Taku 2016 - 1: Yaakw (Canoe)
  June 3-5


Shakw (strawberry) blossoms

After some confusion and drama, I took off down the channel at 11:30 a.m. sharp, in the rain, carrying all the gear my parents had loaded that morning, or (in the case of my mother's disassembled water pump box frame) had overwintered in the Kathy M. We'd originally planned to take the Alaskan to the anchorage above Jaw Point and use the Kathy M from there, but my folks decided to simplify the morning and just take the Kathy M instead. Since we were well before the tide (the Alaskan is comparatively slow), we went home to wait for the tide to rise, during which my folks decided they didn't like the marine forecast. The point specific forecast looked a lot better than the Stephen's Passage forecast, so I managed to convince them to fly up and let me take their gear by sea. Other than taking green water over the bow while traversing a cruise ship wake in the channel, the trip was lovely, never seeing more than a light sea, coming unexpectedly down the channel or off the mountains to the east instead of from the southeast as promised. The whole time I waited for my parents to fly overhead but never saw them; I was beginning to worry that they were'nt going to make it, but just as I started unloading the boat at the landing, my mother pulled up in the 4-wheeler, having arrived about 15 minutes earlier, not having seen the boat on the way either.

After unloading, we awkwardly pushed the boat back off the beach and threw an anchor off the stern to keep it in deeper water, since we couldn't find the line we'd grappled up last fall, theoretically attached to the existing anchor. The Tulsequah was flooding, so the river was exceedingly high and foamy, and the boat could come right up near the bottom of the steps, but we didn't want it getting stuck on the neighboring logs and branches on the even higher tide that night. The mosquitoes were terrible and I was chilled, so I gratefully retreated to the cabin to warm up and relax. Other than bringing most of the rest of the gear up from the water later, the afternoon was mellow. I read much of my 6th grade class journal out loud, which recounts an impressive variety of lodge-related adventures from the fall of 1988 including flying to school in the morning, selling gold nuggets and furs in the gift shop, dining with the captain aboard the Island Princess, and fishing for trout and cohos in Johnson Creek, not to mention the tale of Nellie Goose.

After cocktails, I made quesadillas and heated up sourdough cornbread for dinner and baked cookies for dessert. We all went to bed relatively early and I snuggled into my feather bed for the night, listening to the rain drum on the roof.

In a rare treat, Cailey slept in, but started pacing and whining at 8:00 sharp. I'd been up on and off since 6:00 when my left leg flared up with a bad bout of sciatica, imitating the problem I've had in my right leg for many years. This was troubling, as my left leg had not had any issues before, and I'm afraid the hammock might be a trigger, especially as I favor the right leg in an effort to reduce the pain there. When Cailey roused, I relented and sat up, which caused her to dance with excitement and put her paws on the hammock for snuggles. I encouraged her to come up and she very nearly succeeded. When I got up, I had a rare cup of coffee with my folks and, after breakfast, my mother and I walked upriver to the Tlingit village site. Just at our property line we stopped to observe the birds around us, a diverse and typical Taku array of yellow warblers, Lincoln's sparrows, thrushes, orange-crowned warblers, etc. On the way, we needed to cross a slough not far from the existing road and were surprised to find large logs stacked across it, as though intentionally. The slough today is not connected to the river, though it could have been at one time. Still, the congregation there did not seem accidental. The logs were also too big to have fallen there naturally. We couldn't see any flat edges to indicate human activity, but it sure looked like it could have been on old bridge. On the other side, we climbed a suspicious indentation in the bank, though it seemed too narrow for a road.

From there we cut to the river, bushwhacking through dense groves of alder and devil's club and young spruces. I think I bushwhacked more than was necessary, but we made it to the village site and I showed my mom around. There was prodigious bear sign, a well-worn trail along the beach and lots of bear scat. We investigated one enormous pile that must have been at least three piles merged together and found what appeared to be a bear bed among the roots of a spruce nearby. 

