-2 hours, depending on how many snafus I ran into. It turned out to be closer to 2.5 hours by the time I was done for the day. A breeze had riffled the stillness of the water, but it was not enough to keep the insects at bay and I was beset by noseeums such that I applied off a couple of times and started burning mosquito coils, which worked brilliantly. After cutting the 4x4s, it seemed a simple task to tack them into the deck and begin work on the stringer and joists. Not so easy! It *seemed* to be working, but after I’d put a nice nail into all four sides, on both posts, I noticed that there was a gap under the first one, on the river side—like it was suspended a quarter inch off the deck by the nails! Weird! I tried continuing to pound on those nails, thinking that would force it down, and then pounding on the top of it with a mallet. Nothing worked! I eventually pushed it over and took out the nails, which scarred it and removed a big chuck such that I flipped it upsidedown and put the scar on the outside where it would be less noticeable (after treating it with jasco). Then it happened a second time and I again pushed the post over. This time I was able to reuse the first two nails and remove the third, which was the one that had inexplicably raised the post. This time when I put it back down I didn’t nail anywhere near that problem spot and managed to get is relatively secure and more or less flush with the deck.

After that I very carefully nailed the horizontal 4x4 to the tops of the posts to connect them, after which I carried a scrap piece of 2x4 up to make an estimate as to the length of the joists. I decided on 52”, which would extend them a couple of inches past the stringer. So I cut them and treated their ends, then got back on the ladder to secure the joist hangers. I started on the mountain side, the location made easy by the fact that the edge of the porch is exactly the edge of the siding. I estimated at two inches above the door frame as I’d planned. I nailed in one side, then squeezed the hanger together and nailed in the other side, as they naturally spread apart. To make sure it still fit, I tried one of the joists and it fit beautifully. I repeated the process for the other two hangers, then popped in the joists—it was beginning to look like a deck! I knew that the end joists should line up with the outsides of the stinger, but I wanted to make sure the posts were plumb, so I measured the distance and pushed it out until it was 48” from the wall, as the deck was. Then I carefully toenailed the first joist, then did the same for the joist on the other side. That way I didn’t need to measure the middle one—except I’m very glad I measured how far it was from the side of the porch, as I’d failed to get the joist hanger perfectly centered and would have wound up with a crooked joist!

After that, the only thing I had left to do before break was to nail in the 1x6s to support the roof. I decided I only needed two, since all the weight of the snow would be beyond the edge of the roof. I eyeballed them into place, then kept reassessing from the ground until I liked their location. I nailed them in with the last of the 8 penny nails and some joist nails. In the end, I realized that I would need the third 1x6 under the eaves, not so much for weight distribution but to make a flat surface for the roofing to screw into. It was a bit more awkward to nail there, as there wasn’t much room under the eaves, but I managed and soon had the task complete. It only needed a roof!

I wasn’t quite ready for dinner, so I read on the porch a little. I didn’t wind up staying there very long, though I was rewarded with a very nice look at a juvenile varied thrush plucking (or attempting to pluck) currents off the bushes upriver. For dinner I heated up soup and the rest of the mashed potatoes. The evening was again dead calm, the water glassy except where it was broken by groups of active gulls and shiny-headed seals. I worked on my trip report until around 8:30, then decided to get online for a little bit, only to discover that I’d failed to unhook the modem after chatting with Chris and the battery was dead. I went onto the porch to fetch another and heard some familiar but unexpected puffing sounds coming from the water. Surely not! But I went back out and heard the unmistakable sound of exhalation followed the by the inhalation of a whale…..multiple times. There were orcas out there, and it was nearly dark (8:45). This was heartbreaking on the one hand, as they lingered in Gilbert Bay on glassy water, here in Snettisham, and I couldn’t visit them! On the other hand, it was such a delight to hear them here….animals on the edge of otherworldly, going about their business out there on the water, orcas I could hear (and breath I could see, sometimes, in the dusk). I saw several blows together in one spot and two blows in another. They came fairly evenly, such that I would guess they were milling about a little, though I really couldn’t say. At least half a dozen, could have been many more, especially given the frequency of their breathing.

Suddenly as I was picking out orca blows across Gilbert Bay, my carbon monoxide alarm went off in the lodge. Cailey leaped from the couch and I let her out, pushed the silence button, and came back outside. I guess it was time for bed! I quickly packed up and headed out, only to hear the alarm go off again. I carried it outside until it stopped flashing red and then left it outside for the night so it didn’t keep going off. I don’t know what set it off. I was burning two propane lights, one of which had the new mantle, and a fire going. Cailey and I toddled off to bed where I filled and lit the oil lamp, then read as the propane heater warmed the cabin.

Securing coaxial cable under the porch

Prepping boards for the back porch roof

Phase 1

Phase 2

I must have been pretty traumatized by Cailey’s early mornings as a younger dog to still appreciate how nice it is to not be troubled in the morning until I’m good and ready to get up! She definitely senses my alertness and is ready when I am, but doesn’t push the issue. This morning she got off the bed and fetched her cow hoof, bringing it back on the bed to chew on while I lounged. I was up around 8:30, having slept over ten hours—I guess I’m still catching up! I’m also not sleeping extremely well, forcing myself from my back to my belly several times a night, using some will to keep myself from laying on my side while I try to heal my sciatica. Furthermore, every time one of my shoulders wasn’t covered in a blanket and a comforter, I woke up from the chill, once even dreaming about it first. I kept Cailey tucked under a blanket next to me, so she didn’t shiver as much.

As I walked to the lodge I saw that it had again sprinkled overnight, but was just overcast again, and dead calm. Upon entering the lodge I smelled propane and wondered if one of the tanks was nearly empty. After I put water on and fed Cailey, I suddenly thought to check the fridge and the pilot was out on it. I tried lighting it in case it had gone out for some other reason, but it wouldn’t light. Of course, that’s the tank that had nearly run out—then actually run out! I checked the fish and found them about as frozen as they were the last time I checked, which was a relief (mostly frozen, just some soft edges here and there). I quickly carried the spare tank I’d just brought down and swapped them out and the fridge was back up and running in no time. It didn’t seem like it had run nearly as long as advertised, but then again I was here for a week the first time I had it, then four days, and then the last two days, and most of that was on “maximum” or slightly less as I was first figuring out where to set it and then trying to freeze fish. I’m planning to leave it on max all day today and if the fish are well frozen tonight, reduce it to more of a maintenance freeze.
 
By that time the water was nearly boiling and I had to cool down my washcloth (cut from a small towel) with cold water from the tap. What is luxury' A hot washcloth after a chilly night in a cabin. Seriously, it’s like a pleasure drug.
 
While I heated more water for tea, I decided to have a proper breakfast and made myself a large pancake with Bob’s Mills mix, some canned milk, water, and canned pears. This I ate on the deck while overlooking the still-perfectly serene inlet. I have to correct something I said earlier—it isn’t completely silent out there. I can hear the waterfall downriver (though maybe it only started running with the rain overnight, though that seems unlikely). That and the occasional scream of an eagle were the only sounds. It’s surprising how much a difference it makes without boat traffic. One would have thought all the little birds had suddenly flown south, but I knew better.

Somehow it wasn’t until 9:30 that I got going on my first project—roofing the new deck. I picked up the top piece of roofing from the pile staged near Cottonwood (that was left here many years ago by someone planning to build a cabin upriver, according to my dad), which just happened to be almost exactly the right length to cut two pieces 56” long. I’d cut the 1x6s 5’ wide so they overhung the deck by 6” on either side; that way I would need exactly two sections of metal roofing, each 3’ wide and overlapping one foot. I measured and marked the two cuts, then began what I knew would be a frustrating and laborious cutting job with tin snips. The first few inches are easy enough, but cutting through the ridges in the middle literally goes by the millimeter and takes a great deal of effort. By then the sprinkles that had started during tea had become a mild rain so I was rain-jacketed up, but soon stripped off fleece and vest and just wore a t-shirt underneath. Snipping is hot work. Surely there was a better way.

Suddenly it dawned on me that my sawzall came with a metal cutting blade. Was that possible' Did I want to risk flying bits of metal' Well, it was worth a try—tin snipping thick metal roofing is just awful. I pulled out the sawzall and its yellow metal blade, then read the directions about cutting metal. Then I cleaned the dirt off the two lines to cut, dried them off, and sprayed them with WD-40 to lubricate. And wow did it work well! I wasn’t able to clamp the roofing to the sawhorses due to their shape, so there was some vibrating to deal with, but overall the sawzall just cut through beautifully! It was impossible to direct it down the line, when I’d been able to mark one on the damp metal, but it wanted to cut in a straight line anyway, so I let it have its way and, probably 5-10 minutes later, I had two nice sections of roofing. I used the tin snips to trim off one jagged edge on each of them where cuts coming from different directions had met, and it was done.

After I carried them over to the deck and set up the ladder, I used some paper towels and the water from the bucket that catches the water filter drip behind the lodge and cleaned off the two pieces more thoroughly, then hoisted the first one up. I’d been worried that it would be a tight fit between the 1x6s on the joists and the bottom of the roof overhang and I was right—I was able to shimmy it under there by levering it up a bit, but it would not go onto the final 1x6. Deciding that that was an unnecessary pieces, I popped it out with a hammer and soon had both pieces of roofing in place. It really is amazing how things go together when everything is square and cut precisely!

Next I needed to make holes in the roof for the roofing screws. Because of having to lever the roofing up to get it under the eaves, the roof didn’t actually touch the lower of the two 1x6s. At first I thought I’d leave it elevated and use longer screws, which I fetched from the shed, but in the end decided it should make contact with both, so I used the screws to make contact, which seemed to work pretty well. I started on the front and screwed across the bottom 1x6, then came at the other from either side. I also used one long screw to secure each side of the roofing under the eaves just to help prevent the wind from blowing it up. It’s pretty tight under the eaves anyway. Finally, I went back and dropped screws into several holes already in the roof that weren’t above a 1x6 just to help prevent drips. The whole things looks amazing!

After that I set about doing some odds and ends, first quickly scrubbing the back wall of the lodge where more dirt had splashed up since I scrubbed it two weeks ago (in preparation for adding metal once it dries a little). On a break from the roof, I’d spontaneously carried the 2x6 that I’d cut yesterday to the bridge to put it in place, mostly as an excuse to take Cailey somewhere who was following me like she wanted a walk. I walked out to the point afterwards and, on the way back, picked that board back up, as it was still just a little too long to fit.

So, after I finished the roof I trimmed the edge of the bridge board and also cut the rest of the rotten 2x4s I’d pulled out of the lumber stack the day before, just the ones I hadn’t been able to break apart with my hands and feet. Back at the bridge, the board now fit perfectly and I started drilling the first hole to screw it down….but I couldn’t get it back out! It either spun in the drill or clicked or made strange sounds, but somehow I wasn’t able to back it out and wound up breaking it off in the wood. I’d forgotten a driver for the screws anyway, so I went back and found the tiny drill bit I’d been looking for earlier and returned with more screws (the rest had fallen under the bridge) and a driver. I was more careful with this bit, though I still has some trouble drawing it back up near the broken bit. At last, I drove four screws in and called that project done.

Before I broke for lunch, I did a few other tasks, including dismantling the tripod I’d set up to test the satellite internet (first unscrewing the mount, than using a hammer to bang the two pieces apart along with their connecting member). I stashed the ends of the PT lumber I’d cut under the lodge, stowed the sawhorses, and cut a couple of the spruce branches that I thought might brush the satellite dish in high winds. It was 12:15 then and I suddenly realized I was a bit hungry, so I made quesadillas and at them on the porch, where the sound of rain on the leaves, the roof, and the porch added to the waterfall baseline. Just as predicted, the birds are, in fact, still here. I even caught a glimpse of what I believe was a ruby-crowned kinglet. A thrush flew into the bushes from the upriver side of the lodge in a brrrrr of wings and suddenly two other birds, unseen but for the waving branches they left in their wake, joined it (actually, I did see one fly across the gap from downriver). Twice earlier in the morning I’d stopped to watch a hermit thrush near or on the alders downriver of the shed, just inside the current bushes. Both times he/she just watched me back, bopping from perch to perch in the open before finally disappearing into the denser growth—no alarms. I love those guys. They, along with the sparrows, are eating the currents, either leaning from their perches to pluck them off or flying up and snatching one before returning to another perch. Yesterday I saw a sparrow pluck a current and then methodically mash it between mandibles until the skin fell off and he swallowed the greenish pulp inside. At one point it looked like it was lanced on the end of his bill!
 
After lunch I prepped the lodge for finishing staining, pulling the wood box from the wall and brushing the dirt and cobwebs off, and peeling back the mat and boards it sits on away from the molding. Then I pulled the fridge out a little bit, pulled out all the items stashed under the sink, moved the card table to the center of the floor, pulled out the desk with the dishes on it, removed the mirror and print from the wall, and brushed it off. Then I fetched the open tub of polyurethane, a new brush, stir stick, and new plastic cover (after splashing a bunch of still-wet stain on my pants when I grabbed the one I used last time). Then I worked on this trip report a little until chat time with Chris.

In the afternoon I finally tackled the task that I’d prepared for, and dreaded, earlier: staining the remaining walls of the lodge. Naturally, I’d left the most difficult for last, all the area behind the kitchen, plus the wall behind the wood box. I started behind the refrigerator, which I’d moved out about six extra inches from the wall, then stained over the top of the range, the top of the sink, down the wall, under the sink, then the last of the adjacent wall that had been behind the table and desk, and finally the area behind the wood box. There was a lot of awkward work in there, what with balancing on top of the range and sink and staining around all the copper propane tubing, but it only took about an hour and a half. Afterwards I sunk onto the couch for a bit and then had dinner—another dinner that I didn’t have the will or energy to spend any time at, a can of baked beans and toast dipped in olive oil and salt (I forgot to bring butter). I read after dinner for a while until I decided that I’d feel better if I accomplished something. It was only about 6:30 and I was about to fall asleep.

Instead I rallied myself and stepped out into the rain with a tape measure and one of the asphalt “starter strips” that I’d picked up in a pack at Home Depot (the starter strips aren’t separated into “shingles” so I thought they’d be easier to use for traction purposes). I walked to both stair cases, took measurements, and came up with a plan: I’d put asphalt strips on the outside 2x6 of the two that form each tread; the strips were perforated and split in two, so I just had to trim a few inches off each one and, in the case of the narrower staircase, trim a few inches off the whole thing. I returned to the deck to do so, using the giant scissors my parents gave me a few years ago. While I was at it, I also cut pieces for the stairs to the upper lodge deck and for the boardwalk nearby. I did all this kneeling on the porch in Cailey’s bed for comfort.

It was still only about 7:40 and I thought I had one more troublesome task in me (by troublesome I mean that it was troubling me, not that it was particularly difficult). I donned my boots, grabbed a shovel, and started moving the pile of dirt built up from digging the holes for the satellite pole into the aborted hole (with the rock in the bottom) that was full of water. By then end, I had a soupy mound where the hole had been and there was much less of a mound nearby. It looks like the water will now all drain down toward the river, both in the channel I cleaned out (that I’d dug before) and in general over the land. It was obvious that water had drained away from the pole both in that direction and into the hole in my absence. Then I covered the coax cable again with all the available small spruce boughs. By then it was nearly 8:00 and I felt that I had finally earned a little reward. Cailey and I soon packed up and headed to Hermit Thrush where we lit the oil lamp and the heater and settled in. I treated myself to a whole episode of Longmire on my laptop and then read myself to sleep.

Someone pooped on my boards overnight!

Cutting roofing for the back deck roof

Phase 3

A complete bridge again

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best night of sleep. The hard rain that came down all night was a pleasure, but despite the hour or more that we had the heater going, it got cold. At least for Cailey. She shivered every time she changed positions, so I had to emerge from my own blankets and cover her, this time doubling up with both blanket and part of the oversized comforter I was using. Consequently, I got up late, to more rain. Part of me had actually been hoping for rain, looking forward to the coziness it would bring, and I did enjoy the very fall feeling of it as I came to the lodge. For my first task (after another pear pancake), though, was back to the walls inside. I stained them backwards this time, starting with the wall behind the wood box and then moving to the wall under the sink, and so on. I was finished in an hour, at which point I rewarded myself with a cup of Russian tea on the front porch. I’d thought to have it on the new porch out the back door, but was disappointed to see that the outside half of it was quite wet (!), which in addition to the dense rain, made the spot less appealing. After tea I laid in a fire, which I knew I’d be wanting later, and suited up for the rain. And it was raining hard! I knew I wouldn’t mind it once I was out there though, and indeed I didn’t. I carried the asphalt strips to the stairs, centered them on each tread, and soon fell into a nailing pattern using the old joist hanger nails that were slightly rusted and fused together from performing similar tasks in similar weather.

When the remote stairs were done, I returned to the lodge, first securing the asphalt to the boardwalk there and then to the stairs up to the porch. I wound up cutting two more strips, one for the very bottom where the stairs are level with the deck and another just at the edge of the deck where one steps down onto the boardwalk. No more fear of slipping! I was quite wet (on the outside) then and it was 12:30 so I came inside and lit the fire, rested, and had top ramen and canned green beans for lunch. (Boy, my diet doesn’t sound very enticing, does it') I read until chat time with Chris, at which point I was slowly losing out to a growing feeling of gloominess. I thought that I’d have ample time to relax and enjoy myself here….not too many tasks, a whole week, and closing up really only takes a day. But I seem to work a lot, and the list of what I’d like to do goes on. I haven’t played solitaire once or even considered a puzzle. The only thing I’ve done except tasks have been eat, clean, and read. It was a ridiculous thing to feel gloomy about, as my time is in my own hands, and nothing has to get done (except close up tasks, which I can’t escape). Plus the lodge had becoming stiflingly hot with the few pieces of wood I’d burned. I retreated to the porch where I watched the rain diminish and the sky brighten while I read and drank an Alaskan white. I knew getting out would help, so I geared up again (no rain pants this time) and went on my COASST survey at 3:45. Indeed, just moving around and getting away from the lodge was a balm, and it didn’t hurt that the rain petered out for most of the walk. Cailey was certainly happy to knock about with me. We found a pink salmon not far upriver, and another unidentifiable salmon beyond the grassy point. On the way I had a lovely look at a yellow-rumped warbler, no doubt a migrant as I am reasonably sure none breed around here. Later I saw what I’m fairly sure was a savanna sparrow—interesting that I see them upriver but only at the lodge during migration.