We took a different route home, leaving the site from farther upriver, but, as often happens, wound up crossing the slough at the same puzzling assemblage of logs. Back at the lodge we ate a delicious picnic lunch, care of my mother, and drank cold Pacificos. Earlier in the trip we'd been brainstorming about ways to make better use of the slough behind the cabin. The idea of both inflatable kayaks and plastic kayaks were floated, utilizing the new path to reach the slough overland instead of going all the way down the river to the slough mouth and back up. Because of its relative imperviousness to bear nibbles, I suggested that we paddle the canoe back there and leave it instead, negating the need to use the motor since we would not need to fight the river current home. The canoe had overwintered in the trees near the boat landing, but the paddles we'd used last fall had apparently not overwintered there. I launched the canoe while my mom went back for other paddles (still not sure where the others are) and, after my mother more or less drug a motionless Jenny into the bow of the canoe, we headed off down the river with the flood. The water was brown and calm, dotted everywhere with small mounds of foam. The slough was also high with the tide and we quietly paddled up the stream, finding several male green-winged teal and a goldeneye on the water. We paddled as far as the big bend, stopping for more yellow warblers that I kept hoping would be something else (that's the area where I saw yellowthroats and alder flycatchers last summer). On the way back we ducked into the side slough where we found the beaver house last fall, but opted not to push through the brush that far, as the afternoon was getting on. Instead we paddled back to "pink salmon flats" where the dogs had enjoyed a lot of carcasses last fall and into a small side slough. We pulled the canoe behind the first row of brush, flipped it, and tied it down, stashing the paddles in the larger willows higher up on the bank. During the walk back to the new trail (which my mother found effortlessly), we realized how far we were from the cabin and agreed to move it to a closer location next time.

Back at the lodge we had afternoon cocktails and then my mother heroically made pasta primavera for dinner. I was grateful I'd made dinner the night before, as I felt thoroughly exhausted. That evening I read the rest of my sixth grade journal, read a little bit on the swing outside (burning mosquito coils to combat the rampant mosquitoes) and we went to bed even earlier than the night before, resulting in a long wakeful period starting around 11:30. That night I slept on the bed downstairs to avoid a second bout of sciatica in my left leg. Next time I go up I'll try to the hammock again and see if that is, in fact, the trigger.


A field of koox (chocolate lilies)

Suspicious logs

Mom tramps through the brush

Another look at the logs

Dogs in the meadow

A brief visitor

Jenny is reluctant to enter the canoe

Canoeing down a flooded river

Wet insects track through the foggy window

Spectacular view from the cabin

Trust me, there's a bumblebee in this picture

Helicopter arrival

In the morning I indulged in a cup of Russian tea and, unusually, did not feel motivated to be productive. In fact, I did little that day other than wander a bit around the property, inspect my bank stabilization efforts from last fall (though the river was flooded, the corner of shelf that I'd covered in branches was looking good), and read outside. The ground is covered in sweet smelling white strawberry blossoms inhabited but myriad buzzing bumblebees. I tried to take photos of them, anticipating the next flower they'd visit, but found that I have poor bee intuition. Or perhaps the presence of a hulking, eager giant makes flowers in the opposite direction more appealing. My mother and I both heard chewing in the night and she tracked it down to a hole above the riverside door on the deck upstairs that has a lot of mouse dirt beneath it and bumblebees crawling in and out! I'd heard kingfishers all weekend and, while down at the point, apparently alarmed one badly, causing it to fly back and forth over the river screaming. It had a fish in its mouth. I warned my parents to be gentle on the bank there in case they had excavated a nest.

I made quesadillas for lunch and then escaped outside to read while my folks finished packing up. Shortly after 2:00, the helicopter arrived to pick them up. I carefully watched the exhaust escaping to see its impact on the meadow, as we'd discovered a large, scorched patch where it lands where recent strawberries and other plants had withered with their blossoms. We could think of no other explanation, but the helicopter's exhaust did not seem to touch the meadow and made no effect on the vegetation at all. Very puzzling. After they left, I crept softly down to the riverbank and stuck my head over the side just to see if I could see sign of a nesting cavity. Directly under me, directly under the meadowy point, was a hole. I backed up gently. Pretty cool to have nesting kingfishers! We'd seen some over the slough, and my mother had watched one fly in that direction; it seemed like better fishing conditions there and, for a kingfisher, just a few seconds flight away.

Around 2:30 I took my one load of gear down to the boat and headed out. The flood had abated overnight (the boat alarmingly aground at low tide), but the river was suitably high at a 15.8' tide and I escaped without incident. Once again the wind was blowing down the river and then from the northeast and built to tight seas off of Bishop. I was grateful they were behind me and enjoyed a pleasant ride to town.


T'aawak Eix'i (Goose Slough)