We walked up beyond the point as far as we could, then crossed a couple of shallow channels toward the middle of the river where we startled up a flock of immature gulls gathered on the water. Three gulls had taken an unusual interest in Cailey earlier, diving and screaming at her. I thought she must be on some food of theirs, but they followed her from that spot. Very curious. We found other salmon bits here and there, and upriver beyond deep channels two adult mew gulls were at a very large salmon carcass with very red flesh.

Back at the lodge I took my new energy and lack of gloominess and immediately got started on a project high on the agenda for the week—covering the back wall of the lodge with thin sheets of metal to protect it from splashes. I wound up first covering the corner of the lodge by the deck with 90 degree flashing to protect the corner, then tacked in three sheets of metal side by side to cover the whole wall almost three feet up, leaving a few inches at the bottom to bend under the lodge and protect it from beneath. It didn’t need to be quite that high, but it needed to be over half the height of the 3’ sheets, so there wasn’t much point in cutting them. The only tricky part was getting around the propane hose for the refrigerator. I cut a little notch in one piece and had it end there (overlapping with the piece closest to the door as much as it needed to). Then I cut the final pieces to fit exactly between the edge of the bear proof box to overlap the middle piece half an inch, leaving just a tidy hole for the hose.

Once those were tacked in, I cut the remaining two sheets in half and tacked them in to the wall on the other side of the porch on the downriver side of the lodge, which is higher up but still gets splatter, There too, I put a piece of 90 degree flashing on the corner where the porch meets the lodge wall, overlapping one side of it with the metal sheeting. The whole project went pretty well, though I did get dripped on working right beneath the eaves. I started to screw the sheets in, but the battery in Chris’s maquita died. The first thing I did when I quit was set up the power strip to simultaneously charge the maquita battery, the 12 volt battery, and my laptop when I turn it on (probably later tonight).
 
After that I put some water on to heat and cleaned out the bottom of the desk, the only part of the lodge I hadn’t cleaned after Big Brown and his cohort stormed the lodge (mice). Then I did the dishes, including everything that needed to be washed from that area. When I put the table back and tidy up, there won’t be any foreseeable reason to move things around again. Staining the walls has been in the back of my mind for a long time. I should really do the ceiling soon and be done with the lodge. Looking at the inside of my cabin it suddenly seems a lot smaller after dealing with the much larger and more complicated walls in the lodge! Now it’s almost seven and I’m sitting on the porch feeling much better. It has inexplicably cleared up and now I’m looking at blue sky and brilliant ripples on the water. A few minutes ago, a huge flock of gulls was circling together in the middle of the inlet, brilliant white in the late sunshine coming from Speel Arm. The next time I looked up, they were flying in several long, straight lines across the inlet, heading upriver, More have been joining them ever since. A bird now and again makes an appearance—a varied thrush flew by, and I suspect the characters in and out of the currents making sweet chupping sounds are hermit thrushes. I’m a bit reluctant now to go inside, but I suspect Cailey would like dinner now, having thrown up her breakfast along with a fistful of salmon bits. Apparently she is the least nourished animal in the valley, as she appears to be the only one interested in sockeye carcasses! She has sneaked off to them each day, and seems to be eating more now that they are a few days old; as she munches, she looks back at me on the porch every now and again, perhaps gaging my reaction to her shenanigans. Now the sun is only on the top of the mountain across the inlet, and on the highest peak on Snettisham Peninsula. It will be half dark soon.

I cooked ground bison, asparagus, and toast for dinner, then decided to get back on the internet and see if I could watch a movie…I felt like a change, and I remembered that Chris had found a movie I wanted to watch that I could stream from Vimeo—a documentary about my favorite naturalist author R. D. Lawrence. To my surprise, I watched the whole thing. It was naturally low res (I think) as it opened into a small box within a black screen, but that suited me just fine. I needed to charge my laptop battery, the maquita batteries, and the 12 volt that had died, so this was a good time to use the generator, which purred away in the shed while I watched. Just as I finished, Chris came online and we chatted a little bit before Cailey and I headed to bed in the nearly pitch darkness. It was a little cloudy or maybe foggy as we went, for I could see only a star or two and what may have been a hazy moon, and the night was not as cold as I thought it would be. It still feels like a luxury to sleep in dry sheets. Cailey only woke me up once shivering. I did have a little trouble with the propane heater after I changed tanks, as the knob would depress but refused to move. I struggled with it for a while and finally popped the top of the knob off, after which I put it back and it worked. Whew! I don’t need it, but I didn’t relish the idea of not having it as an option.


Scenic forest view near the cabin outhouse

Asphalt shingles on the lodge steps

Gull harass Cailey

My 2-week old footprints!

Nigel Cottonwood thriving!

Did I really need two pictures of this?

Fall view of the inlet

Cailey enjoys the buddy heater before bed

I woke up to a strange sensation—there was sunshine on my face. Not only is this unexpected in a cabin deep in the woods with only a sliver of a view of the river, but it’s September! Nevertheless, there it was, shining brightly through the door and windows and onto my face; apparently the lateness of the hour (it was again nearly 9:00 a.m., to  my shame) and the movement of the sun to the south (or whatever the equivalent is at these northern latitudes) combined to wake me up to sun unexpectedly on this clearish September day. The morning was, in fact, so perfect and serene and warm that I decided a change to the routine was in order; I would spend the morning on the water, looking around Snettisham, maybe checking out a few locations to fish. First I put back all items from under the desk in the lodge that I’d removed and cleaned, then did the dishes and tidied up, replacing the table in its nook. I immediately felt better now that things were tidy again. After licorice tea and oatmeal on the porch, I packed some snacks, binoculars, and other essentials, donned rain gear (for dry paddling and warmth), and drug the kayak to the water carrying my fishing pole and the bag of ashes I’d cleaned out of the stove a few trips ago, thinking I could spread that on the water somewhere away from shore. Cailey climbed nimbly aboard the kayak and we glided out to the boat. I filled the main tank with 10 gallons of gas, pulled the kayak aboard, brought in the anchor, and off we went.

Actually, I went relatively slowly along the shore, but at step, turning the corner and hugging the shore in order to pass the several streams on that shoreline and assess them for fish action. The first one was the very short stream that ends in an impressive pool beneath a sheer waterfall, but the second one seemed like a pleasant, brisk stream with fish potential. I couldn’t remember if I’d explored it or not, as it was so close to the other, so I came ashore, dropped the anchor on a short leash, and pushed the boat out, as it was the end of a falling tide. I was beginning to appreciate how the size of streams fed by rainfall can fluctuate dramatically, as I’d carefully watched Sweetheart Creek and Gold Creek do this summer, and how what seems like a miniscule creek can turn into reasonable spawning habitat in the fall. Perhaps these could harbor cohos—rearing habitat likely being a bigger limiting factor. However, my exploration of this stream was cut short, as the vegetation on the side of the creek I’d landed on was too dense to penetrate easily and the creek was too brisk to cross in xtratufs. I didn’t have enough motivation to move the boat to the other side, so I lifted Cailey back up and off we went down the shoreline.

Once I’d passed all the supposed coho creeks and their grassy beaches and the coves started to bend toward the Speel Arm, I left the shoreline, there in shadow, and headed toward Fanny Island and Mallard Cove, there to try my luck at fishing. However, on the way I looked back toward the right and noticed the waterfall that’s visible from the entrance to the port, which my dad says he used to see but no longer does. I thought I’d detour over there and take a closer look when a big black fin rose before my eyes between me and the waterfall. Orcas!! I couldn’t believe my luck! The sun was shining, Snettisham was glassy calm, and I was all alone with orcas. There was this big male and a couple of other blows trailed behind him. He seemed to be in the lead, so I headed in that direction, figuring I’d meet all the others on the way back. I made a slow angle toward him, not wanting to disturb this band of orcas, taking my time. When I got up there, my single orca turned into a pair, a large male and a smaller male or perhaps large female, following the shoreline toward the arm. As I followed them, a larger male erupted nearby, and I soon realized that there were three in the lead, the pair and this huge male with a very wavy fin. I watched them swim past the point that suddenly falls away, opening into Speel Arm, and waited for them to come up again. To my surprised, they came up behind me, not far away, first heading across the arm, then turning around altogether and moving back the way they’d come! I hoped it was not because of me…..that seemed unlikely, but it was such an unexpected and abrupt change of behavior. The others kept coming until they met up with the leaders; while still separated, I got a clear look at them all in a line and counted six, then they grouped up and traveled together, heading back toward Fanny Island. I saw them for a few passes (a couple of the girls came surprisingly close to the boat, unexpectedly), seeing a small calf and a slightly older calf among them. At one point I shut down the engine to let them go by (trying to be as courteous as I could to these apparently transient orcas in case they were stealthily hunting) and my engine wouldn’t start again. It has been rumbling a bit at idle already, and I realized I was probably out of gas in the small tank, which I was.
 
Well, no problem! I slid under the kayak and changed to the big tank, now full, but was unable to get the fuel hose to suck up gas. Each squeeze of the bulb I could hear sizzling coming from the tank, as though I was pushing air or gas into it, but nothing was coming my way. This has happened before, and it’s something I can’t explain. Sometimes one tank works better than the other, so after much fruitless pumping and attempting starts (just in case), I filled the smaller tank with gas, and had the exact same results. Meanwhile, my orca friends had passed between the little islets inside of Fanny Island, startling up hundreds of gulls in the process, and were getting father away, their blows still audible and visible in the distance.

So, what on earth was wrong with that hose' The last time this happened (this spring), I replaced the gadget on the end of the fuel hose that connects to the tanks, and that fixed the problem. Thankfully, I’d remembered to buy a new one, so I cut off the old one and replaced it. This may have helped, or it may be that I tightened the fittings on the small tank, or it may be that my pumping technique improved. In any event, I did get the system to fill with fuel. In the meantime, the orcas had separated into at least two groups again and were along the distant shoreline between Mallard Cove and Prospector Creek. At a pause in my work when I heard them blow, I heard what sounded like an echo on the other side of me. I thought that was pretty neat, so I listened for it again when they blew a few moments later. No echo. That’s weird, I thought! So I looked in the direction of the “echo,” back toward the waterfall where’d I’d first seen them, and there was a group of orcas. No kidding, there were orcas over there! Wow! So now I’m thinking, maybe it was a bigger group than I realized, all spread out in Snettisham! Maybe they are residents after all. When they came up again, a little farther off and heading away from me, I glassed them, stopping at 19. THESE were residents, and what must be an entire pod of them. Not only that, but they were not headed to meet the others, they had a different agenda. It was quite possible I was in the presence of two different pods of orcas, residents and transients! Now the abrupt about face of the transients took on a new light: perhaps, as they turned that point, the sounds of the noisy residents inside caused them to turn tail. Perhaps they didn’t want to be caught in a tight space with them, or perhaps their hopes of a seal supper seemed unlikely.

So now I had two orca pods getting farther away from me, and my engine still wouldn’t start despite a full fuel line. I checked the hose’s attachment to the engine and that seemed loose, but even after I tightened it it wouldn’t start. Maybe I flooded it with all those tries' Is it possible to flood an engine when there is no gas in the system' Also, I’d been very careful not to use any choke/throttle until it was clear the engine wouldn’t start without it. It seemed like that happened once before, flooding the engine, and I knew of only one solution: waiting it out. I looked at my watch and told myself I could try again in about fifteen minutes.

I waited 20. I had the snack I’d brought, an apple and some crackers. A breeze picked up, turning my glassy water to a light chop. I pondered which beach I would paddle to from which I would send a SPOT for help, and whether I could pull the boat in the kayak. I wondered what vessel my parents would respond with. The Kathy M' A charter' I wondered how long it would take to walk to the power plant from the nearest beach. I was also keeping track of both pods. The residents were still in view, angling across the port, but the others had disappeared behind Fanny Island.

At last my wait was over, I repumped the line full of gas (having to change from the big tank to the little tank again) and the engine turned over and, with a few tries, started. WHEW.
 
And so I headed after the residents. They were in a long line and I sidled up to their left, watching fin after fin after fin rise above the surface. It didn’t take long to pick out AG13 (or so I thought) and his brothers—I was with AG pod again, those kind fellows. I stuck with them for several breathing cycles, then took off for the entrance to the port where I could see the blows of the others in the distance. When I got closer, now along the rocky shore heading toward the (empty) sea lion haulout, it looked like they were back in two groups. I headed for the leaders again, surprised when they finally came up that it was comprised of a cow and little calf! I really didn’t want to disturb them, so kept my distance and waited for the others to show up. As they approached, I counted fins, at least two big males, several others….I tried to nail it down at seven, but failed, and it got even worse when I was alongside them. It seemed like a bigger group, but I couldn’t keep them straight. Surely that was the same wobbly male I’d seen earlier, now with an obvious left lean to the top of his dorsal fin' Wasn’t it' There were two calves in this group—had there been three before' Was that a bit of a swirl in the saddle patch of that female' Are these actually my residents'

I convinced myself they were—surely they were. There were so many, and they were acting more obliging than they had been. Perhaps I’d missed the other transients and let the residents catch up' Maybe the cow and calf were actually the stragglers' I was very confused, but I picked up speed and headed toward Stephen’s Passage, determined to try to find the rest of what I thought were the transients. I made it about to Stephen’s Passage and glassed around. There were at least four whales out there, visible mostly by their blows. Some blows were small enough I could imagine they were orcas, but I saw no sign of them. I sent a SPOT to Chris, as it was now 2:00 and our normal chat time, then slowly headed back, thinking I’d go along the inside of Fanny Island. Instead, I saw that group of orcas again off Mist Island, heading a little diagonally across the port. And then the cow and calf appeared this side of Mist Island, spy hopping! The first two hops were so little I think they may have been the calf, or just the nose of the mother, but the third was big and high in the air! At first I thought they might be looking at me, but then I realized that I’d only seen white—bellies!—which meant their target was something else. In their view would have been the other orcas. Was she trying to avoid them, as they had apparently fled from the residents, or…'
 
For me, I went to visit the others, the same ones I’d been with the last time, the ones she might have been looking at. This time I had a plan. I knew that AG13 was in the resident pod, but I realized that I had seen no males with an open saddle in this one. I studied every male in this group—no thumbs. Of course these were the “transients” I’d seen first, fooling me with their big group and accommodating attitude. Perhaps the cow and calf was looking for her silent pod to meet up with them' I hung out with them a few more minutes, winding up back at the entrance, seeking eye contact with the orcas unsuccessfully in the southwesterly chop, before letting them go with my thanks.
 
Now, what on earth had happened to those residents' I’d glassed for them earlier without success, which helped me mistake the others for them. And then, half way through the port, I spotted the pod, now a little more spread out. I backtracked, then had a wonderful time taking them part way back out the port, such a friendly pod, before heading home.

[Back at home in the weeks that followed, I spent hours sorting through the hundreds of orca photos I’d taken, looking for clues as to the identification of these groups. I could not find my “transients” in the transient catalog, to my frustration, but I did find updated catalogs of Southeast’s resident pods online which I hoped would help with AG pod members. And there, to my embarrassment, I found my “transient” friends too, right among the rest of AG pod. So…….yes, they were all members of AG pod it turns out, and I was able to identify quite a few of that small subpod I’d traveled with first. It also turns out that AG pod has grown up quite a few large males in the last few years (far surpassing the three brothers that used to comprise the entirety of the pod’s large fins), and, in fact, the one I often think is AG13 is actually a very similar looking AG27 (likely including the one we saw in Gastineau Channel in 2012 after our Tracy Arm trip and definitely another encounter a few years before, also in the channel; at least the two are in the same pod!). In the subpod there were, quite charmingly, a classic little matriline with AG8 (born 1970), her daughter AG18 (born 1985), and her son, one of the big males, AG25 (born 1994). AG31 was the only other positive ID I made (born 1997), one of the two females that came up right by the bow before my engine died. My best guess for two others in that pod are AG10 (born 1975, and who happens to be AG31’s mother) and AG29 with the enormous wavy fin and a big nick toward the bottom. The trick with him is that the last photo I have of him was apparently taken in 2010 and his fin (if it is his) had not yet started to sprout. Born in 1997, he’d now be around 18, which would be a good time for a sprouting dorsal fin, whereas it wouldn’t be uncommon to not have a sprouting fin at age 13, as he was in 2010. I can’t find any other members of AG pod in the catalogs that fit his particular nick (but, of course, those change). If I remember right, newly sprouted fins are often wavy, so that’s another clue. Finally, if I’m correct about the identification AG10, then she is his sister, and they were traveling together. Their mother may have passed away, and he is apparently the last of her four surviving calves.
 
In the larger group, I have two guesses (AG13 or his twin AG27 and AG5) but only had my iphone to use, so didn’t manage any other ID shots (I hadn’t thought to bring my other camera on this expedition). But, although I was a little disappointed in my initial misguided idea that these were two separate pods (and even two different types of orcas), I was delighted by the number of members I could ID….and for every moment with those brilliant and beautiful creatures, kind enough to be in Snettisham on a lovely fall day when I was on the water with all the time in the world! I later talked to Andrew Gregovich who was at the Gregovich cabin at the entrance to the port with a friend (they’d borrowed a kayak paddle from the homestead after paddling down the Whiting River a couple of days before I got there) and he said they’d seen a bunch of orcas enter the port the afternoon before I saw them. Could they have overnighted inside' It seemed like a small place to be when they are always on the move, but also unlikely that another large pod had come through just the day before. On the other hand, who knows! It was already the second time I’d seen orcas that week, and it was September, after all.]

It was 3:15 when I set anchor again at the homestead and kayaked a very grateful dog back to shore. I felt on top of the world. The breeze had picked up and a few clouds had come in, but I was totally content, if a little overwhelmed. It was a perfect fall day on the water, what living down here is about, the reason I’m going through all the little tasks I’ve been doing this week. It felt like I was actually living here, perhaps for the first time. And I do love the fall.
 
After a late lunch of quesadillas and a quick chat with Chris, I finally forced myself to shoot my rifle, having scoped out the beach upriver at similar high low tides earlier in the week, so I knew there would be plenty of room. I taped targets to my target board, found a brace for it, loaded my gun, grabbed extra cartridges, ear protection, and goggles, and headed upriver. It was probably over in 15 minutes and I felt so much better and more comfortable again with my rifle. My first four shots were a bit off, but then I remembered what I was doing and the next three clustered a little above and to the left of center. I need to figure out how to adjust my sights, but that was somewhat heartening. Back at the lodge, I took my charged maquita outside and secured the metal sheeting and corner flashing that I’d tacked into the two walls of the lodge. Once it was all secure I bent the bottom of the sheets under the lodge to protect it there, trimming a few places that overlapped posts or other obstacles. I also took a small square of metal I’d trimmed and carried it to Hermit Thrush to cover the hole in the back wall that I think is responsible for the wetness I’d discovered in the corner a couple of weeks ago (the result of putting the wrong side of the bottom wall board outside with the hole in it that provides access to the metal rebar through the wall). Of course I discovered that there were two more holes on that board that also needed to be covered.

But I left that for another day.

The first pod turns around

The smaller pod passes me

The smaller pod line up

AG29?

AG31 and companion

The large pod passes

Two calves in the smaller group

AG8 and possibly AG29

Smaller pod

AG8 (AG18 and AG25's mom)

AG25

AG18 (back)

Calf 1

Possibly AG10 and AG29


AG31

Calf 2

AG29?

Unknown male

That fin has a nice nick--who is it?

Unknown  male

Another nicked fin

That male is AG13 or AG27

Possibly AG5, the matriarch

Unknown male in the larger group

Early sun at Hermit Thrush

Cailey watches orcas

Protecting the lower walls from rain splash

Corner flashing

The next morning I got up a little earlier than I have been, to my relief, with the wan light of the sun shining in on me through the high overcast of another dry and wonderful fall day. The first thing I did was take a spit bath in the lodge, which felt very nice. I also remembered to do a bit of work (they kind they pay me for), updating some settings in our database while the water heated. After a cup of jasmine tea and oatmeal on the porch, I read a little and had a good look at a ruby-crowned kinglet in the bushes. I also heard more distant sooty grouse, as I did over the weekend, perhaps “confused,” as some authors explain, by the changing daylight imitating the daylight of spring. It is surprising to hear them in the fall, like the song sparrows in the harbor, but also hard to imagine a sooty grouse sitting in a tree and hooting with yellowing leaves and soggy berries all around him. I wonder what the ladies think'
 
And then to chores! Is there anything more wonderful that working on a dry fall day in a place like this' First I carried some tools to the bridge and dropped them off there while I walked up to Hermit Thrush and covered one of the other holes in the bottom board of the back wall. I had to go back for a better piece for the third hole, then went back to work on the bridge. I have to remember times like these (when tasks are going pretty well) for perspective when they don’t. I opened up the 2’ wide, 25’ long roll of hardware cloth, delighted that the bridge was only 24’ long so a single roll would cover the whole thing. I was also pleased that, after securing one of the folded ends of the hardware cloth around the first tread on the bridge, the whole roll unwound perfectly to the very end, maintaining six inches of bare board on either side, more or less. I put a few staples in the end just to keep it steady, then started at the beginning, stapling each tread down and working my way backwards. When a staple didn’t go in all the way, I pried it up with tin snips and started over. The worst part was kneeling on the hardware cloth, but that was okay, and the result was good. No more slipping! I was 11:30 by then and I was hungry, so I made more quesadillas, and then went to the rocky point with a small blanket, a beer, some mosquito coils, and my book. I settled myself on a natural bench against the upriver cliffs and set in to finish my book, pausing after about ten minutes to light mosquito coils to discourage the white socks that were gathering. Around the lodge I’ve been tormented by noseeums, but on the water yesterday the white socks had come, and here they were on the point.

As I sat there, I was again awed by the silence and quiet of the place. It was high tide, and the only sound was the nearby creek. The brisk northerly blowing down the river when I got up had been replaced with a small chop coming in from Gilbert Bay, but I was comfortable in my t-shirt, fleece, and vest. And then it was no longer silent. A flock of songbirds was busy in the stunted spruces of the point, a favorite place for chickadees and other birds to pass through. I’d heard a flock like this before and suspected, from their sweet chirrups, that these were golden-crowned kinglets, those diminutive birds that sound so much like chickadees and, like chickadees, overwinter here on their breeding grounds. I stood up to watch the trees for movement and was soon rewarded with my first golden-crowned kinglet, which may be the first I’ve seen here this year (they’ve not made nearly as much noise here during the summer as they usually do). A little later I heard bolder sounds and wondered if there were chickadees there too, and sure enough, I saw a chickadee soon after. I was not surprised to see these flocking together in the spruces, but I was surprised when I saw a ruby-crowned kinglet among them (definitely migrants)! I glimpsed members of this cheery flock for several minutes before returning to my book and finishing it. For her part, Cailey had dug up the cow hoof she’d taken from Hermit Thrush and was chewing it in various places on the point, once dropping it from above right next to me. Eventually she tired of that and came over, looking like she wanted to lie down next to me, but settling for sitting on the narrow rocks. I took pity on her and laid out my throw (which I did not need) and she immediately curled up on it.

At 1:45 I started the generator after filling it up with gas and worked on my trip report before chatting with Chris and, briefly, a couple other folks online. Afterwards, I got caught up on my trip report while my battery finished charging until it was 3:45. The weather was still dry and mild, so I decided to do a little exploration before the impending rain descended and while I was enjoying a break from the pressures of chores (it was by now official that the weather would prevent a Taku trip this weekend, so I am here an extra few days). With Cailey gamely along, I scaled the steep mountainside directly behind the lodge and was quite surprised to find myself on a well-established game trail skirting the steep mountainside. I followed it up the slope and downriver, over the top of the cliffs nearby. It must be a bear trail, nearly as easy to follow (visually if not physically) as my own trails farther below. Perhaps this is how they work their way toward Gilbert Bay when not on the beach or unable to use the beach. In fact, I’d see that mother bear with three cubs up in this area. At one point it looked like it approached a small cave in the rocks and I almost thought I’d found a den, but it turned out to be rockier and smaller than it seemed from a distance. I found a couple piles of scat, so I know the trail is used by bears, though it could certainly be used by other critters too. Perhaps next year I’ll put a game camera there!

It ended, for no apparent reason, on a steep slope hundreds of feet off the water. I continued on, thinking I might stumble upon the eagle’s nest. Just after the path ended, the woods opened and the walking was easy (though the slope was still quite steep); perhaps the options the open forest permitted made a path unnecessary. I wondered if the undergrowth was so much sparser there because the steep slope is such unstable ground for large trees. I crossed a running waterfall, and then a second, much steeper (and drier) waterfall before I thought sure that I must be in the area of the eagle tree. I was still pretty high up, but I could see the beach down below through gaps in the trees. That didn’t seem right relative to the nests, but I descended anyway, scouting the area below at every ledge in the slope. Finally I saw a leaning tree that could have been the tree they tried to nest in last year. After glassing that unsuccessfully for a nest, I casually shifted my focus downriver and stumbled upon a level clump of yellow moss in another tree. Was that the new nest' It took a couple more tries, but I eventually got a look at it that convinced me it was. I was above the nest there and could see something whitish inside (maybe the remains of a fish), but there were too many branches in the way for a clear view. Much lower down the mountain, though, I found a very clear view about level with the nest. Apparently I’m not the only one who likes the view, as I found a bear bed at the edge of the nest, an oval hollow with scat nearby, and a bear staircase on one side. The staircase is obviously better suited to a bear than to me, but in the future, that ledge will be an good place to eagle watch from within the forest (hiking up from below the nest rather than the rather arduous trek from the lodge).
 
From there I stumbled down to the shrubbery behind the nest tree, and then to the tree itself. On a little shelf below the tree, over the beach, I saw the remains of an eagle wing—two bones, with about eight pinfeathers attached to one of them. In a small cavity nearby was a crab shell, and above that was a shelf covered in what I guess to be otter scat, disintegrating tubes of shells. I climbed back down to the beach, relieved to see Cailey alive and well half way to the lodge (I always worry about her exuberance around cliffs, mountain goat though she is).

It was 5:30 then and I felt like a break, so I grabbed an ice cold san pellegrino (despite the fact that I’ve turned the fridge down almost as far as it will go, it is still freezing almost everything inside) and, for a change, carried a chair, binoculars, and book to the porch of Mink cabin. I glassed the shrubby mountain I could see across the inlet and wondered what birds made their home there in the summer. Not quite ready to quit yet, I soon returned to the lodge for a hand sweeper and a bottle of WD-40 and got to work cleaning and coating the iron artifacts stored there on the porch. I discovered that by tapping them I could remove a lot of the build-up on them—orange colored clumps the composition of which remain a mystery. It’s almost like it’s organic matter mineralized by their association with the artifacts, and fused to them. Removing some of these bits not only made them look more attractive, but it revealed some previously hidden lettering on the stove bits and allowed me to get most of the links of the long chain working again. After brushing/tapping each item, I covered them in oil in the hopes that it will help protect them.

After I finished with those, I moved to Harbor Seal and treated most of the artifacts there and oiled the door hinges and door knob (having already done so on Cottonwood and Mink). I carried the blue bucket up to Hermit Thrush to store inside and treated its door too. When I arrived back at the lodge I was surprised to see, for the first time all week, mud flats below the shingle beach. Somehow I have timed my visits here this summer to fall on periods of high low tides during the day. I rather like seeing the sandbars and mud flats at low tide! (Though it does make for more difficult comings and goings). Finally, it was time for dinner, especially poor Cailey’s. My plan was to cook the rest of the bison, but I found it frozen and decided to postpone it until I could thaw it properly. Instead I made a box of alfredo risotto, dumped the rest of the asparagus in it to cook, and cooked the piece of sockeye I’d brought from town, frozen, in a skillet with a lid on, with just some olive oil on the bottom and more salmon rub on top. It all turned out amazing. After dinner I chatted with Chris briefly, then read until I turned in for bed, staying up later than usual as I delved into a new novel.


Covering holes at Hermit Thrush

Path from the cabin outhouse

Slip-proof bridge

Devil's club and bear's bread on the great fallen tree

Hiking behind the lodge

Lichen and moss

I promise the eagle's nest is visible in this photo

Artifacts

It was another fitful sleep. I woke up around 8:00 and then managed to doze a little before getting up. Cailey had been up already but graciously came back to bed. The evening before, while sitting on the couch reading (or possibly looking at orca pictures) I’d heard a sudden powerful shushing sound and got up to confirm that it had started to rain. It showered on and off until I went to bed, after which it began raining in earnest, the beginnings of the storm that was promised for Thursday and Friday. And so it rained hard all night, and the inlet was socked in in the morning. Strangely, though it no longer surprises me, a strong wind was coming down the Whiting River, creating a steady swell that kept the Ronquil turned upriver most of the day, bobbing a little here and there. Now that I’m using the marine point forecast, I’m seeing that this phenomenon of northeasterly winds coming down the river valleys simultaneous to southeasterly systems is not so uncommon. As we are more protected (at least at the lodge) from northerlies, it actually felt quite calm outside.

I, however, did not go outside all morning, or at least not off the porch, and neither did Cailey. It wasn’t the weather so much as an overpowering exhaustion which, coupled with the fact that I still had two more days to close up, resulted in a morning on the couch. It would have been hard to muster the energy to do anything. I started a non-fiction book—another fantastic read by my hero Wade Davis—and then returned to Wings Above the Diamantina after shutting my eyes for a few minutes. Eventually I roused myself enough to program my new motion sensor camera and insert its memory card and batteries. At 12:30 I finally felt like doing something that didn’t accommodate being horizontal, so I got up and heated water for a little coffee, thinking that might help inspire me. I was a bit peckish, so I also finished the risotto from dinner, spruced up with a bit of worcestershire and soy sauce. Then I made instant starbucks coffee from a box my mother had left here with sugar and milk and drank it on the porch as I watched the rain fall. To my delight, an immature hermit thrush (suggested by its speckled face) showed up in the currents just upriver of the porch, fishing for berries.

And then, task time. I opened my new plastic sheeting and spread it over the floor in the fridge corner of the lodge and began staining the lodge ceiling. It’s a project I’ve dreaded, literally, for years—what seemed like the single most unpleasant job I could come up with. Turns out it’s not really that bad at all! After avoiding propane lights and appliances and copper tubing, the unadulterated, straight ceiling planks were practically a joy. I started at 1:10 and by 1:55 I’d finished the first eight rows along the downriver wall (having divided the ceiling up into four sections that seemed manageable at one time). I chatted and worked on line for about an hour and then got right back to it. Cailey, for her part, had seemed thoroughly content to curl up on the couch all morning, and still seemed more or less so, though she came down a couple times to chew on her hoof and wander around. She come onto the porch with me a few times, but had rushed inside at the first possibility.

On the second row, I started at the front wall and worked back. It was less awkward than the first, not having to avoid the stove and electronics, but the couch was a bit of an obstacle. Reaching the far wall, I came right back and, despite the waning of the afternoon and Cailey’s increasing impatience, I bullied through the last row. When I was working over the upriver windows, a flash of movement caught my eye and I saw a hermit thrush drop from the bottom of the window where I’m guessing he had grabbed an insect. He bopped around at the bottom of the tree a little, cleaned his beak on a root, and flew away.

About four times per row I moved the plastic sheeting to protect a new section of the floor/furniture. At last I was done—the ceiling was done, the whole lodge was stained and all its contents can remain stationary into the foreseeable future!

It was then 5:30 and I thought I owed Cailey some time outside and perhaps I could accomplish something there too. I suited up in raingear and xtratufs and wandered down the porch to gaze out the inlet. Cailey was standing in the path looking like she was eager to go in that direction, so I headed down to the beach and then upriver on a reasonably low tide. It was raining steadily, but not too windy, and it felt good to walk around. At one point on the way to the grassy point I tried rather poorly to howl like a wolf; whether I had anything to do with it or not, Cailey went mad on the sandbars, running full out erratically as though she was on the scent of something but never stopping. Perhaps she was just pent up from a day on the couch. Anyway, she looked very happy. We wandered upriver of the grassy point, noting again that a deep water channel is now digging right at the edge of the rocks (I think I used to be able to skirt the rocks on sandbars without crossing a channel). On the upriver side, two pink salmon lay on the sand (which hadn’t been there a few days ago)—a male and a female I think. Perhaps they spawned together! On the way back I walked through the flattened, brown grass and saw a small landslide where it looks like a couple of dead trees came down a cliff, scouring rubble with it and bringing down a small, live spruce. The alders appeared as though they may be intact, but around them the bare rock is showing. I can’t say for certain how new it is. A little farther on I found a cottonwood twig on the shore and picked it up in case it had life left in it; I wouldn’t mind transplanting a native Whiting River cottonwood onto the property. I’m not sure if I’d written it before, but the Taku cottonwood cutting that I’d been so happy to plant earlier in the summer was soon bitten off, to my sorrow, and left behind, and seems sure to be dead.

Having tucked rubber gloves and a filter-removing tool into my pocket, I climbed the rocks to Harbor Seal and there easily removed the water filters, carrying those to Mink where I did the same, propping up the hose with a rock form the porch. Then I unscrewed two of Cottonwood’s filters (the last may need a hammer), discovering that the valve was not fully closed only after an alarming amount of water was gushing through the filter, soaking my gloves. Knowing that the valve on the main hose was off, I opened up both valves on Cottonwood and Mink in preparation for final draining and tinfoiling all the openings. Then I walked up to the cabin outhouse and maneuvered the tarp over the top of the structure from the stepladder in back, leaving it loose so I could continue to use the outhouse. I dropped off the cottonwood twig and Harbor Seal’s filters at the lodge porch (where I found a very wet Cailey licking her wet fur in her bed) before doing the same to the cabin outhouse, picking up the stepladder from the back porch. While there I again noted how wet the boards were under the new porch—almost the whole deck. I’d verified in the morning that most of it is not coming from a leaky roof (I taped newspapers, suspended, over the outside boards to spot any drips), so it remains a mystery. It appears that my fancy roof may not have the desired effect.

By then it was nearly 6:30 and we were both very hungry. I made a bison patty and started cooking it along with some very frozen canned peas. Despite the extremely low setting I have the fridge on, it still froze most of its contents—even the cheese block is semi-frozen! Last night I turned it lower, but it turned off the cooling entirely and began to defrost the fins in the fridge, so I tuned it back up until I heard it click on again. Still, it’s between the 1 and 2 marks, or 1 out of 6. Cailey was smelling a lot like almost (but not quite) fresh salmon, which seemed to be concentrated on her right neck, so I heated some water and cornered her by the fridge for a quick sponge bath. I’d considered watching a movie with popcorn tonight, but really just felt like reading after dinner, so I did that to the light of two propane lights before getting online around 8:30. Not long after that, the carbon monoxide detector went off again, leading me to suspect it is the propane lights setting it off after all. I’d lit a small fire earlier, but it had long since gone out. As an aside, I spent most of the day in a t-shirt, with the windows open for the latter half of staining, and was quite comfortable. Around dinner, the wind switched and it is now rather stormy coming out of Gilbert Bay, which has a very different, scarier feel to it. Having been driven out of the lodge by low oxygen, we are now cozied up in Hermit Thrush listening to the rain steadily pelting the roof. Earlier I checked the corner to see if my efforts at closing up the hole on the outside of the bottom board had succeeded and was surprised to see that the actual corner, where the boards meet, is wet up about five boards! I will have to check that out from the outside tomorrow. The opposite corner behind the sink is wet, but only at the very bottom corner. The other corners are dry, but there are several drips down the walls from water coming in knots in the wood.
Wow!


The rain had stopped by the time I got up, this time at 7:40. That must be a good sign. The river was brown from the rain and was spilling out foam and logs from what was obviously a big flood. The volume of logs passing out of the river was tremendous (some of the root wads looked like big male orcas from a distance), an endless stream moving down the river all the time. It was an impressive sight. The Ronquil was aground (the first time I’d seen that this trip) when I got up, but the rising tide soon had it floating. Late in the morning a huge log, at least 30’ long with a small root wad attached, bumped the boat and got stuck there, capturing a smaller root wad. I had an early lunch of quesadillas and then paddled out there to push it off. I thought I might be able to bump it with the kayak, but it was too slippery and well-lodged, so I had to hop onto the bow of the Ronquil and pull at the anchor/shove it away. I paddled around a little more after that, weaving around the logs through the clumps of foam, charmed by a small log with two little alders growing out of it. Perhaps it’ll beach somewhere and those alders will grow! If they’d been cottonwoods, I would have towed it to shore. Later I saw a full sized shrub growing from a root wad, greatly inflating its size from a distance.
 
Close to shore in front of the lodge, I hung out with a little salmon in the final days of its life. I’m guessing it’s a female pink, though I only had a couple glimpses of its tail from a distance. She was swimming the swim of a post-spawner, seemingly idly swishing its tail back and forth, mysteriously drawn to the shoreline. I was able to approach quite close, though she would dive if disturbed. Once she even swam right into the kayak. The water was so muddy that a lighter gray swirl of mud spiraled behind her wherever she swam.
 
The first thing I did this morning, after washing the dishes, was have a cup of Moroccan mint tea on the porch in the brightness of the morning after the storm. I had a couple of interesting visitors, the first a large(ish) brown animal darting, possibly a little awkwardly, from the downriver side of the porch into the bushes. It was too big for a squirrel, but perfect for a mink! I also heard the rather unmistakable honking calls of a red-breasted nuthatch, but that is not a bird I’ve heard much (or at all') at Snettisham before. There was also the tittering of golden-crowned kinglets, so when I saw movement in the spruce boughs downriver, I thought it must be one of that flock. But when it flew onto a branch in clear view, there was a beautiful nuthatch with a rust colored moth in its beak! I also watched the eagles for a bit. An immature eagle was sitting just a few feet below an adult near the nest, which was nice to see. A day or two ago I’d seen an adult dive on an immature eagle flying by the nest, so I was wondering if they were chasing this year’s eaglet off already. Apparently not, or at least not all the time. Another immature eagle appeared nearby flying toward the opposite side of the river and I watched him light on a fallen tree. He must have inspired Columbus, as I saw him heading in the same direction, alighting in a spruce a little upriver of the other. I’ve actually seen two young eagles together often lately, one flying after the other. I wonder if they are chums—maybe this is the eaglet I heard up near the grassy point. Maybe they’re hanging out together, learning from one another. What a playground to grow up in!

Unfortunately, I got quite nauseous about 2/3rds of the way through my tea, apparently from drinking caffeine on an empty stomach, something I rarely do. I quickly ate something and waited out the nausea, which passed, then rested a little outside. Eventually I roused myself for a few little tasks, first carrying a load of wood to the back porch so I could restock inside once I get that organized. Then I fetched some small blocks of wood to fix a hole in the new metal roof. The roofing itself is not new, and has holes from previous use in it. In the shed, just dropping in screws made it water tight, but I’d noticed that one of these holes did drip significantly in the downpour yesterday. The only way to tighten the rubber seal is to screw the screw into something. I tried a piece of common wood first, but it kept cracking, so I wound up using a piece of PT lumber which I kept from cracking by using one of the PT crevasses to screw into. I did this for a second hole along the edge as well, even though it didn’t seem to be leaking.
 
I also removed the last filter from Cottonwood with a few gentle taps with a hammer and carried it back to the lodge, covered the filters and valves at Cottonwood and Mink with tinfoil, cut and trimmed some of the many hemlocks growing on the path below Cottonwood, and excavated some of the mud in front of the shed to help drain the area. The little stream along the upriver side of it has a steady flow. Around 1:15, after a cup of Russian tea, I started the generator and cut two 5’ pieces of 2x2 with a 45 degree angle at the bottom to drive into the ground, and two more short pieces to nail on as a crosspiece for supporting a motion sensor camera. Now I’m on the couch waiting for Chris to come online and allowing my battery to charge, which had quite died this morning.

The rest of the evening could have been better. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon in the lodge, making periodic expeditions outside into the wet world (though the day was surprisingly fair after the little typhoon the day before). For the first time on this trip, I wanted to go home. I couldn’t get ahold of Chris, which had me worried, I was dreading the close up chores, and a bath sounded very nice. With that in mind I began to wonder if I could go home the next day, Saturday, as I watched the tide fall well below levels I would want to attempt with all the closing up gear I had. It would meaning leaving on the high tide in the early afternoon, which meant I should get a jump on things. I managed to pull the water filters off Hermit Thrush, do much of the packing up in the lodge, washed the dishes, stapled some hardware cloth around the water inlet on Cottonwood (previously only stuffed with tinfoil), filled the wood box, and a few other preparatory items, but most would need to be done in the morning. I also forced myself up the beach to shoot my rifle again, putting three holes quite close to the bullseye and making me feel much better prepared for any hunting I decide to do this fall. But, all in all, I was grouchy and rather exhausted, not at all in the mood to do chores. I even put off cleaning my rifle until the next day, despite adding that task to those looming over me already.


Wet around the satellite pole

The river at flood

Is that ceiling stained!'

My lethargic pink friend

A huge log clings to the Ronquil

An alder grows from a flooded log

Swirls made from the salmon

My salmon friend

Which would have been the worst thing about leaving today, having that mood sully the very end of an otherwise pretty fantastic week. It’s now 4:44 and I’m sitting on the deck of the lodge overlooking the berry bushes, the Ronquil at anchor, the mountains lining Gilbert Bay backed by a few patches of blue sky between layers of clouds. I decided to stay today (Saturday), to do the chores early and regain my composure. As on every other day this trip, I am looking out on the landscape and wishing that I could watch all the leaves fall, watch the migrants disappear, make friends with the chickadees and jays, and maybe even the varied thrushes that stick around. There is one new addition to the view, a 2x2 against one of the benches which supports my original motion sensor camera, pointed at the front porch. Of all the unpleasant tasks I did today, setting up the cameras was one that offered me the most relief. I’d tried to put up the other post downriver of the bridge yesterday afternoon, but couldn’t drive it in far enough and eventually decided it was a poor location anyway. Today I moved it to the other side of the bridge, driven into the ground near the staircases leaving to Harbor Seal. I left it on, so I’ll check the results later on. I wanted a camera near the lodge, but was afraid that rain and snow would set it off all the time, so I hope that by putting its back to southeasterlies, it will be somewhat protected. We’ll see!

I woke up at 6:30 this morning, went to the bathroom (the first time I did that before packing up and actually heading to the lodge this whole trip), and couldn’t get back to sleep, though I laid in bed for a while. When I got up, I packed up all my clothes, dumped the sink bucket, swept, and put the propane tanks inside. The only thing I left undone was removing the sheets, just in case I decided to overnight. Deciding that I needed sustenance for a hard morning, I ate a big pancake after washing the dishes, then suited up and trudged up the mountain to take the olive barrel out of the creek. Knowing that it would be easier to move if the barrel itself was empty, I grabbed the outlet hose and heaved up to dump the water out, rapidly losing my balance on the edge of the little waterfall! Only a generous old devil’s club leaning over the water saved an ungraceful and probably very wet fall. Instead, I was able to drag the barrel into a nook to the side of the creek. I took off the mosquito net/hardware cloth filters over the top and rinsed them in the creek before replacing them and heading back down.

At the lodge I’d already taken off the water filters, having filled two large soup pots with water for the rest of the trip as well as the tea kettle. I opened up the hose valve to let it drain while I carried the stepladder up to the outhouse and wrapped a line around it to hold the tarp down. I’d already emptied the trash can, so that outhouse was all ready. When the water finished draining, I tinfoiled the filter heads and the valve, though I wound up taking a couple of them off in case there was more to drain later. Then I climbed the path back to the first junction and turned the water on to Cottonwood and Mink—or, rather, opened the valve to help prevent cracks. I dumped a little more water out of those filters/valves and then drained and tinfoiled the filters and valves at Harbor Seal and Hermit Thrush, trying to make sure that all the water lines were fully drained.

The rest of the morning is a blur. At some point I drug an extra tarp from behind the cabin outhouse and added it to those already on the lumber pile, tucking that up for the winter (not that it seems to do much good). At some point I started carrying the blankets, sleeping bags, and other items from Cottonwood to the lodge. At some point I carried the stepladder from the cabin outhouse to the lodge, realizing that I needed it to remove the radio from the satellite dish. At 9:10 I went for my last COASST walk, figuring that the later in the month I did it the better, even though I already surveyed last weekend, thinking I wouldn’t be here this weekend. The fine brown river silt settled into a layer about an inch thick over everything else, making walking sloppy and slippery and generally more difficult than usual. It had rained hard most of the night, and was raining hard again, so I was also uncomfortably hot in my rain gear. I did find one interesting thing, though—a silvery sandlance laying at the side of one of the little channels in front of the lodge. I shook him around a little in the water to rinse him off and he surprised me by wiggling, so I dropped him. A few moments later, though, he was again on the side of the channel looking lifeless, so I thought its prospects were poor. Even so, I wanted to give him a chance, so I carried him closer to the lodge and to the water running out of the wash and dammed a little side channel to give him a pool to recover in while I walked, where I could find him again if he didn’t recover. Half way to the grassy point, a large dark eagle flew overhead into a hemlock; he could easily have been Columbus, and I had a nice look at him as I walked beneath, very chocolate brown, little yellow corners to his gray beak.

At 10:00 I took a break, removed my wet hoodie, and spent about an hour online where I finally got ahold of Chris. I couldn’t get a marine point forecast, but I did get the general Stephen’s Passage forecast which predicted 3 footers today, 2 feet or less tomorrow—and that finalized my decision to stay overnight. After my break, I suited up again and did two of the most dreaded tasks: emptying the gray water olive barrel/removing the filter bags inside and setting up the motion sensor cameras. After the former, I looked at the mass of duct tape around the opening for the drain pipe and realized that I’d never gone back with my staple gun to secure that, so I did that—hopefully Big Brown won’t find a way in this winter!

By that time, I wanted to warm up and change clothes, so I lit a fire, spread out my cloths and rain gear to dry. In the coziness of the lodge I cleaned my rifle and cleaned and lubricated all the o-rings to the water filters. At some point I heard screeching coming loudly from outside, an unfamiliar sound, surely a hawk or something. I ran out with my binoculars and scanned the air while the screeching continued; finally I tracked the sound to the direction of Gilbert Bay, but there was nothing in the sky! No, instead there were two animals shrieking in the water. Or, at least one of them was shrieking. A large mink and what I assume was a smaller mink were swimming about 50 feet from shore and the larger one was repeatedly attacking the smaller. He would swim up to the other, then rear up and land on the other, and together they would disappear. The big one would come up, then and look around until the smaller one appeared, then rush over to repeat the process. Eventually, they neared shore and the big one dove and disappeared; I was relieved to see the smaller one pop and swim to shore unmolested, disappearing into the grass. I never saw the bigger one again. I don’t know if the larger one was making any noise, but the smaller one shrieked the whole time it was swimming alone on the surface.

Water drops just started to hit my keyboard, so I backed up. It’s been a squally day, bright most of the time with gusty southeast winds periodically bringing showers. There has been a steady sea coming in off Gilbert Bay that I don’t think I’d want to battle around the corner when leaving the port. I’m charging the battery now, thinking that perhaps tonight I will finally have my cozy movie night inside! I wanted to maximize my time outside today, but I’ve just come in to protect my computer. It’s already quite dim inside.
 
After a lunch of soup, I hung out on the lower deck (kind of unusual) in the sunshine, enjoying a couple of beers. That may have been before some of the events above, but I’ll try not to worry too much about that. The bird life has been a bit slimmer lately. It’s hard to know if that’s because migrants are leaving, or the weather, timing, or any number of other reasons. I did see a sparrow yesterday (probably Lincoln’s), two immature varied thrushes (chupping at each other from opposite sides of the porch), and the hermit thrushes are still feasting on berries. A flock of chipper chickadees slowly made their way from upriver over the porch and down the shoreline, chattering all the way.
 
Having completed all the close up chores I wanted to do today, I actually did a few other tasks, since I had time and inclination. I had a few things I wanted to put in the attic, so I used the stepladder I’d brought over to do that and to grab a can of plumber’s putty to try to fill the places where water is leaking into Hermit Thrush. I walked over the bridge to test the camera, then pressed rolls of putty into the corners that leak at the cabin and pressed balls into all the likely looking knots on the back wall. I was more confident about it working after seeing it in action! After that, I took a couple pieces of plywood from under the lodge and a couple from the shed and tacked them around the sides of the back door porch to help keep it dry for the winter. Next summer I’ll continue to explore why the porch gets wet under the roof, but in the meantime, perhaps this will help. And then, one more chore, the one at the bottom of the list of possible things I could do this week. I thought it would feel awfully good to get that chore done, and so I did it. Over a couple of trips, I carried a length of 4” plastic pipe, hack saw, pick thing, hoe, and clippers and dug a trench under the path up to the cabin outhouse where the water hose crosses. Having been bitten by bears, this is a weak spot in the hose where it’s been spliced and earlier this summer it was pulled apart by someone, quite naturally, stepping on it on the way up the trail and temporarily flooding the area. I stopped when I hit a very large rock at about the depth of the pipe. Then I heated up some water to soften the pipe, poured it over the junction, pulled them apart (using  my feet at one point), then slipped one end through the 4” pipe, poured more hot water over them, and then fastened on the existing two hose clamps plus the one I’d found nearby on the ground. Then I tucked it all into the ground, tamped it down, and called it good. The pipe sticks up a little, but much less than the original pipe on the ground. It started raining while I did that, then brightened again, and now it is raining again. I think it’s time to cozy up!
 
I kept thinking I needed to wait until a later hour to start a movie, then realized it was past six and a perfectly reasonable time to start. I was trying to come up with movie ideas as I chatted with Chris and finally realized that I could look for an animated movie, something I’d enjoy, Chris would not, and of which there would be an abundant supply. But what movie' I did some searches on “best animated movies” with different parameters and came up with some ideas, including How to Tame Your Dragon 2. I’d seen the first one on the recommendation of friends and, although I wasn’t wildly impressed with the overall movie, I was wildly impressed with the dragon animation. Why not! Well, youtube had it for rent for $2.99 and, rather than try to find another idea, I went ahead and purchased it. Then I popped jiffy pop popcorn, poured myself some more wine, and settled in for movie night at Snettisham (streaming!). It worked brilliantly; full screen, sharp image, no buffering. Right up until it didn’t, at 28 minutes. The screen went black and I got a message that there were issues with rights to view it. I tried to reload a couple of times and failed. Then I made a cursory attempt to find an alternate movie (maybe The Little Mermaid, a movie from my past, which I’d stumbled upon earlier but could not find again) before deciding to stop wasting batteries and watch the movie I’d brought with me: Benny and Joon. By then the popcorn was gone, so I snuggled in on the couch with the dog and made it to the end with a little battery to spare. I was pleased to find that Benny and Joon, one of my favorite movies in high school, remains one of my favorite movies. Cailey and I headed to bed after that, glad I’d left the sheets on, and enjoyed one last night snuggled in Hermit Thrush listening to the rain, bodies warmed by the propane heater, hearts warmed by the burning oil lamp.

Cailey is adorably sleepy

Looking over the inlet

Motion sensor camera #1

Plugging knots with plumber's putty
\
Trying to protect the porch from splashes for the winter
\
One last afternoon on the porch

Buried pipe

Stormy view out the lodge window
 
In the morning I wandered around the soggy property undertaking final close up tasks and waiting for the tide to rise. I brought the smoke stack inside and nailed the usual plywood over the front of it, this time with a new piece of hardware cloth inbetween to discourage curious mice, closed up the cabin outhouse, removed the radio from the satellite dish, filled the cable ends with grease, and wrapped them in a baggy, did dishes and swept out the lodge, covered the windows with newspapers, etc., locked the shed and placed plywood scraps just inside the door and outside to catch muddy splashes. I also tested the motion sensor cameras, which resulted in my nailing on a new cross piece to the bridge pole to lower the camera a couple of feet. I was pleased to see how far away the other camera picked up movement, as it was triggered by all my work at the satellite pole. Since the day was partly cloudy and not threatening rain, I hauled most of the gear down to the water (putting the linens and a few of the more delicate items on the tarp) and then had a final cup of jasmine tea and some snacks on the deck, pleased to see a sparrow that was unmistakably a white-crowned.

All in all, the day was fine and I soaked up the last few minutes at the lodge. The tide came in slower than I expected; the day before, I believe I could have easily left around 10:00, but it was after 11:00 before the tide came in close to the beach. Cailey and I kayaked out there and brought the boat to shore, the engine sputtering in idle as it had earlier in the week. I threw the anchor on the beach and loaded the boat, then drug the kayak up and tucked it under the lodge. The last thing I did was leave a little offering of salmon roe (chipped from a frozen chunk) and some cheese crumbles on the top step of the stairs leading to the lower deck, in view of the motion sensor camera. I also left the squirrel his own chunk on one of the alder trees he utilizes. I turned the camera on, walked to shore, and hopped on the boat, getting things ship shape while trying to keep the engine running and idling down the shore.
 
The water was smooth leaving the inlet, with a tiny swell developing around the corner. It wasn’t bad, but I decided to hug the far shoreline in the lee of Mist Island anyway, as I always enjoy speeding by those cliffs. I swung inside the island too, and swung by the creek there to see what I could see. The tide was high, so little of the rushing creek was visible, but clearly there was something going on as one eagle after another took to the air; I counted 21, including a huge juvenile on the beach, one of the few to not take to the wing.

But, exploration of that will have to wait for another time. I headed out toward Stephen’s Passage, careful to swing wide of that puzzling reef that seems to ring in that cove. From there, the water laid down practically to glass and, overall, I had the best Snettisham run on the water of the year—and it was September 13! Around the little bite south of Limestone I encountered a trio of sea lions who seemed quite curious in me, or at least not skittish, never disappearing underwater for long. I hung around for a few minutes, respectfully keeping my distance but showing my interest, then left them among the flotsam. Just north of there I saw the distant rolling backs of Dall’s porpoise a few times, but not again. Shortly thereafter I began to discern distant blows along the shore of Admiralty and headed in that direction, thinking that I’d enjoy going around the back side of Grand Island anyway, and hoping for orcas. Instead I got humpbacks—for the group up was still on. Just as I was headed toward one group, another came up farther south, just north of South Island. I veered in that direction and watched them a couple of times, a group of around five or six, with another three nearby. Sometimes their blows echoed off the island. From there I moved north, encountering a group of four plus several others closer to the south end of Grand Island. In Doty Cove there were at least a few pairs and a single, and Taku Inlet was also full of whales. I saw a pair closer to Salisbury, and two singles in the middle, one of which was very close to a small boat. I was watching closely to see if the boat seemed to be harassing the whale, waiting for it to come up after a dive, when I was abashed to see a whale much closer come up just to the side of my wake—and then another, just on the other side! While I’d been spying on the other boat, I’d driven right over the top of two whales!

And so I ended the season, on a fantastically beautiful September day, having passed at least two dozen whales in Stephen’s Passage, with a tote full of fish, a summer of brilliant adventures behind me, and a heart full of gratitude. I pulled the Ronquil without incident and headed home for a long-awaited shower, for the first time without bone-crushing exhaustion weighing me down. What a summer!

One last look off the porch for the year

We leave on the calmest ocean of the year

Whales off Admiralty

Whales in Stephen's Passage


The smaller group passes me one last time at the entrance to the port